Author Archives: wordsmithkari

About wordsmithkari

"Whatever we choose it has to be grand - I can't think of two thirstier adventurers."

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem

It feels oddly anti-climatic to be writing this post, but sometimes…you just gotta.

I’m still working on the “balance” part in the “work-life” balance equation, but I’ve found something that’s important is that I read what I can.  This week it was something short and sweet: The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde.

Velde was an author I read a lot of as a child, a storyteller I could always count on to add a little magic to my life.  Books like A Well-Timed Enchantment, Dragon’s Bait, and Curses, Inc. were my introduction to the fantasy genre.  So when I found The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, I picked it up instantly.  The nostalgia helped, but Velde also had a point on the back of the book, a point I’d been thinking about for a while: the story of Rumpelstiltskin is pretty messed up.  Velde wrote six stories that made it make more sense.

My personal favorite was “Straw into Gold.”  My number one problem with the story has always been that the miller’s daughter married the king after he threatened to kill her and it was supposed to be a happy ending.  “Straw into Gold” gave her the best ending, in my opinion.

With six stories that come from the same fairy-tale, it would be easy for the stories to get repetitive, for the characters to run together.  Velde makes each story unique and each character is her own person.  If you want something short and fun to read, this is a great option.

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Charlottesville, Virginia.

This post is going to be a bit scattered, but I have to say something.

What’s happening in Charlottesville right now is what I was afraid of back in November.  When Trump said he would “Make America great again,” I kept wondering what he meant by “again.”  When was the golden age he was trying to get back to?  Based on this demonstration, it’s clear what these people consider “great.”  “White power,” they chanted.  All because a statue was removed – a statue of a general from the losing country.

And then Trump said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”  Because clearly both sides are equal here.  But this man was endorsed by the leader of the KKK.  He rallied about taking our country back.  The seeds were all there.

This isn’t about free speech any more.  When you’re carrying torches and guns, it’s about more than that.  When someone protesting you is murdered, it’s more than that.  When the symbol on your arm is the same symbol worn by those who literally killed billions of people, it’s more than that.  This was proven when a black man was literally beaten at this protest.

I don’t have a solution, but I know it starts with calling racism and Nazis what they are, not equating those things with those protesting them.

 

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The Magicians

My least favorite thing in the world is when an interesting concept is done poorly, and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians was one of those books.

The premise itself sounds great: kid is obsessed with a collection of fantasy books about a magical land.  He grows up and finds out magic is real after being invited to a school to learn the skill, but this magic land (Fillory) is still considered a fantasy.  Until one day…it’s not.  He and his friends actually get there.

Unfortunately, the story goes wrong right from the beginning.  Quentin Coldwater, the main character and third-person narrator, ruins it.  The first line of the description on the back states that he is “brilliant but miserable,” but he’s also a dick.  He objectifies every woman he sees.  He plays the victim even when he’s in the wrong, and he thinks he’s above everyone else.  As the main character, he’s annoying, but since the book is told from his perspective we get every gross or self-righteous thought that flows through his head.

The other problem with the book is its timeline.  It opens with him finishing high school and preparing for college.  In 400 pages, it spans somewhere between seven and eight years.  To do so, it glosses over those years to get as much time into the story as possible.  Random story elements will pop up, go unmentioned for hundreds of pages, and then come back when you’ve already forgotten about them.  Other story elements are never relevant and put in solely for shock value: when Quentin and Alice have fox sex, for instance.  The whole thing feels disjointed and vague.

I only kept reading it because someone I love very much bought it for me because she wanted me to watch the TV show.  I imagine, in that format, it’s much better.  You can’t be vague on-screen, and it is more third-person omniscient than third-person limited so I won’t have to deal with Quentin’s internal dialogue.  Because of that, I’ll probably try an episode or two.  But I wouldn’t recommend the book.

If you want to see these posts early (or just support me in eventually making a living as a full-time writer), subscribe to my Patreon.  You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

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4 Times You Should Say “No.”

I love the word “yes.”  When I say “yes,” I get to try new things or make someone happy.  I believe the word can really enhance your life.  But sometimes I go a little overboard and end up over-extended.

“Yes” is great, but sometimes you just really need to say “no.”

