Shadowshaper

I’m going into this post with two things on my mind. The first is I went to NerdCon:2016 this past weekend (Post about that is coming soon!) and, as it did last year, it’s made me think about the books that have influenced me. It didn’t take any time at all to start reminiscing about the good ole days when I was devouring anything written by Tamora Pierce and then running to the park to practice being a knight like Alanna in The Song of the Lioness series. Mix those beautiful memories with the fact that at Nerdcon: 2016 I had the wonderful privilege of sitting down with the author of Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older, and nine other curious and intelligent story nerds to have a conversation about books and you’ve found my happy place.

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Shadowshaper is set in Brooklyn and follows Sierra as she discovers a magic that lets spirits inhabit her art and bring it to life. After chatting with Daniel José Older for a while and seeing him on multiple panels throughout the weekend it is easy to see how his life and experiences have influenced his writing. While having this knowledge doesn’t change the book, it feels a little like I’ve been let into the greenroom of this story. It’s interesting to me to consider how stories are not just influenced but also often created from perspective. This perspective allows the reader insight into new worlds to explore, understand, and consider. If this book had been around when I was growing up alongside Tamora Pierce’s I imagine I would have been an artistic knight running around Brooklyn (the park across the street) fighting sexism with my sword (really long stick) and art spirits (chalk).  It’s exciting to me to think about how the stories like Shadowshaper, and others that are being crafted now are influencing young readers.

The story itself is rich with familiarity and feeling. It’s interesting to be plopped into Sierra’s world  that she knows so well and watch how she responds to her surroundings change both physically and magically. The relationship between the familiar “real” world of Brooklyn, that is in a state of flux, and the Shadowshaper community, that is experiencing the growing pains of turning power over to a new generation, provides an intricate set of obstacles for Sierra to weave her way through. Daniel José Older sets this stage one floorboard at a time and maintains an exciting storyline that pulls the reader through some of the more complex ideas presented via Sierra and her adventures. From what I understand, we’ve got two more books following Sierra’s story to look forward to, until then I think I may go reread The Song of Lioness series to keep me in the badass lady hero mood!

 

DayBlack Volume One

Now, I’m no comic book expert but I feel fairly confident in saying DayBlack, written and illustrated by Keef Cross, is not your average comic book.  How did a comic book newb such as myself stumble across an interesting new series?  Well, I was debating whether or not I wanted to go to Nerdcon: Stories this year and a good part of the debate was spent looking up the storytellers and storytelling facilitators that would be attending.  Keef Cross happens to be one of them.  After I spent some time looking at his website I had to buy his comic book, if only to see more of his art. (Wanna see? Go here!) I was grateful to find that DayBlack is also an interesting story.

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DayBlack is about Merce, a former slave that has been a vampire for four hundred years now. He’s a tattoo artist in a town called DayBlack (There’s the title folks!) and his adapted son is a vampire hunter that gives his dad a pass on vampire thing. Honestly one of the main things that stood out to me as slightly different about this story is that Merce seems slightly removed. He is speaking directly to us, telling us how things are and watching what happens with us as they’re happening.  I think with any other character this might bug me a bit and take me out of the story, but it really fits Merce.  He starts out the story telling us about his discontent, his feeling like a “retired vampire, waiting to die somewhere in Florida.” and his hope and gut feeling that this will change soon.  He’s four hundred years removed from a life or a heartbeat so it makes sense that he’d be removed from things that are happening in the mortal world around him.

This Volume is definitely setting up for a lot to happen in the next couple of volumes. We’re introduced to a few of the main players and we learn about how vampires work in this world.  The different vampire rules were some of my favorite bits about this volume. For example, AIDS got started because when vampires drank AIDS infected blood they died.  In addition to being a comic book newb I’m a vampire newb but I think that’s pretty darn clever. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  I won’t give it all away but I thought Cross’s take on which symbols harmed which vampires was fascinating.

I think I’ve said before that I’m trying to focus on the art of comic books more. I want to be able to say something clever and intelligent about it but ignorance comes it threes, it seems, and I’m also new at being critical about art.  I know that the art in this comic book is set up differently than what I’ve seen before. Instead of a bunch of panels on one page, for the most part it’s one big illustration per page.  This works really well with how the story is presented to the reader as coming directly from Merce. You’ll also notice as you’re going through it that it is primarily done in black and white and red.  This is because we find out that vampires are color blind except for red.  Details like these make for a lush, dark, and beautifully presented story. I can’t wait to see where this goes!

The Raven Boys

I went into The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater with absolutely no idea what to expect.  I’ve never read anything by her before and the only reason I knew about her was because she was one of the authors at NerdCon.  Thank goodness for NerdCon because this is the third book that that conference can take credit for me eating up and wanting more.  There are awesome ladies with psychic powers, wealthy boys with an interest in magic and the ability to get a helicopter on a days notice, the promise of a death kiss, and some very rich and complex characters, how could I not be totally hooked?

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This is the type of book that high school me would have been totally obsessed with.  Grown up me (well kind of grown up me) still loves it but the hormones have settled a bit by this point so I’m less obsessive about it.  The Raven Boys  was a quick read, but it was the type of quick read that I’m sure if I go back and reread it I’ll catch something I may not have caught the first time round because it is so jam packed with story lines, characters, and intrigue.

Since it’s the first in a series it definitely has an introductory feel to it.  I’ve found sometimes books that are the first in a series get too involved in introducing all the  characters and plot lines and forget that there needs to be a story within the book as well.  Stiefvater manages to introduce a whole new world of characters all the while keeping me on the edge of my seat about what’s going to happen next.  The first half was little frustrating to read because it felt like there were more stories happening than I could possibly keep track of.  Towards the middle of the book the story lines all started to come together and pushing through the frustrations of all the story lines was worth it because it made me so much more emotionally invested in all of the characters.

