Their Dogs Came With Them Book Review

The Blue Route staffers are looking forward to the AWP conference in San Antonio later this week. In addition to the exciting array of panels, the festival-like bookfair, and the Forum for Undergraduate Student Editors caucus, there will be the keynote address by the fabulous Helena María Viramontes. Below, our own Sarah De Kok reviews Their Dogs Came with Them, Viramontes’ ambitious 2007 novel. 

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In modern television shows, there are often multiple plots going on at once. The main characters will go through a series of events while side characters go on their own adventures. By the end of the show, viewers see both stories come together for the final resolution. In Helena Maria Viramontes’ character-driven novel Their Dogs Came With Them, a similar shift in point of view occurs. Told through a third-person point of view, each chapter follows a different character and the people around them. Viramontes focuses on the stories of four young women: Tranquilina, Turtle, Ermilia, and Ana. These women all cross paths in one way or another and are identified through similar character descriptions throughout the novel. The threat of their neighborhood being torn down to make way for a highway overpass is ever-present throughout the story, as is the curfew for citizens so authorities can helicopters can eliminate stray dogs to prevent the spread of rabies.

The story of one’s family is influential to one’s own story. In that same sense, the story of other characters has a hand in the story of the four main characters of Viramontes’ novel. Readers first meet a young Ermilia going to live with her grandparents. As Ermilia’s story progresses, she bands together with a group of girls each with their own stories to bring to the narrative. Ermilia grew up on the same street as Turtle, a gang member who later becomes homeless. Turtle struggles to survive on the streets while living in constant fear of being jumped by rival gang members. Turtle’s refusal to conform to gender norms by presenting herself as male keeps her safe while living on the streets of East Los Angeles. She is on edge from being homeless and staying away from rival gangs. Tranquilina’s life is devoted to serving others in her father’s church. Her story includes the story of her parents and how they traveled to southern California.

Ana’s story is primarily influenced by her brother, Ben. His mental illness takes up most of his time and energy, allowing little time to prioritize anything else. Ana must step in and care for her brother, becoming the mother figure that was lost to them as children. Readers may find themselves disappointed with the lack of Ana’s perspective on her experience. The way the book is advertised gives the impression this is a novel about four young women and their experiences as women living in southern California in the 1960s. To an extent, this is true. Viramontes includes universal experiences of women through each character; Turtle is assaulted as a young girl which leads her to shave her head and pass as male.

Viramontes uses point of view in a way that is unique to her story but leaves readers disconnected from making emotional connections to the characters. With the understanding that this is a character-driven piece, underneath all the layers of setting description and inner thoughts is a story about survival in a world of “us against them.” Despite these minor drawbacks, Viramontes’ novel creates a unique world with relatable characters for readers who are looking for a film-like experience.

DEADLINE EXTENDED: Send in Work by March 15th!

The deadline for submissions for Issue #24 has been extended to March 15th. Undergraduates–submit your best poetry and prose for consideration. Remember, we’re a paying market! (see Submission Guidelines for details).

Submissions Open for Issue #24

Undergraduate writers: The Blue Route is again open for submissions. After reading the submission guidelines, please feel free to send us your best poetry and prose for consideration. The submission period for Issue #24 is January 1-March 1, 2020.

Issue 23 is live!

Issue 23 (December 2019) features undergraduate writers from Central Michigan University, Lebanon Valley College, Marshall University, Temple University, University of West Attica, and University of Maine Farmington. Plus interviews with keynote speaker Nimisha Ladva and student attendees at this year’s FUSE Conference, which Widener University had the immense pleasure of hosting. To learn more about the conference, take a look inside! Thank you to the writers for sending in your amazing pieces, the artists for complementing the stories they tell, and the staff for helping put it all together. We hope you enjoy this collection and its glimpse into the trials and triumphs of life!

House of Leaves Makes for Perfect October Reading

Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves is unlike any other novel ever published. A layered effort compiled from the in-universe narrators and their manuscripts, the book acts as an interactive, psychological horror/thriller, the only in its wholly unique genre.

