Friday, March 17, 2017


Students MUST post reactions ( minimum 250 words) to the assigned reading(s) linked below. Students are to pick ONE either Karen Russell OR Sam Lipsyte. Extra credit to those who read both interviews, both stories, and post two separate reactions. Students are encouraged (but not required) to additionally respond to other student reactions.

Click HERE to read the Interview Magazine interview with Karen Russell OR HERE to read her interview with Guernica.

"Ava Wrestles the Alligator" by Karen Russell: My sister and I are staying in Grandpa Sawtooth's old house until our father, Chief Bigtree, gets back from the Mainland. It's our first summer alone in the swamp. "You girls will be fine," the Chief slurred. "Feed the gators, don't talk to strangers. Lock the door at night." The Chief must have forgotten that it's a screen door at Grandpa's — there is no key, no lock. The old house is a rust-checkered yellow bungalow at the edge of the wild bird estuary. It has a single, airless room; three crude, palmetto windows, with mosquito-blackened sills; a tin roof that hums with the memory of rain. I love it here. Whenever the wind gusts in off the river, the sky rains leaves and feathers. During mating season, the bedroom window rattles with the ardor of birds. Click the title (and scroll down) to read the rest of the excerpt.


The Dungeon Master by Sam Lipsyte: The Dungeon Master has detention. We wait at his house by the county road. The Dungeon Master’s little brother Marco puts out corn chips and orange soda. Marco is a paladin. He fights for the glory of Christ. Marco has been many paladins since winter break. They are all named Valentine, and the Dungeon Master makes certain they die with the least possible amount of dignity. (Click heading to read story.)

Every Morpheme Counts: The Sam Lipsyte Interview: I go through a lot of revision to get the timing, not just of the comic element but of everything. So I pay a lot of close attention to rhythm and cadence and acoustics and where things land, how sentences land, how paragraphs land, how we transition. A lot of comedy can be found in transitions too, I think. Barry Hannah was the master at landing in the right way, making the familiar strange and funny and terrifying—all of those things that the writers I like strive to do. He was such an amazing example. (Click heading to read interview.)


Ilana Shaiman said...

Karen Russell's interview was very inspiring to me because a lot of her childhood memories that inspired her to write are relatable. She talks about siting out of kickball growing up and instead reading and imagining things being in a "safe world." I think that as a writer a lot of times tuning in to your own feelings and imagination can save you from the outside world if it is one you feel you don't belong in. Russell really encapsulates the feeling of not fitting in and how that positively impacted her writing.

In one of her books she talks about a wolf girl's transition from childhood to adulthood and how that character navigates the pack mentality that many teenagers do growing up. Mob mentality is something that affects a person at any age but is very powerful during the teen years when you are trying to discover yourself.

Russell says that she hopes there is an emotional truth to her characters and it's not just a gimmick to get kids hooked on reading it. One example of this is Russell's implementation of the character of a Minotaur being the father of the wolf girl in the story. In the interview, it is noted that her characterization of this role in the story is accepted by the readers because of the fact that Russell embraces some aspects of the fantasy genre in her writing. I find Russell to be a wonderful influence as a writer especially because as a woman and I can relate to some of her struggles.

Dan O'Connor said...

I found a lot of humor in Sam Lipsyte's story that I hadn't initaily expected. The seriousness of some parts with the levity around them made for a really enjoyable reading experience. The humor, never really belly laugh inducing for me, felt kind of dark or maybe a little wicked. It was not always just straight jokes but incident based. I think this helped to keep the serious moments loaded with some intensity and not devalued for the comedy that existed around them.

Sam Lipsyte's interview was neat. There was a lot of information about his relation to humor in writing which I found I found to be interesting. I have never really considered myself to be skilled at writing humor though always enjoyed reading it. Maybe something I can learn something from what Sam Lipsyte had to say for my own work.

Returning back to some of the things that we’ve talked about in this class I found that I was unsure if I could categorize The Dungeon Master as being Young Adult. The story focuses around a teenage boy’s life and seems at times to be very much about the personal. However, I still have trouble determining what exactly is YA when I read it. To me this story doesn’t feel like it would be totally YA. Maybe in whatever category comes after that if there is one. My problem I suppose is that though there is a lot of time spent with the internal struggle of the narrator the message of the story is larger than a single person. I might not be well versed enough in YA literature, but this is how I feel about it.

Colleenie vonVorys-Norton said...

What I loved the most about Karen Russell's writing is that she writes these stories about kids who are living normal lives except for this one magical thing that is just accepted by them and everyone around them as normal. Even though I was not a girl raised by wolves, I am able to relate to being a girl coming of age and beginning to understand how society works. Having this magical aspect allows for the reader to view a very common experience differently even if it still has the same outcome and effect. I also really liked how she talked about how she writes for kids and her understanding of how they view the world. It is hard to look back and be able to remember how you processed the world because you have a broader vocabulary and an understanding that is hard to unlearn. Children are often not thought of an complex beings in the eyes of adults because they are not able to express what they are feeling and what they are learning. Children are often kept in the dark and it is because of this that when something changes in their life, it is hard for them to deal with it because they do not know how to talk about it but they also feel like they should not talk to an adult because they think that adults are not going to take them seriously. Of course this is a gross over simplification but generally this holds true.