  1. When you’re overextended already – Believe it or not, you are not Wonder Woman.  You can’t go nonstop and you can’t do everything.  Once in a while, you have to rest.  So if you’re already exhausted or the workload you have is keeping you busy, you’re better off telling someone “no” than taking on extra that is going to burn you out.
  2. When the thing makes you uncomfortable/goes against your values – When I was a kid and people asked me if they could cheat off my paper, I always felt bad saying no…but I would have felt worse if I had let them.  This goes for adult things as well.  If it will make you feel guilty (or hurt you in any way), you are allowed to say no.  I encourage you to say no.
  3. When someone is repeatedly asking for favors and never helps you in return – I’m a huge believer in the golden rule.  You should absolutely treat other people the way you want to be treated.  But some people will take advantage of that and you should take care of yourself too.  If someone consistently asks you for help and is never around when you need something, it’s time to stop helping.
  4. When you just don’t want to – This may make me sound like a bad person, but I don’t actually care.  If you don’t want to do something, you don’t have to.  Period.

“But Kari, what about…”

Absolutely there are exceptions.  Maybe you’re tired, but it’s your best friend in the entire world and they really need you.  Or your schedule is booked but it’s a person who has never failed to help you out.  Maybe you really don’t want to do it, but they really can’t do it.  Err on the side of kindness, but remember to be kind to yourself too.

If you want to see these posts early (or just support me in eventually making a living as a full-time writer), subscribe to my Patreon.  You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

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The Handmaid’s Tale, Part 2

I am incredibly excited to discuss the The Handmaid’s Tale with my book club tonight.  After reading it, we’d also talked about watching the show on Hulu.  We had all heard good things, but I put it off because I thought it would be intense.  Today, if for no other reason than I was running out of time, I finally worked up the nerve.

I only got two episodes in, but here are my thoughts so far.

If you read my post about the book, you know I liked the way Margaret Atwood dropped the reader into the story.  The show didn’t work that way.  Episode one opens with Offred and her husband’s attempt to escape, a scene that was shown as a flashback about halfway through the book.  The change made sense, as the visual format needed a more dramatic introduction to the story.

The change I liked most was the casting of actors of color.  In the book, society’s downfall is directly related to an overwhelming wave of racism.  That is a very important and relative message and I think everyone should read the book so that they can see that effect.  However, in a TV show, it would just seem like an excuse not to cast non-white people.  (Granted, there still weren’t enough people of color cast, but maybe it’s better than none at all?)

They also made the population problem more dramatic.  In reading  the book, my understanding was that birthrates were down due to abortions and birth control.  In other words, people were choosing not to have children en masse.  In the show it was clear that infertility was an epidemic.  It had gotten so bad that someone tried to kidnap the main character’s baby.

I’m still waiting for more of the corrupted religion aspect to play in.  They’ve shown the Ceremony and talked about the Bible story that inspired it, but haven’t discussed why Offred became a Handmaid.  One of my favorite scenes in the book was Serena Joy telling Offred that the Commander was her husband, til death do they part.  That scene still appeared, but lacked the final line that gave it power: “That’s what we fought for.”

I also really hated what happened with Ofglen.  In the book, she’s a rebel fighter, using the term “Mayday” to judge who may be on her side and informing Offred about the rebellion.  The show already seems to have done away with her without giving Offred any of this information…although IMDB has Alexis Bledel credited for two more episodes, so maybe they have something else figured out.

The visual media is always going to be different than books.  Some aspects can be portrayed more clearly one way or the other.  As far as adaptations go, time will tell how the Hulu series does.  I’m interested in how they will move the story along going forward and if they’ll answer the question I’ve been dying to know since I finished the book: What happened to Offred?

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Welcome to August!

I have been SUPER busy lately, and the only way I’ve been able to get through it is to take one day at a time.  This is a valid method, but sometimes you’ve got to play the long game.  So, in the interest of that, here are my goals for the month.

  • Finish four books I’ve already started.
  • Write 6000 words (this is a low goal, Kari, come on).
  • Get caught up on your travel journal (WHY DO YOU DO THIS??? IT’S BEEN A MONTH SINCE YOU’VE BEEN ANYWHERE!)
  • Sign up for 401K (wow, adult much?).
  • Fix paystub problem (this has been on your radar for months, Johnson).
  • Stick to the preplanned budget for the month (which…is not your strong suit, but come on).

