Rick Riordan and the Teaching of Mythology

I remember the day well. I was in middle school and we had another author visit coming up. Even though I grew up in a small town, we had pretty regular author visits and author events. It was pretty amazing. 

As with every other author event, we had the ability to buy their books. And, as with every other event, I had not heard of the author or the series before. Which is probably why I started with the second book instead of the first one.

It was a little confusing at first, but I still enjoyed it. By the end of the week, I had the rest of the books. You can probably guess what the series is, based on the post title.

I read Percy Jackson and the Olympians in the wrong order. Thankfully, this was back when his plots were a lot less convoluted. I definitely do not recommend reading any of his other series in the wrong order. You will be very lost.

For those of you who are wondering, yes, I have met Rick Riordan. This was before The Last Olympian came out, around the time when we first found out we were going to have a The Lightning Thief movie. So, back when we were still excited about the movie and before we realized it was going to be a massive disappointment.

I absolutely loved the series. The characters were great, the story was great, and it was surprisingly accurate to what I already knew about mythology. 

I particularly enjoyed how he shared the information and built the world. He did not rely on any of the annoying tropes people tend to fall back on. No one has amnesia (at least in the first series). He is not already an expert. Percy is just a seemingly normal kid who is currently in a class that is teaching mythology. He struggles with school. He knows about as much mythology as a normal kid his age would.

Reading through the books it feels very much like you are learning more about the world along with Percy. It was the same throughout the rest of his series as well. The main characters know/remember about as much about the mythology of the particular world as a normal person would. Their mentors understand that they aren’t going to know everything because there is no reason for them to have all of the (correct) information. They just found out that the world was, in fact, real.

So, not only is the execution very well done, but the information is very accurate as well. Through both his series and outside sources (namely the Myths and Legends podcast), I have learned a lot more about not only Greek but Norse, Egyptian, Gaelic, and other mythologies. Rick Riordan does an amazing job of balancing showing the less shiny side of things without delving too deep into some of the much darker parts. 

He includes many of the details that prove that the gods of each pantheon are not all the role models some people may have been lead to believe. Most are incredibly selfish and some did some genuinely terrible things (*cough cough* Zeus *cough*). He even openly criticizes them through the main characters.

But there are a lot of things that happened in nearly all of the mythologies that are very much not child-friendly. Some he doesn’t address, which is completely fine, and others he handles very tactfully. 14 year old me did not need to know the full truth between how many wives Zeus had before he married Hera. Nor did 14 year old me need to know how Zeus got Hera to marry him. 

Seriously, Zeus sucks.

If you have any interest in learning more about Greek and Roman mythology (and how they are different), or Egyptian mythology, or Norse mythology (which has to be the weirdest), then I highly recommend reading his books. It is like a mini history lesson wrapped up in a coming of age story about teamwork and finding yourself. 

I just recently started the Magnus Chase series, which is all about Norse mythology, and I am already impressed by how well he balances out the darker/weirder parts of the mythology as well as the convoluted mess that is Ragnarok. It mentioned some of the weirder parts that not many people know about, like Thor’s goats and the fact that Loki is the mother of a six-legged horse. I can only imagine what is going to show up in the next few books.

Norse mythology is weird.

He has gone back to Greek mythology with his latest series, The Apollo Trial, but I have a feeling his next series will be playing with something new. He has already had such an impact that there is now a thing called ‘Rick Riordan Presents’. These are other series written by different authors that tackle different branches of mythology in fun and unique ways. If you see a book that says Rick Riordan Presents on it, that means it has basically been given his seal of approval. 

I have yet to delve into those but I definitely mean too. Some of them delve into the more obscure mythologies and cultures and some of the descriptions I have heard sound FASCINATING.

You can learn a lot about a culture by looking at their mythology because mythology is mankind trying to explain why the world is the way that it is. And man do we come up with some interesting explanations.

TL;DR: If you are looking to learn more about mythology but don’t want to grab a textbook, grab a book that has Rick Riordan’s name on it. And make sure it is the first book in the series. You won’t regret it.

Just beware, he loves cliff hangers.

Review: The Red Queen Series

I spent months eyeing the first book. It was the cover that caught my attention. It was so simple yet so intriguing.

