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1. Book Review- The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Title: The Penelopiad
Author: Margaret Atwood
Series: Canongate Myths
Published:  October 2005
Length:  198 pages
Source: library
Other info: Atwood has written many things, such as The Blind Assassin, The Handmaid's Tale, and The Heart Goes Last. The Penelopiad was written as part of the Canongate Myths series.
Summary : For Penelope, wife of Odysseus, maintaining a kingdom while her husband was off fighting the Trojan war was not a simple business. Already aggrieved that he had been lured away due to the shocking behaviour of her beautiful cousin Helen, Penelope must bring up her wayward son, face down scandalous rumours and keep over a hundred lustful, greedy and bloodthirsty suitors at bay...And then, when Odysseus finally returns and slaughters the murderous suitors, he brutally hangs Penelope's twelve beloved maids. What were his motives? And what was Penelope really up to? 

Review: Since her husband Odysseus left to fight in the Trojan War, and then gets caught up for ten years on the way back, Penelope has been left running her household, and fighting off suitors who want to marry her, and eat her out of house and home. Now that she's dead, she's ready to tell her side of the tale, as are the twelve maids who were hanged.
According to Goodreads, I read this a few years ago and gave it three stars, but I don't remember doing that. Now I know the Odyssey a bit more, and we're doing a feminist-orientated piece of English coursework, I decided to pick this up, and now I understand things better, I loved it.
There's reinterpretations and challenges to the characters and stories. Obviously, there's those against Odysseus, where there's the question of whether the Cyclops he fought was a monster or a one-eyed barkeeper, and whether his years with Circe and Calypso were spent in brothels or nymphs and witches. But there's also a conversation with Antinous, one of the suitors, explaining why they wanted to marry Penelope so much, and the presentation of Helen as vain, proud, and wanting to conquer men just because she can. Atwood has taken inspiration from multiple sources, not just Homer's epic, but also theories from Robert Graves (who used many writers to inform his work) and Homeric hymns. I like the possibilities this gave Atwood to work with, and the ways she used them.
Penelope's voice often dryly comments on various parts of the stories, and I enjoyed her different insights. What I liked most was the use of the chorus, the twelve maids, whose chapters mostly alternate with Penelope's and change styles each time. Poems, songs, plays, and a transcript of a modern-day murder trial are some of the ways the maids pass their story on in many ways. The writing is well crafted, allowing each of the styles as well as Penelope's main narration to work together to make a story that is intriguing and easy to read.

Overall: Strength 5 tea to a book that makes you think about the different interpretations a myth can have, and provides a new one.

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2. Neil Gaiman Creates a Poem Inspired by Orpheus and Eurydice

Neil GaimanThroughout his career, writer Neil Gaiman has tackled a wide range of projects including novels, picture books, and poetry. Recently, he drew inspiration from the Greek myth of “Orpheus and Eurydice” to create a poem entitled “Orphee.”

According to Gaiman’s blog post, he wrote this piece for a BBC Radio documentary called Orpheus Underground. Other creatives who also took part in this program include novelist Margaret Atwood, author Jonathan Carroll, and musician Peter Blegvad. Click here to download a digital copy of Myths of Greece and Rome by H.A. Guerber; this eBook contains the full story of “Orpheus and Eurydice.”

Here’s an excerpt from the poem: “I would go to Hell to see you once more. There’s a door on the third floor of the New York Public Library, on the way to the men’s toilets, by the little Charles Addams gallery. It’s never locked. You just have to open it. I would go to Hell for you. I would tell them stories that are not false and that are not true. I would tell them stories until they wept salt tears and gave you back to me and to the world.”

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3. The Serial That Wasn’t

Literary Hub has an excerpt from Margaret Atwood’s new book The Heart Goes Last that she has annotated. I am very happy Atwood has a new book but I am also unsure about it. You see, I have already read a large portion of it over a year ago.

