As popular culture expands and changes, we as a society are finding new ways to share and tell stories. Old stories come and go, but there are some concepts that just never quite go away. Myths have stayed around for decades, centuries even. These stories tend to get recycled often, but there’s always an interesting, new twist out there they can be given. The most well-known mythologies are those of Ancient Greece and Rome, but there are many mythologies in which to explore and play. There are so many possibilities out there, it’s amazing.
The Wicked + Divine
These ways of storytelling are so prevalent in our American culture, it’s even more interesting to take a look at the way popular culture looks back on itself. A good example of this is the serial comic series The Wicked + The Divine (read as the wicked and the divine), by Kieron Gillen. This series centers on a set of mythological gods that get reincarnated into the bodies of teenagers and are given two years to use their new abilities before dying. But what this comic series does differently is that the narrative itself takes a good, deep look at popular culture and how people interact with it. The gods in the current cycle that the comics focus on all become incredibly famous, their designs draw inspiration from famous musical artists and people.
Myths and Popular Culture
In the second arc of The Wicked + The Divine, known as Fandemonium, Gillen takes this observation of pop culture within the medium of pop culture to another level. It’s really interesting to see this commentary play out on the page. Part of the comic’s narrative during this arc focuses on a convention dedicated to these personas that these god-children have created as musical artists. It’s not unlike the many conventions for comic books, video games, etc. around the states and other countries. In fact, that’s the point. The Wicked + the Divine uses this to help make some rather thoughtful points about how fans and celebrities interact with each other. Besides the complexity of most of its cast and my own love for stories involving mythological figures, what I really love about this series is that it brings a fresh perspective on old names and stories. You have ancient names that have been around for centuries like Lucifer or the Morrigan reimagined as young adults, dealing with all the struggles of the world that young adults face. It’s a nice blend of realism and the fantastic that really showcases a lot about the development of identity in our current world. Each character’s identity is comprised of who they were before they became these gods in combination with the personality and reputation of the gods.
Another example of mythology in a modern twist is the children’s book series by Rick Riordan. In this series, the Greek myths, and eventually Roman ones in the sequel series, are reimagined in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. It’s really charming to see these age-old figures as very modern images. Medusa, for example, runs a shop selling statues, or something along those lines. Aphrodite is a famous star when she appears to mortals. It’s little changes like that that really help bring myths into our modern age and bring them alive for another generation. I love reimaginings of stories- myths, fairytales, anything of that sort.
Why reimagine older stories?
Not everyone is familiar with mythology, especially since it’s not a highly taught subject in schools. Although some schools might have a specific class on it, mine sadly, did not. These stories have lasted for so long, it’s important for us to continue to preserve them. They have meaning and purpose, and can be reimagined many times and still be relevant. A reimagining of the greek gods as poets? Aliens? Anything is possible, as long as it doesn’t completely abandon its original source. There are so many ways to retell old stories in ways that are still imaginative and creative and unique. This way we can preserve a part of human history.
Meet the blogger:
ANNA KRENZ is a fiction writer and occasionally a poet, hailing from Wisconsin. She just completed studies at Hamline University with degrees in Creative Writing and English. She loves writing in any genre, although fantasy and horror are her two loves. Besides cats, of course.
Writers & Roleplayers: Lessons in Story-Crafting can be the Real Loot in Tabletop RPGs, By Grant Brengman
If you’ve spent any amount of time with the right kinds of nerds, chances are you’re no stranger to games like Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. But while these games are most commonly associated with various dice-rolling shenanigans, the players are actually taking part in several excellent creative exercises.
The Dungeon Master and their “Dungeon”:
For those who aren’t familiar, the Dungeon Master (or DM) is the one in a group of 3-6 (on average) players who creates the entire game world that the others play through. This means they have the ability to make up the rules as they go.
For this reason, the DM will have a lot of worldbuilding on their hands. The DM won’t always know what the players want to do or where they’ll want to go, so they’ll often draw a map of their lands and cities, put a government system into place, and then populate them with NPCs (Non-Player Characters) for the players to interact with. Written rules do exist for economies, pantheons, histories of creature races, and so on, but the DM is free to overwrite any of it for their own universe.
This naturally translates to writing as an in-depth study in worldbuilding. Writers can use this same tool by making a map of the locations in the story (even if they’re based on real-life countries, cities, or buildings), finding meaningful and precise details to describe the scene, and dropping in unique background characters to add a flavorful crowd or clientele.
The word “worldbuilding” probably has the closest association with the fantasy and sci-fi genre, but a distinct setting is something almost any good story will have.
The Players and their Characters:
The players in the DM’s campaign each create their own character who they roleplay as. Being that D&D is primarily a cooperative game, the players will want to build a diverse party to fill certain roles, depending on the nature of their quest.
This is something a writer should keep in mind. A story’s characters should fulfill certain roles in the story so that their inclusion is justified. This doesn’t mean that each central character should take a turn moving the plot forward; rather, they should have some part in developing the work as a whole, whether that be in grabbing the key to the chest while the main character fights the guardian, or encouraging him when he begins to lose hope.