Ryan Allen said...

Karen Russell seems to really be in tune with a much younger perspective. It's hard enough for me at age 21 to get into the mind of a 10 year old, but what's it like to try when you're 40? From what she said, it seems as though many of her personal experiences from being younger have stuck with her, and informed her work geared at younger audiences. I think presenting and working through childhood difficulty with fantastical aspects is a great way to get kids' attention. It's also a great way to inspire them to think about and take action against those struggles in their own lives. The wolf character who has to deal with growing up is a great example of this. Sometimes its easier to gain perspective about a certain issue when you're able to detach from it. By having a character with animal characteristics, Russell effectively creates that distance, allowing the story to perhaps have a greater impact on a reader.

Syeda Khaula Saad said...

Karen Russell’s writing is a good example of Young Adult Fiction. One of my favorite parts of her writing was her ability to make something that is very “adult” sound so innocent and child-like. In one scene, the narrator talks about Ossie being possessed by one of her boyfriends and described her masturbating. But if a child were to read the book without “reading in between the lines,” they would only think that an actual possession was taking place.
Another thing that I appreciate about Russell’s writing is that she shows a mastery of knowing about alligators. She describes the setting and the short history of her surroundings and then continues to use it to aid in the transition of the story. Russell also does a good job at making the description of the narrator’s surroundings almost comical.
Russell also highlights the true wonder of the young child’s mind. She never explicitly says that the child is 12 years old but she says that Ossie is 16 and four years her senior. And when she describes the narrator as following Ossie, the reader can see how curious she is. But the best part about this is that the reader is curious too. The same questions that the narrator asks are the ones that are going through the readers’ minds as well. They want to know what Ossie is doing and because of the child-like vagueness, no one is entirely sure of what is going on. And that part leaves it up to the imagination of the reader.

Marina Martinez said...

Upon reading the Interview Magazine’s interview with Karen Russell, I enjoyed hearing examples of Russell’s vivid descriptions. I liked how she used nature in her descriptions. I also liked how she drew on real places in her story and described them so well that she could have created them. I thought it was interesting how the interview felt more like a conversation than a Q and A. I thoroughly enjoyed the excerpt by Karen Russell from “Ava Wrestles the Alligator”. I thought that the concept was very interesting and just the first paragraph captured my attention. Russell is a very talented writer that does an amazing job of world building with her small details that create a powerful big picture. I also really liked the metaphors that pop up throughout her writing. I especially liked the line, “Whenever the wind gusts in off the river, the sky rains leaves and feathers”. There are also details that Russell uses that feel unique and fresh that make her writing interesting. For example, the sound of rain reminds the narrator of the drumming of her dead mother’s fingers, which revealed new information in a memorable and thought-provoking way. I find her writing very stimulating and would like to read more work by her. I found the masturbating scene a bit disturbing, but thought that it was very well written. It made me stop and think about the age range for this book since these girls seem very young and na├»ve, which is interesting because I don’t often find myself questioning age range while reading.

Becky Clark said...

From the interview with Bollen, I was expecting Russell’s work to be a horror piece with a lot of nature involved and I was expecting it to be about Florida. I loved the excerpt Ava Wrestles the Alligator. One of my favorite parts was the imagery Russell creates. Right from the start, the Grandfathers house “has a single, airless room; three crude, palmetto windows, with mosquito-blackened sills; a tin roof that hums with the memory of rain.” I could picture the scene clearly in my head and I loved the language. Instead of just saying dark window sills, she takes it a step further using mosquito-blackened. The other aspect I loved about this piece was all the language about alligators. In class, we talk about using the language that we know and that is specific to the group we belong to. Ava talks about the behind the scenes stuff like “clubbing sick gators, fueling up the airboats, butchering chickens.” She also describes Chief wrestling the gator and her part of landing “on the gator’s armor-plated scutes.” I know absolutely nothing about alligators and have never been to an alligator park, but I could picture myself right there besides the narrator. In the interview, she mentioned growing up in Florida and how she incorporated it into her writing. I could really tell she knew what she was talking about and loved it.

The only part that I really did not like from this excerpt was the sister and the mention of the spirit boyfriend. This may just be because it is only an excerpt, but I felt like a lot of the background information was missing. I couldn’t even figure out if the sister was an actual person, or if she was more a spirit, an alligator, or someone made up in Ava’s imagination.

Samantha G said...