The book began as an experiment on Amazon in writing serial fiction. Every few months Atwood would publish a new chunk of the story for $1.99-$2.99. Things were going pretty well and then all of a sudden she stopped publishing them. I read perhaps 100-150 pages of the book and then was left hanging. Ok, I thought, I guess the serial thing wasn’t working out and she ended the project.

When I found out about The Heart Goes Last I was excited until I realized that it is the book she was publishing as a serial. I feel a little cheated. I mean, if I want to find out what happens I will have to buy the whole book after I have already bought the first third of the book. Seems a bit unfair, like perhaps I should get a discount for the part I have already paid for.

That’s only part of the trouble. When it was being published as a serial, it was not on a regular schedule of say, a chapter a month or fifty pages every six weeks. Part two came out about two months after the first part and the third part came out about four months after the second part. And then it was no more. The length of time between each volume made it hard to really get into the story. The premise was good but I wasn’t especially enjoying it and only bought and read each subsequent part because it was Margaret Atwood. I am having a hard time mustering up enthusiasm for the book.

Part of me thinks that reading it as a whole book and not as a serial will make a lot of difference. But as I think about what I have already read, I am surprised by just how much detail I can recall. So then I wonder whether she made any revisions to what was already published and if so, how might that affect rereading the first third of the book and continuing to the conclusion?

Until I actually read the book I can only speculate. But I am not in a hurry to read it and that leaves me feeling just a tiny bit disappointed. I am hoping that when other people start talking about it my disappointment will dissolve.

Now, briefly, about those annotations at Literary Hub. Atwood used a site called Genius. They have a section called Lit Genius. This site is dedicated to annotating literature. It is kind of interesting. Have any of you spent much time on it? I haven’t had a chance to explore other than a quick browse. I like the concept, but I wonder how useful and/or interesting it might be for readers other than students? Because it looks like most of what is there is aimed at students. I could be wrong. Still though, makes me really happy about the cool things the internet allows us to do.

Filed under: Books, Margaret Atwood

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4. Margaret Atwood and Ruth Reich Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

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5. Another Multiple Book Dilemma

One of the good things about having multiple books in progress all the time is that there is always something to read to go with my mood and I am rarely grumbling at a story that isn’t clicking for whatever reason — I want a page turner and the book is a slow, character-focused book say, or I want something quiet but the one book is frenetic and loud. With more than one book on the go, I never get stuck in one book when what I want at the moment is something entirely different. And, if I don’t have what I want already started, I get the pleasure of diving into a new story.

The flip side of this however, because there is always a flip side, is what I am finding myself coping with right now. I have a couple books on the go, all good, all that I want to read, all moving slow but not in a bad way. These would be the three main books I am reading, the ones that get to most eyeball time.

One is Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. This is a science fiction book about a generation ship — a ship of about 2,000 people that was sent off from Earth to populate a new planet in a distant solar system. It has taken 170 years to get to this new planet and they are just arriving. Of course the planet is not exactly like Earth from gravity to length of day, to soil bacteria, etc. Now these people who are not the same ones who set out from Earth 170 years ago, have to figure out how to survive on their new home. Interesting, but often technical, and slow moving.

Another is Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve by Ian Morris. As I suspected, I do not agree with his thesis. The book is a carrot and a stick. I am not so excited by his argument and text (stick) but I keep reading because half the book is a critique of his argument by three other people and one of those people is Margaret Atwood (carrot). I want the carrot, but the stick is sometimes hard to take!

My other main book at the moment is Republic of Imagination. I am very much enjoying it but the section on Huck Finn is the biggest one in the book and it is starting to go on too long. Unfortunately there are another 20-30 pages of the Huck section to go.

I don’t mind that these books are moving along at a slow pace or that I am occasionally bored by them. Foragers is a library book with others waiting for it so I have to really concentrate on getting that one done.

