Posts by Cassandra

Cassandra Farrin is a novelist, essayist, and poet based in Idaho.

Manuscript Notes (& More Art!)

Since the start of 2018, I’ve not had many opportunities to share updates with you about my writing projects and process, but a lot has been going on behind the scenes. After completing my Japanese Cinderella manuscript Hai in late 2017, I moved on to a new manuscript tentatively called The Twelve Dancing Monks of Little Todai Temple, about a prankster sumo wrestler whose shenanigans lead to being exiled to a remote Buddhist temple during the peak of Buddhist persecution in the mid-19th century, when Japan was just beginning to open up to the West.

The whimsical bit of artwork shared with this blog post was drawn by my sister Rebecca inspired by Twelve Dancing Monks. It captures a sweet moment later in the story, which I will leave to your imaginations!

Amazingly, after just five months, the drafting phase of this novel is now also complete, and while I wait for feedback on the manuscript from a handful of early readers, I’ve been able to start a third as-yet-untitled manuscript set in 1840s Edinburgh, Scotland, inspired by the life and poetry of Christina Rossetti. I can’t say much about this new one yet, but unlike the others it will be an adult novel instead of young adult. I’m drawing inspiration from an eclectic mix of novels for this one, ranging from Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory to Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, China Mieville’s The City & The City, V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. I think it’s likely to have a darker tone and cast than the others, but still with opportunities for the comic relief I enjoy so much.

I’m also expecting to publish a smattering of poetry, essays, and possibly (my first ever!) short story soon, so watch for those announcements in coming months!

The last year has been a whirlwind of change for me in terms of my writing career, and I’m forever grateful to all of you for your support and interest in my work. I’ve been able to connect with a wonderful writing community online via Twitter (@CassaCassaCassa) and continue to attend The Cabin workshops regularly here in Idaho for much-needed support in person. It’s humbling how much there is still to learn and understand about my craft, but retrospectively I can see how much I’ve grown. And it’s a delight to be able to do what you love surrounded by equally passionate friends!

“The Whale” Reviewed in the Wilds

Reneé Bibby has reviewed my Moby Dick-inspired poem, “The Whale” in the WILDS, and I couldn’t be more pleased and grateful! Here’s just a snippet of what she shared:

…Line breaks and caesura evoke the voice of an animal, an ancient creature of the deep, breaching the line of water to sing a response, an ode to the inextricable intertwining of fates between animal and man.

You can read the full review here, and if you missed out on reading the poem itself before, you can wander over to Frontier Poetry to read it here.

I’ve also noted that a couple favorite lines are making the rounds on Tumblr (oh my goodness, nearly 1000 likes??), for which I am also quite grateful! A poet always hopes her words will inspire others! ❤

The Role of the Outsider in Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko (Ploughshares blog)

I recently published a new essay, “The Role of the Outsider in Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko on the Ploughshares blog. This book was on the National Book Award shortlist for 2017, deservedly so. It is a multigenerational family saga about a Korean family that moves to Osaka, Japan, in the early twentieth century and then lives there through the World War years and beyond. It’s painful, honest, and beautiful, and I cannot recommend it enough.

When Pachinko by Min Jin Lee opens in Japan-occupied Korea in 1910 with Hoonie, whose cleft palate and twisted foot lead the village girls to avoid him, the significance of his physical appearance to the overall themes of the novel is not immediately apparent. Hoonie’s hardworking, kind nature and his family’s successful inn eventually produce an opportunity for him to marry Yangjin, an impoverished young woman from a tenant-farming family. As the novel progresses, characters who are “marked” appear more and more frequently. The marks relegate these characters, who all fall within one family tree, to outsider status. Continue reading…

In case it’s not obvious from some of my previous posts, I’ve been reading a lot of books set in Korea and by Korean authors lately. I’m so grateful to see so many of these books coming out (some in translation, some written in English) because Korea has too often been neglected by the literary establishment in spite of its fascinating place in the real world. I’ve learned so much, and look forward to reading and learning more, since there are a number of forthcoming titles already on my to-be-read list for 2018.

Foxes & Sumo Wrestlers: Novel Artwork

My twin sister Rebecca has been spoiling me lately with beautiful drawings inspired by my two novel manuscripts, one of which you’ll notice has changed the look of my website — because I loved it so much I made it my new header!

The foxes with the steam train come from my Japanese Cinderella novel, which is set in 1900 Tokyo during the narrow window of time when Japan allowed private companies to build and maintain railways before taking back national control (a decision they would later reverse after the war years). Anyone who has been to Japan knows the trains are now iconic to the landscape; at the time, though, Tokyo was known as the “Venice of the East” because the waterways dominated the rhythms of the city. Gradually, trains came to displace rivers and canals as the primary means of transport, giving birth to a very different kind of city.