I really appreciated the NPR piece with Karen Russel because it gave me more confidence in creative writing, as a college student. I always imagine writers at a desk in the middle of a jungle, writing their masterpieces. But it was awesome to hear that she actually wrote her stories in the Columbia computer lab, surrounded by sleep-deprived students, was pretty awesome. I love how she said she has to suspend her own disbelief and how fun it is to "dream on the page". It's so hard for me to get there, but once I am, it's hard to stop thinking about the characters and scenes I've created.

I also thought her interview with Christopher Bollen was super interesting. I love that she mixes nature with the supernatural and it's hard to tell what's fake and what's real. She also commented that a lot of the scenery that she describes is not made up, for example, her description of Stiltsville, where the houses are suspended above the water, is an actual place in Florida. It's interesting that a lot of her stories take place in Florida because she has so much "stock footage" of it, as it's where she grew up. I wonder what my "stock footage" is and how I should use it in a story. Maybe it's a description on old brownstones, walk up railroad apartments, stores smooshed together on Washington Street, the canon overlooking the NYC waterfront. I think I should use these images in more of my writing.

I also LOVED the story of her Catholic school teacher giving her these gory books as a kid- because she loved them too. She wasn't like, "oh, you're a girl who read this? What's wrong with you?". Rather, she nurtured that natural curiosity and I appreciate that. I hope to be the teacher who doesn't give a girl who likes to read gore a weird look, just because I don't like it. I think I need to actively think about this and remember this story.

Maggie Lu said...

Just from Karen Russell’s interview with Interview Magazine, I can tell she is a very imaginative author, creating new theme parks and having plots that are very creative. So many different and diverse topics, including silk factory workers in Japan, soldiers returning from Iraq, bioterrorism, the unresolved, mostly fantastical with unrestrained imagination. It’s interesting how her childhood in Florida allowed her to see the world supernaturally. When I think of the times I’ve been to Miami and other parts of Florida, I only associate the state as a vacation spot and beaches and resorts. So I find it interesting how Russell can create fantasy stories from looking outside her window, finding inspiration from the condominiums, humidity, the city, and the geographic and cultural frontier. Also, I like how she can take something as devastating as a category five hurricane and make it into a favorite memory by sitting together with her family in her grandfather’s bathroom.

It is stated in the interview with Guernica that Russell “creates fiction that makes you feel something strongly before you begin to comprehend what it means.” Russell is one of those authors who are unique in that she keeps both her characters as well as the audience in suspense about the unknown and unresolved in the worlds of her stories.

“Ava Wrestles the Alligator” has such an interesting storyline with Ava’s family owning a theme park called Swamplandia! I like that the theme park has its own uniqueness where it has Live Chicken Thursdays, which gives it that atmosphere that it is geared towards a younger audience. Also I find the whole scene with Ossie and the main character kind of eerie, with the room all dark and only being able to see silhouettes. It seems like a very intense scene with the main character being surrounded with ghosts.

Rachel Westerbeke said...

Karen Russell’s writing really shows how important setting can be in some stories. Often, I feel that, especially in YA, authors like to throw their audience immediately into a scene where the main character is confronting a conflict. Not knowing the characters or understanding the situation leaves a lot of unknowns and having a description of setting that really grounds the reader into story makes not knowing more bearable. With the somewhat random magical pieces in each of Russell’s story, her attention to the setting and how the magical piece fits into it makes everything seem more plausible. It also gives the setting a magical aura. Also, the importance of the home and the nature surrounding where you live in your childhood is often a point of nostalgia for people, and setting up the location in “Ava Wrestles the Alligator” emphasizes a familiar importance of setting.
I also thought that it was interesting that even reading her interviews, you can get a gist of how she writes. Some of her verbal descriptions to the interviewers were as lyrical as her writing and the phrasing was very similar. I also liked that she was influenced by Stephen King but deviates from the full-blown horror that he is usually known for. She is able to incorporate weird and magical elements like he does, but they fit almost naturally into the setting that she created as if they either weren’t weird or magical at all or simply fit into a setting that was also magical.

jaclyn liccone said...

Not knowing anything about Karen Russel before reading her work, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. As I started reading, I Immediately realized her writing was clearly YA even though her writing struck me as adult in some parts especially when she talked about the masturbating scene. A child wouldn’t really know what that was and would see it as an incident action. It’s amazing to me how a YA book could even have a scene like that in it saying that a character was “possessed” by a boyfriend which caused her to masturbate.

Russel also is very good at describing things or areas that she knows well such as the alligators and the vivid descriptions of a child’s mind. This was what stood out to me the most. She made me really take my mind, and try to imagine it in a child’s mind through a child’s eyes. I’ve never really tried to put myself in this position when reading YA because I didn’t really give it much thought. It made me really feel like I was the age of the main character, Ossie, and made me appreciate her writing on a whole new level. The reader’s mind becomes one with the main characters which enhances the whole experience. After I read Russel’s story, I was able to think about how it would have meant something different to me if she didn't set me up to feel like I was around 12 years old and in the mind of the main character.

Jenny Huang said...

