alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


Try Something New – Short Stories

A few days ago, I realized I needed to get over this silly thing about not reading short stories…especially now that I’ve been writing them for the last 3 years. I feel like one of those people who shows up in every workshop, who ‘wants to be a writer’ but hasn’t read a book since ‘Flowers in the Attic’ in the 7th grade.

I read plenty of canonical short stories in undergrad, and even plenty that I remember with fondness or appreciation. Stories like “A&P” by John Updike, or “A Rose for Emily,” by William Faulkner, or Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” – okay, I didn’t like that one, but I remember it.

After college, I voluntarily read the entire book of Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and, in the throes of a reader-crush, a book of Haruki Murakami’s short stories while I waited for his next novel to be translated. Both experiences were pretty positive, but hmm, that would be about 10 years ago.

Since then, I tried Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners, because she very unhelpfully hasn’t written a novel yet and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I kind of liked the one about the zombies and the convenience store, but mostly I kind of just didn’t get it, and I only read a few of the stories.

But, there’s always room for improvement, so I’m going to give it another try. In fact, I already have. I read a story last week (review to come), and now I have signed up for the Try Something New mini-challenge.

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Review of Jumped, by Rita Williams-Garcia

I’m going to try to do this without spoilers…

Jumped, by Rita Williams-Garcia

Jumped, by Rita Williams-Garcia

Early one morning in zero period before regular classes begin, Leticia overhears Dominique, a big basketball-playing “boy girl” say she’s going to “get” Trina that day at 2:45.

On the surface the story is about Leticia’s moral decision: should she “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” like the James Brown song played on the school loudspeakers? Should she warn Trina, who has no idea that she’s going to get pounded? Or maybe she should just stay out of it?

Chapters alternate, with each girl narrating the rest of the school-day in her own words. As they talk about themselves, the reader begins to see gaps between how each girl thinks of herself and how others see her. Basically, Trina and Dominique are both telling themselves stories about who they are and what their place is in the school/world. Dominique, especially, is constrained by her story. To others, her actions seem extreme and arbitrary. But to her, her actions are inevitable: she has no indecision, and she has no regret, because her self-story doesn’t allow any other possible outcome.

Letting each girl have her own say on the page helped me to make my own judgments about their actions. Characters I liked the first time they appeared, I liked less by the end. Characters I didn’t like, at least I understood. The ending was different than I was expecting (sitting on my hands now – I promised no spoilers!) but, I think, satisfying.

Williams-Garcia was a new author to me, but I think now I am going to check out her Like Sisters on the Homefront or No Laughter Here. Thanks to Doret & Carleen for hooking me up with a new author. As per the terms of the bargain, I have now passed my copy to another reader.

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What a Story Does

I was commenting on someone else’s story today, and I wanted to say something about what a story is, what it does, and why having characters moving around on the page for 4500 words doesn’t necessarily equal a story.

I knew there was a quote that expressed this beautifully and directly. A quote that I really need to keep in mind when I’m doing my own work, because I am also regularly guilty of characters who meander happily (or miserably) without actually getting anywhere.

It’s from David Allan Cates, and it goes like this:

[Stories] explain the day the heart opened, the day the heart closed. They explain how we became who we are, how we became aware of something ugly in ourselves or the world, or beautiful. How we lost faith. How we found it. And how, exactly, to the moment, to the second, we finally—albeit briefly—understood.

Damn, you know. I think that pretty much covers it. I’m going to tape that up over my desk.

(Read the rest of the article at Glimmer Train).

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Seeing Double? (Or, Do All Book Designers Use the Same Photo Agency?)

I was reading ‘White Readers Meet Black Authors’ today, and when I clicked on the post about J. California Cooper’s new novel ‘Life Is Short But Wide’, I thought I was seeing Jeffrey Ford’s ‘The Girl in the Glass.’

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

Stuff like this cracks me up. I freelance as a photo editor, and last month my co-op’s monthly flier showed up in my mailbox covered in the same images I had been staring at all morning for my current project. I see stock images everywhere. Its like my brain has developed stock-dar.

I’m guessing that even if the book designers above were aware of the duplication, they were thinking “Literary Fantasy? African-American? Never the genre shall meet.” But I’ve foiled them. I’m going to read both.

(For a few more covers, see YA author Scott Westerfeld’s ‘Lookalikes‘ post about his own books).

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Jumped has arrived.


My copy of Jumped arrived yesterday, courtesy of The Happy Nappy Bookseller’s  Black History Month guest post on White Readers Meet Black Authors.

It looks a little younger than the YA I usually read, but the themes are potentially mature, so it will be interesting to see how it is handled.

I’ll be reading it as soon as I finish The Nebuly Coat. Stay tuned.

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I Heart NYT Slideshows

This great slideshow on the NY Times site shows side-by-side photos of identical twins. It’s supposed to be about the effect of environmental factors (smoking, stress, extreme tanning) on the appearance of aging.

NY Times Slideshow of Ageing in Twins

NY Times Slideshow of Ageing in Twins

I don’t care so much about the scary implications about wrinkles and eyebags, but it is fascinating to go back and forth between two sames-that-are-not-the-same. It does something itchy to my brain.

These genuine twins photos (taken at Twins Days!) are like looking at computer-morphed images of the same person. Like the ones used for personality tests to see what traits you respond to in the opposite sex.

BBC Quiz - Find out whether your ideal partner is an introvert or an extrovert

BBC Quiz - Find out whether your ideal partner is an introvert or an extrovert

I like introverted, feminine dudes. Big surprise there.

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Best Use of Cannibalism

On the way to work this morning (one of the best times for unfettered thinking, along with showering, tooth-brushing, and cleaning the litter boxes), I realized there *has* been a recent book that effectively utilizes a cannibal character: one of the best books I’ve ever read, James Meek’s The People’s Act of Love.The People's Act of Love by James Meek

Samarin is not a bone-through-the-nose colonial “savage” from the tropics, but he does represent what is beyond the fringe of civilization, and he is a flesh-eater. An escapee from an arctic prison camp known as The White Garden, Samarin stumbles into an occupied town in Siberia in 1919. In the first telling Samarin is not the eater but the potentially eaten, the “pig” that The Mohican, another prisoner, brings along to survive the escape across the frozen tundra.

Maybe Samarin escaped from the Mohican. Maybe the Mohican is hot on Samarin’s heels, bringing his ruthlessness to the village and murdering the old blind shaman. Maybe Samarin has made up the story of the Mohican. Maybe Samarin is the Mohican.

“First the old get eaten by the weak, then the weak get eaten by the strong, and then the strong get eaten by the clever.”