Clarion Write-A-Thon Week 2: Draft Done! On to Liombruno

Dear readers,

I finished a first draft of my “Caterina the Wise” retelling for the Clarion Write-A-Thon. This week, I randomly selected a story called “Liombruno” from Basilicata. My Italian geography is not very good, so I researched the city and learned its geography is really cool. It is a southern Italian region in the lower middle part of the boot, and has over 140 rock-cut churches, mountains, and forests.

I hadn’t heard this story before, so I did a little bit of research. I did find an article snippet on Encyclopedia Brittanica (it’s buried behind a paywall so I can’t share it, unfortunately), but it was cited as exemplary of a popular folk style combining irony and common sense.

The story is about a fisherman who pledges his firstborn son, Liombruno, to the Evil One on his thirteenth birthday. Following this, Liombruno refuses to serve the Evil One and proves his worth. He is then rescued by a shapeshifting fairy named Fata Aquilina, who takes pity on Liombruno and showers him with riches. Missing his parents, Liombruno begs to go home and is given a magical ruby–an icon of her power–to call upon her magic. Only, the fairy warned Liombruno not to expose her for who she truly was. Which, after a time, he did.

The ending of the tale drips with forgiveness. She is dying from grief because she lost Liombruno and he betrayed her. When he reappears, he doesn’t not apologize. She pretty much forgave him and then went back to living happily ever after.

Hmmmm… This’ll be interesting to tackle. The heart of the story is really about the couple’s relationship, but at the same time any repentance story I’d write would absolutely have an apology in it. I’m just not sure repentance is the theme I want to lean into, because that feels off to me. I’m sure I’ll figure it out.

‘Til next time!

Other Clarion Write-A-Thon Posts

About this Post: In exchange for sponsor support, I promised to highlight how I’m processing my identity as an Italian-American and daughter of an immigrant through brainstorming, story selection, and first drafts. If you’re keen on following my progress, warts and all, I encourage you to become my sponsor and sign up for my newsletter.

Clarion Write-A-Thon Week 2: Getting More Out of Habitica

My Habitica Avatar

As I mentioned in my initial post, I planned to use this Write-A-Thon to assess and evaluate what’s working for me and what isn’t. Part of that evaluation is to assess my productivity tools. I was thinking about writing sprints, for example, and how they affect my word count goals.

To that end, I’ve realized that a lot of the times notebooks and planners don’t work for me. I’d love to say: “Yes! Putting pen to paper is the best idea ever!” Except, I have a thousand notebooks, post-its, etc. filled with all kinds of lists. Unless it’s a to-do list, it just doesn’t work for me.

Focusing on that part of my productivity, I circled back to Habitica and am now using it more regularly. (I am @booksofm) on that platform if you want to quest with me.) One tiny aspect of Habitica I hadn’t leveraged in the past is the negative points value, or the damage taken from Habits and Dailies. When I started using that, I got more out of it because it wasn’t just about getting things done. It was also about not doing specific things.

For clarification, Habitica has four categories: Habits, Dailies, To-Dos, and Rewards. Habits are a plus or minus feature that has built-in streaks. Dailies are routine-oriented tasks. The way I use Dailies is to plug in things like my newsletter or something that has more gravitas, like exercise, because those are more concerted efforts than taking my vitamins or doing the dishes. The To-Dos section I use to plug in projects that have deadlines or items on my To-Do list. These are things that often take considerable effort and have multiple steps. Finally, Rewards is your in-game loot, which you get for completing items. You can also create custom Rewards as well.

To gamify Habitica further, there are four things I would love to see. I will probably suggest these at some point; I’m not really active in that community and don’t have the programming skills to help. Right now, this is just me “musing” out loud.

  • Assign Damage to Missed Deadlines on To-Dos: One of the nice features about To-Dos is that you can assign a Deadline. I really like the “Scheduled” view for To-Dos
    which re-orders the items based on due date. I’d love to take that a step further, and have damage taken for a missed deadline. (Even something small like a quarter point per day would be valuable.)
  • Optional: Assign Rewards to To-Dos: Sometimes, there’s To-Dos I have to complete that I really don’t want to. By assigning a Reward to a To-Dos, it’d be a specific reminder that action has consequences.
  • Optional: Add a Projects Category: For me, To-Dos is a combination one-off projects and multi-tiered assignments, so being able to use the existing functionality as another category would help me separate the one-off To-Dos from the larger projects. This functionality already exists within the To-Dos category; you can add multiple steps to a To-Dos that you’d need to check off. Basically, I just want the bigger ones broken out from the one-offs visually, and I’d sacrifice Habits to do that. But, I can see how some people need Habits, which is why I’m suggesting that be optional.
  • Optional: Calendar Integration: I would love to have the ability to integrate my digital calendar with the deadline functionality, but as an option. Again, I’m looking at those longer-term projects I’m already plugging in to get reminders on. If there isn’t a way to do that, I’d take alerts or reminders instead.