So what’s the problem? Well, my turn came up for another library book two days ago, The Bicycling Big Book of Cycling for Women. It’s about bikes and training and nutrition and all that. I expected it would be something to dip into, that it would not be something I wanted to just sit and read for long periods of time. But it turns out I do want to sit and read it much to the detriment of the other books! So the last two nights instead of reading Foragers as I had been doing, I have been reading about cycling. Why read a carrot/stick book when I can read a book that is all carrot? Not a problem generally but the due dates make it one.

This weekend I will be making myself read Foragers as much as possible and attempt to limit my time with the bicycling book. This is not a problem you one-book-at-a-time people have! You can laugh and shake your heads at me, but you multiple book people will understand what a difficult time I am facing for the weekend. These are nice problems to have and I hope all of you have a good weekend with no worse dilemmas than bookish ones to conquer!

Filed under: Books, In Progress Tagged: Azar Nafisi, Bicycling, Ian Morris, Kim Stanley Robinson, Margaret Atwood, multiple book dilemmas

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6. Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels

cover artI almost gave up reading Foragers, Farmers and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve by Ian Morris because his whole thesis just seemed so anecdotal and far-fetched that I spent much of my reading time grumbling. But I kept going because after he makes his arguments, he has four other people, one of them Margaret Atwood, respond to his thesis. He then follows up the critiques with another chapter of his own in which he answers the criticism. I recently likened reading the book to a carrot and a stick with the book being a stick and Atwood at the end being the carrot to keep me going.

In the end I am glad I kept going and not just for Atwood. The book provides quite a lot of food for thought. Before it became a book though, it was a series of lectures, the Tanner Lectures delivered in 2012 and sponsored by Princeton University’s Center for Human Values. The criticism at the end is in response to the lectures. Morris did, of course, do some revising and expanding of the lectures in order to turn them into a book, but I don’t think it was much and believe most of it was in order to facilitate the change in genre from oral lecture to written book.

I don’t want to and can’t go into explicit detail of Morris’s theory, it is simply too complex. If my summary is either intriguing or infuriating enough, however, I recommend reading the book.

To the theory.

Morris argues that the core reason for changes in human values is the manner in which we capture energy. He measures energy in kilocalories which means his argument is very much based in how we get enough food and calories to sustain ourselves. And how we obtain these calories has a direct impact on our values. The main values Morris focuses on are violence, wealth and gender equality but he frequently points out that it is our entire values system he is talking about not just these few.

The book is broken up into three sections with each one centering around the means of energy capture the nicely alliterative title suggests. First we were foragers and hunters. These early societies were prone to violence while at the same time being rather egalitarian when it came to wealth and gender roles. Yes, women tended to be the gatherers and men the hunters, but both modes of obtaining food were just as important so neither gender had much power over the other. Since people moved around a lot, accumulating wealth in the form of property or possessions was not important. A lot of the time, people didn’t even have to work that hard in order to feed the group, not that it was an easy life, but it was not one in which people spent all day working. However, because the amount of energy that could be captured through foraging was limited, groups were small, settlements were few and far between, and large settlements approaching anything like a town were rare.

That is until people discovered farming. Farming required a big trade-off, a lot more work was needed but the amount of kilocalories skyrocketed. More food meant better health and longevity which meant people also reproduced more. Farming requires you stay in one place which meant villages and towns and cities. It also meant hierarchy became valuable. Wealth accumulation became possible. Violence meted out be individuals became discouraged and laws were written. Gender roles became more separated, more enforced, and women were relegated to the house and the kitchen. Because farming required huge labor inputs in order to obtain huge energy output, slavery and forced labor were considered acceptable. Human population exploded, cities expanded, empires were possible and a whole lot of other things too that people had never cared about before. Eventually, however, the energy available from farming hit a ceiling it could not expand past.

But then northern Europe discovered fossil fuels. It is the form of energy capture that has allowed the Earth’s population to grow past 7 billion. It is what has allowed us to have smartphones and computers and cars, cheap heating and cooling for our houses. Huge cities. It is what has allowed the United States to move from 90% of the labor force being farmers to just 2%. Morris argues that it is a major factor in our ability to end slavery worldwide, for the major drop in individual violence and, bloody as the twentieth century was, state violence. It is also the biggest factor in changes of gender equity and wealth equity.

