Kuukua and the Sliding Sneakers

Welcome to the 4th short story in my On the Ceiling series! If you’ve read the first three, thank you for making it this far. If you haven’t, here’s the hyperlink for #1, the hyperlink for #2, and the hyperlink for #3.

Download the PDF for #4 right here: Kuukua and the Sliding Sneakers.

For a snippet of the story, continue reading below.

Back of Kuukua and the Sliding Sneakers

I had my eyes on the ceiling as if I believed it could save me from all the kwasiasɛm going on around me. Ghana’s school wars were so, so tiring.

We were on day three of what had to be the longest five-day program in the history of the world. I didn’t know why parents thought sending their high school children to a university campus to be taught “leadership skills” right at the beginning of long vac. was a good idea. We’d had like two minutes to breathe after graduation last week, before we were told to pack our suitcases and go live on a campus in the middle of nowhere for five days, learning something I wasn’t even sure could be taught.

The entire first day had been dedicated to team-building and mingling exercises, and you could tell exactly what the professors and uni student facilitators had been trying to do with and to us. However, it seemed that no force above the sky or below the ground could have prevented what was always bound to happen whenever high school students from a range of schools and backgrounds came together: division. And, as was the norm among us, the division wasn’t even over social class precisely; it was over perceived social class. The assumptions almost always stemmed from the same misconceptions and thus, were incredibly predictable.

As usual, there were two factions: the public school kids and the international school kids. People assumed that everyone else assumed the international school kids were richer than the public school kids, that we thought we were superior to them in every way, that the public school kids were generally more connected to Ghanaian culture than the international school kids, and the list could go on and on.

It was a battle I wished I could say I was finally about to dodge, given that my class had finally graduated from JSS, and after passing a competitive entrance exam, was now going to be enrolled in what was rumored to be the best high school in Ghana. Unfortunately, I would be dodging no bullets, since though the school was a boarding school – unlike the one I’d just graduated from – it was still an international school. At least I wouldn’t have to endure it all alone. My closest friends, Yaw and Keshawn (called Kess for short), had also passed the exam, and in a few months, we’d still be together, which was quite a relief for me. Unfortunately, though, it also meant that I wouldn’t be able to escape from my drama queen of a cousin, Ntiwaa, who had also been accepted. It figured. She was the smartest girl in the class in terms of academics, and so there was no way in hell she could have failed that entrance exam.

Personally, I knew for a fact that some of these public school kids’ parents could buy my parents’ businesses out if they wanted to. I mean, it wasn’t like my father worked from some prestigious international company or for the government. He was a carpenter, for goodness’ sake. Carpenters weren’t particularly known for being millionaires.

This social class war was playing out in two parallel streams. The first was verbal: slurs, jokes and thinly veiled insults were flying back and forth between both camps, most of them by the partially naturally selected, partially self-appointed “spokesmen” of both camps. For the IS camp, there was a boy, unfortunately from my school and grade, called Kennedy, whom I had never wanted anything much to do with. He was perhaps one of the only people who so perfectly fit all the assumptions people had of international school kids in the first place. He was yet another person I wouldn’t be able to get away from, since he too had passed the entrance exam we’d taken.

On the public school side was a guy whom everyone simply called PK. I didn’t yet know what those initials stood for. All I knew was, with these two boys too close to each other in a single room, a civil war was nearly guaranteed to break out.

The other stream of the war, the non-verbal one, was all in the attire. Everyone who wanted to impress seemed to be competing for the title of Best Dressed. It was a one-week leadership camp. Why were people trying to look like they were either on their way to church weddings, or modelling for an urban clothes magazine? Today was the third day, and when we’d woken up and filed into the classroom for our morning warm-up session, my eyes had been stressed out by the assault of colors, materials and range of styles. It all seemed way too disjointed, as if we all didn’t belong in the same place. People were trying to use their clothes to make statements, as if that would prove or disprove anything about their family’s money, or how connected they were to their roots.

Far ahead of me, I spotted PK wearing baggy, sagged trousers, a sports jersey and a baseball cap turned backwards. “Street” was his style, and he tried to look as extra as possible within it, every single day. His aesthetic didn’t stop at his clothes; it went all the way down to the way he talked. He spoke pidgin English at every opportunity, until he was threatened punishment if he didn’t speak English. He did it obviously and obnoxiously, as if he was trying to prove something by it, too.

