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


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.


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.


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.


  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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How I Found my Agent on Twitter!

Reblogging to the Mugsters!

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“With Killer Bees” by Carol Guess and Kelly Magee

Kelly Magee is the author of Your Sick and The Reckless Remainder, a collection of prose poems co-written with Carol Guess, as well as two new books to be released this year and in 2017. Carol Guess is a novelist and poet. Her books Homeschooling, Femme’s Dictionary, and Gaslight were nominated for Lambda Literary Awards. And they are both writers that I am fortunate enough to work with in the next two years!

Guess-and-Magee-cover_web-250x386Magee and Guess partner regularly to create bizarre and fantastic  collections of stories, one of which being With Animal. Our story today, “With Killer Bees,” emerges from this adventurous hodgepodge of women who find themselves pregnant with another species. Be it killer bees, a hippopotamus, a dragon, or even a nebula, the result is haunting, all-consuming, and eye-opening. It’s truly one of the most unique examinations of sexuality, family dynamics and identity that I’ve read in a while and I’m excited to share it with yinz!

Here are some questions for today:

  1. A perspective flip happens when the woman who gives birth tells her story, then it flips back to our original narrator again. They do a better of indicating this in the story, but I think it still begs the question: Is this flip jarring? Does it just serve the purpose of providing backstory or is there more to it?
  2. I’ve paid a lot of attention to sex and gender identity in these stories, because it plays a prominent role in Guess and Magee’s work as they explore diverse relationships. Do you believe at any point that you know the narrator’s gender or sex? Does it matter?
  3. I love the ending, solely for how damn poetic it is. However, I’m still trying to make sense of it. So, join me, won’t you? What do you make of the last few lines, these pleading questions without one, straightforward answer?

That is all for now! (P.S. Sorry for what we did to San Jose in the Stanley Cup. Though I guess I’m not that sorry…)



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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 Girl in the Orange Hat” by Jack Cady

Jack Cady (March 20, 1932 – January 14, 2004) was an American author. He is most known as an award winning fantasy and horror writer. In his career he won the Nebula Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the Bram Stoker Award, a special award from the International Horror Guild, and several others. He taught writing at the University of Washington and at Pacific Lutheran University, was a conscientious objector during the Korean War, a member of the US Coast Guard, and a fervent believer in the value of history as a means of understanding both politics and writing.

I found Cady’s work quite by accident. A collection of his short stories, including his most famous piece, “The Night they Buried Road Dog,” was lying on a mantle with a small sign that said ‘Free’ on it. Naturally I took it, and was immediately captivated by Cady’s voice. In this story, “The Girl in the Orange Hat”, Cady writes from the first person about a couple who frequent Golden Gate Park on the weekends and encounter a beautiful young woman that intrigues both husband and wife, though perhaps for different reasons.

  1. Cady’ voice is strong in this piece, counterpointing tersely descriptive sentences with rambling observation. Does it work for you? How does the rhythm and meter of the sentence construction contribute or distract from the story?
  2. The narrator/husband of the couple goes from a dispassionate observer of her reactions to the girl in the orange hat, called Maria, to an introspective review of his own knowledge about his wife and the conflict she’s seeing. Do you think this development is effectively communicated throughout the piece? How does the wife’s emotional distress resonate through his observations?
  3. Like so much literary fiction, this piece does not end so much as simply stop. There is, however, something of a climax and resolution as the events of the story unfold. Discuss how Cady brought his genre and literary sensibilities together to make this a compelling story arc.

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“Orientation” by Daniel Orozco

Orozco_Jacket_ImageWhen I started my search for a published piece this week, I did the usual sifting through my bookshelf, which has recently become such a disorganized stacking of books that, even if I know what I want before I begin looking, it often takes a few attempts to locate anything. This explains why it’s taken me so long to share one of Daniel Orozco’s stories here. That, and the fact that my copy is  a simple, black hardback with nothing but the title, Orientation, across the front.

Daniel Orozco is a bit of an anomaly. When you go to research him, there isn’t a whole lot out there. He’s known for his short stories, but has been working for the past several years on a novel of extraordinary length, so he writes in the extremes. His writing has been published in The Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize Anthologies, and a few other magazines. His list might be short, but he is a writer who still impacts the way I look at my own short fiction.

Today we’re looking at the title story from his collection, “Orientation.”

  1. How does the narrator’s tone and perspective impact the story? As a result, is the reader more detached or drawn in?
  2. What does character development look like in this story and how does it serve the story’s purpose as a whole?
  3. Is there any conflict in this story? If so, what? If not, why and is that okay?

If you get a chance, I highly recommend picking up all of Orientation and reading it through. I promise it won’t take you more than an afternoon, because you’ll want to see where the hell Orozco takes you.



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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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