House of Leaves, primarily, is about an academic review of a critically acclaimed documentary, The Navidson Record; however, the author of this work is a recently deceased, blind, elderly man who died in mysterious circumstances. Furthermore, the documentary exists neither in the real world nor in the novel’s. The conceit of The Navidson Record surrounds Will Navidson, a photojournalist, discovering that his new home has internal measurements greater than its external measurements. Later, a room appears in house’s kitchen, which should lead into the backyard, yet it reveals a dark hallway. The fictional documentary follows Navidson’s explorations into the void, and his descent down its spiral staircase, and into madness.

Zampano, the deceased author of the academic review of the film, provides copious footnotes, some of which contain footnotes of their own, exploring articles, real and fictional, discussing film theory, philosophy, imagery, and the cultural impact of The Navidson Record. Johnny Truant, who discovered Zampano’s work, writes his own footnotes, commenting on Zampano’s story while telling his own, albeit as an unreliable narrator.

Furthermore, an appendix to the book titled “The Whalestone Letters” contains seemingly unrelated poems, sections of prose, artistic renderings of the home in The Navidson Record, and most importantly, letters from Johnny’s mother, written inside an insane asylum. These letters contain secret codes and messages, which can be discovered by avid readers.

House of Leaves is most notable for its unique page layout and style. For instance, different characters’ writings are printed in different fonts, certain words, such as “House” and “Minotaur” are colored blue and red, and sections of prose are often arranged to mirror the events of  The Navidson Record, giving the book an eerie, poetic quality. The book itself is a maze, complicated and strange to read, delving into metafiction, and entirely unlike any other book on the market.

An immense novel, House of Leaves requires a long time to digest, and must be read as a printed copy. Wholly unique, the work stands as one of the most unnerving books I have ever read, perfect for this Halloween season.

by Evan Davis

FUSE Conference at Widener University

Widener University, home of The Blue Route, is hosting this year’s Forum for Undergraduate Student Editors Conference (FUSE), which will be held November 7th-9th, 2019. If you work on a campus publication, you should take a look at the call for proposals (which is in the link below). All kinds of great things are planned–a story slam keynote presentation and workshop, student and faculty panel presentations and discussions, a journal showcase, an open mic, and even a few “unconference” sessions that will give attendees a chance to set part of the agenda for the conference when they arrive. Hope to see you this fall!

https://www.fuse-national.com/

We’re Open for Submissions for Issue #23

The Blue Route is open again for submissions. The deadline for Issue #23 is October 1, 2019. Please see the submission guidelines for details.

Issue 22 is live!

Issue 22 features undergraduate writers from Central Michigan University, Franklin & Marshall College, Lycoming College, Macalester College, Stephen F. Austin University, Regis University, University of South Dakota . Plus an interview with writer Rachel Hall and art from students at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, St. Johns University, Thomas Jefferson University, and Widener University.

Thank you to all the writers, artists, and staff members who helped to make this issue deliver a profound glimpse of the human experience. To our readers, we hope you enjoy this selection of contemporary life as seen by fellow members of the literary and artistic community!

Widener Seniors Attend 2019 AWP Conference in Portland

On March 27, four Widener English majors–all Blue Route staff members–and two faculty members traveled to Portland, Oregon to attend the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference. Along with nearly 12,000 other writers, readers, editors, and publishers, the team enjoyed three amazing days of panels, networking opportunities, enlightening readings and keynotes speeches, and of course, the pacific northwest! Read on for a few words from all four senior English majors about their time in Portland!

Kelly BachichIMG955578
Carlie and I signed up for an hour of manning the FUSE table in the book fair section of the conference. While we were setting up, Carlie nudged me and said, “Kelly, doesn’t that dog on that poster over there look just like the one you wrote about in Historical Fiction class?” Low and behold, I look over and the juxtaposing booth is sporting a poster of Laika, the space dog from the Sputnik II mission that I had just written about the week before coming to AWP. Naturally, I had to go over and investigate. I asked the woman working the booth why Laika was on the poster and she informed me that their book press had published an author who just wrote a biography on Laika. Not only were they selling copies, but he would be there signing them in an hour!

