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Writers@Grinnell

After I blogged about a number of the fall Writers@Grinnell events, Dean Bakopoulos of the English Department invited me to do my own Writers@Grinnell event. It took place last month in the Mears Cottage Living Room. I was quite surprised–pleasantly so!–by the turnout. There were so many people that some of them had to sit on the floor behind the sofa where I was seated. There were a lot of students, most of whom I didn’t know (I did have one former student and one current student in attendance). There were some of my fellow speculative fiction reading group members. And there were some English Department faculty.

Hosting me was Paula V. Smith, also of the English Department. She gave me a lovely introduction and then revealed (to the audience and to me) that she had a surprise gift for me. It was a copy of Small CraftWarnings Vol. 1 No. 2, which she and her best friend had co-edited in 1981. Jonathan Franzen was also on staff at the time. Small Craft Warnings is one of Swarthmore College’s literary magazines; when I was there, I served on the editorial board for three years. The issue Paula gave me was one of the first under the magazine’s new name. I was delighted to receive it. The issue consists of poetry and photography, and a number of the poems are translations, from Chinese, Spanish, and French.

I spoke briefly about how Sparkers and Wildings came to be (the long journey for Sparkers and the much quicker crafting of Wildings), and then I took questions. They were all interesting! A couple had to do with my approach to writing specifically for middle grade readers: whether I thought about my audience or how I’d had to revise my books to make them suited to young readers (the political machinations can only be so twisty!). Someone asked about how to balance exposition and action when you have a lot of worldbuilding to do. Somehow the subject of what I’m writing next came up, so I gave away a couple of details about the project I hope will be my next book. My current student asked me about the languages in my fantasy worlds, and I explained that there were no full-fledged conlangs behind the languages in Sparkers and Wildings. But the language in my next book actually has a sketched-out grammar and a deeper vocabulary beyond what little makes it onto the page. Paula asked me about the names in Sparkers and Wildings, a topic I’ve thought about and get asked about relatively often.

Afterwards, I signed a few books, breaking out Isabelle’s stamp again, and chatted with a few students. One of them asked me about story ideas and length. That is, how do you generate enough stuff for a whole novel but not so much that it becomes too much? I wasn’t sure how to answer at first because I always write too long and then embark on epic word-cutting sessions. I’m not very good at writing short stories that are actually short. But upon reflection, I think it’s best, at least when drafting, to let a story grow to the length it wants to be, even if it’s awkward. Novellas exist! Then you can always revise, fleshing out bare bones or carving away excess until you have the story you intended.

2018 in Review

2018 has been quite a year. Do I say that every year? (I actually don’t, but I probably could.) Between the am-I-finishing-grad-school-this-year-or-not uncertainty (answer: no), the politics, the traveling, and the wonderful times with friends, it’s been a full year. Here are some highlights, not in chronological order:

In 2019, I will be dissertating and, I hope, writing and perhaps beginning a brand new adventure!

Turkish Editions

The Turkish editions of Sparkers and Wildings have been out for a while, but only recently did I get my hands on some copies, thanks to both my publisher and a family friend who regularly visits Turkey. The books are pretty!

There are also Sparkers bookmarks and Kırmızı Kedi bookmarks!

I also saw that How to Tell If You’re in an X Novel meme, inspired by The Toast, going around on Twitter (where I sometimes lurk unofficially), and Isabelle helped me come up with my own list:

How to Tell You’re in an Eleanor Glewwe Novel

  • One of your parents is dead
  • You play at least one musical instrument
  • Music might be magical
  • Siblings are the best
  • Not a lot of food, but what there is is tasty
  • Ship it all you want, it’s never coming to the foreground

A Couple of Recent Links

Sparkers and Wildings have popped up in a couple of places recently:

First, A Mighty Girl included Sparkers on the list “No Romance Required: 30 Books About Girl-Boy Friendships.” For what it’s worth, Wildings would be at home on that list too.

Second, Northwest Asian Weekly featured Wildings in a piece on books by Asian authors that encourage questioning the status quo. And as the review notes, Sparkers also falls into that category.

Come All You Fair…

A couple of news items: 1) The Turkish translation of Wildings appears to be out! The translator is different this time. If you read Turkish or know anyone who does, the book is available through the publisher, Kırmızı Kedi, here. 2) I’ve made my Chinese New Year zines available on my Other Writing page, if you want to print your own copy.

Recently Isabelle and I were trying to figure out if we had any more folk songs in common–something we do every so often, usually to no avail–and she asked if I knew a song that began, “Come all you fair and tender girls…” She looked up the song she knew, and it turned out to be Let No Man Steal Your Thyme. When she first described it to me, I thought the words were, “Let no man steal your time,” but no, it’s actually thyme. The song starts out as a warning to young women to guard their gardens from thieving young men, and the plant metaphors are so heavy-handed that even I get them. The song also involves rue (both kinds).

The melody was a pretty minor tune that was not familiar, and most of the words I also didn’t recognize, but the opening was reminding me of a song I’d heard before. Except I thought it began, “Come all you fair and pretty ladies…” I could hear it in my head (though I couldn’t remember the gender of the singer), and the tune was different. In fact, the tune was awfully close to that of Wayfaring Stranger, which made me think I wasn’t remembering it correctly.

