Unlabelled: A Rare Moon

Just in case the news has somehow slipped past you, we’re supposed to have a radiant blue moon, supermoon, and lunar eclipse on a scale that hasn’t been around since 1866 (apparently), tomorrow morning on January 31st.

According to an article on NPR, we’re supposed to get one of the best perspectives on it over on the west coast, around 5:00-6:00 PST.

I hope everyone is able to catch a glimpse of this wonderful miracle! We’re so lucky to see it happen.




Book Review (sort of): Five Great Books on Books

Narratives focused on books hold a treasured spot in my heart. What I refer to are fictions that are very much like love letters to storytelling, book-making, or even particularly genres of literature—which distinguishes them from creative writing guides or historical accounts of how particular books came to exist (although the stories might touch on such topics in subtle ways). The characters in book-related fictions might do anything from focus on the impact working with particular texts holds in the main protagonist’s life, to saving rare books from the clutches of less savory personages, or even to describing the lives of fictional writers who write fiction.

Over the years, I’ve found a long list of book-related narratives, but here are five particularly stunning examples I would personally recommend to anyone interested in finding works on that subject:

1) Inkheart (and its sequels, Inkspell and Inkdeath) by Cornelia Funke

2) Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan

3) The City of Dreaming Books (followed by The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books) by Walter Moers

4) The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

5) The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield


Does anyone have additions to make to the above list? If so, I would love to learn about them!

Book Review: Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

Rating: Highly Recommended

Pages: 211

Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a metafictional tale with abundant splashes of magical realism, the kind that fits nicely alongside such narratives as Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Jonathan Stroud’s The Bartimaeus Trilogy, and Walter Moers’ The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear. These aforementioned fellow works tend to take for granted the logic of fairytales or fantasy tales as a mundane aspect of everyday life for whimsical (and oftentimes comedic) effect—delivered in a friendly yet confessional manner.

In the case of Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Rushdie introduces us to an unnamed city in the fictional country of Alifbay defined by its sadness. Emotions are tangible presences in narrative, and in the case of the town in question, it to the point where nearby factories manufacture the sadness for the inhabitant to purchase and pollute the ocean until even the creatures of the deep moan throughout every day when swimming along its coast.

The only brightness amid all the city’s sadness is Rashid Khalifa, also known as “Rashid, the Ocean of Notions,” and to the envious as “The Shah of Blah,” who makes his living as a storyteller. His tales are so phenomenal as to constitute magic that Rashid uses to lift the spirits of his audiences, influence opinions towards those running for public offices, and teach moral lessons to the local children (an allusion, clearly, to the power of skillful storytellers and writers everywhere).

Most of Rashid’s marvels and humanitarian efforts come to the reader through the third-person narration of Haroun—Rashid’s son and greatest fan, as well as the main protagonist of Rushdie’s story; and the prose they get delivered in is gently flowing and tender in tone. The affection Haroun has for his father remains unwavering throughout the narrative, even when the loss of his mother causes Rashid talent for storytelling to seemingly dry up, and on the evening before Rashid gets commissioned to deliver a particularly influential story to a large audience of people (in the Valley of K—where most of the locales are named after alphabet letters).

But then Haroun happens to find a water genie in the act of removing a “story tap” (treated similar to a water tap) that helped to give his father his storytelling prowess, he convinces the genie to take him on a journey to Gup City, and there to get help from its ruler to return his father’s talent for stories.

I won’t go much further for risk of spoilers, but I can say that Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a wonderful example of a metafictional fairytale. Alifbay is a very literary place, where locations can have alphabet names and the act of storytelling generates its own peculiar type of tangible magic (similar to reciting a spell; some simple well-articulated words can actually influence the shape and mood of the natural environment). The City of Gup also gets treated as a frame, of sorts, that surrounds the “real world” inhabited by Haroun. In addition, magical realism is abundant and seen as a normal part of reality—it surprises no one that sadness can permeate the very soil of the earth and cause sorrowful plants to slink to the surface.

Fun Facts:

-Salman Rushdie has written at least four other novels, including Grimus and Midnight’s Children.

Luka and the Fire of Life is the sequel to Haroun and the Sea of Stories.


Happy Reading!

