Category Archives: Published Piece

“This Savage Song” by Victoria “V.E.” Schwab

this_savage_song_cover

This week we’re diving into the first chapter of the YA fantasy novel This Savage Song by Victoria “V.E.” Schwab. It’s an opening chapter that snatched me up like the dark monsters that lurk in this deliciously savage story. Here’s a little more about the book:

“Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives. In This Savage Song, Victoria Schwab creates a gritty, seething metropolis, one worthy of being compared to Gotham and to the four versions of London in her critically acclaimed fantasy for adults, A Darker Shade of Magic. Her heroes will face monsters intent on destroying them from every side—including the monsters within.”

A few questions to consider as you read the first chapter:

1) How does Schwab balance world-building and backstory while still writing a captivating scene?
2) Throughout the book, Schwab blurs the lines between human and monster. How does she show this even from the start?
3) There’s a lot of pressure for the first chapter to basically accomplish everything. How do you feel about Kate Harker, and what threads has Schwab sewn into the first chapter to hint at where the character arc and conflict are heading?

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The Godfather

untitled  We’ve all seen the movies (Or if you haven’t at least seen the first movie then there is really no hope for you on this earth…), but I’m here to discuss the literary classic that has inspired so many stories, books, movies, characters, clichés, and punchlines in the decades following it’s publication (1969). I first read The Godfather over 10 years ago, and in re-reading it recently, I was struck by how smoothly/effortlessly Mario Puzo sets up the characters and story in the early going, so I was inspired to post this.

puzo

I have included a pdf of an excerpt of this novel (attached in the meeting email) for discussion. It begins around pg. 8, just as guests are arriving for Connie Corleone’s wedding, and runs about 20 pages.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Puzo is very impressive in his management of a large ensemble cast. How do you think he accomplishes this?
  2. The prose seems to flow quite fluidly in how the perspective changes from character to character, and how the “camera” moves through the wedding and the house, focusing on different characters and their distinct motivations. What are some of the ways in which this works? (Or doesn’t).
  3. Note how much is accomplished in these 20 pages; the unique and differentiated characterization, effective storytelling, grounding the reader, the setup for the rest of the novel. What tools and tricks does Puzo utilize to make this happen?
  4. Things that you didn’t like? Things to note? Additional thoughts?   godfather wedding

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“The Relive Box” by T.C. Boyle

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A prolific American author, T.C. Boyle has published 24 books of fiction and his short stories have appeared in magazines including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and McSweeney’s. He received both his MFA and PhD from the University of Iowa, and he is a creative writing professor at USC. His work has been translated into more than two dozen foreign languages, and he’s won numerous awards.

I first discovered this story in The New Yorker, and I later had the pleasure of hearing T.C. Boyle himself read it aloud at the LA Times Festival of Books.

Questions:

1. Consider the line, “deep in this moment which would give rise to all the rest.” What do you think of the protagonist’s idea that by pinpointing one moment in his life, he can understand everything that came after? How does this story explore the way(s) in which past and present are linked?

2. What techniques does Boyle use to cultivate the tone, both of the story as a whole and of the protagonist’s particular voice? How do these interact?

3. What did you think of Boyle’s use of the second person (“But let me explain the technology here a moment, for those of you who don’t already know”) and the way the author acknowledges the reader. Does this work/not work and in what ways?

4. This story is, in many ways, an exploration of grief, loss, and healing. With a device like this, which allows you to spend time with a (dead) person, would you ever really able to let go?

5. How does Boyle use the relive box to illuminate and explore the father-daughter relationship in this story?

6. What is the significance of Queenie?

7. What do you make of the conclusion? How does it further illuminate the story, and what do you see happening in the future for Wes (and Katie)?

This story will appear in Boyle’s upcoming collection, The Relive Box and Other Stories, which he’s currently working on. In a post dated July 11, 2016 he said he was revising one called “Are We Not Men?'” and that it “is not far off the mark with regard to the reality of what we are unleashing on the world with CRISPR/Cas-9 technology.” Can’t wait to read that one! In the meantime, enjoy “The Relive Box”–looking forward to discussing it!

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“I Can See Right Through You” by Kelly Link

Kelly Link Get in Trouble

Take a wild clip-cut cinematographic ride into this week’s story “I Can See Right Through You” by Kelly Link. It was originally published in McSweeney’s Quarterly and was included in her short story collection Get in Trouble, a 2016 Pulitzer Prize Finalist. According to Kirkus Reviews: “In stories as haunting as anything the Grimm brothers could have come up with, Link (Magic for Beginners, 2005, etc.) gooses the mundane with meaning and enchantment borrowed from myth, urban legend and genre fiction. ….  In “I Can See Right Through You,” an actor past his prime, famous for his role as a vampire, yearns for the leading lady who has replaced him with a parade of eternally younger versions of what he once was—but who is the real demon lover?”

