Fantasy elevates ordinary and eternal problems of young people into stories via the language of myth. It turns 'No one really knows me' into 'I've got a secret identity.' It turns 'I don't understand why other people act the way they do' into 'I'm trapped in a faerie realm.' It turns 'my high school must have been built over the mouth of hell' into 'my high school must have been built over the mouth of hell.' There are certain things in life that are glorious, and they are glorious for everyone. There are more that are hard, and they are hard for everyone. We like to see these things retold, but with dragons.
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No writing is wasted. Did you know that sourdough from San Francisco is leavened partly by a bacteria called lactobacillus sanfrancisensis? It is native to the soil there, and does not do well elsewhere. But any kitchen can become an ecosystem. If you bake a lot, your kitchen will become a happy home to wild yeasts, and all your bread will taste better. Even a failed loaf is not wasted. Likewise, cheese makers wash the dairy floor with whey. Tomato gardeners compost with rotten tomatoes. No writing is wasted: the words you can't put in your book can wash the floor, live in the soil, lurk around in the air. They will make the next words better.
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She was dry. She was lying on something soft. She was wrapped in quilts. There was a star of light drifting above her, and a smell like a herb garden. Taggle was a long warmth stretched out at one side, his chin in her hand, his tail curled over her neck. She thought they might be in heaven. Taggle farted. Plain Kate coughed and sneezed. And then she really was awake.
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Her father sat her down and spoke to her with great seriousness. "You are not a witch, Katerina. There is magic in the world, and some of it is wholesome, and some of it is not, but it is a thing that is in the blood, and it is not in yours. "The foolish will always treat you badly, because they think you are not beautiful, " he said, and she knew this was true. Plain Kate. She was a plain as a stick and thin as a stick and flat as a stick. Her nose was too long and her brows too strong. Her father kissed her twice, once above each brow. "We cannot help what fools think. But understand, it is your skill with a blade that draws this talk. If you want to give up your carving, you have my blessing." "I will never give it up, " she answered.
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Plain Kate greased her boots and bandaged her feet, and soon she would walk like a Roamer born. She helped Drina with the water and the wood, and in the long, wet evenings she carved objarka burji. Plain Kate carved fast and learned slowly. She was bewildered most of the time, but Daj called her mira again, and when she asked Drina what it meant, the girl replied, "It means she likes you. It means your family." Family. It could have kept her walking for a hundred miles. And she did walk far.
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Taggle, meanwhile, made himself popular, killing rats and bringing a rabbit into camp every evening, preening in the praise - silently, thank god, though at night, he recounted choice bits to Kate: "Rye Baro says I am a princeling; he split the leg bone for me so that I could eat the marrow. They love me. And I'm sure they'll keep you, too." Mira, she thought, and treasured it each time she heard it, They must keep me. Family.
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Kate faced the crowd. They were just eyes and teeth to her, just spit and voices. It was a moment, even, before they became people: a man with one blind eye, another whose neck was thick with lumps and weeping wounds of scrofula. The poorest of the market. At Kate's feet, Drina. Her scarf and shirt were torn open.
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And suddenly, in the place of the woman-shape made of shadow, there was something else. Something huge, something ugly. Linay flung up both hands. The thing screamed like a hawk and opened to wings: one white as a death cap, one clotted in shadow. The wings came together and the whole pond shuddered. Something hit Kate's ear and shoulder and smashed to the deck by her feet. It was a swallow, dead. She could hear them falling all over the pond.
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