Book Review/Writerly Tips: Translation as Creative Writing in 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (Edited by Eliot Weinberger)

Rating: Recommended

Translations as creative writing might sound like a peculiar idea on the surface, specifically when it comes to translating texts from one language into another. There is the tendency to assume, or so I used to assume, that the process was simple and straightforward. The best known translation for the Japanese-language sentence “Watashi no Tomodachi wa yume o mita,” for instance, in American English, is “My friend had a dream.”

But translation, like creative writing in general, is in fact an intricate undertaking—where the knowledge of another language, a sensibility for the culture where the language is in use, and the filter of the translator’s perspective intersect.

For example, consider the “Watashi no Tomodachi wa yume o mita” sentence once again. While the closest equivalent usually agreed upon in American English is “My friend had a dream,” the actual words in Japanese basically read, “My friend saw a dream.” A translator who felt the word-by-word translation was the most faithful might then set down saw in the sentence, perhaps alongside a footnote explaining the difference in structure and ideas between the Japanese and English languages.

In other words, it’s a deliberate choice on the part of any translator as to how a sentence gets translated. An arguably creative act.

With the above said, we can now delve into 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, edited by Eliot Weinberger—which exemplifies the use of translation as a form of creative writing. Weinberger gives us one four-lined poem from the Buddhist, painter, calligrapher, poet, and philosopher Wang Wei, and then proceeds to include 19 distinct translations, from translators of various backgrounds and native languages, of the exact same poem. While similarities are abundant between the various translations, what stands out are the wide range of approaches taken (including some of which rearrange, add to, or cut out parts of the poem). Yet they are all solid translations for the reader to enjoy.

The basic idea of Wei’s poem is of an unnamed character who wants through an inhabited forest.

Here is one translation by Witter Bynner and Kiang Kang-Hu of Wei’s work (Pg. 5):

“Deer-Park Hermitage

There seems to be no one on the empty mountain . . .

And yet I think I hear a voice,

Where sunlight, entering a grove,

Shines back to me from the green moss.”


However, here is another translation by W.J.B Fletcher (Pg. 4):

The Form of the Deer

So lone seem the hills; there is no one in sight there.

But whence is the echo of the voices I hear?

The rays of the sunset pierce slanting the forest,

And in their reflection green mosses appear.”


Then here is my own translation of the poem:

Of the Deer by Wang Wei

In mountains where people seldom venture

Voices resound amid the gentle solitude

Returned as sunshine into a dark forest

That shines upon green mossy spreads.”


It’s clear from the above three translations just how wide a range the perspectives on a poem can be, and the even wider range of texts that can then result. This variety of understandings is something to keep in mind as a creative writer, I believe, and as a translator. Of course, the same is also true of English-to-English translations of creative pieces (which are apparently viable translations as well)—as long as credit goes to the originator of the text.

So I would recommend 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei as a means of exploring translation at work, and the ways in which translations truly are creative writings as well.

Writer’s Log—January 27, 2018

The ability to build and maintain a blog is a rewarding experience. In fact, while writing this particular writer’s log, I’m glad to report that my Literary Serenity: A Metafictional Writing Blog seems to have taken root at last. The site now contains several postings of book reviews, pieces focused on the field of literary studies, a few personal creative writings, questions, among other works. Even nicer is that I’ve gotten to enjoy blogs kept by other writers online, indulging in the wide variety of incredible information they have to share. Technology has truly come a long way over the last several years, to allow people for free to create blogs to showcase their talents to the world.

A regular blog is also important for professional reasons as a writer. I have now heard from many professors, writing friends, and freelancing sources (online and in print) that blogs are like working portfolios the blogger can then show to potential employers—to give them an idea of their expertise and quality of their work. So that was one reason I did start up Literary Serenity as a graduate student, and have since continued to develop it; in addition to the fun of the experience, and ability to develop my own theories on metafiction.

It’s a wonderful feeling to create something that other people can enjoy, and which can then turn into something else able to benefit you later!

Just out of curiosity, what were your reasons for deciding to create a blog (to all the other bloggers out there)?

Literary Studies and Discoveries: More Information Revealed in the Dead Sea Scrolls!

I can remember when the Dead Sea Scrolls (also known as the “Qumran Caves Scrolls”) were, more or less, these mysterious texts scholars had found in a series of twelve caverns near the Dead Sea. When first discovered, the wording and state of the scrolls were such that their presence was as much a puzzle as what they actually might say.