Then I got into a conversation about writing with the author, and I realized she is a delightful human being. I went to work and mentioned this to my boss. My boss who then informed me that she was going to be in our store for the release of her new book.

That very day I checked out the first book and started reading.

What series am I talking about? The Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard. It is a delightful YA fantasy series set in a world divided by two colors, Red and Silver.

The story

In Red Queen, we are introduced to the world through the eyes of Mare Barrow, a lowly red and a thief, who is best friends with a local fisherman in training named Killorn.

She does a great job of establishing the divide between the powerless reds and the mighty silvers, born with powers beyond imagining. She also shows us the hopeless (and pointless) war between Norta and the neighboring Lakelands that has been eating up countless lives for the past century.

And the best part? It doesn’t feel like she is telling you any of this. You get the information from Mare as she is prompted by outside events to think about it, and the information is limited to stuff she would know. All throughout the series, Victoria does a wonderful job of giving us the information we need in a way that feels organic. It never feels like an information dump.

Even when we are forced to learn a lot of new information during a short period of time, it is because Mare is having to as well. We keep the information that she deems important.  

There were many times I felt myself beginning to feel anxious because it felt like I was right there with Mare. You become so quickly embroiled in the machinations of both the Scarlet Guard and the royal family as Mare is caught between both of them. You come to care for Cal and Maven as she does. You come to trust Julian, as she does.

And you are just as bewildered as she is when things take an interesting turn at the end of book one, leading into book two.

Glass Sword has different pacing to it, as Mare spends most of the time running from her problems. To be fair, her whole life has completely fallen apart in several ways so she isn’t having the best of times. There is a glimmer of hope, though, and she holds onto it with everything she has. Even so, she still feels as if it is her against the world. She feels alone, isolated, and afraid.

It was fascinating to watch the characters grow and evolve as the story went on. The interactions and relationships between the characters all felt so realistic, so organic. You don’t get the angst here that you usually get in YA fantasy books. I mean, there is some angst, but it is realistic angst. I was able to identify with it.

The world is full of so many unknowns and so often things go sideways in terrible ways. She keeps on fighting, though. She holds herself together through sheer fear of what will happen if she falls apart. Heck, she compares herself to being a glass sword on the verge of shattering for a reason.

When a mysterious figure comes along to give her a chance to strike a blow against the king, she leaps at it. This leads to what has to be one of these most stressful fights thus far in the series.

Something happens during the fight that pushes Mare to stop running. It’s like she got a wakeup call or came to a realization of some sort that gives her the courage to do something she said she never would. That twist leaves me speechless even now, it was so well crafted.

And it leads to a tenuous situation in Kings Cage. Here is where we get the second narrator and here is where I started having a really hard time putting the book down. Between the narrator shifts and the time jumps and the constant rising of the political tensions, I could not tear myself away. This is where two new entities enter the stage, changing the power dynamic and leaving you breathless wondering how this is going to change things.

The tension keeps building up until about halfway through the book when the situation simply explodes. From there on it is nonstop moves and countermoves as all of the parties involved adjust to the new power balance. It was honestly one of the most satisfying moments in the entire series, yet I was still on edge. What happens next?

Things really start to get interesting in War Storm. Another country enters the fray and the stage grows to encompass the whole world as we know it.

Sometimes when stories broaden their world it is easy to lose sight of the point. You get so bogged down in all of the moving pieces that you forget why you cared about the story, to begin with. That doesn’t happen here. All of the machinations and twists are driven by the characters who have very organic, very human motivations.

You also see the introduction of several new narrators, all key players on different sides of the conflict. Normally I am not a huge fan of having more than two narrators, because if not done well it can distract from the story. In this case, though, it adds a layer of depth to the story that makes the narrative that much richer.

The way she crafts the narration gives us a unique look into the thoughts, hopes, and dreams of several of the characters we have been getting to know throughout the whole series. It was honestly eye-opening in how it successfully expanded my understanding of the world and the characters themselves.

The build-up to the final conflict was…wow. It’s a ride. There are so many moving pieces from the beginning and it just becomes more and more entangled and complex. Yet, at no point does it become too much. The stakes are high, but it never feels like it is overblown. It is just enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering what will happen next.