But now we are coming to the end of fossil fuels, what is next? Morris doesn’t claim to know but he offers a few possibilities that range from complete societal collapse to a nearly utopian post-human future. Depending on what happens at the upcoming climate change talks in Paris, I’m hedging for something in between and hoping it is closer to the utopian side of things than the complete collapse option.

The criticisms of Morris’s arguments were interesting for the most part. Atwood looked ahead to the future and suggested if society does indeed collapse we will almost immediately return to a foraging set of values. As you would expect, her short piece was witty and thoughtful.

Another of the critics was a philosopher and I have no idea what she was going on about most of the time talking about real values and ideal values and what are values anyway? Another criticism came from a historian who disagreed with the way Morris approached history. And the fourth critique came from a classicist who accused Morris of operating from a capitalist bias that skewed everything and invalidated all.

At this point in my reading I was not as strongly against Morris’s argument as I was in the beginning but I still disagreed. After I read his thoughtful and well-argued rebuttal, I am wondering if maybe, just maybe, he is actually on to something. I am not sure what it is that swayed me, it might be that his writing style in the rebuttal had more personality while still being rigorously argued. It could be that in answering the criticism of the others, he made is thesis more rounded and clear. It is possible that since Atwood didn’t rip him to shreds or at least leave claw marks, I was more lenient on him.

Whatever the case, whether is argument is right or wrong I have no idea and I am not sure that it is something that can actually be proved one way or the other. What I can say is that Morris has worked out a well argued and thought provoking framework through which we can view the evolution of human values. And agree or disagree with him, the more frameworks we have for viewing and discussing these kinds of things, the better in my opinion. Because really, these frameworks are about telling the story of human development and one story does not tell us everything but it can tell us something.

Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Ian Morris, Margaret Atwood

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7. The Literary Community Remembers Sir Terry Pratchett

Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.

— Terry Pratchett (@terryandrob) March 12, 2015

The literary community is mourning the loss of famed science-fiction writer, Sir Terry Pratchett.

The beloved fantasy author had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for nearly a decade. The news was announced yesterday on Pratchett’s Twitter (embedded above) and Facebook pages.

A number of people have expressed their sadness on social media including Good Omens co-author Neil Gaiman, Stone Mattress author Margaret Atwood, and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron. Below, we’ve collected several messages from Twitter in a Storify post.

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8. American Academy of Arts and Letters Names Atwood & Calasso as Members

Authors Margaret Atwood and Roberto Calasso have been elected as foreign honorary members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The authors were named along with three composers. The recipients were chosen by vote of the 250 members of the Academy.

In addition, William H. Gass‘ novel “Middle C” was honored with the William Dean Howells Medal for the best novel published in the last five years. Louise Gluck was given the Gold Medal for Poetry.

These honors will be given out at a ceremony in May, after which an exhibition featuring art, architecture, books, and manuscripts will be on display from May 21 to June 14.

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9. Margaret Atwood Adds Manuscript to Future Library

Margaret Atwood is the first author invited to participate in the Future Library, a time capsule of culture built in Norway last year that won’t been seen until 2114.

The Canadian author is adding her manuscript to the time capsule next week and to mark the occasion, she published some thoughts on Wattpad about the who experience. Check it out:

As a child, I was one of those who buried treasures in jars, with the idea that someone, some day, might come along and dig them up. I found similar things while digging in the various gardens I have made: old nails, old medicine bottles, fragments of china plates. Once in the Canadian arctic, I found a tiny doll carved of wood – rare wood, for no trees grow there and such a piece of wood must have been driftwood. That is what the Future Library is like, in part: it will contain fragments of lives that were once lived, and that are now past. But all writing is a method of preserving and transmitting the human voice.

The novel is part of The Future Library project, spearheaded by Scottish artist Katie Paterson. The project organizers planted 1,000 trees in Norway to supply the paper to print a collection of books in 2114. They plan to invite one writer a year to contribute a new text and print all of the books in 100 years.

