Farewell to The Wheel of Time

I’m finally reading A Memory of Light, the fourteenth and final installment of Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time. The first book was published in February of 1990 (which is, consequently, the month I was born), and the last in January of 2013. These books have been iconic, lovely, masterful, and above all unrivaled in terms of what inspired me the most as a child to become a writer. I knew I wanted to write from a ridiculously early age, but it wasn’t until I read The Eye of the World that I realized there was a future for me in making magic with words. This is what I wanted to do–retreat into the world of my mind with people I admired and stay there. For me, this is what writing fantasy has always meant. It is an escape, freedom from society and from expectations (including my own). Freedom to fly if I wanted to, or turn water into ice with a wave of my hand.

When Robert Jordan passed away in 2007 from a rare blood disease, I lamented, not only because the world had lost a brilliant man, but also because only 11 books had been released (out of a then-planned 12) and I didn’t know whether the last volume would ever see the light of day. But the publisher and Robert’s wonderful wife, Harriet, wanted to see this thing through til the end. They saw what Robert saw, what I see when I read these novels: infinite possibilities, love, admiration, my childhood. The fans wanted a proper end to this era, to acknowledge the turning of the Wheel of Time and to welcome a new Age where Robert would be remembered and celebrated even more than he already was. And so they gave us Brandon Sanderson, the already-established author of books such as Elantris and the Mistborn trilogy, and three new books to look forward to.

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I needed this series. The books helped me imagine a world beyond the walls of high school. When I was told to get my head out of the clouds, to read something “real” or “of substance”, I faked agreement and then retreated into the arms of The Wheel of Time. Robert’s work opened the doors to me for other kinds of literature, led to me studying English in college and now graduate school. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read these things, and can only begin to describe how influential they have been in the course my life has taken.

Reading this last book is a little bittersweet. It has always been there: another book has always been on the horizon, another glimpse of Rand al’Thor and his antics as the Dragon Reborn. But this is the end. I’m only 200 pages in, but it promises to be an amazing end to an amazing adventure.

There are many more rereads in the years to come. But this is the last time it will be new. I’m not sure I’m ready to say good-bye yet.

Story of the Week #4 — “The Souls of Alligators” by Robert Kloss

I found this story while browsing the website of Corium Magazine, an online magazine that “publishes stories and poems with substance and connection. Words that touch on nerves and stay. Make us feel something.”

Robert Kloss’s “The Souls of Alligators” definitely lingers beneath the surface of the mind. I had to read it several times to understand quite what was going on, and with this story, you never quite get the feeling of claustrophobia out from under your skin.

There are quite a few things about this story that stuck out to me, the first of which being the use of second-person narration. Personally I find second person a challenge to read and to write, but Kloss has mastered it here. I noticed its use in the beginning, and then promptly forgot about it as the story took over–it didn’t create any distractions.

The descriptions are also well-crafted and visceral. I love the way Kloss uses sensory details as a device, as seen in this paragraph here:

And then you were before your father in his bed, the door closed behind you. He wore no shirt, your father, emaciated and pale, the pathetic curve of his ribs, the tufts of white hair, the throbbing of what must have been his heart, that faint pulse beneath the almost translucent flesh, the beads of sweat. You opened your mouth and perhaps no sound emerged. You did you not hug him nor did you smile upon him. His face as if collapsed, half his mouth slumped, the other half spitting and struggling to work. Finally he said what you believed was your name, overwhelmed by the noises outside, the cries of carrion birds, the workers on their skiffs, grunting, calling out, as they hefted the dead weight of alligators onto docks, into the backs of wagons.

The long, run-on sentences add to that overall claustrophobic feeling throughout the story. And there is the overarching image of alligators that persists throughout the narrative that sticks under your skin, gets into the crevices of your mind.

This story keeps cropping up on the outside of my thoughts. Go read it–you won’t regret the decision.

Story of the Week #3 — “You Are The City” by Wei He

I was browsing the website of a journal that I recently submitted to, Spry Literary Magazine, and met with a surprise—I found a story written by one of my classmates at Miami! Wei He is a fiction writer from China that is graduating this year with a master’s degree in English/Creative Writing, and I have had the pleasure of sharing a fiction workshop with her for two semesters now. The long and the short of it is this: her writing is phenomenal. Wei uses symbol and metaphor as though she were just going to the grocery store: with practiced ease. Her use of language, as well, is astounding, and not just because English is her second language.

