Sunday, October 30, 2016

11 Writerly Fears

It’s October! That time of the year again where the fog is creeping up the hills and it’s getting dark earlier and earlier, day-by-day. When it comes to horror stories, readers may wonder what on earth writers may be afraid of. After all, don’t they write villains who make your skin crawl or stories that keep you up at night? Turns out, there’s quite a few things that writers are afraid of from forgetting to back up a story right before the computer crashes to 1-star book reviews. *shudders* Writers, ye be warned.

Caution: extreme irony. This post is not meant to be taken 100% seriously.


11) Paper cuts.

It’s not just red ink that can end up on manuscripts. Papercuts are deadly occurrences when your story strikes back that can leave your fingers stinging for days. The pen is mightier than the sword, especially when you use that pen to write, cut yourself on the soft paper, get some obscure infection, and die. Use antibiotics, people! Hand sanitizer stains are just as acceptable as coffee stains on your manuscript since they both ward of death—death to your body and death to your creativity.


10) Writer’s block

My first encounter with trouble writing came in the form of writer’s block, and it still comes and goes. For an entire summer, I didn’t know where I was going with my stories. This past summer, I didn’t know which story I would pick next because I was enjoying my current one so much. And while I may not be recovering from writer’s block at the moment, there may be a time when I get stuck again. And again.

And again.

But that’s when you keep going and keep writing. And pray you don’t overheat your computer on your lap or fry it by plugging it into the wall in some foreign country.


9) Losing your writing.

Whether it’s to a house fire, a crashed computer, or an unsaved file, losing a bit of your writing can be devastating. All that hard work you put into a story, hours, months, years just gone. Remember to backup, backup, backup. Use a thumb drive or a backup hard drive or both. Open a safety deposit box to store all your completed manuscripts or put it on the cloud.

I’m paranoid that people may even steal my stories (which is silly considering how rough some are), so I shred every scrap instead of simply throwing it away. Perhaps it’s ridiculous, but yes, I would be that person to run back into the house to save my stories. Last year when our apartment complex caught fire, I grabbed my backup hard drive.


8) Lack of coffee/tea/caffeine.

It’s a tragedy when the pantry is all out of your favorite beverage or snack. How else are you supposed to bribe motivate yourself to keep writing? I haven’t actually run into this problem yet, but if I were somehow wake up one morning without my favorite tea or coffee grounds available, I would probably walk around in a daze like a zombie. Or just curl up in bed and accomplish nothing like a slug. But where’s the fun in that? Solution: coffee keeps the zombie apocalypse at bay!


7) Getting your book made into a movie.

I’m just kidding. All writers dream of seeing their pretty little words made into a film that cuts out half of the important details, messes up your favorite plot twists, and butchers the characters and their development. Your welcome. But seriously, I still dream of a Lord of the Rings quality version of my story in film…


6) Dead characters.

Particularly the ones you hold dear. Oh, I like this character. He/she could be my best friend. What a beautiful line. Wait… did he just die? *insert melodramatic Darth Vader* NOOOOOO!

Seriously though, don’t get attached. Just don’t do it. Fine, you can get attached to characters, but be prepared to say goodbye.

In a way, it’s worse if you’re a writer, knowing you’re going to kill somebody off. Or they just surprise you and randomly die. The anticipation of such scenes is awful, and I always hate myself for writing them. How could I be so cruel to my characters and my readers? It’s just the story, right?


5) People not reading your story.

Perhaps another fear of writers is shouting into the void. Hello? Is it echoing in here, or is it just me? Sometimes I wonder if anybody will ever read my stories or my blog posts. But then I get a nice little comment, or somebody will say something to me in person about some of my work.


4) People reading your story.

No, seriously. It may seem contradictory, but it’s true. Correction: as I writer, I’m afraid of negative feedback, which gets overanalyzed by my brain. What if readers hate my story? Or worse, what if they sort of liked it, but it didn’t live up to its full potential? What if readers want to hunt me down and try to burn me at the stake? Okay, so it’s a little overdramatic, but sometimes, the mere idea of feedback becomes dreadful. This is why querying literary agents is scary. And reading in front of audiences. And just daring to write at all.