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10. Neil Gaiman Shares a Favorite Memory About Sir Terry Pratchett

Neil GaimanTrigger Warning author Neil Gaiman shared a beautiful friendship with the late Sir Terry Pratchett. During a conversation event with The Guardian books editor Claire Armitstead, he reminisced about one of his favorite memories with Pratchett. Click here to watch a video that features Gaiman recalling one of the last “out of the blue” conversations he had with Pratchett.

Since Pratchett’s passing, the world has been in mourning. Not too long ago, an anonymous graffiti artist painted a mural to honor Pratchett in London. Several authors have spoken out including The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood, Old Man’s War series author John Scalzi, and Little Brother author Cory Doctorow.

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11. Margaret Atwood to Create Cartoons For a Comics Anthology

Margaret AtwoodAward-winning author Margaret Atwood has become well-known for writing novels, short stories, and children’s books. Now, she will also add “comics artist” to her résumé.

Atwood has agreed to produce artwork for an anthology called The Secret Loves of Geek Girls. According to the Kickstarter page for this book, she “will be contributing her own drawn cartoons detailing her personal experiences as a young woman, created specifically for this project.”

Publisher Hope Nicholson describes this book as a collection of dating and love stories from both the fans and creatives behind video games, comic books, and science-fiction works. To date, this crowdfunding campaign has received more than $60,000 in donations; the initial fundraising goal was set at around $30,000. (via Entertainment Weekly)

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12. Cat’s Eye

Atwood is a master at conveying the inner landscape of her characters, and her novels are frequently peppered with sharp and incisive social commentary. Adored by both readers and critics, she has published over 40 works, including many books of poetry, and has won countless accolades, including the Booker Prize and the Arthur C. Clarke [...]

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13. Margaret Atwood Imagines the Future Post-Oil

There are stories in the news all the time about climate change these days. the most recent one, in case you missed it, is how sea levels will likely rise more and faster than previously thought. If you are considering buying beachfront property you might want to rethink that.

But while these stories are shocking and worrisome, for the most part people go on their merry way because they don’t live on the coast or in drought burdened California or any other “threatened” place. Not in my backyard, not my problem. Except it is. If we think the migrant issues in the Mediterranean are bad now, it is only going to get worse. But worse still is so abstract it is hard to imagine. That’s where writers like Margaret Atwood can help.

In 2009 she wrote a piece on climate change for the German newspaper Die Zeit. Now, Atwood has updated the article and the online magazine Matter has reprinted it as It’s Not Climate Change it’s Everything Change. In the article Atwood imagines three possible scenarios, a utopian one, a worst-case one, and a somewhere in between one. They are nothing more than short sketches but it is very easy for the imagination to fill in the details of what if.

And while I would love to be able to go down the road of the utopian scenario, realistically, it is too late for that one to happen. So we are looking at the possibility of worst-case or something short of that. But if anyone thinks the not worst possible outcome scenario is not that bad, you’re wrong. And if you think that daily life as we know it will be pretty much the same in twenty or thirty years, you’re wrong about that too.

The essay isn’t a huge downer though, in typical Atwood fashion, she injects some dark humor into it:

The present governor of Florida, Rick Scott, is said to have issued a memo to all government of Florida employees forbidding them to use the terms “climate change” and “global warming,” because he doesn’t believe in them (though Scott has denied this to the press). I myself would like to disbelieve in gravitational forces, because then I could fly, and also in viruses, because then I would never get colds. Makes sense: you can’t see viruses or gravity, and seeing is believing, and when you’ve got your head stuck in the sand you can’t see a thing, right?

Oh, she is so good!

What Atwood’s essay drives home most, however, is that no matter what future scenario comes to pass, everything is going to change. It will be changing in our lifetime. It will happen whether we want it to or not.

