Interview with Jaed Coffin

By Robert Drinkwater

On Thursday February 27th, Writer, Jaed Coffin will be visiting UMF in The Landing at 7:30pm. He is the author of A Chant To Soothe The Wild Elephants, a memoir about the summer he spent as a Buddhist monk in his mother’s village of Panomsarakram , Thailand. His latest book Roughhouse Friday chronicles the time he spent in Alaska as a boxer and won the middleweight title in a barroom boxing show in Juneau.

When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

That’s a tough one. I usually think good stories begin with some original revelation, but I know that when I tell the story of how I became a writer, I’m kind of making that moment up, because really it was a very gradual process. Anyway, I remember one Saturday afternoon my senior year of high school, sitting at my kitchen table in the empty house I lived in with my mother, staring at a yellow legal pad, very aware that all my friends were up to no good, killing the afternoon at a house down the street. I remember realizing that if I could just start writing a story like the ones I read in English class (we’d just read Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce) then my life would be quite different. So I got to it, and wrote for maybe two hours straight, and when I was done, the house seemed even quieter and the daylight had faded a bit, and I looked down at the legal pad with several pages filled up…I don’t know. That was a very powerful moment that I still remember, about devotion to one’s art and not running away from the sometimes scary impulse to be alone and make something. 

What made you want to write Roughhouse Friday?

I have a list of about fifteen different reasons in my head. To keep it simple: the year(s) I spent living in Alaska filled up that pivotal time of my early twenties when I knew I needed to leave behind the familiar world of Maine and New England and force myself to change in some fundamental way. I also knew–albeit diffusely–that there was a part of my personal history (relating primarily to my parents’ separation, my mother’s heritage, my father’s influences) that I needed to see more clearly. To find that clarity I needed to leave town. In many cases, good stories are built on an arc of change. This first year in Alaska, fighting in bars: I knew even then that I was going through some major changes in the way I understood my life, and so writing this book was my attempt to document that change, or at least put a name on it. 

How would you describe your experience writing Roughhouse Friday?

Writing Roughhouse Friday was pretty brutal. I thought I was going to just write a very interesting story about rural Alaskans fighting in bars, with me as the guide/interloper. But something at the center of that story kept messing everything up, and I went into a kind of creative paralysis and ultimately my first publisher dropped the book. The publisher wanted to know my family history and place that history at the center of the story–I remember the editor said something to the effect of “it looms so large” over everything else–and I just didn’t know what that story was. So then I had to sit with the total (expensive) failure of that, and kind of look myself in the mirror and say, “Ok, time to tell that story whether you like it or not.” So I did it. I had no idea this experience was coming for me, and articulating some very complicated feelings I had toward my father was one of the most emotionally unsettling things I’ve done. I’m just glad it’s over. 

What advice do you have for writers? 

Be nice to your parents, because it’s very likely that in order to find time to write, you might need to live at home while all your friends are starting their more important-looking lives. Also, there’s so much craft advice out there but for me it’s really simple: pay attention to what you love, and then copy it with your own material. 

Are you currently working on any projects? If so, what?

You know, I never understood why people used to say “I’m not ready to talk about my next project.” When other writers were cagey about what they were working on, it always seemed kind of precious to me. But now, I’m in that place where I just don’t want to tell anyone what I’m thinking, because I’m worried that I might jinx the story, or have to own up to something that isn’t what I planned to do. So, yeah, it’s a secret. How mysterious!

You can buy his memoir Roughhouse Friday on Amazon for $15.79.

Book Review of Ninth House

By Robert Drinkwater

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo is an urban fantasy that takes place at Yale University. We follow Galaxy “Alex” Stern, someone with the ability to see ghosts or “grays” as the book refers to them. Alex has had a difficult life. When she was young she experienced a traumatic event that sent her life in a downwards spiral that involved drugs, crime, and death. Alex gets an offer when she’s in the hospital to go to Yale free of charge. As it turns out, Alex has to join one of the secret societies at Yale, where she helps solve crimes involving the dead and whatever’s beyond the veil.

One of my favorite parts about this novel was the location of it. Most of it took place in New Haven, Connecticut, in and around Yale. There was so much detail put into the secret societies, their history, and lore. Each society specialized in certain magical abilities. As it turns out these societies, Manuscript, Skull and Bones, Book and Snake are all real societies. Bardugo is an alumni from Yale which made it seem all the more accurate and it was interesting to see here put magic in these real things. This book kind of reminded me of the television show The Magicians because of it being in a college type setting and the magic that they were able to do as well as having characters in that show deal with with life issues and traumatic events. This novel combines real life modern college experiences with fantasy that adds to the overall story.

The main character Alex is a fantastic and realistic protagonist. I felt like she really developed throughout the novel. I also enjoyed the flashback parts. We see Alex grow up and endure all of that trauma that she’s been through. She is easy to sympathize with, but also strong as she struggles to find her place in the world. Alex is someone who has dealt with drug addiction, abuse, and the novel starts off with her as the sole survivor of a homicide.

Daniel Arlington, or Darlington as he os called is another main character in this novel. This book primarily takes place from Alex’s point of view, but there were a few chapters from Darlington’s perspective. Unlike Alex, Darlington has lived a fairly privileged life, living off of the wealth of his grandfather. However, over the course of the novel, as we see more backstory from his perspective, he becomes more sympathetic.

Despite this being a fantasy novel, the characters and situations in it felt real. This book tackled real life issues that people face today and mixed in a little bit of magic in it. This book is also filled with twists and turns with layers of unpredictability added in every chapter. Without spoiling the ending, I’ll say that I was very satisfied and shocked. It had a twist that immediately made me want to reread this book.

