Check Out These Popular Articles

7 Storytelling Lessons from Game of Thrones / ASoIaF

7-storytelling-lessons-asoiaf

I’m a big fan of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (commonly known by the name of its TV adaptation, Game of Thrones). It boasts a cast of richly complex characters, its setting is one of the most fascinating I’ve encountered, and it’s easily one of the most compelling stories I’ve read.

I’m currently on my second read-through of the books, and I thought I’d share some of the many storytelling lessons I’ve learned from the series. Let’s get to it!

1. History is a great place to draw inspiration.

Wars_of_the_Roses_Game_of_Thrones

Image courtesy of Starcasm

George RR Martin has made no secret of how much he’s pulled from history: While the Game of Thrones is being battled by Lannisters and Starks, the War of the Roses was fought by Lancasters and Yorks. Battles from our history and mythology play out in Westoros and Essos—but often with a dash of alchemy, dragons, or dark powers. Even weaponry and technology, like Valyrian steel, is based on mysteries from history, like Damascus steel.

It would be an exhausting process to list all the historical inspirations of the Song of Ice and Fire, but whatever specific instances we make note of, the lesson is clear: History makes for great source material, even in fantasy settings. After all, history was the result of complex conflicts between complex people—and that makes for a pretty compelling narrative.

Read the Full Article →

Food, Poetry, and Form with Lance Larsen

Food, Poetry, and Form with Lance Larsen:

A Reading and Lunch with Utah’s Poet Laureate

I had the privilege of attending a reading by Lance Larsen, Utah’s Poet Laureate, and to have lunch with him afterward. Lance was the model of the poet-academic, with his baggy pants loose around his knees, his t-shirt tucked in, his dress jacket (a gray-green) and shoes (a light tan) mismatched to the rest of his outfit. He read a number of his pieces, including a range of non-poetry; he is a poet of the page who explores re-applications of poetry, as exemplified by the lyric essays and poetic prose he read. After reading his poetry, he answered questions for the general audience. Afterward, I was invited alongside a few others to have lunch with Larsen. Among the topics discussed were what Larsen calls “celebrations” within poetry, the revision process, and how to conclude a poem.

I came to the reading as a virgin to Larsen’s work. While I haven’t fallen deeply and madly in love with his work, a few of his pieces resonated beautifully. He had one specific poem where he answered the question of why he kept writing; I’m eager to add this specific poem to my collection. His poetry was especially stirring at the level of individual lines: An eye socket that was “more mouth than wound,” the pleasure of having “Pablo Neruda between my teeth,” “a tiny girl peeks into a birdbath to see if she still has a face,” and Larsen notes, “Each day I feel a little more Marxist.”

This doesn’t necessarily serve as a declaration for the man himself. “Sometimes we’re truer when we create an autobiography for ourselves that isn’t entirely factual,” said Larsen. He also freely admits the influence of other poets on his work, noting many classics (including Shakespeare, Keats, and Dickinson), as well as less-known poets such as Phillip Lavine and Elaine, on his list of favorites. Not that Larsen is a literary snob. “I like the idea of Byron,” said Larsen, “more than I like Byron.”

The most valuable concept I witnessed was embedded in the structural layout of his poetry. In some ways, his work uses the structure of a traditional joke: He sets up a concept or image at a casual pace until, when the idea has gained ground, he executes a reversal in a single line or phrase—changing philosophical declaration to humor in a single turn, or transforming the tedium of relationships to a story of love and loss with the line “I should have memorized the stale air.”

Melanie Rae Thon: Dinner and a Workshop

After the reading and Q&A, I had the chance to attend a dinner and workshop with Master Thon. (Don’t know who that is? Check out my spotlight on Melanie Rae Thon.) This entry includes some pictures, notes, and thoughts from those portions of the event.

Dinner with Master Thon

What’s it like having dinner with a writer you admire? I’ve had the opportunity on a few occasions and have always felt a strong sense of how human—how oddly normal—these writers are. Each writer has their distinct personality, of course; Melanie was soft-spoken, charming, and quietly playful. In talking about her education she clarified that she never got her PhD, though there was no sense that she was either being especially humble or making a statement against academic titles. It was a simple statement of fact, to which the group responded by shifting away from calling her “Dr. Thon.” Instead, we called her “Master Thon.”

While I love the chance to meet with talented writers, I don’t have a sense of mysticism or excitement attached to it. I had the chance to see the experience from a different perspective as I saw other students respond.

Ashley and Master Thon

Ashley and Master Thon

Read the Full Article →

Spotlight: Melanie Rae Thon [Poet/Writer]

I had the pleasure of attending a reading, workshop, and dinner with writer Melanie Rae Thon early last week. While I will go into the details of those events in a separate entry, I want to take this opportunity to introduce you to Melanie.

Melanie Rae Thon (Writer)

Who Is Melanie Rae Thon?

Despite the spelling (“Thon”), her last name is pronounced “Tone”—a homophone with appropriately lyric associations. In reading The Voice of the River (Melanie’s most recent novel), it was difficult for me to categorize the work, especially when I described it to friends. Eventually I gave up and just said, “You know what? It’s a poem. It’s a novel-length poem.”

This is a comment on the style, density, and beauty of the work—meant as neither compliment nor insult but as a way to say, “This ain’t your typical prose.”

Read the Full Article →

How to Touch a Bleeding Dog: Full Text and Analysis

Image courtesy of eple.us. Not originally associated with Rod Kessler's work.

Image courtesy of eple.us. Not originally associated with Rod Kessler’s work.

The following is the full text of Rod Kessler’s “How to Touch a Bleeding Dog.” It is a piece of flash fiction that can, broadly, be classified as “literary.”

Read the Full Article →

Jamaal May: Interview Highlights

My interview with Jamaal May was jam-packed, as those of you who already read the full interview transcript know. For those who have a bit less time, this post dives into some of the topics we discussed that I found to be most interesting. We did the interview over instant messaging, so what you’re seeing is 99% exact on what was said.

If you don’t already know who Jamaal May is, check out my spotlight page on him. If you do already know him, be sure you subscribe to his various platforms. (Scroll to the bottom of this page for links.)


Highlights from the Interview with Jamaal May

Here are my personal highlights from the interview:  page vs stage poetry, liminal spaces, poetic torque, the purpose of art, and definitions of poetry.

Page vs Stage Poetry

Core takeaways: Page and stage poetry are wildly different beasts, but working within the strictures of traditional form can improve one’s sense of the musicality of language and otherwise empower stage poetry by stripping away the devices sometimes found in the genre.

Rob D YoungRob D Young: You work in a territory that often crosses, blurs, or rejects the lines between poetry of the stage and poetry of the page. Your video of “I do have a seam” is a wonderful example of this.

What are your thoughts on working in these different forms and contexts?

Jamaal May (academic)Jamaal May: […] The page became an important goal for me because I realized what I could do in slam was limited by the format in some ways. I was fortunate enough to recognize early that slam had a ceiling and that I’d have to be proactive about learning more about the field of poetry as a whole.

Read the Full Article →