After reading Karen Russell’s excerpt from St Lucy’s Home, and reading her interviews with Interview Magazine and Guernica, I can definitely say that I am far more interested in fantasy and magical realism. While I am typically not a big fantasy reader, Russell has a particular way with words that catches my eye. I loved her description of the main character and her sister, Ossie, and I love the way she weaves magic into the story so easily. Before the magic came into play, I thought I would be reading a story of a girl and her sister, but Luscious soon becomes something new entirely. Ossie’s boyfriend is not really a boyfriend at all, and the description of her movements and change are beautiful –
“ Ossie's possessions are nothing like those twitch-fests you read about in the Bible, no netherworld voices or pigs on a hill. Her body doesn't smolder like a firecracker, or ululate in dead languages. Her boyfriends possess her in a different way. They steal over her, silking into her ears and mouth and lungs, stealthy and pervasive, like sickness or swallowed water.”
Even in her interviews, Russell is extremely articulate and has a fascinating perspective on the world – she talks about her life in Florida, and how it influenced the way she saw the world. Sometimes I wish I had grown up somewhere as magical or as interesting or as unique as a place in Florida – I believe a lot of her ideas of fantasy and magic probably came from her unique experiences there. I also love how much she reads – I believe it is any author’s duty to read a lot of books, of genres that they are interested in writing in. Her ideas for stories are so unique, like people becoming silkworms, and I love how she explains her thought process. When Bollen asks her about “Proving Up,” she explains that in that particular community, “There’s something about having a transparent membrane of seeing in and seeing out and being part of this community,” and I thoroughly enjoyed that. I really enjoy reading the way she goes about coming up with these ideas – in particular, I enjoyed the idea of a zombie being “a hope that outlasts any possibility of its fulfillment.” She is extremely creative, and I definitely will look for one of her books to read in the future.

Jenny Huang said...

Sam Lipsyte’s interview and novel were extremely different from the style of Russell’s, but what makes him interesting is how he came into writing and the topics that he writes about. He explains that he was working a 9-to-5 job and working on stories when he came home, and I find that to be extremely relatable. I am someone who is studying statistics and mathematics, with a minor in creative writing, and I am looking for that same idea: a nine-to-five job to keep myself afloat, money-wise, and then the rest of my time spent working on my writing. I think it’s always important to keep yourself working on your writing, constantly looking to improve it.
With Lipsyte’s interview, I did not know who Gordon Lish was, but it appeared to me that he was a great influence over numerous authors. However, when I looked him up, it seemed that there was criticism about how his editing took away from the writers’ own styles, and I wonder if that holds true for any creative writing professor/inspiration that edits somebody’s work for them. Where is the line crossed? When does it go from your work to being theirs?
In terms of Lipsyte’s excerpt, I was definitely confused in the beginning of the passage. When you are unfamiliar with the majority of the terminology in an excerpt, you usually do not have a clear idea of what is going on. By the middle of the reading, I had figured out that it was a group of “misfit” children who all played the same game, a Dungeons & Dragons-esque (or maybe it is Dungeons & Dragons) game filled with fantasy elements. I love the details Lipsyte intersperses throughout the excerpt, like how one of the characters’ baby sister drowned, or how one of the kids does not have parents, or the detail about Valium. I also like the idea that they don’t use the Dungeon Master’s real name to refer to him. The dialogue between them is also extremely realistic, considering they are about high-school age and they tend to curse around each other and tease each other a lot – none of the dialogue fell flat, and yet seemed to be a very real conversation. I love that you only really find out more about the Dungeon Master’s personal life towards the end, when they are driving in the Corvette. He doesn’t reveal details about himself throughout the game, but tells the main character all about the rumors that go around about him. Overall, Lipsyte’s writing style is simple, but telling – he creates a wonderfully realistic world through dialogue, while delving into elements of fantasy.

Leah Usefara said...

The excerpt was amazing and the imagery was so striking. I could see the contrasting colors in my head like the sister's purple hair against the black background of the mangrove. The mystery was tasty too. The main character's understanding of the situation is from the view of a 12 yr old who's dealt with this her whole life and still feels scared and considers these possessions as mundane. We don't understand the relationship between the sister and her boyfriend except the bare minimum, what the MC understands. We're an outsider looking at the front of a mystery. How do the sister and the bf communicate? What does the possession feel like? We can see its painful, but what causes it and what makes her vulnerable to it? Why would they elope?
The interview was fun to read. It both added and took away when the Bollen didn't act like a typical interviewer. It was like just two normal people meeting and telling stories to each other. I was sad when they dissed the Sweet Valley Twins. That was my jam in school, along with Goosebumps, Fear Street, Magic Tree House, and Encyclopedia Brown.

Michael Mintz said...