I purchased the book and stood waiting in line, mustering up the courage to ask the author, Kurt Caswell, if I could send him my short piece to read. I am a pretty confident and outgoing person but, for some reason, the minute I was next in line I almost chickened out. I told him about the poster and why I had to buy his book and meet him to tell him that I had also just written about Laika. He handed my book back to me after a really great conversation about Laika and I knew my window to ask him to read my story had closed. Then, to my complete shock, he asked me to send him my story to read and even gave me his personal email to send it to. I was elated.

Later that night, Rohan met a panelist named Shayla Lawson who wrote a poetry chapbook mixed with Frank Ocean songs and got us invited to a “battle of the bands” where she performed her work with her band. One of the opening acts, however, incorporated the song “Space Oddity” by David Bowie into his piece. The minute I heard the lyrics my head snapped over to look at Carlie who was already staring at me, mouth agape. “Space Oddity” is also an integral part of my short story about Laika. In a three-page story there is not much room and for two major aspects to crop up so blatantly at AWP had to be a sign for me to continue working with that piece. AWP is an invaluable resource for English and creative writing majors, it is a hub for creative minds and a space where we can feel important and bond with other professionals.

Vita Lypyak
The first panel I attended at AWP was one of my favorites. It was titled “Translators Are the Unacknowledged Ambassadors of the World,” which is a play on the famous Percy Bysshe Shelley quote, “women are the unacknowledged poets of the world.” I speak two languages besides English, so languages and translation is something that always interested me. The final panelist opened my eyes to the Iranian culture and the struggles associated with translating Iranian literature to English. Unlike the first two panelists, she explained that Iran, as a nation, hinders its own artist by utilizing strict censorship and even executing writers. As a whole, this panel made me understand the crucial role translators have in the dissemination of literature. It helped me understand that translating is also a form of creative writing; a translator has to not only present the same meaning of the original work, but also closely match the same style.

In a sense, translators are poets and makers of things, too; they give readers access to things they could have never reached, due to a language barrier. AWP features a lot of intellectually stimulating and educational panels, which are great, but they can also cause a lot of mental fatigue. By attending poetry readings and readings of other kinds, it really helps your mind slow down and recharge, at least that was my experience. At “A Wild Girls Poetry Reading,” I was particularly moved by one poet, who wrote a collection of poetry where she was attempting to deal with the grief associated with her younger brother’s suicide. The stories she told the audience and the poetry she read were so raw and they made me empathize with her so much. I attended this reading on the first day and I could not stop thinking about her work. Her words impacted me the entire trip to the point that on the last day, I went and bought her book. I had to or I would never forgive myself. After I purchased it, I sat outside and read it from cover to cover, and her words continued to move me.

Rohan Suriyage
I decided to go to Page Meets Stage, a reading that is a yearly tradition at AWP. This was the best decision I made throughout the time of the conference. The reading consisted of five poets reading and performing poems after one another, “popcorning” in order and choosing what to perform based on what was read before them. The panel was led by Taylor Mali, four-time poetry slam champion and arguably the most famous American spoken word poet, and consisted of other notable poets like Anis Mojgani, Mark Doty, and Shayla Lawson. For the whole hour I just sat there, mouth agape, at the MVIMG_20190329_221411incomparable stage presence and refined performing art they all shared with the room. When it was time for Shayla Lawson to read, she prefaced her poems in explaining they were all from a book of poems inspired by Frank Ocean, an R&B artist and one of my main artistic inspirations. When Shayla finished performing “Strawberry Swing” from her poetry book I Think I’m Ready to See Frank Ocean I struggled to retrieve my jaw from the floor and knew I had to speak to her after. Upon the panel’s conclusion I was able to do so.

