Sunday, March 20, 2016

Recovering from Writer's Block

I’m currently recovering from writer’s block. You may not have noticed because, after all, I’ve managed to keep up with my blog posts, I somehow scrounge up 3,000 words for my not-so-secret writing project every Sunday, and I sporadically come up with several poems a month. How does this constitute writer’s block again?

Let me just say it’s a slightly different block from ones I’d experienced before.


My sophomore year as an undergraduate, I have no recollection of writing anything. I don’t know how this was possible, but I don’t remember daydreaming either. The next year I remember getting bombarded with ideas, and no, they haven’t stopped. The summer after I finished a novel, I had no idea what to write next. I floundered and wasted two months watching movies and hanging out with family.

How was my most recent writer’s block different? It came from querying literary agents. I’ve never done that before.

And with the process came lots of self-doubt. Questions I hadn’t asked in a while resurfaced: What if my story isn’t good enough? What if I never get a book published? Did I just waste two and a half years on a story and get my hopes up for nothing?

And some terrifyingly new questions arose: Why should I waste more time working on a sequel if the first book never gets published? What if I wrote the book I wanted to read at the time but my reading style has changed? What if I’m not the writer I want to be?

That was it, I realized. I’m not the writer I want to be. The very idea that anything and everything I was writing right now is not what I want to read turned into a sort of dread. Near the beginning of March, I texted a friend and told her I didn’t want to write.

I didn’t want to write.

I didn’t want to write because I didn’t have any confidence in my own words. But even as I experienced the crushing feelings of doubt and fear that I would never accomplish anything as a writer (I have a blog. Hello, self-doubt. Are you listening yet?), I came to terms with the idea that I don’t have to accomplish everything right away. And that’s okay.

Because I still want to be a writer.

I may not be the writer I want to be yet, but I still have ambitions. I want to become a better writer. I want to get published. Hey, I’d even like to write a detail-rich 800-page book someday. Crazy, right? But I still have dreams, and while it may be a while before I see them come to fruition, that’s okay too. Even if I don’t see a book published of mine until five years from now, I think I’ll have done alright.

Even after I texted my friend halfway through the week, venting about how I didn’t want to write and was drowning in self-pity, come Sunday I wrote. I wrote a lot. Having gone through writer’s block countless times before had taught me one thing: self-doubt is no reason to give up. The best cure for writer’s block is to write. Even. If. The. Words. Are. Crap.

So I write. And yes, I’m still searching. I’m searching for the right words to put next. Searching for the next story idea that sparks my imagination and captures my excitement. Searching for the next book to read in between my writing days. Maybe that book I’m looking for right now isn’t even out there yet. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll have to write it.

Writers, when’s the last time you experienced writer’s block? What are some of the techniques you used to beat it? What are some of your biggest dreams as a writer?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

7 Reasons I Enjoy Fantasy Novels

Last month I posted 3 Reasons I Don’t Read Romance Novels, and I figured it just wouldn’t be fair to explain why I don’t read a particular genre without expressing why I like another. So here goes! Brace the gates! Just kidding. But no seriously. I like fantasy so much, I’m going to have a hard time limiting myself to only 7 reasons. Perhaps I’ll return with reasons I like medieval fiction.


1)     Dragons and other mythological beings.

Any argument is invalid. You could fill a book with all the reasons I like dragons. And they have. From How to Train Your Dragon, The Hobbit, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, to many more, dragons have been striking fear into the hearts of men. And hobbits. And Vikings. And it’s in the face of danger and great peril that men, women, and hobbits, can show great courage.

Perhaps the two most attractive qualities about dragons (and phoenixes and gryphons) are fire and flight. I mean, other than the surreal might of mountains and waterfalls, what can be more awesome than a fire-breathing dragon or a bird that sets itself on fire? I think I just like fire… And wouldn’t it just be amazing to fly with a dragon? (FYI, I do not condone any attempts to ride a phoenix. If you can even find one big enough to carry you, or you happen to be a dwarf, they still have this nasty habit of setting themselves on fire. Approach at your own risk. On second thought, it might be safer to approach a phoenix than a dragon…) Even before I read Eragon and Dragonspell, one of my childhood dreams was to become a dragon rider, but alas, I may have to resolve to finding a bearded dragon in this magic-less universe.

2)     The fantastical races.