The story Dungeon Master by Sam Lipstye was fairly interesting. The slice of life story followed a fourteen year old boy playing dungeons and dragons with an enigmatic dungeon master. While an interesting concept it did not really intrigue me that much. Truthfully I consider the story quite plain. Not that I have any problem with stories without action. However all the characters where a boring and just felt tiring to read. Instead of a story where I explore the intricacies of someone’s life or a story where I follow the troubles of someone it felt more like I was being confused with the main character on where his life should go. I understand the idea of trying to get the experience of being a teenager to the closest you can do. However the characters did not feel like actual human beings but caricatures of a story put on a set. Of course this maybe because I have not read the whole book and it might get better later on. However if I just read that part of story I would probably have stopped reading. It felt tiring to go on tiring to try to suspend my belief tiring to try to place myself in the main character’s position. It felt just fake, maybe my life didn’t follow the main character’s part in life but still even if the main character is a female alien with tendencies to set things on fire I feel I should still have been able to connect to the main character instead the main character was emotionless and just a boring observer.

Christopher Yi said...

Much of Karen Russell’s interview clicked right away because of her ability to tap into relatable memories of childhood. She really encapsulated the feelings of growing up and nature of transitioning into adulthood and discovering oneself. The way she used her experiences to reflect the coming-of-age period in her characters made them believable. The book about the wolf girl navigating the wonders of her teen years seemed authentic because of the emotional truths they experience and relinquish to the readers.
Also, the way she utilizes the magical elements of her works is not used so heavy-handedly but rather as a sort of support to lift up normal scenarios into interesting ones. The fantasy elements are framed around the story and not the other way around which helps us to stay grounded in her works because we can draw parallels from the real world. She blends the realm of fantasy and reality so effortlessly and nonchalantly that it becomes believable.
Ava Wrestles the Alligator was a great excerpt especially because of the imagery that she created. I admire the words she uses to describe things in her own way. For example, “mosquito blackened sills” instead of simply saying dark window sills. Something as simple as this creates a fresh and vivid image instead of settling for the more pedestrian way of saying it.
The part about the alligators was fun to read as it reminded me about the exercise we did in class where we described the anatomy of objects and using language in a way that evokes musicality.

Brian Nowak said...

I love reading stories about Dungeons and Dragons. It's the best game, truly. I haven't played in too long. But This isn't the first story about DnD I've heard of. They released a show on Seeso called HarmonQuest where comedians play DnD together. It is brilliant, I totally recommend. I also have a bit with a friend I used to play with where we send excerpts from the subreddits for DnD stories and laugh about them.

I read the interview first and I appreciated the economy of morphemes he talked about, and how not only the humor of the piece, but the tensions and subverted expectations work within the piece. It really showed in the story, like the moment when the father (a brilliant character, by the way,) is strumming the guitar. The expectation totally shifted, and the reader feels a need for an almost panicked laugh, but you dont want to laugh at his misery over losing his wife. The same thing happened at the end with the corvette on the cliff. I was thinking about the arc of the story and how crazy it would be if he rode them over the railing. The stakes were so high!!!

There is also something delightful in the distinctive waywardness of each of the boys. Like they are all frustrated adolescents in their own rights, and I liked that. It was relatable to my own friend group. In fact the whole air of adolescence was strong in the piece. The diction when the narrator explains his habits before DnD, "stroke a batch off" as a euphemism for masturbating had me cackling, and when he recalls that with the shorthand later, the feeling also stirs, reprises.

Melissa Cecchini said...

For just a short story, The Dungeon Master was incredibly complex. He packed so much into a small amount of space, and yet it didn't really feel like it was moving too fast or like I was lost anywhere. It was succinct and well written, which is unsurprising after reading his interview. It's true, every morpheme counts. After reading his feelings on the cadence and the sound of sentences I realized that I do try to do the same thing in my writing. I really like it when things are pleasing to the ear, and when they're fun to say.

The unspoken parts of the story are what I think drew me into it the most. I've never played DnD, though I know a bit about it and games like it. So I wasn't so interested in that part, but it didn't make the story any less interesting because of all the other elements he crammed into the story. Everyone had their own backstory and their own problems that were sad but not in your face sad. Like the kind that beg you to feel bad for them, and I think a lot of that has to do with the narrator and the fact that he didn't feel that way about these people.

My favorite part of the story was definitely toward the end when he's in the Corvette and for a moment he thinks he can see the futures of the characters. Because it's this big philosophical question/statement. And then he follows it immediately with a denial. And I think I like it so much because there are a lot of short stories that serious do the "wind of change" premonition thing, and I think it's such a lazy ending. He kind of mocks that, while also giving the audience the hint of an ending that isn't totally set in stone.

Aishik Mukherjee said...