It’s then the DM’s job to introduce conflict to the party, in the form of monster encounters, conversations with royalty, or even splitting up the party. These situations force each player to think in character to determine how their character would react.
This acts as an excellent exercise in getting to know the characters a writer creates, because they’ll learn more about their characters as they’re thrust into situations the writer may not have thought of. While such unusual situations may never appear in the writer’s work, knowing how their characters would react in the faces of adversity is an important aspect of character building.
In my experience, much of the fun of roleplaying largely depends on the group. So if you can find the right group of people, games such as D&D offer exercises that could improve your writing and storytelling skill set.
Meet the blogger:
GRANT BRENGMAN is a fiction writer, geek, gamer, and Sagittarius. He is a recent graduate from the creative writing BFA program at Hamline University, and is spearheading the creative direction in an indie game development company established with his friends. His dream is to one day sit behind a desk proofreading for forty hours a week.
Into the Sun
Deni Ellis Béchard
Reviewed by CONNOR RYSTEDT
Deni Ellis Béchard’s newest novel with Milkweed Editions, Into the Sun, sees the majority of its action take place in Kabul—the capital of Afghanistan—little more than a decade after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The closest thing to a thriller that Milkweed will publish, the plot of the novel follows Michiko, a Japanese-American journalist who has expatriated to this warzone in an attempt to conquer some fear within himself. Though when three of Michiko’s expatriate contemporaries (all of whom having formed an unlikely love-triangle) are involved in a fatal car bomb, Michiko is thrust into the role of investigator.
If there’s anyone who’s certified to write about the expatriate experience, the man is Deni Béchard. This novel marks Béchard’s fourth collaboration with Milkweed Editions, and is as diverse as each work that precedes it. Indeed, his most recent work beyond this novel was Empty Hands, Open Arms (recently reprinted in paperback as Of Bonobos and Men), a nonfiction account of postcolonial redemption and the fight for environmental justice during Béchard’s travels through Africa. Having travelled to and reported from such exotic locations as the Congo and Iraq (as well as Afghanistan itself), the author’s worldly experience shines through with every cultural tension presented in the narrative, with each character’s distinct reflection on what their nationality of origin means for their identity. And while this book quickens the blood on each page with its suspense and unfolding secrets, it’s also socially conscious—geared toward readers who are prepared to think critically about global conflicts of the 21st-century.
Béchard’s fictive craft is superb for a writer who tells stories in various forms. Reader’s follow the protagonist Michiko through a first-person perspective. Though as his investigation goes into the personal lives of those involved in the tragedy of the expatriate love-triangle, the narrative distances itself to a limited, third-person perspective. In this way, the reader is experiencing the details of the investigation along with Michiko. We see the diverse sentiments of Michiko’s subjects through his own critical lens: the self-righteous ambitions of Justin, a religious zealot from the American South; the tactical prowess and emotional indifference of Clay, a former soldier turned mercenary; the emotional intricacies of Alexandra, a beautiful lawyer given herself away to the cause of Islamic women’s rights. All three were in Kabul so as to provide relief to someone other than themselves, but an investigative look into their histories reveals each of their motives to be more complex than initially stated. Though eventually, as Michiko becomes more obsessed with the details of his investigation, readers may wonder how much his creative influence has affected the story in their hands.
One theme most evident in the novel is a search for what it means exactly to be American, and how the nation is perceived differently at home and abroad. Justin’s father, a veteran of the Vietnam war, posits that “the army had made a coherent nation, joining men from different classes and cultures to forge an American identity” (104). A significantly different tone is taken by another expatriate, a Belgian novelist, with regards to the nation’s armed forces. The man posts on Facebook while writing fiction about the U.S. occupation in Afghanistan: “Another day composing my great American novel” (133). Moreover, the national perspective is much more forgiving than that of the international.
Into the Sun has been compared to the fiction of Graham Greene, already placing the newborn work onto the level of literary classic. Indeed, this book is reminiscent of Greene’s The Quiet American, though with more depth and complexity to reflect the technological innovations that have created a more global society, as well as the long-term effects of 20th-century politics. With this tale of American dreams and interventions, Deni Béchard continues to contribute important literature to a society that increasingly needs it.
Meet the blogger:
CONNOR RYSTEDT is a recent Hamline graduate who majored in English and creative writing. He also received his AFA in creative writing from Anoka-Ramsey Community College, where he had several publications in The Rapids Review and The Campus Eye. In October of 2014, he received the Norman Mailer Nonfiction Writing Award for two-year college students. When he’s not worrying about what to write, he likes to watch football and fight with his parents’ mini-labradoodle.
A show of hands if you have procrastinated in the last month, the last week, TODAY. To some, procrastination is a familiar companion; to others, it is a dreaded drain on their time and productivity. So, if we know what it is, why do we continue to do it? The interesting thing about procrastination is it is often viewed as a lifestyle. In other words, if those who put things off until later, tomorrow, next week (or never) don’t notice any significant consequences, why should they change?