Raise your hand if you’ve taken one of those online quizzes for which Tolkien-esque race you would be. I think I got a wizard. Or a hobbit. I can’t remember. I have a particular fondness for dwarves. Despite their usual stubbornness, they can be fiercely loyal. But I also enjoy reading about elves, fawns, centaurs, marsh-wiggles, and the like.


3)     The suspension of disbelief.

We live in a world where science often dictates the way the world works, or so we’d like to think, but even with science, some things have no explanation. And while we could have endless debates about science and the supernatural, fantasy allows readers to strip away doubts and, if momentarily, believe that anything could be possible.


4)     The epic sagas.

Some days I want a stand-alone novel that I can mull over or enjoy on the weekends, but other times, I want to dive into a series of one adventure after another. I’m especially drawn to novels with 500 or more pages. While hefty books may be a deterrent to some people, I find I am more likely to pick such a book up in a library, flip through its pages, and smell the words. You get the picture.

When it comes to reading a book with characters and a world I especially enjoy, I will definitely enjoy a sequel. And another. And another…


Here are just a few of the fantasy books in my collection.
I brought them to college with me for their lovely company.

5)     The masterful world building.

Because I enjoy big books, I can also enjoy the details of a well-developed world. This is not to say that I enjoy a fat info dump, and yes, I did get bogged down the first time I tried to read The Fellowship of the Ring. But I can appreciate all the thought an author puts into a story. It makes rereading it even more enjoyable. Sometimes I’ll pick up little things I missed in the first reading.


6)     The poetry.

Fantasy and poetry tend to walk hand-in-hand, especially considering the symbolic potential for fantasy in the first place. From prophecy to songs and poems recording the heroic (or not-so-heroic) deeds of past characters, poetry allows readers to delve beyond simple prose and stretch their minds and think metaphorically.

After all, who could forget Tolkien’s famous words:

“One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”

Or the words inscribed on High King Peter’s sword, Rhidon:

“When Aslan Bears his teeth winter meets its death.
When he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

Even the Sorting Hat comes up with a song every year. Yes, even that’s poetry too. I haven’t even mentioned The Faerie Queene, which is written entirely in iambic pentameter. (Ten syllables with a very specific meter. Very tricky to write.)


7)     The characters.

Because it’s one of my favorite genres, fantasy has most of my favorite characters. No, I can’t pick one any more than a mother can pick her favorite child, a bookworm his/her favorite book, or you your vital organ. From Puddleglum to Eustice to Reepicheep, from Gimli to Samwise to Faramir to Eowyn, from Hiccup to Toothless, there are many, many characters that I will never forget.

8)   Bonus: The soundtracks from the film adaptations.

I know this is technically eight points, but technically this one doesn’t count because it relates to movies. But let’s face it: fantasy soundtracks are AMAZING. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of listening to The Chronicles of Narnia theme song right as it’s reaching its crescendo right before the battle scene and your heart is racing. Don’t tell me you’ve never experienced it! Surely you have your favorite moments in such soundtracks too?

Some of my favorites include but are not limited to The Chronicles of Narnia (obviously), The Hobbit (particularly Misty Mountains Cold, I See Fire, and Last Goodbye) and The Lord of the Rings, How to Train Your Dragon 1 and 2, and Thor. I even have the song of the Rohirm set as my text alert. The only problem, however, with listening to such epic soundtracks is that it often makes me want to watch the movies and read the books instead of just thinking about them.

But another thing that’s really cool is when you’re listening to a soundtrack while reading the book. Unfortunately, this might only last an hour or so, but hey, music is magical too.

So, fantasy fans, what do YOU enjoy about fantasy? Would you add anything to the list?

***

Literary References: Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, Donita K. Paul’s Dragonspell, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and Edmund Spencer’s The Faerie Queene.

Film references: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, How to Train Your Dragon 1 and 2, and Thor.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Riptide: A Poem

The ocean holds a dangerous beauty as well as a certain place in my heart. Back when I was in high school, we lived in Hawai’i for three years. And to fight off the dreaded island fever, a stir-craziness that mainlanders tend to get living on an island for so long, we visited the ocean often. My dad’s favorite thing to do was go SCUBA diving, somewhere between three to five times a week so that Mom often called herself a dive widow. I was never certified, having a certain fear of heights, and liked to go snorkeling and boogie boarding (aka. bodyboarding; it’s like surfing without standing up).