We talked about Frank and our common interests, and after we spoke, she invited me to come to a reading she was orchestrating in downtown Portland. Of course, I obliged and I ended up going after the last of the panels of the day. In the library room of the Heathman Hotel, I heard Shayla and 4 of her colleagues read marvelous poetry. All of them are part of an association of writers called the Affrilacians, about 2,000 southern writers strong (per Facebook). Two of them I met and spoke with, published poet and educator Mitchell L.H. Douglas and former Kentucky poet laureate and educator Frank X Walker. Both were incredibly down to earth men who gave me insight on getting published and furthering my education, and I thank them for that. To whoever made the decision to take me as one of the students to go on AWP this year: thank you. Thank you. What I owe you can never be repaid. This was a span of days I can’t see myself ever forgetting, a span of days I firmly believe will prove to be important as I further my writing career.

Carlie Sisco
One of the panels I attended was titled “8 Techniques Guaranteed to Take Your Script to the Next Level.” Using examples of films such as “Juno,” “Star Wars: A New Hope,” “Pulp Fiction,” and “Little Miss Sunshine” among others, this panel offered techniques relative to character, scene structure, descriptions, and dialogue. Though I do not write screenplays myself, I have always loved reading the screenplays to my favorite movies and television shows. It makes a very visual experience feel like reading a book. This panel demonstrated the ways in which some screenwriting techniques have the ability to transcend into fiction writing, because, even if I am not worrying about camera angles, it is still storytelling. Screenwriting can sound like a novel just as a novel can read like a screenplay.

Something that stood out to me in particular had to do with a tip on character development: “we watch movies because we want to connect with our characters.” Is that not the same for fiction writers? Shouldn’t I also be focusing on want versus desire, asking emotional questions in scenes, considering symbolism and foreshadowing, making my language visual or finding imaginative ways to introduce my characters? Isn’t it good advice regardless of the medium to think about increasing tension and suspense by slowing down, using misdirection to reveal information, or revealing my characters through their actions? I chose to go to a variety panels on screenwriting and playwriting not because I want to try my hand at either one, but because I know that the techniques between them and fiction writing are interchangeable. I also know that films and television serve as my influence, the driving force that compels me to provide visual detail and intricate characters. I would not have been able to explore what that means to my writing or how related the two mediums are had I not been given this opportunity. My path may not have been the one most fiction writers would typically take, but I think that is what was so amazing about AWP at the end of the day. I was able to find what interested me and gained insight from an influencing medium all while taking my own unique path.

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by Carlie Sisco

Author Insight: Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s name is one that almost everyone knows, English major or not,
as he was one of the first individuals to promote Transcendentalism and very openly go against the grain of society’s norms. He wrote many essays throughout his years, detailing his thoughts on the importance of embracing nature and being self-reliant, and he is still considered one of the greatest scholars in history. This is not only due to his way with words, but also to his willingness to stand out and promote thoughts that were typically not accepted or popular during his time.

In ​The American Scholar, Emerson states, “Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote these books.” Putting the patriarchal language aside, this line tends to strike a chord with the reader– especially one interested in writing their own pieces– as it still very much applies to anyone who aspires to get their work published.

As we discover new authors and ideas as well as look back on the classics, we tend to forget that they were once in our shoes, striving to get their thoughts down on the page and convey some sort of meaning to others. Although their legacies have grown to seem insurmountable, they were all once where we are. This is very important to realize today, especially for younger writers who feel as though they could never measure up to other well known figures, both past and current.

Similarly, Emerson believed that we must discover the world for ourselves and not rely
on the words and experiments of others as our only resource for knowledge. Instead, we should supplement our lives with the work of others, but still rely only on ourselves and our abilities. If we focus too heavily on others’ efforts, we fail ourselves. This holds true in today’s society, as we study famous works such as Emerson’s to expand our minds and knowledge, but we do not accept them as the single truth of the world. Instead, we use them as inspiration and guidance as we continue moving forward and discovering.

Emerson’s message is definitely one that aspiring writers should pay attention to,
especially those in college who are surrounded by peers who have the same ambitions as they do. It is easy to get caught up in insecurities and to have doubts about your abilities, but the most important thing to remember is that we all have original thoughts and ideas, and we should use them as we see fit. Just as Emerson did with his works, we take risks by putting our thoughts out into the world, especially if they differ from what society would consider normal or proper, and having the courage to do so is something he would likely admire and encourage.

 

by Megan Corkery