The next step is to figure out some rewards for if I do this, so…

  • Buy the three books on my (most timely) wishlist.
  • New coffee mug.
  • Day or weekend trip to Asheville.
  • That Kate Spade bracelet I’ve been looking at for months.
  • Nice dinner at Cowfish.
  • New pair of shoes in September’s budget.

Of course, my other problem is that I have a bad habit of letting myself have rewards without actually earning them, so who wants to keep me accountable?  Anyone?

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The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood wasn’t on my to-be-read list until last year.  I had heard of it, but had no idea what it was about.  I still didn’t know what it was about when I decided I should read it, but it sold out when Donald Trump was elected president, and that made me curious.

It’s a dystopic novel about a theocracy taking over America.  As a handmaid, Offred isn’t allowed to go out alone, read, or possess anything except her strict uniform and her Pass.  When she does the shopping, another handmaid accompanies her and she passes over vouchers with pictures of food on them.  Once a month, she participates in a ceremony to impregnate her so she can be a surrogate for her Commander and his Wife.  The ceremony was inspired by the story of Jacob and Rachel in Genesis 30, one of many scriptures the regime manipulated for their own purposes.

As she tells the story, Offred shares snippets of her life before: her husband Luke, her lost daughter, her feminist mother, and her friend Moira.  It was a time when she had her own job and family, when she could wear whatever clothes and make-up she wanted.  At first, it seems like a story set long ago, but with every detail it becomes clearer.  This isn’t the past for us, it’s the future.

One of the most powerful things Atwood does in this novel is to subvert the timeline.  By tossing us into the middle, she shows these rules and lifestyles as “normal.”  Only when Offred finally tells us when the change took place do we see how quickly it became so.

The women have little choice in the matter and are constantly told it is better this way.  “Look at how it was before,” they’re told.  “Women being raped and murdered all over the place.  This way protects you.”  Meanwhile, women who were actually raped are told they were to blame for it.

There is some resistance: an underground network and a rebel army.  But most people in Gilead are just trying to survive.  Except the Commanders, whose power allows them to flagrantly break rules with no consequence.

It is easy to read The Handmaid’s Tale thinking this could never happen, but the first step was to designate an entire group of people, legally, as second-class citizens.  And if we aren’t all free, none of us is truly free.  That includes our transgender brothers and sisters.

No one should feel like there is something wrong with them for existing.  Transgender people are not a burden.  And if we live in a country where this can happen, it isn’t truly the land of the free.  Don’t tell me it is when people with the bravery to serve are denied because of who they are.

If you choose to read this book, don’t start with the mindset that this could never happen to us.  Do not read it believing we have it easy because “things could be worse.”  If you read this book, do so with the realization that many women now are forced into abusive relationships or desperate lifestyles because of a power imbalance.  Realize how many people choose the military in an effort to escape poverty whether they feel called to it or not.  And realize how many people were just called a burden and not deserving of the chance to serve by the president of the United States.

Ordinary, as Aunt Lydia says, is what you are used to.  Let’s not let this become ordinary.

If you want to see these posts early (or just support me in eventually making a living as a full-time writer), subscribe to my Patreon.  You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

You can also donate to the Transgender Law Center  if you want to make a difference.

Categories: Book Club Thursday, Politics and Social Issues | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Introvert Problems

I’ve been working hard this month.  I came back from my beach vacation and dived into both jobs, working three and a half weeks without a single day off.  I was getting a little burned out.

…my candle literally just went out.  Spooky.

I finally took a day off and spent it sleeping.  It helped, but going back to work the next day, I was still feeling unmotivated and a little angry at, well…everyone.

I thought I needed another day, or maybe a few of them, when I didn’t have to talk to a single person.  I am an introvert.  Sometimes I need me-time.

I arrived at the mall Saturday, determined to make it through the full work day and looking forward to the short shift that followed on Sunday.  Most of the day did feel like going through the motions.  At seven, though, a woman came in with her daughter carrying a Disney bag.  I had to ask.  They had gotten two Tsum-tsums (one was Marie) and were planning a trip to the park.

I spent at least a half hour with them, talking about my time working at Disney World and showing them the pink bags we had on sale.  They were extremely sweet and it really was like talking to two old friends.  When they left with their purchase, they were overjoyed with what they got and excited about coming back.  They were my last sale right before I clocked out, and I actually left work feeling less tired than when I’d gotten there.