Filed under: Margaret Atwood Tagged: climate change

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14. Margaret Atwood on How Technology Shapes Storytelling: VIDEO

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15. Margaret Atwood is Writing a Novel to be Published in 2114

margaretMargaret Atwood is working on a new novel, but don’t expect to read it any time soon. In fact, you will probably never read it, as she doesn’t plan to publish it for 100 years.

The novel is part of The Future Library project, spearheaded by Scottish artist Katie Paterson. The project organizers planted 1,000 trees in Norway to supply the paper to print a collection of books in 2114. They plan to invite one writer a year to contribute a new text and print all of the books in 100 years.

The Guardian has more: “The award-winning author said she was unbothered by the fact that, during her lifetime at least, no one but her will ever read the story she has already started writing. ‘What a pleasure,’ she said. ‘You don’t have to be around for the part when if it’s a good review the publisher takes credit for it and if it’s a bad review it’s all your fault. And why would I believe them anyway?’”

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16. Stone Mattress

Peopled by the bewildered, the belittled, the aging, the tales in Stone Mattress follow characters deposited in modern society but haunted by a palpable, insistent past. Atwood is a legend with fiercely devoted fans, but her works are so witty and absorbing that, even if you've never picked up one of her books, you'll immediately [...]

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17. Authors Speak Out on Climate Change

shutterstock_42962044Climate change is in the air, literally and figuratively, in people’s marches across the country, at the United Nations, and in cars with diplomatic plates all over New York City.

So what is the literary crowd thinking?

The New York Times posed the questions:

“What is your greatest worry about climate change? What gives you hope?” (more…)

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18. Eric Schmidt & Margaret Atwood Debut On the Indie Bestseller List

How Google WorksWe’ve collected the books debuting on Indiebound’s Indie Bestseller List for the week ending September 28, 2014–a sneak peek at the books everybody will be talking about next month.

(Debuted at #7 in Hardcover Nonfiction) How Google Works by Eric Schmidt, III & Jonathan Rosenberg: “The authors explain how technology has shifted the balance of power from companies to consumers, and that the only way to succeed in this ever-changing landscape is to create superior products and attract a new breed of multifaceted employees whom Eric and Jonathan dub ‘smart creatives.’” (September 2014)


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19. Margaret Atwood Fans Invited to Take Part in a Wattpad Writing Contest

Stone MattressRandom House has released Margaret Atwood’s new short fiction collection, Stone Mattress. One of the nine tales, “The Freeze-Dried Groom,” has been posted on Wattpad. This particular piece leaves the reader with many unanswered questions.

Some of these queries include “Will Sam be a killer or a victim?” and “What are the other characters’ versions of events?” Fans are invited to take part in a writing contest to answer these questions. Follow this link to learn about all the rules.

The deadline has been set for October 31st at 11:59 p.m. EST and a winner will be announced on November 18th. The grand prize winner will receive a signed Stone Mattress anthology, a tweet from Atwood, and loot from Wattpad. Two runner-ups will also receive autographed of copies of Atwood’s book.

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20. Anna Todd’s ‘After’ and ‘Harry Styles’ come to print and film

AfterCoverAnna Todd, the first-time author whose online fan fiction series After became a Wattpad sensation, has had a big month.

Publishing one chapter at a time, Todd racked up 1 billion reads online and gained avid fans worldwide. Last week, Paramount Pictures announced it had acquired screen rights, and this week, After was pubbed newly revised and expanded in a paperback from Gallery Books, part of a six-figure, multi-book deal with further print releases set for this November 18, December 30, and February 10, 2015.

Talking with Alexandra Alter, Todd told the New York Times that she began as a Wattpad reader, hooked on serialized fictional stories about British boy band One Direction. In 2013, she started writing her own fiction about a female college freshman who gets involved with a tattooed, lip-ringed, cute, tousled-haired guy named Harry Styles.

“I didn’t think anyone would read it.” … She updated “After” with a new chapter every day to meet readers’ demands and tapped out much of the book on her cellphone. She wrote for five hours a day and spent three hours trading messages with readers on Wattpad, Twitter and Instagram and drew on those comments to help her shape the story.