The book switches perspectives between most of the Raven Boys, Blue (which is the name of a character.  I’m pretty sure celebrities read this book to find the creative baby names they all seem to use. Lookin’ at you Jay Z and Beyonce.), and one of their teachers.  Switching perspectives was a particularly good idea for this story because Blue starts off with some prejudices against the Raven Boys that could have colored them in a way that made them completely un relatable.  As it was I often found myself so emotionally invested in all the characters that I didn’t even know what I wanted to happen.  I just wanted them to all lay everything on the table and walk happily off into the sunset.  Alas, books rarely seem to offer that.

I am very excited to read the rest of the series.  Within a series the second book is always a little bit more telling of whether or not I’ll like the whole series because the introductions are over.  It’s all story and tension and after the first book in The Raven Cycle series there are a lot of loose ends that I’d like to be tied up.

NerdCon: Stories

This past weekend I attended NerdCon: Stories in the Twin Cities at the Minneapolis Convention Center and geeked out at whole new levels of geeking out.  The conference was attended by about 3000 people that were all there to learn about storytelling in different medias.  There was also a group of panelists that appeared more than happy talk about various facets of their work in front of the attentive and engaged audience.  Full disclosure, I didn’t attend any of the signings so I can’t really speak about how that went.  While I respect these people a lot and want to learn from them, I have a hard time placing value on a signature. I learned at a very young age how easy it is to replicate one (sorry mom and dad) and after that I always figured I’d rather find out what someone has to offer that I can’t do myself.  Luckily for me this conference had some wildly successful and intelligent storytellers attending, who all had a lot to offer.

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As this was my first Con I didn’t have too many expectations going in. (That’s a lie actually.  I’m pretty sure I went to some sort of leadership/learning convention when I was in high school. But if the title is convention instead of con they seem to be very different things. Which makes no sense because con is short for convention.  I’ll have to get back to you on this. I suspect Con is what the cool kids say and convention is what the teachers that are trying to make the uncool kids feel cool say.  I wonder if this distinction is pointed out in the OED…)  I don’t know if you know this but 3000 people is a lot of people.  According to various articles I’ve read this is actually a small con which is a tad mind boggling to me.  In general the Minneapolis Convention center had plenty of space.  The room where the MainStage events were happening was always plenty big enough to seat everybody but some of the panels in the side auditoriums overfilled.  It didn’t seem like they expected this because on the first day they let people sit and stand in the aisles, but by the middle of the day they were monitoring the capacity more closely.  This is when being there by myself came in handy.  I never had to look for more than one seat and I’m happy to say I was able to attend every panel that I wanted to attend.

The theme throughout the weekend was why stories are important.  At the MainStage events they always had two separate speakers discuss this topic.  This is something I feel very strongly about and I loved hearing expert storytellers reenforce what I’ve believed for as long as I’ve understood stories.  Stories and narratives are what people relate to.  They’re how we learn how to empathize and as a result listen to people instead of shouting at them.  I sometimes fear that as a society we’ve gotten so caught up in our own stories that we forget to look out for others.  The most important thing we can do is listen and get swept up in someone’s story and let them be swept up in our own in return.  In that order.  I realize that the attendees at this particular con were probably the choir in the hypothetical story church, but it’s comforting to know that the storytellers and creators that were on the panels are consciously using their platform to, quite literally, spread the word.

My intention was to write about my favorite panels but I truly don’t think I can narrow it down.  The panels I attended discussed truth in storytelling, the craft of storytelling itself, the benefits of diverse stories, how to stay true to your stories after success, storytelling through song, and the moral responsibility of storytellers.  I could write a separate piece on every single one of these panels.  Not only were the panelists thoughtful and interesting in their conversations but the attendees that got the opportunity to ask questions asked thoughtful and intelligent questions.

I’ll admit going into this I was concerned that the Con would be more of a fans freaking out type of event. There’s nothing wrong with that type of event but I really just wanted to walk away having heard interesting people give me new perspectives and ideas to think critically about, and that’s exactly what I got.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all panels with serious questions.  The MainStage got goofy and I’m so glad it did.  Both days were jam packed and very long so it was a relief to get the MainStage and laugh.  We watched the panelists play some games that I fully intend on forcing my friends to play with me and we got to see some very impressive performances (what’s a story telling convention without a little storytelling, after all?).

The very last event was a performance of Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind by the New York Neo-Fututrists.  It honestly deserves its own post, but I plan on seeing it performed again so I’ll do another one then.  For now I’ll say it’s a spectacular and moving show.  I usually leave theaters trying to make sense of what I saw in relation to what I know (and sometimes in relation to what I know I don’t know) and it gives me three or four arenas to think about.  This performance in which they attempt to do 30 plays in 60 minutes left me with more to think about than any other performance I’ve ever seen.  Putting aside the content of the plays, the set up of the show is fascinating.  It embraces and injects a shot of adrenaline into what people love about live theater…every show is always different.  Remember the content that we just put aside?  Bring it back in and you’ve got beautiful performances that touch on everything that’s relevant in your life and some things you never knew were relevant until the Neo-Futurists presented it to you.

Overall my NerdCon experience was better than I could have hoped it to be.  I have a huge list of authors, podcasts, musicians, and performers to look up and enjoy, and I have some new thoughts and ideas to consider.  Having that many people all in one place loving and appreciating the art and importance of storytelling was inspiring.  I left feeling newly motivated to carry on writing and telling my own stories, and, more importantly, seeking out and listening to other people’s stories.