And let me tell you, the ending will throw you for a loop.

The moral

This story focuses a lot on how things are both more complicated and more straight forward than they seem. People are more than they appear to be at first glance. Sometimes people who appear to be in control are just as trapped, if not more, by their circumstances as you are. Everyone is human, no matter how cold they pretend to be. Even those who have great power have weaknesses.

There is power in standing for what you believe in, even when the world seems against you. There is power in staying true to who you are, even as the world around you is changing.

People are stronger together.

In the end, even though the good guys have finally done the thing they set out to accomplish, they have “won”, everything isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Not all of the world’s problems have been fixed. They have made great strides in making the world a better place, but there is still more work to do.

Mare’s part is over, though. Her main struggle is through. She can take some time to take care of herself, time to heal and move past everything that has happened to her. There is hope for the future because she has already helped prove that change is possible.

I love that everything isn’t perfect in the end. I love that there is no riding off into the sunset, at least not yet. It makes everything the characters have been through seem so much more real. It makes them more human.

And, honestly, I find that beautiful.

The rating

If you are looking for a series that will have you on the edge of your seat from page one, this is the series for you. It is a well-crafted masterpiece that does not fall into some of the same tropes that most books in the YA series fall into. I very much appreciate this fact, as I am very tired of alpha males, love triangles, and god complexes.

This is a series that I definitely plan on rereading. There was just so much going on all at once that I know I didn’t catch anything.

Plus, it is a fantastic series that I would not mind reliving a few more times.

Note: I have not yet read Broken Throne (a series of short stories set after book 4) or Cruel Crown (two short stories combined into a novella set outside of the series), but I plan to in the future.

The hard truth about your first draft

All writers, whether they are published or not, tend to agree upon one thing.

The hardest part of being a writer is actually FINISHING the first draft. Its something I myself have done once in all my years of writing. It is kind of sad actually.

So many stories go unfinished because either we lose the inspiration and the drive to continue them (or we get distracted by a shiny new idea). Others get started and restarted so many times that we lose sight of why we started writing them in the first place. Some die the second we tell someone about them and they brush it off as a silly idea.

The reality is, being a writer was never going to be easy. You are going to have to face some harsh truths, especially when it comes to your first draft.

You won’t finish as fast as everyone else

I know there are some people who can write a book in a month, or sometimes all they need is a week. It took me well over a year to finish mine. Some people take a lot longer than that to write the first draft of their book (though they tend to work on and finish others in the meantime).

It can be SO easy to fall into the trap of comparing your progress to that of other writers. I know someone who beat NaNoWriMo in 5 days (she wrote 10k a day). It took me seven years and some fudging of the rules to win.

The truth is, there will always be someone who gets things done faster than you. Maybe they have more discipline. Maybe they have more experience. Maybe their schedule allows for more writing time than yours does. It doesn’t matter

This is your journey and yours alone. So keep your head down, stop checking to see how far along the person next to you is, and get to writing.

It will be the hardest thing you have ever done

As I have mentioned, writing your first draft is going to take a while. This is especially true for those of us with a day job(s). Sometimes it is just hard to find the time to write on top of everything else that we have to do. Add onto that the fact that life is stressful and we tend to continually find ourselves surrounded by people who think writing is a silly waste of time, it can be really hard to stay motivated.

You will also have to deal with the people around you not understanding what you are doing or why you are doing it. I talked a lot about what this feels like in my open letter to the creators who feel alone. This is something that is really hard to face. Hearing the people close to you echoing back your own self-doubts can cripple your creativity and stifle your desire to keep going.

That is why I always highly recommend finding and joining the online writing community. There you will find people who not only understand what you are going through, but they have been there themselves.

Just because you are the only one who can tell your story, doesn’t mean you have to go through it alone. Find people who will support you along this journey, with both encouragement and a kick in the rear when needed.

It is going to be hard to stay focused on the story for a long period of time. There will be days when you have neither the time nor the motivation to write. That is okay. But you have to get back to it tomorrow.