“The only way I know how to write is socially and getting immediate feedback on my phone,” she said.

Todd also told Alter that she receives threats daily from angry One Direction fans on Twitter and Tumblr, which explains why, as Alter reports, in the print After the romantic lead is no longer Harry Styles but Hardin Scott. We’ll know soon enough if After is as big in print for $16 as it is online at Wattpad, where it remains free.

In other Wattpad news, the site is currently hosting two contests. “Share your Yes moment,” cohosted with HarperCollins, is the call for the Yes Please by Amy Poehler Writing Contest. They want to hear about a moment when your life changed because of saying yes. The Yes Please prize pack includes a tweet shout-out from Amy’s Smart Girls. And, to celebrate Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress, fans are asked to write a piece of fanfiction inspired by her Freeze-Dried Groom on Wattpad. Atwood will choose and recognize the winning story.

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21. Once upon a time, part 2

There is a quarrel inside me about fairies, and the form of literature their presence helps to define. I have never tried to see a fairy, or at least not since I was five years old. The interest of Casimiro Piccolo reveals how attitudes to folklore belong to their time: he was affected by the scientific inquiry into the paranormal which flourished – in highly intellectual circles – from the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth. But he also presents a test case, I feel, for the questions that hang around fairies and fairy tales in the twenty-first century. What is the point of them? What are the uses of such enchantments today? The absurdity of this form of magical belief (religious miracles are felt to be different, and not only by believers) creates a quarrel inside me, about the worth of this form of literature and entertainment I enjoy so much. In what way am I ‘away with the fairies’, too?

Butterfly fairy
This watercolor is part of the collection owned by the Family Piccolo of Calanovella Foundation, created by Baron Casimiro Piccolo of Calanovell, www.fondazionepiccolo.it. All rights reserved. Used with their permission.

Suspicion now hangs around fairy tales because the kind of supernatural creatures and events they include belong to a belief system nobody subscribes to anymore. Even children, unless very small, are in on the secret that fairyland is a fantasy. In the past, however, allusions to fairies could be dangerous not because belief in them was scorned, but because they were feared: Kirk collected the beliefs of his flock in order to defend them against charges of heterodoxy or witchcraft, and, the same time as Kirk’s ethnographical activities, Charles Perrault published his crucially influential collection (l697), in which he pokes fun, with suave courtly wit, at the dangerousness of witches and witchcraft, ogres and talking animals. Perrault is slippery and ambiguous. His Cinderella is a tale of marvellously efficacious magic, but he ends with a moral: recommending his readers to find themselves well-placed godmothers. Not long before he was writing his fairy tales, France and other places in Europe had seen many people condemned to death on suspicion of using magic. The fairy tale emerges as entertainment in a proto-enlightenment move to show that there is nothing to fear.

The current state of fairy tale – whether metastasized in huge blockbuster films or refreshed and re-invigorated in the fiction of Robert Coover, Donald Barthelme, Margaret Atwood or, most recently, Helen Oyeyemi (Mr Fox, and, this year, Boy Snow Bird) does not invite, let alone compel, belief in its magic elements as from an audience of adepts or faithful. Contemporary readers and audiences, including children over the age of 6, are too savvy about special effects and plot lines and the science/magic overlap to accept supernatural causes behind Angelina Jolie’s soaring in Maleficent or the transmogrifications of the characters. Nor do they, nor do we need to suspend disbelief in the willed way Coleridge described.

Rather the ways of approaching the old material – Blue Beard, The Robber Bridegroom, Hansel & Gretel, Snow White and so on – opens up the stories to new meanings. The familiar narrative becomes the arena for raising questions; the story’s well known features provide a common language for thinking about families and love, childhood and marriage. Fairies and their realm allow thought experiments about alternative arrangements in this world. We are no longer looking for fairies at the bottom of the garden, but seeing through them to glimpse other things. As the little girl realises in The Servant’s Tale by Paula Fox, her grandmother through her stories ‘saw what others couldn’t see, that for her the meaning of one thing could also be the meaning of a greater thing.’ In the past, these other, greater things were most often promises – escape, revenge, recognition, glory – but the trend of fairy tales is turning darker, and many retellings no longer hold out such bright eyed hope.