Thankfully, it seems that scholars, translators, and many other interested parties are making a good amount of progress on determining what the Dead Sea Scrolls contain. And apparently the most recent find, published through Smithsonian.com, has to do with what the scrolls reveal about the Jewish calendar.

Here is a link to the article “Scholars Decipher One of the Last Encrypted Dead Sea Scrolls,” in case you would like to find out more about this intriguing discovery:


Happy reading!



Writerly Tips: Ekphrasis

Ekphrasis poetry, which includes poems that translate images or similar media into words, is a nice tool to include in your repertoire of writing techniques. I learned about this type of poetry during a translation class in grad school, and it acts as another way to approach constructing poetry, which, after all, can broach a countless number of subjects.

For instance, we got asked to look at Kiki Smith’s sketched picture of “Ideas Are Often Stubborn As Shy Animals” from which to create an ekphrasis poem (and I would recommend that you google it, because it looks really nice); and I came up with this poem:

Kiki Smith

Against a wrinkled white canvas

Four figures stand in firm silence

A menagerie of heights and ages

All with faces that call for attention

Each different yet somehow the same

Vegetables struck with toothpicks hang

From white strings before them

One for every unknown person there

None acknowledges these odd offerings

They stare straight ahead at the viewer

With only the name of “Kiki Smith” known

Yet to whom that name might belong

Or whether it signifies them as a group

Is up for the individual to translate.





Book Review: Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

Rating: Recommended

What does reality mean, and how can one define the imaginary?

In Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, Matthew Dicks takes as his focus questions such as the above that have puzzled philosophers throughout the ages, which remain important despite of, and due to, their insolvability. But rather than write a lengthy dissertation on various ideological stances and definitions, Dicks chooses to address the issue in the novel-length, first-personal fictional account of Budo, the imaginary friend of a young boy named Max who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome.

First off, I have heard of and read a few stories where the narrative involves children struggling to overcome disabilities or other personal disabilities, including Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; and one key component I’ve noticed in each one is that the way family members or friends treat these individuals. It tends to run the gamut from frustration to patient understanding. Similar reactions are present in Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, specifically in the case of Max’s parents.

Yet what I find particularly enduring in this tale is Budo’s perspective towards Max, as his imaginary friend, and his stalwart devotion to the child throughout the narrative. For Budo, nothing is wrong with Max; Max just sees the world differently from other people. And I believe Dicks highlights that approach as something to keep in mind not only in Max’s case, but in that of anyone struggling with similar disabilities, or even with people in general. That everyone experiences reality, and gets influenced by their surroundings, in different ways—and that the issue is really findings ways to connect with each other.

As such, Budo gets introduced as born from Max’s imagination, and acts as a sort of moral and emotional anchor for this child without any friends around his own age. Max basically has basically erected a mental barrier between himself and everyone else (even his parents), with Budo being the one exception. In addition (and without giving away too many spoilers), Budo often comes across as Max’s conscience or voice of reason to make tough decisions, and what is thought-provoking about their relationship is that Budo does truly come from Max’s mind. And as such, the two do share similarities, and oftentimes it is like they are two halves of the same person.

But, as Budo himself makes clear throughout the narrative, he considers himself separate from Max and defined as his own person. In fact, that constitutes his own struggles as an imaginary friend, of which there is apparently a whole community in existence. Dicks gives us a world in which imaginary friends pop into existence in a context much like to Craig McCraken’s show Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, though invisible to all except their children. But none of the imaginary friends in Dicks’ story know why they appear, what the exact nature of their existence is, or what happens to them when their children stop believing in them and they disappear.

In Budo’s case, it terrifies him that he will die if Max stops believing in him, or in the case that something terrible happens to Max. So despite the deep-rooted love of his creator, Budo struggles with concerns over self-preservation, and what his life means as a result. He questions its worth because he is imaginary, which in the context of Dicks’ novel suggests a realm set apart from “reality,” where these beings can grow beyond the children who created them. Yet they are often thrown into the world without the knowledge they are imaginary. It is a term they learn from other imaginary friends. And they come to understand their role in the world the same way, although many must figure it out for themselves (if they last long enough).

The main conflict for the story itself comes from the fact Max has issues interacting with others, acknowledging their existence, or growing beyond a certain set routine. Changes trouble him far more than other children, and his parents fret or argue about him constantly. Then Ms. Patterson (one of the special education teachers) kidnaps Max, and Budo is the only one who knows what has happened. So he must reach out to other imaginary friends, and map out a plan to save his child—even when (at certain points) he gets tempted not to so he might last longer.