Overall, I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys modern urban fantasy. It is full of realness with magic involved and characters that made this an unforgettable novel.

You can buy Ninth House on Amazon for 16.78

Upcoming Sigma Tau Delta Events

By Robert Drinkwater

This semester Sigma Tau Delta (also known as STD) is having several events happening on campus. STD is the English honor society of UMF. Some of the perks of joining this group includes getting a cord at graduation, going to conventions and meeting famous authors, publication opportunities, it looks good on resumes, and it is a lifetime membership. The requirements to join is a registration fee of $45 and you have to take two or more English classes. The STD induction night will be on April 26th at 4pm. At this event each inductee will read their own speech and get a certificate and pin.

Every Wednesday from 11:45 to 1 they will be selling literary buttons out in the Student Center. These buttons cost $1, most of which has bookish puns on them. One of my favorites said “Read Thoreau-ly”. They will also be having an event called “Blind Date With A Book” from February 11th to the 14th where STD will be selling wrapped books and pastries just in time for Valentines Day.

On March 5th, STD will be having a Tea Part in the Landing at 7pm. Everyone is invited to attend this event. Guests can bring their own teacups and wear period or Alice in Wonderland themed costumes.

Book Review: The Priory Of The Orange Tree

By Robert Drinkwater

The Priory of The Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon is an 800 page stand alone novel set in a fantasy world. I was immediately drawn to this book when I saw the large cast of characters, layers of intricate lore and history and of course dragons. There were no shortage of dragons in this novel.

In this book we follow four main characters: Ead, a sorceress from the south tasked to spy and protect the queen Sabran Berethnet the Ninth, Tané, a dragon rider from the east, Loth a diplomat sent on a mission to calm tensions in a major city in the kingdom, and Niclays Roos, a disgraced alchemist in exile who resides in the east at the beginning of this novel. Each of these characters were compelling in their own way. They were all morally flawed with ambitions of their own, but each of their stories connected to one another in some way. I found myself especially drawn to Ead’s story because I personally loved the political intrigue as well as the development of her and Sabran’s relationship throughout the book, and there was the mystery element as to who keeps sending assassins after Sabran.

This takes place in a world in deep political turmoil where the east and the west are on the brink of war. The West fears dragons and hunts down and kills any dragon they see. The east on the other hand worships dragons, not the fire breathers but the “water dragons”. To them, these dragons are gods and it is a great honor to become a dragon rider in which rider and dragon become kin.

The main antagonist of this novel is a dragon that goes by the name of The Nameless One, and it is said that this creature will awake again at the end of the Berethnet line and rule the world. Sabran is the last of her line and she is getting pressured to marry so that she can produce an heir in order to stop The Nameless one from returning.

I think that the biggest strengths of this novel was it’s rich history and lore. Everything felt so well thought out and I learned so much about this world. Each location that was featured in this novel was described beautifully with intricate detail and it all felt original. The characters were also intriguing. Shannon has a way of creating a diverse group of characters. Many of them made questionable choices, but the reasoning behind these choices made sense. This reminded me a of the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin because of its enormous cast of characters, rich history and lore, multiple point of views, and large layout of locations.

Some of the flaws of this book were the fact that it was really slow paced at certain parts. I felt like I was learning more about the history of this world rather than focusing on the main plot. There were parts when characters story lines were boring and it was more focused on backstory. I also think that the main antagonist The Nameless One is a weakness because throughout this 800 paged novel we are constantly reminded that he is going to return, but he only comes at the the end of the book. We as readers don’t learn much about him other than the fact that he wants to take over the world and that he is evil.

Here are my thoughts on the main characters:

Ead: Ead’s storyline was definitely my favorite. She is tasked to look after the queen and keep her from harms way. We this as she protects Sabran from assassins and uncovers a plot to dethrone her. I enjoyed seeing Ead struggle between choosing her life at The priory in the South and her life at court as her and Sabran become closer throughout the novel.

Loth: I didn’t find Loth as compelling as some of the other characters in this novel. He’s kindhearted and loyal, but his storyline wasn’t really interesting after he left Yscalin. It was nice seeing him grow more open minded of the outside world as he explores more of the different pats of that world.

Niclays: Niclays Roos was a character that I couldn’t stand at times, yet he was easiest to connect to because his flaws were more prevalent. He was selfish and cowardly, but I could understand where he was coming from. He’s been in exile for seven years after he failed to create Sabran the elixir of life that would grant her immortality. Ever since then he has held bitter resentment towards the queen and he has lived on an island in the east since he was exiled. His backstory was poignant and he has had a drinking problem ever since the love of his life died years ago. He makes questionable choices several times throughout this book such as blackmailing Tané and hurting her dragon in order to save his own life. I found myself rooting for him, but also disgusted by some of his decisions, yet I could see why he did what he did.

Tané: She had fantastic character development throughout this story. I feel like she struggled the most as she deals with being banishment, grief, and finding herself through her journey. She starts off as someone who is set in her ways and culture, who believes that her mistakes define her, but as she grows throughout this novel she learns that she doesn’t have to be defined by her mistakes.

Overall, this is a novel that those who enjoy fantasy with rich lore and magic will enjoy. It is a feminist fantasy with strong female characters and it contains a vast array of characters and plot lines. If you enjoy A Song of Ice and Fire or any work of high fantasy (with dragons) full of magic and plenty of history and lore then this is something that you will enjoy. In just one book, I felt like I knew the complete history of this world. Everything was intricately woven together. Past and present, characters in different parts of that world and events that all connected with one another making this a memorable fantasy novel.

Overall Rating: 4.0 out of 5

You can buy The Priory Of The Orange Tree on Amazon for $21.60