It didn’t take long after seeing PK before my eyes found Kennedy, dressed in a white button-down shirt, slightly crinkly to give him that formal-while-carefree look, and I sighed, prematurely exhausted of what was going to be a long day. All of this nonsense was even threatening to make me the tiniest bit self-conscious about what I wore each day.

Out of the crowd, my best friend, Yaw, fell into step beside me. I was almost irrationally happy to see him; he made me feel at ease in this sea of strangers.

Want to continue reading? Download the PDF hyperlinked above! 🙂



Don’t Give Your Characters Birthmarks. And, announcing the next story.

LOL. I’m stressed.

This is probably something that I should keep quiet because if you haven’t noticed, you don’t need to know… But this is becoming really funny.

Editing. Really. Dey. Hia.

Yet, it’s hard to spot the kinds of mistakes you aren’t looking for. You’re classically looking for typos, grammatical errors, text alignment and the like. You’re not looking for birthmarks. But birthmarks may very well be the death of you.

I know for a fact that Kuukua’s birthmark is on top of her left eyebrow. Even the cover illustration says so. Yet, somehow, in Kuukua and the Magical Markers, I managed to publish that it was on top of the right. WTF. In the second story, I made no mention of the birthmark, because it was irrelevant to the story. And only when I was editing the third story did I realize that the cover of the second did not have a birthmark in the first place. Where did it go? WTF, Photoshop?! And then in the third, I brought the birthmark back to the illustration and back to the story…on the left, where it’s supposed to be. While readers of book 1 were expecting it on the right. I’ve stressed myself all the way out, y’all.

Anyway. To supplement my brief lamentation, here’s a link to a list of visual mistakes the makers of the Harry Potter movies didn’t seem to be able to address before the movies came out. It made me feel better about myself: Top 15 biggest Harry Potter film mistakes.

The moral of the whole distin is: don’t give your characters birthmarks.

Aaaaanyway, here’s the cover and blurb of OTC #4! Monday, right here on this blog. 🙂



Summer ’17 Lessons/Lowlights :(

Yo. Life is hard. (Definitely not the first time I’m opening a blog post with this. Maybe I should make this my official sign-in. Sigh.)

This summer, I made what I truly consider one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I’m so used to my stress being an effect of circumstances I couldn’t necessarily control, effects of “the system.” As for this time, it was my decision that I made, although I hesitate to call myself an idiot for it, since there were certain things I don’t believe I could have foreseen. But yo. I have been stressed.

This awful decision was about my summer housing situation. Kids, y’all better learn from this.

So my college actually offers rooms to live in over the summer. But at the end of the last semester, everything about and around me was such a mess that I and my summer employers ended up missing the deadline for applying for a summer room. While my employers tried bargaining with the director of housing on my behalf, and him declaring he could make no promises yet, but would open up available rooms if there were any left when he was done doing his job, I was left to look for alternative options.

It turns out I had a colleague – not a friend per se, but an acquaintance from work – looking for roommates to temporarily live in a truly gorgeous seeming house belonging to a professor who was leaving for a while. Now, you see, I hate making decisions, especially when they involve deadlines and money, so this stressed me out significantly. The house was gorgeous yet more expensive – but guaranteed if I took action immediately. The college was familiar and somewhat boring for that fact, far less expensive, yet not guaranteed. And if I didn’t get it, as a consequence of not having taken immediate action, I would have nowhere else to go.

As is predictable of me, I moved towards the certain, immediate action, as opposed to the uncertain wait. I began to rationalize all my reasons to make me feel better:

  • It was a house off campus, and it would be refreshing to be at least temporarily removed from monotonous scenery
  • It had a kitchen. Several dorms on campus did not – besides, there would be fewer people sharing it.
  • It had a pool! How cool would it be to have access to a pool during a hot California summer?
  • It had air conditioning! Very few campus dorms did, and I’d heard several stories of students having to sleep in their workplaces or academic buildings to avoid melting in their beds at night.

Yeah. So I was thinking that with all these perks, surely it would be worth the extra money? LOL. No. (And listen, I am not trying to throw shade at anyone. I know how easily sharing my stories tends to get me in trouble, but I swear I’m not trying to throw shade.)