So when I found Wei’s story at Spry, I was excited to read something of hers I had not yet seen. “You Are The City” is a letter from a narrator figure to a lost love. The letter is full of unspoken anguish as the narrator tries to find a balance between telling the recipient that he wishes for her to return and the desire to remain cordial. At one point in the letter, the narrator tries to describe the city, and the language Wei utilizes is fantastic:

It can be a slice of moonlight hanging over a metal hook on the wall of my bedroom. It can be the ripples the black bean garlic sauce makes when I swirls it with a spoon. It can be a drop of dew sliding down the vertical rib of my cactus in the early morning. It can also be you, when you are sleeping, dancing, eating and talking. You can be the whole city.

Isn’t that beautiful? The sensory details here tell a story not just of the images, but also of emotion. Wei is able to give us a taste of the narrator’s depression and desire in a relatively short amount of space.

Read “You Are The City” here.

I hope you enjoyed her story as much as I did! I hope to see many more wonderful things from her.

I just read this . . .

“I am my mama’s daughter, her shadow on the earth, the blood thinned down a little so that I am not as powerful as she, as immune to want and desire. I am not a mountain or a cave, a force of nature or a power on the earth, but I have her talent for not seeing what I cannot stand to face . . . I keep in mind the image of a closed door, Mama weeping on the other side. She could not rescue me. I cannot rescue her. Sometimes I cannot even reach across the wall that separates us.”

Trash by Dorothy Allison

Everyone should just go read this book. Right now. Allison manages, in the span of less than 200 pages, to capture the essence of  the importance–and detriment–of family, but it’s also so much more than that. The prose is magnificent (see above). This autobiographical work hurts to read–because it is so raw, so real.

No, really. Just go read it. You’ll thank me later.

Story of the Week #2 — “Millie” by Anna Caro

This week’s story was published by The Future Fire online magazine in December 2012. This magazine seeks to publish “new speculative fiction and art with a social conscience, a political sensibility and of the highest quality.” Their mission statement of wanting to focus on fiction with a “social conscience” is interesting and magnetizing, to me. The website is full of wonderful stories, and “Millie” is only one of them. Check them out here.

Read this week’s story here.

This piece is essentially a character-driven narrative. There is an old wives’ tale that the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction is that the former is plot-driven, whereas the latter is character-driven. Well, Caro’s piece blows that assertion right out of the sky.

It is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator that has a startling secret. The first sentence (“When my father died, I inherited my coffin.”) hooks a reader immediately, even though it’s as yet unclear how that inheritance is possible. The story is barely 2600 words, but Caro masterfully reveals the secret of the narrator’s body without an annoying infodump.

I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did!

Six Sentences Prompt

I was given the prompt to write a story in six sentences or less. Here is my attempt.

The girl grew up on the “west” side of town. The average middle-class white kid either thought he was the reincarnation of Jack Kerouac or a bullet-addled thug; his parents thought themselves the only people who had ever had to deal with a stupid child. The farmboys really were farmboys, chewing and spitting into the Mountain Dew bottle with one hand while swigging a Bud with the other. No one was really quite sure how they drove their Ford F-150s with bottles in both their hands. The hipsters and the thugs looked past the farmboys and liked to pretend they lived in the inner city—with coffee houses on corners and gunfights in alleys and all that shit that people think happens in the middle of a city. The girl worked at the library and watched the crazy homeless man shuffle past every day, wondering if this weren’t the inner city after all.

Story of the Week #1 — “6.5” by Ian Murphy

I want this blog/website/whatchyacallit to be a place of discourse, of conversations about good writing. The best way I know to start a conversation about good writing is to read good writing, and so I have decided to scour the Internet once a week for well-written, visceral, free (!) short stories that we can all learn from. Here is the first week’s offering.

The literary magazine A Clean, Well-Lighted Place is a relatively young journal “dedicated to featuring new, emerging, and established writers,” which is a pretty generic mission statement. However generic the description, the work on this website did not disappoint. I discovered this journal a couple weeks ago. Highlighted right now on their “Fiction” page is a story called “6.5” by Ian Murphy. Here is the link:

http://www.lightedplace.com/65.html

What I love about this story is the concise manner in which we are brought into the story, carried through it, and dumped out of it–a reader can feel a whole lifetime of memories and emotions happening in the span of barely a page, even though the events of the story take place over a couple days (maybe). Murphy didn’t use long sweeping passages of prose to reach his point. The umph at the end of the story is poetic, emotional, sympathetic. The sentence “I had never heard of that part of the brain before” still gives me chills.

What do you think about Murphy’s story?