February Staff Picks

Dominic Loise

Mychal Threets

Mychal Threets, who won this year’s I Love My Librarian award, is having a moment, but the patrons of the Solano County Library will hopefully feel Mychal’s influence and impact for years to come. I am thoroughly enjoying the openness and warm, welcoming energy Mychal brings to social media. Mychal has a soft, Blues Clues-host vibe when discussing what’s going on in the library and how it’s a space for appreciation of others.

Around the time of the award, Mychal was talking with Oliver James on social media. Oliver’s account centers around teaching himself to read as an adult living with OCD. I very much appreciated their discussion of literacy and engagement with books. I also grew up with a learning disability and eventually went on to work with a literacy organization and marry a librarian. Mychal is equally open about mental health awareness and announced his last day at Solano County Library would be on March 1st to prioritize mental health and work with his mental health check-in team. I equally appreciate this openness as someone who also left their full-time job to prioritize their mental health, and I am in his corner as he puts his health first.

There’s been a lot of discussion about banning books in libraries lately. Growing up, I had to work around the stereotypical shushing librarians to find space in a room I didn’t feel invited to, especially as someone from an “ethnic city” family living in the suburbs during the seventies. I celebrate great librarians like Mychal and literacy spaces because I know what it was like growing up within a conservative curated collection. A real librarian doesn’t see their patrons to check out books but makes sure they are seen on the shelves. Visit Mychal Threets online then stop by your own local library.

Credit @ I Love Libraries

Ari Iscariot

Hades

For the past few months I have been on a button-mashing, finger-bashing, and skull-smashing rampage through the roguelite dungeon crawler, Hades. This comes as a surprise, because I’m notorious for abandoning games that require dying to advance to higher levels. Hades is no exception to this rule. But what makes Hades brilliant is the way it uses its death mechanic: when you die, you advance the story. 

The protagonist of Hades is the fire-stepping Prince of the Underworld, Zagreus. His mission is to fight his way out of his father’s realm. This realm is rife with ghostly enemies: vexatious witches, club-wielding wretches, and even revered heroes from the surface world. And with such formidable opponents, Zagreus dies. A lot. When you perish, you return to the game’s starting point, the House of Hades, a venerable stone mansion populated by Zagreus’s closest friends and family. With each successive death, these characters reveal to you their deepest desires and their most secret fears. And Zagreus reveals more of himself: his contentious relationship with his father, his outsider status among the denizens of the Underworld, and the secret that drove him to attempt escape—he seeks a long-lost mother he has never met. 

There’s hardly an emotional motivation more compelling than this, a child who longs for love and acceptance. It is a core that keeps you fighting even as the game slaughters you again and again. “I have to get this guy to his mom.” Eventually, you do. And it is glorious. 

Asma Al-Masyabi

Mr. Villain’s Day Off

Mr. Villain’s Day Off poses a relatively simple question as its premise: what does a lead villain trying to take over the world do on his days off? The answer is—he tries to enjoy them to their fullest, and, in turn, slowly grows to appreciate Earth and its strange inventions and inhabitants. 

Called only the General, our main character is the antagonist to Super Ranger-like heroes—until he’s off the clock. He then changes into his comfy turtleneck and trench coat and strives to avoid work at all costs. This new slice-of-life anime has already managed to capture my heart. There’s nothing more relaxing than watching someone attempt to strike that perfect work-life balance while reveling in the small moments and details that make living life worth it. Whether it’s watching pandas at the zoo, ordering latte art of said pandas, or working up the courage to eat a limited-edition panda meat bun, the General does it with unmatched determination that I can’t help but find endearing. 

Another thing about this show, it is unbearably cute. The General’s successes, and failures, have me smiling throughout the whole episode. Cute girls doing cute things is a popular genre in anime, but I think that cute guys doing cute things should be just as standard. Adults, and particularly men, aren’t often shown enjoying their life in media, and I love the way that Mr. Villain’s Day Off pushes back against that.   

Ciena Valenzuela-Peterson

Schitt’s Creek

I’m probably not the first person to recommend you Schitt’s Creek. I’m probably not the second. You’re probably thinking, “Ugh, I know, I know, everyone says I would love Schitt’s Creek, but I watched the first episode/handful of episodes/season and I just wasn’t hooked.”  

Dear reader, listen to me—listen to me, I beg of you. I know you. I see you. I was you. It’s no mistake Schitt’s Creek fans are constantly pushing the show on unsuspecting sitcom enjoyers, wheedling and insisting that you’ll love it with all the brimming sentimentality of a Canadian grandma wearing a pride pin. It really, really is that good. 