Honestly, I should have known better. There are facts about myself I deliberately ignored that came back to bite me in the back, front, top, bottom and all damn sides. Fam, I am an introvert. I don’t like living with people. I don’t like necessarily shared spaces. I don’t like dirt. However, when space must be shared, I like it when everyone actually acts responsible for their share. And, despite my distaste for shares paces, I do have the background and upbringing that makes me extremely uncomfortable with dirt or ugly mess. (Thanks, Mummy.) So, if the sink is dirty, I want it clean so much that I will clean it. Same with the shower, the trash can, the stove, the dishes in the sink…But Lord above, I am not a housemaid.

This was the summer that I realized that college kids really are kids. Like, kids. I mean, I kind of knew. Last semester, one of the (I assume because it makes sense) boys just kept leaving the toilet seat sprayed with urine like his hands spasmed every time he tried to pee, and also would hardly flush the toilet. And because I’m extra, I put a note on the stall door warning them I’d curse them with Ewe witchcraft if it continued. (No, I am not joking; I swear I’m not. Ask Tronomie, I sent him a picture of the note.) But what makes the difference once you live on campus is that every two or three days, housekeeping staff comes and resets the bathrooms (and kitchens) to default. If they did not exist, I am certain the state of campus facilities would have been as awful or worse than they were in that house this summer.

In summary, between the health-hazard-like state of the kitchen and a cat trying to jump into my tomatoes whenever I was trying to cook, between empty contact lens packets all over the bathroom floor and around the sink, wet clothes in the shower constantly, people I didn’t know always being present when least expected, random multi-instrumental jam sessions, a mosquito-ridden backyard, clothing items at the bottom of the pool, an unsightly pile of trash growing, AC time having to be conserved for the sake of the electricity bill et cetera…Yeah bro, I had to leave. None of it was worth anything.

Let me make this clear: in no way do I think the people I lived with were “bad people.” What they were, though, is different from me. And different people can be comfortable with different kinds of living spaces. And from what I saw, it seemed like I was the only unbearably uncomfortable one. I shall not dare to make the claim that any one of them should not have been living there; it was I who was the odd one out. As usual. It’s not our fault we were raised differently. So, yes, I had to leave.

I postponed it for so long because of guilt and financial responsibility. The situation was such that if one person’s contribution was detracted, the debt would be way higher than it already was – which was, apparently, already bad enough. And I had already been granted a significant discount on what I was paying, so it just didn’t seem fair. But most importantly, what was really trapping me was the lease that I’d signed.

Fortunately, I found out that my summer campus room was still being held for me by some sort of fortunate accident, and I would be able to move back if I wanted. But I was thinking I could be strong, stay uncomfortable in the house until summer ended. After all, several people have been through worse in life, haven’t they? But my resolve cracked in about a week, LMAO. It was making zero sense that I was putting my sanity through a destructive process when there was clearly a way out. The opportunity cost was the money. I found myself soon crying to my mother on the phone. My parents encouraged me to prioritize my mental health. And so, facing the loss of more money than I had ever lost in my life, and feeling like the most naïve, irresponsible fool for it, I moved back to campus, trying not to give two pesewas about anyone’s hurt feelings.

There were numerous, stressful failed attempts to get someone to take over my room or raise enough money to pay my debt. In the end, God came through and delivered me from financial hardship in semi-random, stunning ways (I swear, prayer works, y’all) and my quality of life generally improved at least threefold when I was living on campus again. But it doesn’t change the fact that this was one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn in my life about decisions, responsibility, prayer, boldness and tolerance.


Anyway, now that I’m done talking about that nightmare, a few other lessons:

  1. Dealing with hate. (Related: I Lost My Voice.)

I have learnt that I do not know how to do it. My best friends encourage me to ignore trolls and will go out of their way to list the ways the trolls are invalid. It’s still hard, though. I’m still bothered by things I can do nothing about. I can’t change the way people think. I can’t help that people will continuously read what they want to read and see what they want to see. And that’s depressing. And the best I can do is to keep reminding myself what my work is (definitely not fixing haters’ brains) and to keep doing my work no matter what, because that is what I am useful for, and that is how my purpose shall be fulfilled.