There is also that annoying psychological thing that prevents people from finishing things. I personally struggle with this, as evidenced by the amount of random YouTube videos I will have watched by the time I finally finish this blog post. I don’t know if there is a scientific term for this, but it is very much a thing.

A thing that you will have to find a way to power through. Maybe try asking one of your accountability partners to pester the living daylights out of you until you finish the thing. Or tell literally everyone and their mother that you are going to have it finished by a certain time, so then you have to have it done by that time. Because everyone and their mother is expecting you to.

It’s a very stressful yet effective tactic.

Most of it will be garbage

100% guaranteed, no one is ever going to see your first draft. By the time it is finished and you have taken a step back, you will soon realize that it is a steaming pile of garbage. There is no way around it.

You should still be proud of your garbage heap. You put a lot of work into it. That doesn’t change the fact that none of it is even close to being ready to publish. Don’t worry though. That is completely normal.

No one will ever see the mess that is what I wrote during NaNoWriMo. It was a convoluted hodgepodge of plot points and character building. I still keep a lot of the text in the case that I do end up using some of it, but I have since started a complete rewrite. I now know a lot more about the world, the situation, and my characters’ motivations. I also know how not to write and pace certain scenes.

If you feel like your first draft is too silly or too serious, or that you aren’t sure if you want it to be paced/structured that way, that is totally fine. This is your sandbox, so play around in it. Try different scenes from different angles. Dig through the layers of fluff and descriptions to get to the heart of your story. And, most importantly, don’t worry about what anyone else will think.

Your first draft is you telling the story to yourself, so you can come back and figure out how to tell it to everyone else. It is never going to be perfect. It will likely not resemble the end product. It’s most likely going to be a jumbled mess.

That’s okay, though, because you can edit a messy page. You cannot edit a blank one.

Your first draft only needs to be one thing.

Written.

So get to writing. We have a lot of work to do.

A Word To The Creators Who Feel Alone

People don’t always take creators seriously. Even as a kid growing up I knew that my passion for writing could never be more than a hobby. I never invested in my not too shabby drawing skills because I knew nothing would come of it.

I learned quickly to spend more time doing what other people considered to be productive and less time on my stories, lest I get yelled at for being lazy.

It wasn’t until I was much older that I began to realize that it was even possible to make a living as a writer. By that point, I had it ingrained in me that my focus and my efforts were better spent elsewhere. I still feel the urge to hide these interests when around certain people in my life because I know they don’t understand why I care so much about this.

I was born with a desire to tell stories. A desire to create worlds so fantastical and so lifelike that they allow people to escape into a world that is kinder and more accepting than the world they live in. Yet I still struggle with accepting this part of myself.

We creators get so easily bogged down in our own fears and self doubt that we feel like we are all on our own in our futile efforts to create something that will make a difference in the world around us. We feel like nothing we do matters. We believe the lies that the world tells us about how we should be living our lives and try and hide the pain that comes from suffocating our dreams.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just because those around us do not understand our desire to create does not mean we are alone. There are entire communities out there full of people born to create. People with words at their fingertips. People who breathe color and think in song.

People who see the world not for what it is, but for what it could be.

Some people just do not understand this. It is on no fault of their own, and no fault of yours. They are simply not wired the same way we are. They do not see the worlds you hold in your head. They do not see the colors and shapes swirling behind your eyes. They do not hear the haunting melodies in your ear.

It is hard for people to understand something as intangible as art. They do not see the hours and hours of work and stress and tears that go into it. They don’t see the world through your passion.

Instead, they see the world through their own filter. If you think about it, we all do. We were all wired in different ways that can make it hard for us to see things through other perspectives. Some people think more logically whereas others think more creatively.

There is nothing wrong with either way of thinking. It is just the way things are. That means there will be a lot of times when you find yourself surrounded by people who don’t see the world the way you do. It is a hard reality to get used to.

But just because they don’t understand, doesn’t mean they don’t care. Often when people are trying to push you towards a different way of life, they do it because they care. They genuinely believe they are helping you in the best way they can.

It can be challenging to get used to, speaking from personal experience. It takes time to learn to see past a person’s words and hear their intentions. Accept the fact that the way they communicate things and the way you communicate things may not ever synch up. They may never understand exactly why it is that you do what you do.