Schitt’s Creek follows the wealthy Rose family who loses everything and has no choice but to move to a crusty motel in the middle of nowhere. Over six seasons, Schitt’s Creek demonstrates the power of character-driven storytelling; what begins as a comedy satirizing the idiosyncrasies of the uber-rich unfolds into a beautiful journey of personal growth, love, and family. You’ll see yourself and your own family in the Roses—Alexis and David Rose have the realest sibling dynamic I’ve seen on TV, and Moira and Johnny’s marriage has a verisimilitude that could only be achieved by the decades-long friendship between Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy. Real-life father-and-son duo, Eugene and Dan Levy invite the viewer to a more hopeful world—one where queer acceptance is a given, love is precious, and everyone is good at heart. You’ll cry by the end, guaranteed. 

Jazzmin Joya

Wonka

I absolutely love watching movies! It is one of my all-time favorite ways to pass time. After quarantining, I started going to the movie theaters more often, really taking advantage of their discount Tuesday’s.

During this routine, I watched the new film adaptation of Willy Wonka, starring Timothée Chalamet, Keegan Michael-Key, Olivia Colman, Hugh Grant, Rowan Atkinson, and other fun actors. Wonka is a whimsical movie establishing more background on Willy Wonka before the adventures seen in the original film and the book written by Roald Dahl. The soundtrack was beautifully done, it really captured the essence of Wonka and the magical spirit of the film. This reimagining separated itself from other movies, staying true to the essence of the story while giving its own playful spin. It also introduced us to new storylines and interesting characters. I know there were mixed feelings over this film, but I really enjoyed it. It reminded me of my childhood. The whimsicalness, the vibrant coloring, people’s LOVE for chocolate. I definitely recommend watching Wonka, you’re in for a fun time. Just be wary, the songs might get stuck in your head! 

Stephanie Sargas

Suikoden

This week, articles flooded my social media feeds announcing the narrative lead of my favourite video game franchise, Suikoden, sadly passed away at 55. Yoshitaka Murayama of Rabbit & Bear Studios was the chief writer for the Suikoden series, which spanned five titles and numerous spin-offs for PlayStation and Nintendo DS from 1995-2012. 

In Murayama’s honour, I’ve decided to replay Suikoden. I played it for the first time at age 6. It’s a whimsical, turn-based fantasy game that has you collect 108 ragtag allies and lead a revolution against the corrupt imperialist government into which you were born. The game features adorable artwork and a disarmingly rich soundtrack. There’re mysterious, magical crystals called runes governing the world’s elemental powers. Oh, and there are flying squirrels. And gambling. You know how it is. 

The older I get, the more it amazes me that Murayama created such a socially and politically nuanced narrative with Suikoden while being fun and accessible across age and literacy brackets. To me, this is masterful storytelling. I like to say Suikoden radicalized me before I could pronounce “radicalized,” or “Suikoden.” For that Murayama will always have my gratitude. Through his writing, I had formative exposure to diversity and representation in storytelling. I learned about the limits of black-and-white morality, and the importance of individual choice. Suikoden is why I love writing, and why I love video games. I’d recommend it to anyone who’ll listen.  

Meet Our Spring 2024 Interns!

If you’ve ever met one of our wonderful F(r)iction staffers, you’ll quickly learn that almost every one of them was once an intern in our Publishing Internship Program.

This program is run by our parent nonprofit organization, Brink Literacy Project. While our publishing internships are a great way to get a crash course in the literary industry, they can often provide a path to what can become a long and rewarding professional relationship. For more information, please visit the internship page on the Brink website.

Ari Iscariot

they/them

What is your favorite place to read?   

I don’t think I have any favorite physical place I like to read—I tend to read wherever I am, on transportation, walking through a city, in the middle of a restaurant, etc. I’m liable to walk into oncoming traffic if engrossed enough in a good book. However, I do like to read best at night, when the world is quiet. So, I’d say my favorite place to read is the liminal space between sleeping and waking, the time before dawn when the dark brims with secret possibility. 

You’re walking down the street and suddenly spot a key on the ground! What does it look like? What do you do with it?   

It wouldn’t look like a stereotypical key. It would lie shivering on the pavement, a glittering starburst, pearlescent as opalite. I would hold it in my two hands and see ghost valleys and nebula nurseries in its reflections, and it would whisper in my mind: “I am the key to understanding. Here is what you can say to every living thing in order to be seen. Here is the knowledge of infinity and the spells that will allow you to keep it all in your tiny, human brain.” And I would use the key to learn all that can be learned, and to connect with every lonely human being who feels misunderstood.  

How do you take your coffee? If you don’t drink coffee, describe your favorite beverage ritual.   

Not so much a ritual as a ritual sacrifice but—my favorite beverage experience was buying my partner a small chocolate penguin that would melt into a cocoa drink, and then dramatically enacting his screams as he melted into her milk. 15/10 would sacrifice again.  