  1. I hate having to eat.

I think my least favorite part about classic adulting is just having to find food. Fam, food is expensive, cooking takes long, washing and cleaning takes longer, and even deciding what to eat at all is stress. (If you’ll remember, I intensely dislike making decisions.) Now I know why my mother has a weekly rotating schedule of what the family is having for dinner every night. It’s not now on The Day Of that you’re coming do decide. My mother is a smart woman. Anyway, why can’t I be a Twilight Vampire? I don’t freaking want eating to be a necessity. If food were a luxury that I could maybe get when I wanted or could afford, as opposed to being rendered irritable and dysfunctional without it, honestly, that would be the greatest.

  1. I seriously, seriously might die if life ever puts me in an 8-5/9-5 job.

Like, seriously.

This summer was the first time I’d ever experienced working full-time. And truly, I enjoyed the experience because the work was fun (or, more fun than a lot of work in a lot of places) and the people were good. Those didn’t stop me from getting bored, though. You would have thought working in a creativity/design center, surrounded by both artistic and STEM creatives would keep me entertained. But chale, the monotony of waking up every morning to go to the same building saf drained me so much. The work itself wasn’t strenuous, yet I found myself nearly non-functional during weekends, fully able to sleep for over ¾ of the day from some irrational type of exhaustion.

My God. I am such a restless spirit. If I must work for others to make a living, Lord Jesus, may I be a freelancer, or a traveler, or some sort of thing that neither requires me to be home all day or in some standard building all day. You made me this way, so You know that kind of life is not for me. So, sweet Jesus, do it for ya girl. Amen.

So yeah. Those are my lessons from the summer. =)


Akotz’ Summer Highlights 2017

I should be more intentional about documenting my life through photographs. I always say I’ll try but then I don’t know what happens. 😦

The summer of 2017 has been nowhere near as lit as it was last year. This summer, I did not get to go to Ghana, which is very sad, but also not that sad, since Tronomie wouldn’t have been there anyway. (This is perhaps the only reason I didn’t argue with my parents and adamantly insist on returning, to be honest.) But highlights deserve to be celebrated anyway. (Although there will be lowlights, published tomorrow, in what will be a far more interesting blog post. I think.)

I got to be in a hot air balloon for the first time!

It was kind of like a birthday treat trip, in Orange County. It was very brief, but I do enjoy feeling on top of the world.

I got to see tide pools at Laguna Beach!

Beaches are my favorite place to be, most times. I have a fantasy of eventually living in a beach house, although goodness knows I’ll probably never be rich enough to afford one. And even if I am rich enough to afford one, who’s to say that I won’t want to spend my money on what I think are more relevant things? Sigh. (I swear I took some seriously sexy photos at the beach, ALL OF WHICH HAVE DISAPPEARED! All that’s left are these nonsense photos.)

I got to see Propaganda in person and attend his listening party in Los Angeles!

And you’d think I’d take a picture of one of my favorite lyricists in the world (and I did, but it was a Snap/Instagram story thing, and I didn’t save it because I’m an idiot) but me dix. Anyway. I’ve been addicted to Crooked ever since. Y’all don’t know how much I love, love, love Propaganda and his art.

I went to my first Busboys and Poets in Washington DC with my cousin, who performed!

And once again, I thought I had a really lit picture of the stage, but it turns out, I don’t. It’s just disappeared from my phone. Which is great. Anyway, Busboys and Poets is a historically famous name in America’s poetry scene. And it was fun to be there for the first time, so shout-out to John for taking me! (Also, follow him on Instagram. #shamelessplug #wedothesethingsforfamily.)

John, during his performance


Rhetoric 2017! (OMG?!)

Yo. Never had I ever been so happy to be living in California (as opposed to Ghana, or any other American state) because I finally got to attend the biggest spoken word event in the United States, the biggest spoken word event I have ever been to in my life, the annual event whose YouTube videos gave me so much vim for becoming a spoken word artist in the first place! Sigh. So cool. And some deep spiritual things were said, y’all. I can’t wait for them to start releasing the videos of the performances on YouTube.


Spider-Man: Homecoming!