But that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with what you do.

Different isn’t bad. The world needs different. If everyone saw things the same way, there would be no art, no technological marvels. There would be no growth.

So don’t be ashamed of your passions. Don’t deny your desire to create. Embrace who you are and embrace the wonders you were born to create. Don’t let the world tell you who you should be.

You were created this way for a reason. The world needs you as you are, not as it thinks you should be. Without creation there is no light, there is no growth.

The path will not be an easy one, but then again nothing worth doing ever is. Ask for help. Tell those who love you how they can better support you (because they want too, they just don’t always know how). Find a community of fellow creatives who can help support you and who you can support as you all go on this journey to being who you were meant to be.

The world may feel scary at times, but it doesn’t have to be. Even if your creating never becomes your career, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create. Life is too short to let your passions die in the pursuit of what the world tells you that you need.

If you are like me, then you need to create. If only for yourself.

Chances are, the world needs it too. So stop hiding behind your insecurities. Stop hiding behind the person you think you should be. Start living the life you want and create the things you were born to create.

The world with thank you for it.

Meet the Monomyth

Strap on your seatbelts and hold on tight, because I am about to take you through the plot of every story ever told.

It is all laid out in The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. Published in 1949, this book dives into the pattern that all stories follow in some way. I was first introduced to the Hero’s Journey (or the monomyth, depending on who you ask) in the lead up to my first ever NaNoWriMo. The Hero’s Journey is broken into 12 main stages set in the Ordinary (1-2, 10-12) and the Special World (3-9). Picture it like a clock.

Once you know this basic structure, you will never be able to unsee it. You are welcome.

1: The Ordinary World

This is where you introduce the main character and begin setting up the main conflict. The hero wakes up, eats breakfast, and goes about their day to day life. This is where you get to meet the hero’s friends and family and see what their ‘normal’ is. You watch them go through the motions of a regular day while longing for something more, something better (because rarely is a hero 100% happy with where they are in the beginning). There might be some hints of the coming conflict, but nothing that really catches the hero’s attention.

Everything is perfectly normal. Everyone is happy. Everything is about to change.

2: The Call to Adventure

A mysterious messenger arrives to inform the hero that, for one reason or another, they are needed to save the world. It doesn’t matter how familiar they are with the conflict or what their opinion is on the subject. All that matters is that they have been chosen. It is time for them to rise to the task of saving the world.

3: The Refusal of the Call

By the time it hits 2, the hero has point blank refused the call. Whether they are unqualified or just uninterested, they have absolutely no intention of answering the call to adventure. They are perfectly happy in their ordinary world, thank you very much (even though they were just complaining about how much they wanted something more not even five minutes ago).

4: The Meeting with the Mentor

The mentor arrives at 3 to tell the hero that they need to talk. Somehow they heard about the call that the hero refused. They have known the hero for some time or have been in the hero’s shoes at some point. They are more familiar with the conflict than the hero does and often have a greater understanding of the role the hero will play in the coming battles. They are the one who talks the hero into accepting the challenge.

5: Crossing the First Threshold

4 o’clock rolls around and the hero is finally ready to cross the first threshold. Reluctant or not, they have accepted the challenge and are answering the call to adventure. This can be a really challenging time for the hero. They are leaving behind everything they know and love. Sometimes they leave because the conflict has already destroyed the one thing they were staying for, other times it is because their home is threatened. Either way, they have accepted the call and there is no going back. Once they reach the point where they cannot return, they have crossed the threshold. The adventure is on and there is no going back.

6: Tests, Allies, Enemies

The 5 o’clock hour is divided into three things. First off, the tests. How well does the hero know the world they live in? Do they have the skills they need to survive? Are they worthy of being called a ‘hero’? Some of these tests are given by enemies who seek to impede the hero. Others are given by potential allies who are trying to decide if the hero is worth following/aiding.

7: Approach to the Innermost Cave

The approach to the innermost cave begins around 6. This is when things are starting to get dark. The hero must be prepared to face the great unknown that they have been fighting against the whole time. Think of this as the dark night of the soul. They have never faced a challenge like this before and they are going to have to use everything they have learned so far to survive this.