Featured image credit: Sleeping Beauty, by Viktor M. Vasnetsov. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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22. Your Name in Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith, or Ken Follett’s Book

LiteraryAuctionAuthorsImageJust like Will Ferrell’s character in “Stranger Than Fiction,” you might find “yourself”—or your namesake, your avatar—spinning through a tale told by Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Ken Follett, Hanif Kureishi, Will Self, Alan Hollinghurst, Zadie Smith, Tracy Chevalier, Joanna Trollope, or another of the 17 authors participating in a fundraising event for the UK medical charity Freedom From Torture.

In this Literary Immortality Auction, participating authors have donated a character in a forthcoming work that will be named after auction winners.

Tracy Chevalier, author of the international bestseller The Girl with the Pearl Earring, said:

“I am holding open a place in my new novel for Mrs. (ideally a Mrs.) [your surname], a tough-talking landlady of a boarding house in 1850s Gold Rush-era San Francisco. The first thing she says to the hero is ‘No sick on my stairs. You vomit on my floors, you’re out.’ Is your name up to that?”

According the New York Times, Margaret Atwood is “offering the possibility of appearing either in the novel she is currently writing or in her retelling of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest,’ to be published as a Vintage Books series in 2016.”

Bestselling author Ian McEwan (Atonement) said:

“Forget the promises of the world’s religions. This auction offers the genuine opportunity of an afterlife. More importantly, bidding in the Freedom from Torture auction will help support a crucial and noble cause. The rehabilitation of torture survivors cannot be accomplished without expertise, compassion, time—and your money.”

Freedom from Torture notes on its site: “Seekers of a literary afterlife can place their bids online from 6pm this evening,” so get going.

Click here for your bid for immortality.

The real-time episode of the auction will take place at The Royal Institute of Great Britain in London on November 20th.

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23. Margaret Atwood Creates a Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide

Margaret AtwoodHow would Margaret Atwood handle a zombie apocalypse? According to the guide she posted on BuzzFeed, she would camp out at the top of the Empire State Building in New York City because “zombies can’t climb.”

Some of the other helpful tips that Atwood shares include making an alliance with Lord Baden Powell as “it’d be helpful to be with the founder of the Boy Scouts” and staying connected to Twitter because “people are going to want news, not photos of your baby.” What do you think?

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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24. NaNoWriMo Tip #20: Learn From 5 Established Authors

the guardianNaNoWriMo participants have less than 24 hours to complete their project. For our final tip, we’re sharing some of our favorite lessons from five established authors who contributed to The Guardian’sTen Rules For Writing Fiction” piece.

01. “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” — Elmore Leonard

02. “Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.” — Geoff Dyer

03. “Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.” — Margaret Atwood

04. “Remember you love writing. It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back.” — A.L. Kennedy

05. “Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.” — Neil Gaiman

This is our twentieth NaNoWriMo Tip of the Day. To help GalleyCat readers take on the challenge of writing a draft for a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, we will be offering advice throughout the entire month.

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25. 2015 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award Winners Announced

Poets & WritersPoets & Writers, Inc. has unveiled the recipients of the 2015 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Awards.

Margaret Atwood, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, and Christopher Castellani have been named the winners. In addition, Barbara Epler has won the Editor’s Award. The awards will be presented during the organization’s annual benefit dinner on March 23rd.

Here’s more from the press release: “The Writers for Writers Award was established by Poets & Writers in 1996 to recognize authors who have given generously to other writers or to the broader literary community. It is named for Barnes & Noble in appreciation of the company’s sponsorship of Poets & Writers. Winners are selected by a committee comprised of current and former members of the Poets & Writers Board of Directors.”

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