So the love of my life (in case you didn’t know, Spider-Man is the love of my life) got another movie, and it was PERFECT. I rate it a 10/10, don’t @ me! Casting, scripting, directing, bibiara. And SHOUT-OUT TO ABRAHAM ATTAH FOR KILLING THAT SUPPORTING ROLE! If anyone asks you what Akotowaa’s favorite movie is, tell them it’s this one.


On the Ceiling.

I started a short story distin. And I like it. If you ain’t with it yet, get hip.

C. S. Lewis’ Signature Classics. 🙂

I bought the collection off Amazon, almost on impulse. I’ve enjoyed reading it so much. C. S. Lewis holds me in awe with his wisdom and imagination! I’ve reformed my mind more with the books I’ve read so far than just about every other collection of books I’ve ever read, and goodness knows I’m going to have to be returning to all of them several times. It was a nearly reckless purchase, but I’m glad I did it.



I was put on what is now my favorite band, by another cousin (shout-out to Nana Lokko) and their sound is perfect for me. It’s very bebree, bordering on noisy but not quite. I love their arrangements. I love their lyrics. I love their graphics. I love their sound effects. I love their brand. Can AJR marry me please? Sigh. They make me Weak.


All this being said, next summer better be for-real-for-real lit because I’ve been bored way too much these past few months. God, make it happen, please!


I Lost My Voice – written on 9th August 2017 (an honest journal entry)

I lost my voice. But I haven’t lost my thoughts, and that’s what’s frustrating me the most about having to be silent.

At the time I am writing this, I have been under the curse of a flue for about a week now. It began with a sore throat, and that quickly progressed into a total loss of the ability to speak. Today is the first day I have been able to speak at all for quite a few days – and even now, my speech is woefully interspersed with coughing. I’m still trying to keep the talking to a minimum.

On the same day last week that I got sick, I stopped tweeting. It wasn’t quite intentional; I just found that I was inexplicably unable to. It was not that I did not have the desire to, or that I had nothing to say (quite the contrary, actually), but I simply have not been able to, and there is no other way I know how to explain it.

In my opinion, I talk a lot. Unfortunately, I frequently regret having said anything at all. I don’t believe I am able to eloquently articulate why this is so. One thing I can do is tell you what the reason is not: it is not because I do not believe what I said. If I didn’t believe what I said, I really wouldn’t have said it in the first place. But let me circumvent this issue a bit.

This season, mainly the summer of 2017, I have felt a nearly overwhelming sense of suffocation, or constriction, being trapped, simply not being free. Often, I am unable to locate a trigger, but there’s definitely a prime suspect: haters.

2016 was the year I discovered I had a lot of admirers and several fans. 2017 is the year I am discovering so many people that hate, or strongly dislike me. I think, perhaps, the best summary of my particular kind of experience is encapsulated in the song “Chaskele” by Worlasi featuring Poetra.

As true as it is that fame, popularity or just having a known name, comes with all these things – as true as it is that anything you do that has the capacity to get you fans probably has equal capacity to get you haters – I don’t think anything could have prepared me for this. It is difficult to experience hate directed at you when you already struggle with hating yourself.

I hate the way I am made; not only do I talk too much, but I think too much. I think about a lot of things that people around me don’t seem to be thinking about. At the same time, there are occasions when I talk about the things I’m thinking – and then people come out of the shadows and agree. In silent actions. Maybe a private message, or a one-on-one conversation. maybe a blog post comment, maybe a “like.” While I appreciate the concurrence, I can hardly help but wonder, “If we have always been thinking so similarly, how come you have never said anything?” Perhaps if you (which here is plural) had been vocal and open about these things we both apparently are on the same page about, I wouldn’t have had to feel like an alien in my own head thinking them, and wouldn’t have had to feel like Public Enemy #1 for vocalizing them.

Maybe 5 years ago, I had delusions of being a sort of “voice of the people.” Now, at nineteen, after the minutest – because TBH, virtually nobody knows who I am – taste of celebrity, I have no such desires. Every trace of that childish nonsense is gone. I was not made for fame. I was not designed for the responsibility of representing anyone. I find it hard to embrace influence. I am most comfortable doing things, or speaking, or being myself, when I can convince myself no one is watching me. As soon as I begin to get reactions, I begin to get overwhelmed. I have realized, curiously enough, that I have the same reaction to praise as I have to slander, and that reaction is: run and hide. I was not made for spotlights.