What seems remarkable about Karen Russel’s “Ava Wrestles the Aligator” is her ability to instill a childlike euphony in the voice despite the use of words relatively high in diction. Sentences flow out of this fictional 12 year old that capture her innocence yet might seem too mature if they were uttered by an actual 7th grader; “ I can climb trees with simian ease”. The word simian is not usual to the vocabulary of such a young child though it feels right in her mouth. There is an air of lightness with the sound it makes that matched the voice of such a young girl. This pattern continues throughout the story. The sentences spoken my the narrator to the reader, if read with disregard to the context of the story, read beautifully and capture the happening of the scene with a firm grasp of interesting descriptive language. Yet the chosen words are sonically sweet; “A surge of unused adrenaline leaves me feeling sick and quakey”. It is difficult to mistake the voice as belonging to anyone but a twelve year old. This is what feels remarkable about Russel’s short story, the voice of a child captured despite the height of the diction used. This raises the question of what the level of diction should be? Should the diction match the age and context of the character? Is it wrong to give a 10 year old the voice of someone who sounds 16? Would that discrepancy be distracting to the reader? I admit it was not my first read through when I began to appreciate the voice Russel gave to the girl. At first I was a bit annoyed by her eloquence, though through re-reading the story I found the charm of her voice to outweigh my initial frustration.

Susan Lee said...

I hadn't been exposed to Karen Russell before this so it was interesting to be able to read an interview that was conducted with us. I was taken aback at first by the fact they compared her to Mary Shelley. The interview really described as her as an extremely talented writer so i had high expectations before reading "Ave Wrestles the Alligator". I thought it was interesting that she incorporated so much description and I think the fact that she had experiences such as going on a boat in her childhood might have helped her with that. I was actually very pleasantly surprised at how good her description was.
'The Dungeon Master' by Sam Lipsyte shows a different type of writing from Karen Russell as well as from your typical ya or mg novel. From that excerpt you can see that the sentences are kind of choppy but it was still unique. The plot itself was still so magical that it didn't make much of a difference. In the interview he mentioned that he paid a lot of attention to rhythm, cadence and acoustics which I could really tell in his writing. I've never played Dungens and Dragons nor would I ever want to, to be honest, but it was still interesting to see a glimpse of what it really was and how much the main character (and perhaps the author too..?) enjoyed it.

Richard Urquiza said...

Sam Lipsyte’s “The Dungeon Master” was a really interesting read. I don’t think I’ve ever read a story where nearly all the characters are horrible and unlikeable, yet I still wanted to read about them and continue to be in the story’s world. The key to that I think is how the man group of kids bounce off each other. It is also very mature for YA fiction I feel. Despite obviously being observed by a youth, and the narrative using simple language, the world is harsh and unforgiving, as are the characters. It is as if the world was molded by the influence of The Dungeon Master on the narrator. Either way, it really made me question the boundaries of YA fiction.

The story also has a large sense of directionlessness, in both its plot and the character’s lives. The narrator descriptions of and interactions with others outside of the game are very brief. As a result, I am not sure how to judge their importance in the story. The details are useful in terms of humor and to prompt character reaction, but all together they are minor details that do not build up together to a grand idea. The main draw is the progression of the game, and I like how Lipsyte uses the plot of the game to keep the reader invested as exposition is dealt out subtly and naturally. I was reminded of the lost feeling of the story by Lipsyte’s interview with Barrett Hathcock. The details of Sam’s life, how he ended up teaching when he previously never thought he would, made me think of how shakable our plans for the future are. I related this back to the narrator, how his daily routine is hinted to change with him needing a job to support the family, and his general attitude of indifference.

Sam A said...

I really liked the Karren Russel story. It was really well written and the language was beautiful. It was very simple yet grasping. I think it's the mark of a good writer to be able to take a simple scene and expand into something larger. One the page, the scene is simply two siblings staying over night unsupervised. Throw in the fact that one of them seems to have Disassociative Identity Disorder and you have the recipe for an interesting scene. Russel delivers that too. Her writing is clear. It blends the line of author-like description and character voice perfectly, culminating to a refreshing story with a relatable character.

Perhaps it is the short story format, but the story moves quickly too. A lot of information is curated carefully into a small amount of page space, which keeps the story interesting and mobile. It is hard to lose a reader when your multiple-personality, purple haired, lovesick character runs loose in an environment surrounded with gators.

The Dungeon Master is still one of my favorite stories, but I decided to read something new instead of something familiar and I am glad I did.

Crystal Lam said...

It is fascinating to read Karen Russell's books about seemingly normal teenagers with extraordinary lives. Russell is able to seamlessly weave mystical worlds into her stories while keeping a realistic aspect. Her characters are very real and have relatable emotions. In "Ava Wrestles the Alligator," the reader just accepts that her family raises and fights alligators for the purpose of entertaining the public. The weirdest part of the story becomes her sister Ossie who is decidedly different and strange. Taking the relationship between sisters, what should be the most relatable aspect of the story becomes the oddest, twisting traditional thoughts upon the matter.
This is one of the first times I have heard Florida described in this manner. People usually do not have great opinions of this Southern State and only know it for Disney World. Russell's descriptions of her childhood home changes how I perceive this land of gators and swamps. It is heartening to see someone praising their home state rather than rejecting the history that comes with the place. Russell has an inner look at a world that many people do not get to experience the way that she does. She takes Miami and makes it a supernatural haven, something a non-Florida native would never even imagine. The way she describes her home-state makes it sound like Louisiana, full of bayous and magic. Russell is a great writer who finds fantastic creatures in the most surprising places and inspires me to look closer for writing inspiration. Many times, I look farther to other places as settings but her interviews have given me hope that maybe many ideas can really be found at home.