Habitica’s strength is that it does gamify your to-do list and it is fun. I love the 8-bit look and feel to Habitica; it’s very old school. If interested, check out Habitica.com.



Other Clarion Write-A-Thon Posts

About this Post: In exchange for sponsor support, I promised to highlight how I’m processing my identity as an Italian-American and daughter of an immigrant through brainstorming, story selection, and first drafts. If you’re keen on following my progress, warts and all, I encourage you to become my sponsor and sign up for my newsletter.

Clarion Write-A-Thon: More on Retelling Catarina the Wise

Readers,

Last time, I gave you some initial thoughts on “Catarina the Wise”. Today I want to dig a little deeper, because there’s something eating away at the heart of my process. Simply, the question: “Should this be a literal retelling, beat for beat, or should I capture the essence of it?”

I thought about the story’s themes related to equality and how they’re presented. The idea that education should be free for everyone, regardless of class, is not the “point” of the tale–but it is a message that is more powerful to a reader in the past than it is today. While the gender equality message is present, I feel it’s specific to cishet marital relationships and the father-daughter bond. It’s for this reason I think the story’s lesson has two different audiences. First, it’s a story about Italian, family-minded cishet men. My take is that fathers and husbands shouldn’t regard their daughters and wives as anything but equal. However, Caterina the Wise also presents as a lesson for the cishet women in these relationships, too. That is: it’s better to bend the existing rules than to try and change them.

I want to point out that Catarina doesn’t interact with other women in the story; her mother passes away off-screen early on. Her worth and value is shared through the perspective of her father and her abusive husband, the prince. When she gets in trouble, she does ask her father for help, which he provides, he then stops helping. I don’t know how much you know about Italian families, but the fact that the father left Catarina to her own devices is a huge deal. Huge.

After re-reading the story, Catarina’s methodology to teach her abuser a life-changing lesson feels wrong to me, because she lies about who she is, sleeps with the Prince, and has several children she then uses as leverage. She doesn’t simply leave him. She stays and changes him by teaching him a lesson–which…well, that’s problematic AF. In this specific instance, the fact that she is not the villain flips the trope that cishet women who use their sexual power are evil. Catarina is not depicted as such. Instead, she’s the heroine of a tale who beat the Prince at his own game.

Here’s where these resonate tones get complicated: I made a pledge to not include cishet white men in my stories to challenge myself. I’ve already decided I’m not going to simply flip the genders because that’s the easy way out for me; I don’t know enough about the power dynamics in queer relationships to write them well and provide the necessary, authentic subtext either. Instead, I’m looking at the essence of this story to see if that’s portable to 2020. Then, I’ll build characters around the abuser-victim dynamic who make sense for the story. So far, I’ve been leaning into the heroine’s name–Caterina the Wise–and the lesson of entitlement with respect to class. I don’t believe that lesson requires a sexual relationship (or the use of children as leverage).

Oh! I don’t think I mentioned this before, but the reason why I am not choosing the name ‘Barbara’ from Calvino’s retelling is because of its meaning. Barbara is a Greek name that is the root of the term “barbarian”. I don’t regard Catarina as being the villain in this story, and changing her name to Barbara (strange or foreign) from the Italian version of Catherine (pure) feels like an odd choice for her character.

Anyway, blogging about “Caterina the Wise” has been interesting for me; I hope you’re enjoying this look into my process. Short stories, in particular, are something I must read a couple of times to fully appreciate, understand, and unlock all their complexities.

Other Clarion Write-A-Thon Posts

About this Post: In exchange for sponsor support, I promised to highlight how I’m processing my identity as an Italian-American and daughter of an immigrant through brainstorming, story selection, and first drafts. If you’re keen on following my progress, warts and all, I encourage you to become my sponsor and sign up for my newsletter.

Clarion Write-A-Thon: Initial Brainstorming and Selecting the First Italian Fairy Tale

Hello readers,

Last week, I talked about what I’m writing for the Clarion Write-A-Thon. I spent some time this weekend thinking about the negative experiences I’ve had, and have been mulling over Colorism because it’s something I want to be mindful of when writing these stories.

Italian-Americans are sometimes treated differently because we’re not deemed white enough. There are stereotypes that shape this toxic view; Italians from the top of the boot are thought to be lighter-skinned than those in the south. The further south you go, the darker the skin tone–with Calabria and Sardinia residents being the darkest. In other words, where your family is originally from sometimes acts as a signpost for your perceived worth. (Which is nonsense.)

My own experiences have been really weird. Though I am white, I have olive undertones to my skin. There have definitely been times where I haven’t been white “enough” or, alternatively, not tan “enough” to call myself Italian. Mind you, I have never experienced these moments among people of color, and since I changed my hair color to blonde (which I did because I’m mostly grey and occasionally vain) I didn’t have as many issues as I once did. Now, I’ve managed to unpack some of those experiences and learn more about Othering, mostly to confirm: “Okay, so that’s what happened.”