I am not in favor of the actions of the kids in the class that hear the teacher say wack stuff, and all turn their heads to the proverbial Akotowaa because they expect her to deliver the clapback. I lost my voice. Where is yours?

I want to shut up. Yet I cannot. Look at me now, writing this. Explaining plenty. It is as if sharing my thoughts in private and in public, using some sort of voice, is something I am unable to quit, no matter how hard I try. And believe me, I have tried several times. It never ever works. One thing I have learnt about the words is that they will always come out – if not on Twitter, on Snapchat, or on Instagram, or Facebook, or WordPress, or I may just vocally explode in a rant in person. I hate this about myself, and I hate it intensely.

I don’t think I’m an artist, at least not all the time. Perhaps if I was, it would be better for me. I wish the poetry was enough. I wish the fiction was enough. I wish I did not feel the need to speak words uncoated and unhidden behind literally devices, words that are my raw, personal truth. I wish I did not feel the need to rant when angry, lament when sad, vocalize my struggles as they are happening. Moreover, I wish I did not feel the anger, the sadness or the pain of the struggles in the first place. I wish I did not think the way I do. I wish I had the kind of personality, and maybe the quality of life that would have me satisfied with posting almost solely selfies or food, or monuments of the places I’ve travelled to. I wish I were satisfied with posting pictures of fancy coffee or heels or Bible verses whose context is not immediately apparent. I wish my primary focus on social media, or the way I portray myself, was centered on aesthetics. But it is not. I can’t seem to help being a mess in public, or raw to the point of self-detriment and exhaustion. Why was I made like this?

I have learnt, in practice rather than in theory, that I am far from fearless. Silence is safe. Silence is where I feel “they” have less opportunity to lambast me. But I wish I did not want to be safe. Because the reality of the matter is that I love the transparency, I love the people who will simply be themselves in public, without apology. I love the artist that becomes a person inside, behind and aside the art. It is ironic that in all my words, all my social media, and even sometimes my physical presence, I am creating the kind of content I want to see – or at the very least, a shadow of it. But I too want to be that kid in the classroom that looks at another whenever she wants something to be said. I want to be safe; I do not want to say it myself.

And now that I can talk – barely, though – I still don’t have a damn clue how to go about finding my voice again, or re-creating it, if it must be constructed again.

“This is present tense

None of this “already I’ve been delivered” mess

None of that pseudo-righteousness

I’mma let you guess the rest”

– Propaganda, “Crooked Ways”


P.S. It’s been like three weeks since I first fell sick, and I’m still not healthy. Still coughing, still with a fuzzy head, and my voice doesn’t seem to want to go past baritone. Satan is busy. Pray for me.

My Thoughts: Reckless

Author: Cornelia Funke


Sometimes, I get very inconsequential thoughts like, “Ah, I’m too old to be reading this stuff.” I know how to rationalize it, of course: I read children’s fantasy because I hope to one day become an author of children’s fantasy. This, while true, is only a corollary of the truer reason I read this stuff, or why I even want to write this stuff: because I enjoy it.

Cornelia Funke is one of my favorite writers, and I think I can safely conclude now that magic/fantasy is my favorite genre. (Of both books and movies. And if you can consider Jon Bellion’s music magical, then music too.) I’ve read Inkheart (twice), Inkspell, Inkdeath, Dragon Rider and The Thief Lord, and not a single book of hers has disappointed me yet. Reckless is no exception.

Let me start with what drew me to the book in the first place:

  1. Cornelia Funke’s name was on it.
  2. It was at a used book sale section of my city library, for one dollar. Why wouldn’t I buy a Cornelia Funke book for one dollar? (Lowkey, these small-small literary expenses are the things most likely to make me broke in life. Issa weakness.)
  3. The title: Reckless. It’s inviting, it’s exciting, and it’s a freaking cool word. I bought the book without reading the blurb. Quite a reckless move, wouldn’t you say? (That wasn’t funny? Well, okay then.)

As anyone who knows me should expect, I really liked this book. I absolutely adore the idea of remixing fairytales, and this world that Funke has built (it’s called the Mirrorworld, and Reckless is only the first book in the Mirrorworld series) is a world of remixed, mish-mashed but seldom explicitly referenced classic fairytales. I love this perhaps for many of the same reasons I liked Sarah Ockler’s The Summer of Chasing Mermaids and the ABC series Once Upon A Time. But there is something Funke adds to the idea of remixing fairytales that makes it even sexier: her own heritage.