Crystal Lam said...

I found myself very engrossed in "The Dungeon Master" by Sam Lipsyte. Even though I was confused for much of the first half, the story still came together. Writing about a group of regular school-aged boys going through typical struggles, Lipsyte throws in a video game that consumes their lives. At times, it was unclear what was or was not real. Language is used very well where the boys speak in their own way. The narrator pretends to be smart by borrowing phrases from books and movies to impress the Dungeon Master whom he has conflicting opinions upon. For his part, the Dungeon Master seems to buy into what the narrator says yet has his own greater agenda. The story is relatable for many readers, people can find similarities with their teen years perhaps not with the gaming aspect but with the characters. The narrator can be seen as a typical guy with his attitude towards school, work, and having a crush. Lightly, things like suicide and death are brought up without being too heavy, weaving into the story. I agree with Jenny when she says that he creates a very realistic world through dialogue, bringing fantasy into what would otherwise be an overused plotline of misfit boys.

A lot of what Lipsyte says about writing seems lyrical with musical backgrounds. I appreciate that Barrett Hathcock mentions the author's past history singing in a band. You can see how Lipsyte translates these experiences into his writing. Even in the Dungeon Master, a band is mentioned. I also like how Lipsyte pushes his characters, playing around with them until he can get them to serve a purpose.

Zakiya C said...

I read about Sam Lipsyte and I'm not sure what to say about him. The Dungeon Master is well written and has good suspense, but I didn't understand where I was at first. It felt like there were so few details that I couldn't question anything else about the world I was reading. However, that writing style is intense and good for suspenseful writing. All n' all I enjoyed the writing.

Sara Hankins said...

Reflecting back on what we have learned in class, we have been taught to name the world we are in. Call them Sketchers, not shoes, or Whopper and not food. Another thing we learned was how to bring to life the little details in our environment that most people would ignore or seem as too banal to include them in their writing. Karen Russell shows us a variety of ways in which she makes these lessons flow naturally, as if the writing would be incomplete without these elements. The most amazing part about it is when reviewers commend her on her creativity and almost supernatural worlds, she simply gives credit to growing up in Florida. Many of the events outlined in the stories she creates is not too far from the truth as people think they are. Her writing inspires not only authors but any reader of her stories to try to be more aware of their surroundings and take in all the little details in a new light. This not only expands a person's capacity to write, but to live as each detail will seem like new every single time.

Sara Hankins said...

Speaking of lessons we have learned in class, Sam Lipsyte's story of the high schoolers who play dungeons and dragons is a noteworthy example of detail and revealing little bits of information at a time to keep the reader interested. We don't need a lot of preamble or any flashbacks to understand that there isn't a mother in the picture, or that some of the kids have mental disorders of varying intensities. Every morpheme counts, as Lipsyte says in his interview, and thats certainly true in his story. It is exactly enough to get the point across, and it's refreshing to read something that gets to the point and doesn't slow the story down with unnecessary words and sounds. Going along with this, we barely get to know our narrator. The readers don't even know his name, if he is a he at all, but the story still flows and is understood. Why explain to a reader a character that they don't really need? He is just a device to tell us about the Dungeon Master. No morphemes are wasted on useless descriptions and instead focus on the true main character and the bigger story.

Siming Hsu said...

Karen Russell is obviously very adept at creating children's and young people's stories from the perspective of children. She captures the mentality and worldview of being a child very well, informed by her own experiences from her childhood that have stuck with her even into her 40s. Another thing that is great about her work is the aspect of magical realism, which is one of my favorite types of works. There is nearly always something fantastical or mythical about the worlds she creates; they seem natural, but the supernatural element that peeks through adds a great amount of interest and sparks that childlike wonder in all of us.

There is a kind of visceral reality and uniqueness about the worlds that Russell creates, as shown in the excerpt from "Ava Wrestles the Alligator." She captures so well the details of a world that would never exist in our own, but seems so natural and lively through her crafting. Swamplandia!, despite its unrefined and animalistic nature, is still a place of childish fantasy and wonder, akin to Disney World, and yet so different at the same time. She also interweaves details that transcend just the unusual setting and allow us to relate to Ava as a character, like her relationship with her family and her confusion towards Ossie and Luscious' relationship. These details, paired with the real, raw, and exciting quality of the swamp they live in, make for a story that is both captivating and relatable.

Sierra Commons said...