According to an article in Psychology Today twenty percent of people think of themselves as chronic procrastinators. This isn’t limited to college students, but to anyone who is habitually late—paying bills, filing income tax returns, getting in on the hot tickets for concerts and events, even Christmas shopping. In other words, it’s an issue of self-regulation, especially prevalent in the U.S.
Researchers say procrastination is a learned behavior and one which has a host of negative consequences: increased substance use, weakened immune system, even going so far as to jeopardize jobs, credit, and relationships. So, perhaps the unexplained cold and flu symptoms that arise as you cram at the end of the semester are, at least in part, the result of putting things off until the last minute.
Since many of you reading this undergraduate blog are students, let’s narrow our focus to help you navigate your thesis projects, cramming exams, or never-ending paper assignments. Here are some quick and practical suggestions:
Size Up the Assignment. Schedule thirty minutes where you assess what needs to be done, then divide the workload into manageable sections. A crucial aspect of this first step is being honest about how much time you have or will have available to accomplish your goals. Plan accordingly.
“Inch by Inch, Anything’s a Cinch.” Find a place to begin. Write an outline or the first paragraph. Once you have something on the page, moving forward will seem less daunting. Rome wasn’t built in a day so be realistic in your expectations.
Consistency is Key. Once you’ve begun, keep the momentum going by scheduling blocks of time (15-30 minutes per sitting) devoted to your project. I’ve also found that keeping a notebook handy to jot down ideas is a great way to maximize what would otherwise be “wasted time.”
Be About Actions, Not Distractions. Distractions are the bane of a student’s existence. Be your own best advocate by finding an out-of-the-way place to work for the scheduled amount of time. If you work well in a busy coffee shop, go there. But if you find yourself socializing with the barista or everyone who walks in the door, pick a new spot. If you really want to maximize your time, your cell phone and connection to Wi-Fi need to be turned OFF.
Never Underestimate the Carrot. Some projects are more difficult than others. I have always believed incentives go a long way in slogging through projects and I use rewards routinely (for instance, when I complete this blog I’m grabbing a bite to eat with friends). The key is choosing a reward which is meaningful to you, and of course completing the task first.
Study Partners. In theory, this is a good idea. But it only works well if your partner has similar goals and standards. Should I choose a chatty Kathy or someone who buckles down and gets the work done? Is my potential partner ok with “D is for Diploma” or are they aiming higher? It’s crucial to pick someone who is aiming for similar goals.
Perfectionism. You will be assigned hundreds, if not thousands, of assignments during your college career. Some you will execute well and others—due to lack of sleep, illness, or a good time the night before—not so much. There is no such thing as perfect and you’ll make yourself crazy holding your work to this impossible standard. Do your best and turn the work in. Period.
My hope is these suggestions prove helpful. In the meantime, enjoy this hilarious TED talk featuring master procrastinator, Tim Urban. Then, back to work.
Meet the blogger:
DEBBIE JOHNSON-HILL is a poet, freelance writer, and photographer. Her work has appeared in The Atrium, Century Times, Fulcrum, Red Flag Poetry, andThe View from Here: Poetry to Help You Soar, as well as Maple Grove, Southwest Metro, St. Croix Valley, and White Bear Lake Magazines.
When the boy with the blue mohawk swallows your heart and opens his wrists, hide the knives, bleach the bathtub, pour out the vodka. Every time.
I say, I am fat. He says, No, you are beautiful. I wonder why I cannot be both.
Some nights, I put on my father’s chalk outline and teach it how to walk. My face is a haunted house my mother screams at out of habit, not fear. Most days I am an alley that no one will enter alone.
You will find her bobby pins laying innocently on his bathroom sink. Her bobby pins. They look like the wiry legs of spiders, splinters of her undressing in his bed. Do not say anything. Think of stealing them, wearing them home in your hair.
It took my mother eight years to accept me for being gay, for eight years I sat and watched my house burn.
And like, maybe? I’m always speaking in questions? Because I’m so used to being cut off.
You call me angry, you men who get into bar fights over football. Men who beat your wives when she don’t fry the chicken right. You men who say I talk too loud, who say that my mouth has no business looking like a shotgun.
Once, I told you I was afraid of my father, and for a moment I was so human that the audience lost interest.
Which is to say that we are too old for all this shit. And by ‘this shit,’ I of course mean living.
If I will never pass, then I must be fiction. Must be a ghost, caught on camera.
I picture myself coming out and my parents heartbreak flooding all of India.
This home is your shrine now. Your portrait is painted in Jack Daniel’s stains in the linoleum. The smell of your hair is trapped in billows of fireplace smoke.
Meet the blogger:
BLYTHE BAIRD is an internationally known spoken word poet. Her viral work has been featured by The Huffington Post, Ashton Kutcher, Write Bloody, Button Poetry, Mic, Bustle, and more. In 2014, Baird was the youngest competitor at the National Poetry Slam. By 2016, Baird was recognized as a top finalist for the Global Young Achiever Award. Her first book GIVE ME A GOD I CAN RELATE TO is a pushcart prize nominee.