Since I got out early, I had time to go to Lush after H&M.  The service there is always great, but this time I got to work with Justine, and absolute sweetheart who accidentally cursed in front of me and whose tattoos I found delightful.  We realized we were from the same county and she could relate to the stifled feeling I sometimes get there.  When she noticed my Gryffindor tattoo, we got to compare Gryffindor and Slytherin qualities.  It was a lot of fun and she hugged me three times before I left.

Sometimes I need me-time, but what I’ve really been missing this month are truly personal interactions: spending time with someone and finding out what they value, what they hate, who they actually are.  It’s hard to get that when I’m trying to make a sales goal at Kate or trying to move the line at Amelie’s.  And it’s hard for me in general since I don’t seem to connect well with people, even people I’ve known for years.  (On a related note, how do you turn a work friend into a friend-friend?  I’m asking for a…well, a friend.)  But when those connections come along, they’re worth savoring, however briefly.  And they always make my job more fun.

If you want to see these posts early (or just support me in eventually making a living as a full-time writer), subscribe to my Patreon.  You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

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Rise of the Isle of the Lost

If a movie is based on a book, the book will always be better.  It’s just a Rule.  So what about when a book is the prequel to a movie?

I always read the book first because it enables me to enjoy both, but I stay away from novelezations at all costs.  Melissa de la Cruz and Descendants managed to find a middle ground: a prequel novel that gave the movie context.  In that way, The Isle of the Lost prepared readers for what came next.  It gave an insight into the characters and their friendship that added layers to the final production.

The movie was a phenomena (despite its gaps in logic).  It was watched by so many people that the second (coming out Friday) is going to air on every channel the Disney corporation owns.  When I heard they were doing another book in between, Return to the Isle of the LostI wasn’t surprised.  I was even excited to see how our heroes fared being, well, the heroes.  And (if you read my post, you know) I hated it because it lacked the darkness and edge that made them Villain Kids.

Rise of the Isle of the Lost did a better job.  It shows Mal’s dark side and dependence on magic as well as the contrast between her and Evie.  It shows Carlos and his terror at the idea of returning to his abusive mother.  It shows Jay’s struggle between rogue and prince as he learns to channel his energy into a new sport instead of thievery.  Basically, if Return to the Isle of the Lost had never existed, this book would be perfect.

It shows every way the Villain Kids have changed and all the ways they haven’t, which is a fine and difficult line to walk in a sequel.

Knowing there were two books between the movies concerned me at first, at the first book (second total) didn’t help.  Reading the new book, however, eased my fears.  The second sets up the movie, especially Mal’s insecurities and Uma’s fury, but ends at a spot where someone could jump in without prior information and still understand what’s going on.

It’s a good book to read if you enjoyed Descendants and are looking forward to its sequel.  Give it a chance.  As sequels go, it’s definitely worthy of the title.

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Golden

I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but sometimes…I can’t help it.  I like books that are going to look good on my shelf.  Usually that’s something vintage, either leather-bound or with something beautiful on the cover.  This time it was a bound manuscript.

I wasn’t expecting Golden by Jessi Kirby to be anything spectacular.  Maybe it was the format or maybe it was the fact that I’ve been disillusioned with YA fiction in general.  Either way, I was wrong.  I read Golden at the beach and really enjoyed it.

Parker is about to graduate from high school, after having done everything just right, read: “whatever her mother told her to do.”  With the biggest accomplishment of her life to date looming ahead, it’s time to start thinking about the future and what she really wants.

The basic storyline is a typical YA motif: the coming of age and choosing your own life story.  There’s the dynamic best friend attempting to convince the main character to take more risks and the cute boy she could have at the snap of her fingers if she were ever brave enough to snap her fingers.  Pretty average stuff.  But under it all is a mystery that keeps the reader interested.

While trying to figure out where her future leads, Parker finds a journal from ten years ago, written by a girl whose life ended at the age Parker is at now.  Despite the stories about the girl’s perfect life, Parker sees the parallels and how easy it is to do what is expected of you.  As she unfolds the past, she starts to see the future more clearly.

If you’re looking for a YA book that has something different, this is the one.  It’s a fun, easy read with enough substance to keep you interested.  I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

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