The Prydain Project

Thirty years after first devouring Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books, I'm rereading them to see if the magic is still there. If you've arrived at this blog because you loved Prydain as a kid, I hope you’ll enjoy the chance to revisit it along with me. To read the recaps in order, start here: "The Book of Three," Chapter 1

Sunday, April 30, 2017

What I’m Reading: Let It Bleed

I’ve been a huge fan of Pamela Des Barres since I read “I’m With the Band” at age 15, and in recent years, I’ve had the good fortune to meet her in person and participate in her writing workshops. So I was excited when I heard that she was putting out a “how-to” book based on her workshops. My pre-ordered copy of “Let It Bleed: How to Write a Rockin' Memoir” arrived April 18, and it’s classic Pamela, written in her typically effervescent, to-the-point, girl-to-girl-talk style. She uses juicy snippets from her own memoirs to illustrate, for example, how to write a passage that recalls all five senses and engages the reader’s imagination. She also includes pieces from many of her students from past classes – such as Jessi, who sat next to me at the first workshop I attended in Nashville – so a variety of voices are represented. (I’m not in the book, alas… maybe next time!)

It’s a fun read even if you’ve never thought of writing a memoir, but it also contains dozens of writing prompts to help you start creating one. Pamela’s method of writing practice is pretty straightforward – given a prompt, you set a timer for 12 minutes, then write with no restrictions, no crossing out, no self-editing. It’s like writing in a journal, but more focused. The result is wonderfully freeing, even if you’re like me and need several rounds of editing before you’re close to happy with a piece. (And if you don’t want to write a memoir, the exercises are still a great way to break through writer’s block, get the creative juices flowing and get in touch with your true self!) If the divine Miss Pamela comes to a city near you, I highly recommend signing up for her workshop, but if you don’t have that opportunity, then reading “Let It Bleed” is the next best thing.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Story So Far...

(Or: How to Recap Four Books in Only Two Years)

When I started this blog back in 2013, one of my challenges was finding topics to write about on a regular basis. Obviously, blogs are only worthwhile if they’re being updated frequently, and any writer with a day job knows what a struggle that can be. Carving out time in the day is tough enough, and time spent casting about for topics is time that’s not being used to write.

At first, I tried writing some book reviews, but soon realized that I do my best writing when I’m writing something I enjoy reading – and book reviews, though useful, just aren’t that entertaining for me to read or write. I thought about what kinds of blogs and podcasts I find the most fun to binge on, the ones that keep me coming back over and over. I realized I really enjoy humorous recaps of books and TV shows I enjoyed in my youth, like “Flowers in the Attic” and “Saved by the Bell.” And since I have an abiding love for Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books, I decided to re-read them and recap one chapter per week (give or take – occasionally I’ll combine two chapters or split one chapter into two posts, and I’ve gone on hiatus a few times). It started out as mainly an exercise in showing up to make words on a regular basis, but I’ve also received a few friendly comments from fellow fans of the series – Thanks, you guys! Please keep commenting! – that have helped motivate me to stick with it.

It’s really been a win-win: for the past two years, I’ve gotten to enjoy re-reading a series of books I adored as a child, and I always know what next week’s topic will be. That has helped free up some time for me to spend on my other project – rewriting and editing my novel, “The Freedom Dreamers,” which is a coming-of-age story set in 1968 (incidentally, the same year that “The High King” was published). The main character, Jill, starts out much like Taran – sheltered, na├»ve, and maybe a bit bratty. But when she loses her mom, her small-town world is shattered, so she leaves it behind, hopping a bus to New York. There, she plunges into the unknown, meeting strange new companions and having exhilarating adventures. Ultimately, she learns a lot about the value of friendship and standing up for what’s good and true in the face of violence and injustice.

I get that it may feel like a stretch to compare a middle-grade fantasy series to a YA historical novel about sex, drugs and rock and roll in the hippie era. But, considering the frightening events that are happening right now in the world, and the volatile political situation here in the U.S., to me it’s never felt more important to be reading and writing about love, compassion and the struggle between good and evil, in its various forms. So, if you’re a fan of Prydain, I hope you’re enjoying the recaps, and if “The Freedom Dreamers” sounds interesting to you, I hope you’ll sign up for my mailing list to be the first to know when it comes out! Thanks for reading. Peace!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Taran Wanderer, Chapter 20 – The Spoilers – and Chapter 21 – The Mirror

The next day, Taran and Gurgi travel to the neighboring commot, with Annlaw’s wares loaded on Melynlas and Gurgi’s pony. (Does Gurgi’s pony have a name?) Arriving at Commot Isav, they see a group of men with tight faces, one of whom – Drudwas – warns them that a band of outlaws is threatening to plunder their herds and lands. Drudwas says the leader of the outlaws is a “yellow-haired ruffian,” who Taran guesses must be Dorath. Taran asks what they're going to do, and Drudwas says they will fight: they number seven against twelve if you count his son, Llassar, who is “scarcely older than Taran had been when Coll first dubbed him Assistant Pig-Keeper.” Awww, the nostalgia!