Cornelia Funke really does a good job of owning the world she has made, particularly because she is German. Many Western fairytales, as you may know, came from a collection of stories compiled by two German writers, the Brothers Grimm, and are usually referred to as Grimm fairy tales. These writers are not exactly authors; as the story goes, they travelled through Europe, collecting old stories and folktales from different areas, and simply wrote them down. We will, perhaps, never know how much of their own creativity they applied in the written compilation of their stories. But my point here is that these are tales from Europe collected by Germans/Europeans, and are now being creatively utilized, remixed by a German, who can probably lay more legitimate claim to them than Adam Horowitz or Edward Kitsis (the creators of ABC’s Once Upon A Time).

Cornelia Funke’s Mirrorworld sees no need to translate culture into “American” before it begins to be creatively remixed. Thus, it feels more organic to me. And this feeds into my next comment on how organically she wrote it.

When I began reading it, the book was actually hard to get into; I really didn’t have a bloody clue what was happening. There was no soft process of leading a reader slowly into the magical, easing them comfortably into an unfamiliar world. (It did with Inkheart, which is probably one of the reasons this caught me off guard.) The Mirrorworld saw no need to explain itself; it merely was, as though it had always been, and it was I that had simply never heard of it. When I as a reader stepped in, it was like walking around entirely new territory without a tour guide. Such experiences are so uncomfortable that, although you may find the new world around you fascinating, you can’t help but feel, for the first few moments, that you want to go home, simply because you do not enjoy being lost. That’s how I felt; I temporarily wanted to stop reading because I felt I couldn’t “get into it” fast enough. Which is silly, really, because that transportational (yo, apparently, this is not a word) factor is one of the reasons I like fantasy so much in the first place.

When I eventually did get into it, after being patiently impatient with myself and the book, I found that I really enjoyed it, particularly the main character, Jacob Reckless, with whom I now like to think I have a very healthy platonic relationship. (One-sided, of course, since he is unfortunately fictional.) I didn’t fall recklessly in love with him (pun intended) like I did with Theodore Finch or Artemis Fowl. Instead, it grew on me gradually that this guy is actually a very cool badass. Like, we could be besties if he existed.

With this book, Cornelia Funke did two things that I really appreciate when storytellers, especially those of fantasy, do:

  1. Subtle gender-bending

When it comes to mystic things and fantasy, there are some things that are, unfortunately, classically gendered. I suppose I blame Disney for most, though certainly not all of it. For example, fairies, unicorns, mermaids, are usually thought of as classically feminine things. The usage of them as a marketing tool frequently tends to turn male potential consumers off from whatever is being marketed. Yet, some of my favorite mystic/magic storytellers have handled this problem so well. Eoin Colfer make boys like reading about fairies; in fact, he did it so well that he turned a lot of girls off from the Artemis Fowl series; J. K. Rowling used unicorns in Harry Potter that had nothing cutesy or rainbow-like about them.

It is so interesting to me what Funke did with unicorns and mermaids here. The unicorns were vicious, lethal creatures, not magic wish-granters, but more like deadly security guards. Heck, they aren’t even white. I distinctly remember Jacob Reckless passing an annoyed thought within the narration about how unicorns are so often “whitewashed.” In the Mirrorworld, they are designed to look very much like regular brownish horses, ponies and arses, but just like, with a horn. It’s lit.

The mermaids, referred to as Lorelei, are basically river-based, soulless murderers. Men are their prey. In that way, they remind me very much of the sirens of Greek mythology, whom I met for the first time in the Percy Jackson series. I actually became terrified of the Lorelei too, when after one character killed one, the other Lorelei ate their dead companion. Cannibals too. Ew. I prefer Mami Wata saf.

  1. Very good use of the concept of villains.

In most cases, I am of the opinion that useless villains ruin stories, and that fantastic villains make amazing stories.