3) Not writing.

And even if you are in the mood to write, there’s never enough time. People demand your attention when you’re in the zone, and eventually you’re going to die, maybe with that one last story you were planning on writing but never got a chance to. Thanks a lot, death.

But even if I happen to live a long, healthy life, I might not get the chance to write that one story. Or maybe I’ll never have the courage to do so. Or the knowledge of the subject. Or maybe I’ll get some sort of amnesia that prevents me from ever finishing a story.


2) Meeting your characters.

Wait, I thought this would be exciting? Well, yes and no. If you’re like me and have a tendency to write fantasy, complete with heroes and villains, meeting half your characters might end up looking something like Inkheart. It’s been ages since I read the book, but I remember the scene from the movie where Fenoglio, the author within the story, is held at knifepoint by the characters read out of his own book. But Fenoglio, being the ecstatic writer he is, instead of being intimidated exclaims, “Look, it’s Basta!”

I’d like to think that meeting my own characters would be a little frightening. Then again, I could be excited. The world may never know…


1) Having a #1 fan.  

Anybody who’s read the Stephen King novel Misery, seen the movie, or heard of it know’s what I’m talking about. Not just some happy-go-lucky fan, Annie Wilkes is more like a stalker who kidnaps an author and forces him to write another book. If there’s anything scarier than bad book reviews or rejection letters, it’s obsessive fans who are determined to get their happy endings even if it means the writer never gets one.

But despite all our fears, we writers must get out there and write. How else are we supposed to deal with this frightening world? And by get out there, it’s totally fine to write away in the safety of your room. Or near safety. You never know when some natural disaster may strike…




***

Literary references: J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, and Stephen King’s Misery.

Let’s chat! Writers, what’s your biggest writing fear? How would you rank your fears? Have there ever been any instances where your worst writing fear came true?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Book Review: A World Without You

Book: A World Without You by Beth Revis
Genre: Young adult, contemporary
Awards: None (Yet!)
My rating: 5/5 stars
One-word description: Relatable


Look at that cover. It’s it intriguing? And it correlates to the storyline! It doesn’t get much better than that—a book with a great cover that actually means something.

Bo is a student at Berkshire (aka. the Berk), a school for young adults with mental illnesses, but Bo thinks he can actually travel through time. It’s heartbreaking to see him struggle between what’s actually real and what he thinks is real, what he remembers and what he’s forgotten.

I’ve read plenty of books about characters with disabilities, from Kathryn Erskine’s Mockingbird to Chris T. Arcadian’s The Shifter to E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars, and there are even more on my TBR list. But A World Without You is the first book I’ve read that includes parts from the sibling’s perspective. Sometimes people forget that the family members of people with disabilities struggle too. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Revis!

As a younger sibling of a brother with high functioning autism, I found Phoebe, Bo’s sister easily relatable. She feels like she has a lot of expectations placed on her shoulders for being “normal.” And while I may have a closer relationship with my brother, to the point where people often asked if we were twins, like Phoebe, I constantly get tired of people asking what I’m going to do next with my life. Even though she can be selfish at times (can’t we all?), she’s an incredibly well-developed character.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book was that it was so relatable and heartbreaking, that I couldn’t read it all in one sitting. There were times I had to set the book down and muse on its words and take a break. But if I really wanted to, I easily could have read the book in one day, considering how I breezed through the last third of the book in one sitting.

Another aspect I really appreciated was how the book made me think, especially about relationships. How much would I miss somebody close to me if they were dead? Or how much would others miss me? The title itself has multiple meanings if you pay close attention while reading the book.

As for meaningful quotes, there were so many lines that stuck out to me. Here’s just one of them:

“You never know all of a person; you only know them in a specific moment of time.”

In many ways, it’s true. I know my college friends from college, not their hometowns or their families, and many of them don’t know me from all the many places I’ve lived. This book is a great reminder that people are often more complex than we may give them credit for, including the friends we think we know well.