8: The Ordeal

The real ordeal starts at 7. This is the final test where everything is on the line. Everything they have learned over the course of the journey will be tested. This is where everything changes, including the hero. Some part of them will break. Something is going to die, whether it be a hope, a dream, or a person. It may even be the hero.

Let’s just say it isn’t called the ‘ordeal’ for nothing.

9: Seizing the Sword

At 8, the transformation begins. They have survived incredible odds and have come out even stronger (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually). They also obtained some sort of prize. The prize is the thing that the hero has been searching for this whole time, whether they realize it or not. It might be an object, it might be a secret. It might be knowledge or insight into a problem. It could even be a reconnection with a loved one. Either way, there is no time to celebrate. The clock marches onward and it is time to return home.

10: The Road Back

The clock strikes 9 and it is time to return home. This is a reversal of the call to action and crossing the first threshold, a final push back to the Ordinary World. They may revisit some of the same places (which is a great way to showcase just how much the world and the hero have changed since the ordeal). Ultimately, the hero will have to choose between their own personal objectives and a higher cause. Not an easy decision for anyone.

11: Resurrection

From 10-11 the hero has one final, incredibly dangerous encounter with death. The implications of this fight stretch far beyond the hero’s existence. The outcome of this battle determines the future of the Ordinary World. All of their knowledge and all of their experiences come to fruition in this final fight. This is a chance for the hero to prove that they have truly changed.

12: Return with the Elixir

Things have finally come full circle as the hero returns home to the Ordinary World. The conflict is gone, the threat has been vanquished, and there is finally some sort of peace in the world. Yet everything is not as it once was. The hero has changed.  They have grown. They have brought what they learned on their journey home with them to help make their world a better place.

 

If you pay attention you can see this pattern unfold in all of the stories that have ever been told. We have this natural inclination to telling stories like this and I find it fascinating. I could go on about the psychology behind it all as well as all of the different variations of this journey, the different character types, motivations, etc for hours.  And I probably will at some point.

For now, I have a strong desire to watch Star Wars.

Until next time!

My Battle with Writer’s Block

I have competed in NaNoWriMo every year but one since 2011, to varying degrees of success. And by varying degrees of success I mean I have never won but I did finish some of the stories. This past year, though, I had an interesting experience.

Plotting started a few months before November. I had already been chewing on the idea for a while and it was finally the way I liked it. I developed the characters, laid out how I wanted things to unfold. I was ready to go.

64 pages and 23 days in I finally gave up. There were maybe 12 pages that I was okay with. Everything else I hated. I tried at least six different ways but could not for the life of me get it started. I liked the world, I liked the characters, but everything else I couldn’t stand.

So I shelved the story and tried to move on with my life. This is one of the worst cases of writer’s block I have ever had. Not counting the time I finished a story and then could not look at it again for a year.

I could not for the life of me figure out what the problem was.

I continued playing around with the idea every so often for the next few months, hoping I would find some way to make the story come to life.

That is when it happened. Two side characters who had been creeping along the edge of the narrative stepped forward, bringing with them the few pages of another unfinished story. One of them had existed since the beginning and the other showed up in one of the attempted introductions. Both were important to the story, though I could never quite figure out their motivations.

I was a little confused when they came up to me. We all sat down with a cup of tea and they told me the whole story. Their story. Piece by piece things started clicking together. It took some time and a two hour Skype call with a friend to iron out some of the details, but the story was finally ready to be told.

The main cause of writer’s block is because the story is not ready to be told. Either it needs more work or you personally are not ready to write it yet. Anxiety and insecurity can play a big part in this. I will dive further into this topic at a later date.

The good news is, there are ways to cope with writer’s block. Take a break. Try it from a different angle. Talk it through with another writer or storyteller or creative person. Drop your characters down a hole and see how they get out of it. Take them to the circus.

Whatever you do, don’t give up on writing. Just because you are stuck, just because it doesn’t look like things are working out the way you want them to, doesn’t mean it’s the end. Writing is hard. It is also very subjective. Keep an open mind and don’t lose hope.

You can do this.