Later I consulted Google and discovered that Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies is a famous enough song to have its own Wikipedia page (nothing but the finest research for this pseudo-musicology series). But the text I found was, apart from the nearly identical first line, almost completely different from the text of Let No Man Steal Your Thyme. In fact, Let No Man Steal Your Thyme is a different song with its own Wikipedia page and Roud number.

I finally figured out where I knew the first line from: “You Fair and Pretty Ladies” from Anonymous 4’s album Gloryland. And indeed it does sound like Wayfaring Stranger. But most renditions of Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies out there seem to have a different melody altogether. There’s a line in the “standard” Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies, “Then they will go and court some other” that’s almost identical to a line in Solas’s “The Silver Dagger,” a song I like very much. And actually, the more prevalent tune for Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies reminds me vaguely of The Silver Dagger, mostly rhythmically…

Then I noticed this comment on a Youtube video of Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies: “Interesting that the lyrics seem to be half what I know by this title and half what I know as ‘The Water is Wide.'” Ack! It never ends!

July News

There’s a profile of me in the summer issue of the Swarthmore alumni magazine, which you can check out here. Lunar French and hammered dulcimers!

I’m in Minnesota at the moment. I came home just in time to protest our congressman at the 4th of July parade in my town. We were planning to stand on the parade route in matching purple t-shirts waving Healthcare is a right for all signs, but then word came that our famously absent congressman had not actually shown up to march in the parade despite being listed in the program! So instead we swarmed the street and marched in his place, in front of Keith Ellison and his supporters. I didn’t wake up on the morning of Independence Day expecting to wind up on the evening news, but sometimes it happens. I seem to be making something of a habit of this; several years ago a photo of me protesting our state senator at the 4th of July parade wound up on the front page of the Star Tribune.

Last Saturday I went to the 3rd Minnesota Shenandoah Harmony All-Day singing in Minneapolis. The Shenandoah Harmony is the newest shape note tunebook, sometimes called the wicker book for the color of its cover. I have my own copy, but I don’t know the songs well at all, so I didn’t lead. It was good to see lots of familiar faces, though (someone told me to finish my dissertation quickly so I could get back to writing children’s books), and I got recruited to be the resolutions committee, which meant at the business meeting at the end of the singing I thanked everyone who had helped organize it and “resolved” that we do it again next year. The Shenandoah Harmony has some good stuff in it, including this arrangement of “Hicks’ Farewell” that ends on glorious open fifths!

Maui

First, here’s a lovely review of Wildings I stumbled upon!

At the end of February, I went to Maui for a family wedding. After all my friends in the Phonetics Lab went to Honolulu for the Acoustical Society of America’s conference at the end of November, I was particularly eager to go to Hawaii myself, especially since I’d never been there before. I’d never visited the non-continental U.S. or flown over the Pacific Ocean before either.

It was my mother’s cousin who was getting married, and my mother and I were the only representatives of the groom’s extended family. The bride had scads of relatives who traveled to Maui from Los Angeles, Toronto, Washington, D.C., Jakarta, and Singapore, among other places. Her family was very warm. And multilingual! Mandarin, Cantonese, Lao, English, French…

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My great-aunt (the mother of the groom) and me at the rehearsal dinner

We were invited to the tea ceremony in the morning before the wedding itself. I’d never participated in any traditional Chinese wedding ceremonies before, so it was fascinating for me. And as a younger relative, I received 紅包 from the couple!

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View from the lawn where the wedding was held

The day after the wedding, my mother and I went snorkeling. On the boat ride to Molokini, we saw half a dozen or so humpback whales logging, breaching, and waving their pectoral fins out of the dark blue waves! It was quite spectacular. Definitely topped the whale watching I did off the coast of Maine once. Once we reached Molokini, a crescent-shaped volcanic crater I’d seen from the plane flying into Maui, we donned wetsuits, flippers, and snorkels and plopped off the back of the boat into the water. I’d never really swum in the ocean before; it was fun being so buoyant. The water was beautifully clear, and the coral and the fish were gorgeous. It was especially wondrous when those silky, gem-colored fish swam right past your face or your hands.

The next day, my mother and I drove along the northern coast of Maui on the road to Hana (we didn’t actually go all the way to Hana). This extremely twisty road, with its one-lane bridges, winds through mountains and rain forest, past many lovely waterfalls. There was even a hillside with goats on it! We stopped at the Garden of Eden Arboretum and Botanical Garden, where we admired the peacocks, exotic ducks, and many interesting native and non-native plants.

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View of Puohokamoa Falls from the Garden of Eden

On our last morning, we visited the town of Lahaina and the Wo Hing Temple, now the Chinese Museum. The museum seemed to have actual Shang Dynasty oracle bones (?!) and Song Dynasty pottery, among other Chinese artifacts. There were also photographs depicting the history of the Chinese community in Maui and lots of information on Sun Yat-sen, who visited Hawaii six times in his life and lived for a time in Maui.

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Inside the Wo Hing Society’s cookhouse at the Chinese Museum in Lahaina

All in all, it was a delightful family wedding and an idyllic post-prospectus defense vacation.