I gave this book 5/5 stars for its excellent character development, wonderful writing style, and relatable themes. I’d recommend this book to young adults eager to learn more about mental illness or those looking for a quick, thought-provoking read. When I finished the book in the library, I went right up to one of the librarians and said, “This book is amazing.”  

“Is it one we own?” she asked.

“Interlibrary loan,” I said.

“Then we’ll have to add it to our list of books to buy.”


***

Let’s chat! How likely would you be to add A World Without You to your TBR list? What kinds of books have you read this year? Which genre of book should I post next?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Study in Foreshadowing: Why Foreshadow?

I’m such a nerd that I admire literary techniques. When a book or a movie has a balance between excellent character development, witty dialogue, and a plot that makes me think, I’m hooked. Perhaps one of my all-time favorite techniques is foreshadowing. Since I liked it so much, I wanted to read all I could about it.

But I found the internet sadly lacking in explaining foreshadowing. Sure, one post suggested if it’s in the text, it must play a role later. In other words, Chekhov’s rule that if a gun is included in a story, it must be fired. The more I looked at foreshadowing in books and movies, the more I’ve realized that foreshadowing is so much more than that, and I’ve never found a post that taught me how to write it.

So I decided to study it myself and write about my findings. In this series, I’ll be tackling three important questions: Why use foreshadowing? What are the pitfalls of foreshadowing? And how can writers incorporate it?


First of all, it’s important to define foreshadowing. According to the dictionary, the word foreshadow means “to show, indicate, or suggest in advance.” When it comes to fiction, foreshadowing is a literary technique where the text hints at important plot points. This can range anywhere from which character is going to die to another character’s identity and so on.

In blogging, foreshadowing can be as simple as telling you what posts I’m going to write next, or having a great title like 7 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Blogging, where you expect seven simple blogging tips. Fiction, however, is a little more complicated. Most readers don’t necessarily want to know what’s going to happen next. That’d be like reading the book blurb and having half the book spoiled for you. Nobody likes that.

So how does foreshadowing benefit readers? I’ll sum it up in one simple word: suspense. There’s nothing that keeps a reader turning pages like suspense. If writers can hook a reader and promise them something good will happen, they may be curious. If a writer promises something bad will happen, even better. That’s the point where the readers’ eyes become glued to the page, and they are squirming inside and wanting to shout, “TELL ME!!!”

Then, when readers finally reach the point alluded to, they may say something like “Aha!” Or if a writer really succeeded: “How did I not see that coming?” If a reader really likes the story enough to read it and try to find all the subtle clues peppered throughout the story, the writer has succeeded with proper foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing doesn’t just make for good reading. It makes for great rereading. (Tweet this!)

When most people think of foreshadowing this way, they may think of mystery books, and while they’re not wrong, it’s certainly not limited to it. Foreshadowing can be found in the correlation between the four thrones at Cair Paravel and the four Pevensie children. It can be in the title of Liesel Meminger’s story. It can be in August Water’s metaphor. It can be in the rule of only having one winner of the annual Hunger Games.

Yet foreshadowing can be a difficult technique to master. Do it wrong, and the suspense is ruined and the readers are disappointed. But do it correctly, and readers are hooked on your story. Foreshadowing done right is like promising your readers a secret and not letting them in on it until the last page.

Come back next month to read part 2 of A Study in Foreshadowing: How NOT to Use Foreshadowing.


***


Literary references: C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.

Let’s chat! What’s your favorite literary technique? Which technique do you want advice on writing? What’s the best example of foreshadowing you’ve seen in a book or film?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Controversy in Fiction: Magic

Welcome back to Controversy in Fiction, part 3! You can check out my previous posts: Banned Books and Censorship by clicking on the links. Today I’m excited to share the controversies concerning magic, the fantastical element vital to one of my favorite genres.

Disclaimer: This post may contain controversial opinions that are not necessarily the same as those of readers. I have done my best to write objectively and mean no offense to liberals, conservatives, or anybody in between.  