Thankfully, I’m past the pain of my experiences–so much so they’ve faded to a small watermark. That said, I do know Colorism still exists. I just don’t know how Colorism started for Italian immigrants, nor do I know enough about the subject to speak to it authoritatively. Of course, Colorism and Racism aren’t the same, either, even though sometimes they’re conflated. It doesn’t help that Italian pop culture references often reinforce harmful stereotypes while, at the same time, whitewashing Italian cultures–especially anything that smacks of “Rome”. The adverse effect of that is reinforcing Colorism–either intentionally or unintentionally.

Choosing the Fairy Tale

Deep topics, right? So, how the F*&$ do I choose which fairy tale to retell? Well readers–I decided not to. Instead, I pulled out my copy of Italo Calvino’s Italian Folktales. This 763-page book is a collection that includes fairytales like The Three Crones from Venice along with non-magical folktales. Then, I closed my eyes and opened it up. Whatever random page I opened up to? That’d be the fairy tale I selected for the week.

And so, the first story I’m retelling is called “Barbara the Wise” from Palermo, Sicily. The moral to this particular tale is quite interesting, because the lesson intersects with class-and-gender based stereotypes while championing a free and public education. I did some preliminary research about the Sicilian fairy tale, and found it by an alternative name: “Catarina the Wise” in Giuseppe Pitre’s Catarina the Wise and Other Wondrous Sicilian Folk and Fairy Tales translated by Jack Zipes. (Apologies for the misspelling of Pitre’s surname. There should be an accent grave over the “e”, but I couldn’t get the accent to stick.)

I dug a little deeper to see if I could find any women writing about this story and came up unsurprisingly empty. What I did learn, is that Guiseppe Pitre (1847-1916) is literally an unknown champion of Sicilian culture and folklore in the 19th century. This is a huge deal. Anti-Italianism was rampant and deadly at the time. It’s also subtext in Little Women that often gets ignored or misunderstood, because Anti-Italianism doesn’t have the same meaning in modern times as it did to a 19th century resident. (See: Laurie.) If you’re looking for highlights, the anti-italianism page on Wikipedia has a good overview of how Italian-Americans were treated historically, and how that’s changed during-and-post WWII. Pointedly, there’s a long list of resources at the bottom you can check out yourself.

After reading “Catarina the Wise”, I wanted to learn more about its origins because I was surprised by how feminist it was. This story proudly declares gender and class equality–that’s literally the lesson. Prince and pauper both deserve an equal education and fair treatment, and the prince who doesn’t agree and tries to punish Catarina is taught quite the lesson. The locations mentioned–Palermo, Venezia, Genoa, Napoli–don’t read as an accident to me, either. The story tells me that Sicilians are no different from other Italians and are valued the same. Not should be. Are. Ugh! It’s a perfect folktale. Now, I just have to figure out how to retell it. Yeah, no pressure. No pressure at all. *whistles*

About this Post: In exchange for sponsor support, I promised to highlight how I’m processing my identity as an Italian-American and daughter of an immigrant through brainstorming, story selection, and first drafts. If you’re keen on following my progress, warts and all, I encourage you to become my sponsor and sign up for my newsletter.

My Clarion Write-A-Thon Project

Hiya! This year, I signed up to help the Clarion Write-A-Thon raise funds and support the workshop. I just decided what I’ll be writing about and have opted to select six, unique Italian fairy tales to retell. I want to share with you what this means to me in the hopes you’ll follow along and support my work.

Clarion’s six week-long Write-a-Thon is the perfect opportunity to explore a part of my identity while consciously avoiding tropes. I’m pledging six short story drafts in this time period; I’ll be releasing the drafts, one per week, under a password protected area on my website for sponsors to read. The rules? Simply, this: for the project, I will not include cisgendered white male characters.

I have complicated feelings about being Italian-American and the daughter of an immigrant due to past experiences. I’m also fed up with media depictions that focus on a razor-thin section of the entire culture, both here and abroad. In America, the dominant Italian-American stereotype in artistic media is a cartoonish “wise guy” or sometimes “gal”. Over and over again, these stereotypes of Italian-Americans depict cisgendered white men and few cisgendered white women. Of the men, Italian-Americans must be the hyper-masculine, violent tough guy/hottie or the devoted, politically shrewd Catholic priest. Of those few Italian women, we must be sexy mothers or nuns.

In exchange for your support, you’ll read how I process this part of my identity through my brainstorming, story selection, and first drafts. If you’re keen on following my progress, warts and all, I encourage you to become my sponsor and sign up for my newsletter.

If you’re not, that’s okay! There are dozens of other writers you can support, too, and I will always encourage you to back the writer you want to read. Here’s the link to the full list.



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