If I had, at the times when I was a very young child, understood what the heck was going on in the Batman movies that I watched, I would have considered The Joker a truly phenomenal villain. As it is, the first time I recall becoming conscious of fantastic villains was watching Once Upon A Time several years ago. Aside Rumpelstiltskin being excellently crafted and written (for the most part, or up to a point), I liked how his and Regina’s (the Evil Queen) stories unfolded. It is the first time I remember stories really giving the audience insight into the personhood of villains, so much so that one may generate empathy for them. A fantastic villain, I suspect, is empathized with, or admired, perhaps as much as their villainy is acknowledged.

Reckless’ narration style allows a reader to see into the thoughts of the “bad guys” and I like that there are multiple “bad guys,” although, understandably, we don’t read as much of them as we do of Jacob. Aside that, I like how powerful and unstoppable the villains seem to me. It would, of course, be far less impressive for a hero to triumph over a bunch of trifling idiots. The villains need, in many cases, to seem like they are entirely capable of destroying the heroes – and sometimes, they must succeed.

That being said, I really like how Reckless seemed to end with a near-perfect cross between the tragic tendencies of the actual Grimm fairytale stories, and the hopeful kind of ending that Disney is known for. It makes me excited to seek out the sequel. 😊


Dive (flash fiction)

As I stand on the edge of this precipice, I know I am in no danger – yet, every cell of my body is telling me that I am about to die. My mind is still not strong enough to tell my body to be quiet. I, of all people, should not have this problem, especially after all this time.

For several years now, I have had a unique gift: I can see the future. It comes to me in visions more vivid than lucid dreams, images clearer and sharper than I experience in my waking hours. All my senses become more acute; I can hear crawling ants and softly waving grass, I can see the ridges and bumps on what should be smooth skin, and taste the ever-present dust in the city air. I see the future so well that reality, when it comes to pass, is ultimately disappointing.

The waves below look violent and forgiving all at once. I cannot hear them crashing over the thunderous volume of my heartbeat and all the blood pumping in my ears.

I am going to die.

But I am not going to die, and I know this for a fact.

I’m so high up that a man below me would look no longer than my index fingernail. I have never known myself to be afraid of heights. I have never known myself to be afraid of much.

I thought people were afraid of flying because they were afraid of falling, and afraid of falling because they were afraid of dying. I am not afraid of dying because I know I am not going to.

I have seen the future. There is no shortness of breath, no broken bones, not a single hair wet in the instant I resurface. It will be refreshing and I will be unharmed, glowing from the effect of the plunge, if only I just take the risk and dive.

I am the embodiment of what it is like to know the end before I have ever faced the beginning. I know what it feels like to have to suffer for the prize at the finish line, although I am not yet sure that knowing what the prize will be makes the trudging through the mud any less arduous. I know that it makes no difference to me. I know that I am resilient and full of grit. With concentration and determination, I can work my way through nearly all of life’s Herculean hurdles. I can see the future; I cannot believe in impossibilities.

It should not be so frightening, the prospect of jumping.

The voice in my head, the voice of the giver of my power, tells me I am not drenched in fear for lack of faith in my abilities. It whispers one word over and over again so that it feels like it is ricocheting off different parts of my skull in thumping echoes: Control. Control. Control.

I need nothing from you but your flight, says the voice. I do not need you to skin the Nemean lion. That involves strength. You have that. I do not need you to beat the ticking clock on a time bomb. That involves speed. You have that. I do not need you to resolve difficult disputes in throne rooms. That involves cleverness. You have that. What I want is your control. Give it up to me. Dive.

I close my eyes to see if that will make it better. Instead, it all gets worse. My palms and forehead begin to glisten. I fear I might fall by accident. I feel myself begin to sway in dizziness. I panic and my eyes open. They immediately look down. The fall will be long and agonizing.

In the state of what the voice calls flight, I will be in free fall. Those seconds between the moment my feet leave this ground and the moment my body hits the water, there will be nothing I can do to save myself by strength or wit. I will be at the mercy of the wind, if only for a minute. And in that minute, something in me will die, will be dying, will have died.

I am going to die.

I can’t do it.

I step away from the ledge. I try to move backwards, on to safer, firmer ground, where I know what will happen as long as I execute the right motions, lifting one foot and then the other, taking care to govern where my feet land. Yet I have already lost control. My feet move forward against my will. They keep moving as if something in me believes I can walk on air: an impossibility. It’s the last thing in the world I want to do, but…

I am going to dive.