Rebecca also drew an image of sumo wrestlers during a training session. This one is inspired by a new manuscript I’m working on, a very loose Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling set in an isolated Buddhist temple in rural Japan of the 1870s. The main character is a sumo wrestler who, because of a prank-gone-wrong, becomes an acolyte at the temple at the worst possible moment: the peak of Buddhist persecution in Meiji Japan.

mokurai-vs-hiryu-sumo.jpg

Didn’t she do a fantastic job with these? I love them so much! They’ve given me all sorts of inspiration through the long, slow process of editing and revisions.

“The Whale” (Frontier Poetry)

One of my personal favorite poems, “The Whale,” has been published by Frontier Poetry here. This is what they had to say about it, which just makes me incredibly happy!

Cassandra Farrin’s poem rustles with the sound of waves and devils. “The Whale” is exactly how you make surprising a literary figure so well known as to be automatically cliche in lesser hands. Let the lines fill your mouth with brine and flame, the white space like gaps between the waves, the Whale: freshly ambiguous.

And here is a small excerpt:

Born bright, a lemon jarred     in brine and oil pales;
so it was with me     in the deep,
but this is a darker matter.     Say of me “men dream and drown,”
an unfathomable vastness, adrift.     Who lives who impales the moon?
Continue reading…

Thank you to Frontier Poetry for publishing this poem about one of my favorite literary figures of all time!

Loving the Stranger Beside You (Ploughshares Blog)

My article “Loving the Stranger Beside You: Han Kang’s The Vegetarian has been posted on the Ploughshares blog! I -loved- this eerie, beautiful book. Here’s a snippet of what I had to say about it:

In The Vegetarian, a collection of three linked novellas, author Han Kang creates and then protects an open moral space between Yeong-hye’s sudden conversion to vegetarianism and her family’s perception of it. Is Yeong-hye wrong to become such an extreme vegetarian that she eventually tries to subsist on nothing but sunlight and water? Is she crazy? Is she selfish? Are her family members wrong to respond as they do to her radical decision?

Each novella is told from a different point of view: Yeong-hye’s husband Mr. Cheong, then her brother-in-law, then her sister In-hye. What can be known of Yeong-hye’s vegetarianism is pieced together little by little, from narrator to narrator: She has a recurring, violent dream of eating raw meat. She and her sister sometimes have flashbacks to violent moments in their childhood, such as the time her family killed and consumed a dog that bit Yeong-hye. Yeong-hye is diagnosed with schizophrenia, but the doctors don’t understand why she refuses to eat. Yeong-hye wants to turn into a tree. Yeong-hye doesn’t want to sleep with her husband because he smells like meat, but she will sleep with her sister’s husband when he paints flowers on her body. She believes trees hug the earth with roots like arms, so she, too, balances in a handstand for as long as possible, saying, “All the trees of the world are like brothers and sisters.” Continue reading…

Han Kang is a South Korean writer who won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016 for this book. I am looking forward to reading her latest book Human Acts, which continues to explore how societal violence is expressed in a single person’s life (in this case, the death of a student during a student uprising).

From the Ghosts’ Point of View (Ploughshares blog)

My essay, “From the Ghosts’ Point of View: A Brief History of Seven Killings” is now available on the Ploughshares blog. Thanks for reading! Related: the featured image on this blog post comes from David Burnett’s gorgeous photo essay found here, from the same era during which the events in A Brief History of Seven Killings take place.

In a book that promises by its very title and opening lines that many characters will be expected to die, the author has to do some coaxing to convince readers that they can invest emotionally in the story. Marlon James achieves this in A Brief History of Seven Killings by breaking the sound barrier of the grave. Readers often don’t know whether a character is still alive or dead until after the character has already been talking for a while. That very open-endedness makes it possible to empathize with these characters even after the (more than) seven promised killings take place.

Marlon James is unafraid to confront death from the first page onward and then invite readers to care anyway. Clues to practically every death in the 686-page book appear in those first few pages: “fifty-six bullets,” “a burned cockroach,” a scream that “stops right at the gate of his teeth.” In sharing this, I’m giving away nothing that James himself doesn’t already give away. Reader, you’ve been warned. But, reader, don’t shy away. This is a story with heart.

From the moment the first narrator, Sir Arthur Jennings, announces in his opening lines that ghosts “never stop talking” and that “when you’re dead speech is nothing but tangents and detours,” readers cannot be certain they are listening to someone alive or dead. The readers figuratively take the role of the living who “sometimes hear” the dead speaking when they are half-awake or near death themselves. Continue reading…

Since reading A Brief History of Seven Killings earlier this year, this book shot up to my “top 5” favorites list. It is an incredible accomplishment, driven almost entirely by voice rather than by a traditional plot. Needless to say, I am now dying to read his forthcoming African fantasy trilogy, which also let’s the cat out of the bag about a death, while still inviting readers to care:

“The very, very basic plot is [that] this slave trader hires a bunch of mercenaries to track down a kid who may have been kidnapped,” he told the US magazine in an interview. “But finding him takes nine years, and at the end of it, the kid is dead. And the whole novel is trying to figure out: ‘How did this happen?’”