Max doesn’t understand the plan Ms. Patterson has in mind for him (which I also will not spoil), but when cast in the light of striving to save him, Budo (and imaginary friends in general) truly matter even though they can only impact their children. They are just invisible and/or have different laws placed upon them. Budo cannot touch or manipulate things in that reality, but he can watch or encourage Max to make a difference in his life, which he gradually begins to do more and more throughout the narrative.

Budo gives Max reasons to push himself as he might not otherwise have done, which Dicks also suggests as a valuable role played by imaginary friends.

Book Review: can’t and won’t (stories) by Lydia Davis

Rating: Recommended.

Pages: 283

Along the many pathways that writers can take in their careers, Lydia Davis tends to shine for her translations of such classics as Swann’s Way and Madame Bovary (and in fact, I got introduced to Davis’ work through a theory in translation class). But such translation work, in many ways, became a foothold for Davis to get professional writing experience, as well as to have her own fiction works noticed—and she has since authored one novel and around four short story collections.

Can’t and won’t (stories) is one of Davis’ most notable short story collections, which focuses primarily on flash fiction pieces that range from lighthearted and silly to mysterious and thoughtful. I found reading them similar to traveling across a field of gently sloping foothills. For instance, her first tale of “A Story of Stolen Salamis,” is a kind of quirky, personal anecdote-like piece that is only around a paragraph long, but gets followed by “The Dog Hair,” which tackles the sad disappearance of a family’s dog with affectionate care in a few short-lived sentences.

Flash fiction has a unique charm when placed between the busy events of our lives. They tend to be the types of stories it’s possible to read in less than a few minutes, which make them perfect to grab ahold of during any manner of moments—such as sitting in perhaps not so eager anticipation of a doctor’s appointment, waiting with hunger pangs for food to heat up in the microwave, or even just needing a bit of literary satisfaction to fall asleep easier.

Davis’ flash fiction is perfect to enjoy in all the above circumstances, among many others.

Helpful Writing Tips and Sources: Recommended Guidebooks for Writers

The world of freelance writing presents an exciting avenue to grow as a professor writer, and to gain some much-needed experience. I’m also still doing my best to navigate it, making many wonderful experiences and a ton of mistakes—but I take pride in the thought that I’m gradually getting better. That includes learning about helpful guides and sources to consult when confused or in need of some extra support, as a freelance writer (and as a writer in general).

Here are three of the best guides I’ve come across so far:

1) Writer’s Market

Writer’s Digest Books releases their latest edition of Writer’s Market on an annual basis, which they hail as “The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published.” It’s a lofty claim. However, the wealth of information to get writers started in the freelance market (including interviews with successful writers, an overview of pay rates for particularly jobs, and a long catalogue list of publishers with their general guidelines) make them an invaluable resource.

A new copy of the guide costs about $30; so if you want to save some money, my recommendation is to either check out the most up-to-date copy from your local library, or to look for older (yet usually still relevant) copies from a community bookstore or thrift shop.

2) On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Zinsser has gained a solid reputation for the excellent writing advice he gives in On Writing Well. Actually, he is held is such high regard for it that I’ve had that exact text assigned in several of my writing classes throughout undergraduate and graduate school. His general approach is discuss common writing errors (such as common mistakes, using flowery language, and so forth) in a series of essays. But despite getting often assigned to college classes, Zinsser’s language is simple and straightforward. He doesn’t throw a lot of complicated or scholarly terms at the reader. His guide, in other words, is appropriate for anyone who wants to better her or his writing skills.

3) A Writer’s Reference edited by Diane Hacker

If Zinsser’s On Writing Well is the type of guide that pops up from time to time in writing courses, Diane Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference is one every student writer gets encouraged to have on hand from the first writing class onwards. Like Writer’s Market, A Writer’s Reference gets updated each year with the latest citation information for styles such as MLA, ALA, and Chicago.

It’s a wonderful resource for students who need citation information for their essays and research papers, but also just as important for freelance writers beyond the classroom (where proper citation very much remains essential, and can even get you several well-paid gigs). There are even sections that address the use of writing on the job, whether you work in an office or as a freelance writer.


I hope those are helpful!


Happy Reading!