I decided to read Sam Lipsyte for this one, both because the story had to do with DnD and that I've always been interested in comedy in stories. I appreciated Lipsyte's comments, but I do have to say that his answer that he's just naturally funny wasn't very helpful. I wasn't expecting it, but his comments one making lines count was interesting although something that has been said many times. It really helped to be able to read the short story and then compare that writing to what Lipsyte spoke about. I always appreciate good examples of work where sentences are heavily weighted and there isn't too much wasted space.

I both liked and disliked "The Dungeon Master" story. The whole thing made me feel uncomfortable, and a little frustrated mostly because I really couldn't see the appeal of going to the Dungeon Master's every day even if it's explained that there wasn't anything else to do. And, you know, the Dungeon Master was an asshole. But the story and especially the Dungeon Master is complex so that was nice. One of the lines that really struck me was how the father would always call them "puppies" which at first just seemed quirky but then really hit me when the kids are fighting and all he does is say hello "puppies" like usual. Something about that scene struck me as being very unnerving. All in all, I definitely think that the story captured a complex situation and relationships that felt very real.

aliyah m said...

I think the world that Karen Russell is able to create from her writing is amazing. I love that in her interview with Bollen he mentions a boat that he went on in Miami that took him to a place called Stiltsville, where old houses are hanging on stilts in the middle of the ocean and he mentions how beautiful it was. She responds by saying that this place was included in her story. She says she snuck Stiltsville into Swamplandia!

She says that she gets credit for inventing places that already exist in the world. Like Bollen, I think if a place is magical enough that you can wonder if it is geographically real or not.
Karen Russell’s story felt so realistic when reading it. There were details to the story that made it seem that life was normal. In the story the main character said, “I am so jealous of Ossie. Every time the lights flicker in a storm, or a dish clatters to the floor, it's a message from her stupid boyfriend.” That line of dialogue, to me, felt rooted in reality even though it was set in Swamplandia.

It’s the place where the alligators talk to each other and to the moon. The way she tells the story feels like this could happen in my everyday life. I feel the need to keep my eyes open for wild gators that bellow. Monsters that make a “strangely plaintive sound to make: long and throaty, full of a terrible sweetness, like the Chief's voice grown gruff with emotion.” This is the magic that is Karen Russell and I can get behind it.

Elaina Yu said...

I absolutely adored Karen Russel’s piece, especially the description of the Luscious’ possession. I loved the rhythm – a pattern I’m not particularly used to – is so melodic and flows so wonderfully with her descriptions of details like the summer rain sounding like their dead mother’s thumbs drumming or the rain falling like wax paper. It also created such an eerie tone to it that made something stand on end, yet it also normalized it so that once it reached the very sexual possession scene, it wasn’t as unusual or scary as it could have been out of context.
Also, I loved the specific words she used for things, or just calling it what it is. I’m not a very concrete-detail person, since I tend to just focus on the emotion or metaphors. So I loved the sound of words like “bungalow”, “wild bird estuary”, “saw grass” or “mangroves.” I rarely have a concrete image of what I am trying to describe so I just tend to just rely on very vague words like “tree” or “flower” when I could do so much more with “dogwood” or “Japanese white egret flower.” And the specificity also adds a layer of complexity in not just laying down the setting, but also why this specific plant? Why is specific structure here at this time? I found the most enlightening was that you don’t have to compromise voice and sound for specificity, sometimes specificity can add more than something vague can.

ALEX LYU said...

Karen Russel's interview was very moving for me because many of the memories from her childhood that she brought up as inspirations were relatable. She sits out of kickball, away from the "normal" kid activities, and instead escape to a fantasy world by reading and imagining things. I think this sort of thinking is very important for writers because, ultimately, the way our minds are shaped and built is abstract, and we need to be in touch with the way we abstract in order to create. Then, your individual path becomes much more solid and comfortable.
In one of her books she speaks on a wolf girl's transition from childhood to adulthood, and how she maneuvers through the pack politics and mob mentality, much like children in real life. This is another example of the crossroad between following pre-prescribed paths and creating your own.
I don't think that Russell is relying on gimmicks to sell her books, and is rather just choosing an efficient way to implant these stories and thoughts in her young audiences' minds. The reality or the surface level looks of the characters are not as important as the message she is conveying, and in a way, the detachment from reality leaves the barebones of the story to shine through, instead of distracting kids with unimportant relatable features

Benji Sills said...

Russel's use of specificity and imagery is stunning. She paints a very individual picture in her writing, which is something I love to see writers do (and something we've talked about a lot in this course). For example, in reading the piece, I was able to understand and imagine her descriptions coming in with absolutely no prior knowledge or notions about alligators or alligator parks. You could feel her drawing from personal experience (growing up in Florida) and extensive research to achieve these specific, beautiful pictures.

Another thing I found compelling about her writing was the ability to take an adult situation such as masturbation and write about it on a multiple layers - so that different readers of different age and experience may or may not be able to see the metaphor versus the literal.