Taran says he and Gurgi will stand with the men, making it nine against twelve, but since they are going up against Dorath’s skill the element of surprise will be critical. He suggests that two men lie hidden in the sheepfold and attack the enemy when they least expect it. Dorath says those men will be risking their lives for the others. Taran volunteers to be one, and Llassar insists on being the other. I have a bad feeling about this. Night falls, and Taran and Llassar talk quietly while they wait for Dorath’s band to attack. Llassar asks what Taran is seeking, and Taran says since he can’t be a smith, a weaver or a potter, his destiny must be to “wander without seeking.” So, other than farming or fighting, those are all the professions that exist in Prydain, I guess? Llassar says he’s content to live in Commot Isav and he doesn’t envy Taran; Taran says, “No, it is I who envy you.”

Dorath’s band attacks! Taran and Llassar spring up as planned, and Taran finds himself battling with Gloff, Dorath’s very unpleasant henchman. Llassar jumps between them to save Taran. Gloff stabs Llassar (oh no!); then Drudwas kills Gloff. The women and girls of Isav strike a blow for feminism, joining the fight and driving off the bandits with rakes, hoes and pitchforks. In a flash of brilliance, Gurgi jumps on the back of a bull and charges Dorath and the remnants of his band, driving them away. Llassar’s wound is not serious, it turns out; he’ll live. The commot folk celebrate their victory and thank Taran for saving their lives and their flocks. Even though you’d think he’d be tired after traveling all day and staying up all night, Taran refuses their offer to stay and instead heads straight back to Commot Merin.

Taran laments to Annlaw that, despite having just won the eternal gratitude of a whole bunch of people, he feels of no use to anyone. Annlaw suggests maybe he should try antidepressants. No, actually he suggests the Mirror of Llunet. Taran is like, whoa, I almost forgot about my whole quest! He tells Annlaw the story of his journey so far. But now, he concludes, he’s almost afraid of what the Mirror would tell him. Annlaw’s like, I can’t help you with that, but I can tell you where the Mirror is; it’s a pool of water in a cave at the head of the Lake of Llunet, about two days’ journey away. And so, without further ado, Taran (and Gurgi, of course!) go to find the Mirror.

The journey is uneventful, and they find the cave Annlaw spoke of, near the Lake of Llunet at the foot of Mount Meledin. The Mirror is a glistening pool just a few inches deep, fed by moisture trickling down the walls of the cave. Taran kneels at the edge, looks deeply into the Mirror and sees something that makes him “cry out in disbelief.” Before we can find out what that is, that asshole Dorath is back! Somehow he managed to follow Taran, still believing that his quest was for treasure. Because he’s a total dick, he stamps in the Mirror, splashing all the water out of it, and then he attacks Taran. Gurgi tries to defend Taran and is thrown against the cave wall. Dorath and Taran fight, and the ugly sword that Taran made in Hevydd’s forge holds up, shattering the sword that Dorath stole from Taran.

Dorath runs away. Taran patches up the wounded Gurgi and takes him back to Annlaw’s hut. The potter asks Taran what he saw in the mirror. Taran says – ready for this? – he saw himself: “myself and none other. I am Taran.” Seriously? That’s what made him “cry out in disbelief”? I felt so incredibly ripped off when I read this as a child, and I’m afraid my relative maturity doesn’t help much. Taran says there was no enchantment in the Mirror at all; it was just a pool of water, and Orddu must have known that when she sent him on the quest. So now he doesn’t care about finding his parents, because “kinship has naught to do with blood ties,” and having friends is more important. He makes a little speech about how “Llonio said life was a net for luck; to Hevydd the Smith life was a forge; to Dwyvach the Weaver-Woman a loom” and says he has learned from Annlaw that life is also “clay to be shaped.” So Taran plans to shape his own life by heading home to Caer Dallben … and that, my friends, is the end to this fourth installment in the Prydain series!