Kelly Link is the author of the collections Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners, Pretty Monsters, and Get in Trouble. Her short stories have been published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Best American Short Stories, and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, etc.

Questions

  1. Near the beginning of the story, she writes, “Film can be put together in any order. Scenes shot in any sequence. Take as many as you like. Continuity is independent of linear time. Sometimes you aren’t even in the scene together. Meggie says her lines to your stand-in. They’ll splice you together later on.” The story jumps through time and throws us little snippets and “stand-ins” (both literally and figuratively) for Meggie and the demon lover. What does Link accomplish with this style, and what makes it successful?
  2. What do you think happened in the end? How does it tie back to the Ouija board from the beginning of the story?
  3. Why does Link call the narrator “demon lover” for most of the story until very late in the narrative when he’s named “Will Gald”? Why wait until he’s on camera?
  4. How does the setting contribute to the mood of the story?

Happy reading and fantasizing about your very first “demon lover”   😉

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“Covered Up Our Names” by Jackie Lea Sommers

Hunger Mountain Cover
One of the best parts of the AWP Conference last month was visiting the book fair and hauling in a sweet stash of literary journals. I was drawn to this one because Hunger Mountain is VCFA’s journal–and Vermont College of Fine Arts has one of the best YA programs in the country. Also, let’s be honest: horses and hearts.

This session’s published piece, “Covered Up Our Names,” by Jackie Lea Sommers, appeared in Volume 18, the Winter 2013/2014 edition of Hunger Mountain, and was the story for which Sommers won the Katherine Paterson Prize from Young Adult and Children’s Writing. Sommers’s first novel, Truest, also YA, was published by HarperCollins in September 2015.

A few discussion Q’s:

1. Aside from the ages of the protagonist and supporting characters, what makes this a YA story? What makes it a literary YA story?

2. Did you find this story (or parts of it) predictable? Which parts, why, and how does being able to guess what’s going to happen enhance or detract from your experience?

3. Sommers uses an Emily Dickinson poem to tie in major themes, and the title comes from the poem. Discuss the poem’s/title’s significance.

4. YA often deals with heavy subjects, from eating disorders to rape to (as in this story) cancer. What makes this one different/special/work?

5. What techniques does Sommers use to balance the story’s heavy themes/subject matter?

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“The Closest Thing to Animals” by Sofia Samatar

Becca and I were chatting about the intersection of literary and science fiction, and she suggested I read “The Closest Thing to Animals,” by Sofia Samatar. It sucked me right in and I thought, this would be great for the MUG published piece! It’s a wonderful example of contemporary science fiction, especially as the lines between all kinds of genres become more and more blurred.

Sofia Samatar is the author of the novels A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories (due out March 2016). She has won the John W. Campbell Award, the Crawford Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the World Fantasy Award.

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“The Closest Thing to Animals” Image Header, firesidefiction.com

 

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How does Samatar sculpt the voice? How did you feel about the speaker, and did your feelings change over the course of the story?
  2. What can we learn from the way Samatar explores and blends race, science fiction, and character development?
  3. How does Samatar achieve a successful exploration of friendship?
  4. To me, one of the main questions here is: What is essential? How does Samatar answer this?

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“The Right Sort” by David Mitchell

"The Right Sort" - David Mitchell

Can you tell a short story on Twitter without going stir-crazy with the 140-character limit?

This week, we’re reading a short story originally published on Twitter by one of my favorite authors. David Mitchell is the award-winning and bestselling author of Slade House, The Bone Clocks, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Black Swan Green, Cloud Atlas, Number9Dream, and Ghostwritten. Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Mitchell was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time in 2007.

Mitchell isn’t afraid to cross genres in his novels, and so it wasn’t a big surprise that he made the leap to Twitter. He posted “The Right Sort” in the form of 280 tweets over one week. In the story, a teenage boy named Nathan Bland is dragged to a party at the mysterious posh house of Lady Briggs. He slips one of his mother’s Valium pills to help with his anxiety, and from there the story dives into a strange and suspenseful tale that would give Edgar Allan Poe the shivers.