What is your favorite English word and why? Do you have a favorite word in another language?   

My favorite word changes frequently, but right now I’m particularly fond of “purulent.” I like to pair it with the imagery of a festering, putrescent mouth that cannot help but reveal a character’s deepest, most shameful feelings. The word reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by an author friend of mine, Phoenix Mendoza. “You cock your head, astounded by the tenor of your own voice, all that’s seeping through the careful white bandage you keep taped over the wound of your mouth.” I love the idea of the mouth as a wound, a sore, an infection, unable to be concealed or healed.  

My favorite word in another language is “L’esprit de l’escalier,” which is French for “staircase wit.” It is meant to describe the feeling one gets when they leave an argument, and then come up with the perfect reply at the bottom of the stairwell: aka, when it is already too late. 

You’re on a deserted island. You have one album and one book. What are they and why?   

If I was on a deserted island, I’d want a book that felt like an old friend to keep me company. It’s perhaps not the most well-written or intellectually stimulating, but I read Catherine Cookson’s The Girl about a dozen times when I was younger, and even now reading it feels like sinking into a warm embrace. The album I’d choose is Everything is Fine by Amigo the Devil, simply because my favorite genre is murderfolk and I don’t believe Danny Kiranos has ever made a bad song. His lyrics are nearly literary in their poeticism, and in the way they transform the ugly into the divine.   

If you could change one thing about the literary industry, what would it be? 

I would make the industry more expansive, daring, and accepting. So often I see books chosen because they are written to market, because they fit modern conventions of “good writing,” because they’re written by an author that will appeal to what the industry believes is their largest demographic. Stories that are unconventional, uncomfortable, and uncompromising are often neglected and unrecognized. We need stories that defy the status quo, that speak their own truth, that are written by diverse voices. We need to prioritize creativity over marketability, and passion over profit.

Asma Al-Masyabi

she/her

What is your favorite place to read?   

I like to sit in any quiet moment with a book. If I had to pick a favorite place, it would be on the couch under a fuzzy blanket.  

You’re walking down the street and suddenly spot a key on the ground! What does it look like? What do you do with it?   

It is small and silver, and the handle twists into the shape of a “Y.” I pick it up and suddenly, I am alone. The sidewalk has been replaced by the decaying undergrowth of an old forest, and the branches of tall, dark trees braid over where there used to be sky. I stare and wonder if I was hit by a car as I crouch over the key, but a small, sweet voice coming from just beyond the tree line distracts me. “Darling,” it sings. “We’ve been waiting for you for so, so long.” 

How do you take your coffee? If you don’t drink coffee, describe your favorite beverage ritual.   

A hot Earl Grey tea with extra honey and a splash of vanilla at a temperature just between warm and hot. The only thing that could make it better is a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. 

What is your favorite English word and why? Do you have a favorite word in another language? 

“Serendipity” is a fun word to say and use. Even if it’s just a five-syllable word, it feels like a small, balanced song. Also, who wouldn’t like a bit of serendipity? As for a non-English word, I’m always learning new Arabic words, so my favorite shifts a lot. The most recent would be “’anani,” which means selfish, but I like the way it rolls off the tongue. 

You’re on a deserted island. You have one album and one book. What are they and why?   

Album – The Poetry of Maya Angelou. After a long day of making a shelter, finding food and water, and struggling to start a fire, I can think of no better companion than the strength and beauty of Maya Angelou’s voice. 

Book – John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed. I’d be able to read this book of essays in bite-sized pieces that would leave me satisfied, but still allow me to make it last however long I’m stranded for. It would also remind me of how wonderful and strange being a human on this earth can be.  

If you could change one thing about the literary industry, what would it be? 

Often, the literary industry is reluctant to take risks and publish work that is unusual or doesn’t fit current trends. I think there should be a bigger embrace of original stories, and creators, because that’s what readers really want (at least, it’s what I want). 

Ciena Valenzuela-Peterson

she/her

What is your favorite place to read?   

I’ve tried to be the kind of person who reads in cafés, I’ve read outdoors among the trees, I’ve hauled myself across campus to read in the fanciest library—and while those reading spots provide a certain literary flare, nothing compares to the pleasure and comfort of reading in bed. My bed is a cozy, pillowy cocoon, over-adorned with cushions and string lights and a canopy ceiling of tasseled scarves. It’s the perfect little nest for curling up with a good book. 

You’re walking down the street and suddenly spot a key on the ground! What does it look like? What do you do with it?   

The key catches my attention because it’s old—a sturdy, brass object with two bulky, uncomplicated teeth that mark it as antique. In this day and age, a key like that isn’t keeping anything secure. Maybe it’s a skeleton key to an old manor, or just a movie prop—either way, I admire the embossed detail along the handle, the ornate bow made to fit fingers instead of keychains. I pocket it. I’ll take it home and draw it, keep it in an envelope in my bullet journal, or loop a chain through it and wear it as jewelry.  