No matter what we were doing in the ocean, we still experienced many of its dangers in addition to its joys. I have vivid memories of getting caught by a particularly strong wave while boogie boarding and being slammed into the sandy bottom. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. Other times, Dad told stories of diving where the waves were rough and he and his dive buddies got strafed across the coral and lava rock.

“Flesh versus rock, rock wins every time,” Dad would say when he came home with various cuts. He and my brother still have the scars.

And it didn’t end with lava rock. Dad’s got a story to two to tell about shark encounters while he and my brother were out spear fishing. Then there were sea urchins incidents, eel bites, and jellyfish stings. Not to mention the dreaded riptides, which were known to suck people out to sea and tire out the most skilled swimmers.

Dad warned us and told us if we were ever caught in one to swim parallel to the shore because the tides are rather narrow. Thankfully, none of us were ever caught in a riptide. So while part of this poem is pure speculation, most of it is experience. But it’s only a glimpse: one picture of a collage of memories. The ghost crabs are only one of the many creatures of sea, selected for their resilience against the waves and habit of shuffling sideways. Perhaps another day, I’ll write about zebra urchins and wolf eels, pencil fish and parrot fish, slipper lobsters and white tip reef sharks. For today, though, I’ll just stick with the elusive ghost crabs.


Riptide

My toes curl in the tender sand, foaming with saltwater,
bubbling with merriment as the crabs peep their ghostly eyes
over their graves to see the show, then dodging the waves
and digging out their doorways again. Dodge. Dig. Repeat.
As the liquid laps at the shore, like a docile dog panting after a long run,
breathing in a huff, out a slap—a shattering of glass,

I step into the foam, swirling around my ankles then seeping back,
taking me by hand and leading me gently on,
lulling me past the waves slapping my face and stinging my eyes.
Out here in the freedom of floating, my senses are alive—
my nose burns with the wrong breath, the cough, sputter—heavens,
that hurts!—as my feet leave the sand and kick the swirling sea instead.

Catch my breath and take it in, in, in and, holding my hands up,
down I plunge until my feet meet sand once more,
overturning a molten, frigid floor unlike the satin silk of shore.
My lungs seize—screaming it’s time—but I wait another moment in the silence,
hair sprawled out behind me, pressure on my ears,
fingers grasping at the wide world, the nothingness—
finding freedom in the muffle of liquidity, cradling me in its cocoon.

My lungs protest—the sand in my hourglass has run out. I kick off the bottom,
making for the top, bidding the black abyss goodbye
as I make for the golden rays of sunshine,
cutting through the rippled-roof like a butter knife.
So close yet it feels like ages—if I could just reach the bless├Ęd air.

My face breaks the surface and my disheveled hair drip, drip, drips
in my eyes. I suck in a breath as the sunshine kisses my face.
Breathing deeply, I glance back at the shore and notice the palm trees
waving from a long way off, like the beach decided to fold its towels,
clamber into the car, and drive off without me.

I dolphin dive for the shore, kicking at the air until I sink
and push my way past the water, like parting a crowd,
like a frog, arms extended out, out, out in the murky darkness.
Kick once, twice, and I’m headed for the surface again,
for the shore. But, blinking in the sunbeams,
I’m only further
away.

Lured. Caught. Stranded. I can’t stop up an hourglass with sand
or extinguish sunshine with saltwater, a mirror reflecting his pursed-lip face,
any more than I can strangle or part the Sea. My fingers thirst
for the delicate art of origami. Rock, paper, scissors,
water trumps all nine times out of ten. Best two out of three!
I plunge my hand straight into the wave, cutting like a crab,
shifting along the shore. Becoming the simple spy—
Dig. Cut. Repeat.

The water’s fingers slip and lax, flooding me with relief
like seaweed slipping between my legs. We’re tied now,
the Sea and I, but I’m worn, my arms feeling like
jellyfish, minus the sting—but I don’t have the energy to argue.
For now, I’m free, floating, spinning on my back
as I stare up at the clouds, an ocean of air away.

If I were a bird, I would fly, up, up, up, but no—
I’d rather be a starfish, sprawled out on the shore,
a beached whale, a child spat up by a big fish,
kissing the warm sand beneath my salted lips.
Begin round three, and I stroke, stroke, stroke
towards the shore, until my body breaks past the waves,
welcoming me, wading, staggering, back to the land of the walking.