Here are a few discussion questions:

  • Did the Twitter format change your experience of his story?
  • Although we experienced reading this story in one sitting in a continuous stream, how do you think Twitter fans would have experienced this story in real time?
  • Could this Twitter format have worked if it was a romance or comedy, instead of a suspense story?
  • Did Mitchell leave out any story elements due to space constraints? Did it feel like a full story?

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3 Stories by Ben Loory

419q4U-0HpL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Ben Loory is an LA based writer. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, Wigleaf, on one of my favorite radio shows This American Life, and in so many other places. He has two books, one being a collection of short short fables called Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, from which we are talking about 3 pieces!

Loory’s work is marked by its brevity and impact. He can say more in a few hundred words than most can say in several thousands. That said, at times in Stories for Nighttime I found myself asking the question, ‘so what?’ I couldn’t always source any clear meaning or takeaway. But any project such as this is bound to have a few unclear answers that make the shining gems really stick out.

Today, we’re talking about three stories, “The Book,” “The End of It All”, and “The Walk that Replaced Understanding.” I’d like to consider them all together – not based on plot, but on technique and style, because I think they best represent what Loory is trying to do with short fiction and when it works:

  1. I’ve most often heard Loory’s stories referred as ‘tales and fables.’ Do you agree with this? If so, how do you see these stories as differing from fables of old? What sets these apart as fables in a modern world? How are they similar?
  2. What is Loory doing with characters in these stories? How do they function and how do they differ from your traditional character?
  3. One thing I love and HATE about these stories is how bald they are of detail. There’s almost no physical description to work with, just the bare bones. Do you think this works in favor of the stories? How so?
  4. Loory is also a screenwriter, and took time off to write this collection. How do you see this impacting his work and syle? How does it shape the stories he tells?

I’d seriously recommend picking up a copy of this at the library. If not because it is an insane journey in and of itself, do it because the stories are short enough to read during the commercials of whatever show you’re binging these days.

 

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“The Crabapple Tree” by Robert Coover

I’ve become increasingly interested in the “modern fairy tales” trend, and I had just gotten acquainted with the Grimm tale “The Juniper Tree” after reading Lorrie Moore’s short story by the same title when I discovered “The Crabapple Tree” in The New Yorker. I’m pleased to share this story with MUG this week!

Robert Coover is an American author with ten novels and numerous plays, novellas, short stories, etc. to his credit. He’s known for experimenting with metafiction and magical realism, and he has taught at several universities, including Brown. You can read “The Crabapple Tree” here.

Image from The New Yorker; Artwork by Edel Rodriguez

Image from The New Yorker; Artwork by Edel Rodriguez

Questions for discussion:

  1. What do you think of Coover’s choice to make the speaker of this story an outsider, and to have her telling of it so far removed in time? What do you make of her voice? What purpose do these choices serve?
  2. Fairy tales often traditionally served as warnings for children… what does this tale caution against?
  3. Is the Vamp under the crabapple tree?
  4. Who is the villain in this story?
  5. What do you make of the final line?
  6. How does the Grimm story enhance your reading of this story? In what ways is “The Crabapple Tree” more “adult”?

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“Breaker” by Tommy Wallach

This week’s published story is “Breaker” by Tommy Wallach. He is a Brooklyn-based writer and musician. His debut YA novel, We All Looked Up, came out in March, and is a NY Times Bestseller. He also made a soundtrack for his book… talk about multi-talented! It’s the story of a group of teens facing the life-changing possibility of an asteroid hurtling toward the Earth. Madness, I know, but Wallach manages to create beautifully complex and honest characters that makes the whole premise worth it. Trust me.

"We All Looked Up" By: Tommy Wallach

“We All Looked Up” (book cover) – Tommy Wallach

I came across Tommy Wallach’s writing after seeing him in a panel at the LA Times Festival of Books panel along with Aaron Hartzler, David Levithan, and Leila Sales. (Fellow Mugster, Taylor Ross joined me for a day brimming with all sorts of literary ear-candy!)

Anyway, I loved his debut novel We All Looked Up, and during the panel, he mentioned that he published a story in McSweeney’s that was one of his proud accomplishments. The story is very different from his YA novel. It’s brief, so go read it now!

Some questions to mull over while reading:

1) Does his use of repetition distract you or deepen your experience of the story? Or any other ways it affected you?

2) How does the repetition tie back to the idea of being a “breaker”?

3) How do you feel about how he addresses the reader at the beginning?

4) How do the gun shots and the broken condoms come together in the story?

–Andrea

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