How do you take your coffee? If you don’t drink coffee, describe your favorite beverage ritual.   

I am embarrassed to admit that my current morning coffee consists of Keurig-brewed coffee, non-dairy creamer, and a scoop of vanilla-flavored protein powder. It’s sacrilege, I know, but as a vegetarian it’s a great way to boost my daily protein intake. I’ll miss breakfast routinely, but I’ll never miss my morning coffee.  

What is your favorite English word and why? Do you have a favorite word in another language?   

I am fond of the word “affectation.” I’ve always been interested in the concept of authenticity, and when I learned the word affectation in high school, I instantly recognized what a useful word it is, and it’s remained one of my favorites ever since.  

You’re on a deserted island. You have one album and one book. What are they and why?   

If I absolutely had to choose, I would bring My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade as my album. I can only imagine the circumstances that would allow me to listen to an album on a deserted island but not escape said island, but maybe a portable CD player washed up on shore or I fashioned a turntable from bamboo George of the Jungle-style. Either way, I’d be dying of anxiety if not starvation and would want the comfort of one of my all-time favorite bands from my adolescence. The Black Parade withstood the test of time and the end of my emo phase and remains an incredible album by an incredible band. 

As for a book, I’d bring a bushcraft survival guide with tips for foraging for edible mushrooms and building shelters and such. Otherwise, I’d be doomed so quickly I wouldn’t have time to read any other book for fun. 

If you could change one thing about the literary industry, what would it be? 

In the literary industry, we’re in the business of art curation, and with the profit incentive taking over publishing we’ve lost sight of that. More and more books are being churned out by Big-5 publishers (and self-published authors imitating them) that are so generic they can be boiled down to a series of tropes and nothing more. Everything needs a successful “comp” that’s gone viral on BookTok, and publishing houses run by advertisers are growing more and more wary of artistic risk. If we only publish books based on what has sold in the past, there’s no way to discover “the next big thing.” Publishing is too slow of a business to rely on the trend cycle for leveraging risk, and the outcome is watered-down trope-driven books taking priority over fresh and important literary voices.  

Jazzmin Joya

she/her

What is your favorite place to read?   

My favorite place to read is the library. I spent a lot of time growing up in the library and it led me to pursue English as a degree! So to me, I think the library is just a fun, cozy environment for me to read in. 

You’re walking down the street and suddenly spot a key on the ground! What does it look like? What do you do with it? 

If I a spotted a key on a walk, it would be an old, bronze skeleton key that would allow me to open any door and transport to any place through that door.  

How do you take your coffee? If you don’t drink coffee, describe your favorite beverage ritual.   

I don’t drink coffee but I do enjoy making a nice warm tea, especially at night when I’m winding down. My tea ritual is to warm up water, choose a tea (usually chamomile or green tea), and add honey and a slice of lemon! 

What is your favorite English word and why? Do you have a favorite word in another language?   

My favorite English word is “onomatopoeia,” I think it’s a fun literary effect and sounds nice.

You’re on a deserted island. You have one album and one book. What are they and why?   

If I were stranded on a deserted island my one album would be Mac Miller’s Circles. My one book would also be The Book Thief, I’ve read it so many times, but I could never get tired of it. 

If you could change one thing about the literary industry, what would it be? 

I would try to increase the diversity within the literary industry to amplify the voices of many authors who have amazing stories to tell which can increase the diversity in stories, characters, and settings. 

Stephanie Sargas

she/they

What is your favorite place to read?  

I love to listen to audiobooks while exercising, at the gym or at home. 

You’re walking down the street and suddenly spot a key on the ground! What does it look like? What do you do with it?  

It’s a gold-colored house key. I’d probably leave it where it is, in case the person who dropped is retracing their steps.  

How do you take your coffee? If you don’t drink coffee, describe your favourite beverage ritual. 

I love coffee so I take it all sorts of ways. Mostly black, but sometimes as a flat white, hot or iced, and occasionally with syrup when I need a real energy boost.  

What is your favorite English word and why? Do you have a favorite word in another language? 

I like the word sombre. It’s pleasant to say, and I feel like its sound matches its meaning. 

You’re on a deserted island. You have one album and one book. What are they and why? 

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal-El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is my book. It was my favorite read last year—I found it uplifting and inspirational. My album is See Without Eyes by the Glitch Mob. It’s one of my favorites to get me into a flow state. Something to keep my spirits up paired with something to keep me productive seems like a good combination. 

If you could change one thing about the literary industry, what would it be? 

I’d love for more people to be able to get into the industry. If I could snap my fingers and simply have it happen, I’d add a whole lot of funding for education and publishing opportunities.