It was a sunny afternoon in Hawai’i, my mom and I had just returned from the HIM Conference where we got to see David Crowder Band, and I was carrying one of my new acquisitions: that’s right, a pretty little book with a dragon on the cover, DragonKnight. And it was a Christian fiction book; I got it at the conference after all, so nobody thought anything of it.

Until we visited the home of a lady from church. She took one look at my book and asked me how I could read that. Didn’t I know dragons were of the devil? She then proceeded to go onto a spiel about how evil they were and how J. R. R. Tolkien couldn’t have been a Christian because he had wizards in his book. I stood there and took it, thanking God she never mentioned C. S. Lewis and how The Voyage of the Dawn Treader included a dragon.

I went home that day feeling crushed.

But I did the best thing I know I could do: I asked my brother Gavin what he thought. Anybody who knows anything about my brother, knows he’s always been extremely conservative. While I might not always agree with him, I respect many of his opinions. And at fourteen-years-old, I was seeking some assurance on my reading choices. Gavin said that he believed there could be good dragons, and I haven’t looked back since.

But that doesn’t mean we haven’t had disagreements over the years. Fantasy happens to be one of my favorite genres, but it is also one of the most debated between conservative and liberal circles. Everybody seems to have their own opinion on magic and whether or not it is purely evil or could be a force for good.

Spiritual Magic—The Chronicles of Narnia


Written by C. S. Lewis, the Oxford scholar and author of Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia serves not as an allegory of the Bible but rather as a supposal, Lewis term for a hypothetical scenario rather than an event-for-event and character-for-character story of the allegory. Aslan and the talking animals versus the White Witch and her minions represent the spiritual realms, making this series the quintessential for the religious.

Yet, the books still contain magic. Magic serves as the primary means by which the Pevensies and the other children get to Narnia, and even Aslan is bound by honoring the Deep Magic through his sacrifice. But it goes further. Dr. Cornelius uses simple magic in Prince Caspian, Lucy reads spells from a book in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and Eustace and Jill call on Aslan in The Silver Chair.

Ultimately, it’s how magic is used in Narnia that is the key. In The Magician's Nephew, there are two silver apples that play a key role: one eaten by the Witch and another planted by Diggory. Aslan assures the children that because the Witch ate one, the rest would be a horror to her:


“That is what happens to those who pluck and eat fruits at the wrong time and in the wrong way. The fruit is good, but they loathe it ever after… She has won her heart’s desire; she has unwearying strength and endless days like a goddess. But length of days with an evil heart is only length of misery”.


Spiritual and Intellectual Magic—The Lord of the Rings


A fellow Oxford professor and the man who brought Lewis to Christianity, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings serves as an influential story that shaped fantasy as we know it today. Although there is no clear, singular Christ figure, the division between good and bad is evident between Sauron’s armies and the free peoples of Middle Earth.

Once again, magic plays an important if not allusive role. The One Ring is clearly evil, but even the elves themselves bear rings of power. Likewise, the Palantire could be used for good or bad, the elves and wizards exercise magic, and Aragorn himself commands the power over the King of the Dead. Ultimately, magic has intellectual properties concerning wizards and elves, especially where the elvish language is concerned, and spiritual aspects concerning the rings, which as Gandalf puts it have curious properties.


Linguistic and Scientific Magic—The Inheritance Cycle



Among the most contemporary of popular fantastical fiction, Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance Cycle has a well-developed system of magic. Perhaps my favorite thing about the series is magic’s limitations and linguistic properties. Most spells are connected with words, from brisingr (fire) to rĂ¯sa (rise), and require a certain amount of energy from the spell caster. It’s actually rather unnerving that some spells, if used too soon or without the proper amount of strength, could kill a Dragon Rider.

Unlike the previous stories, only a selected few can use magic from Dragon Riders and dragons to witches and shades. However, there is no particular race or type of magician who is strictly good or bad. Eragon and Saphira ultimately come up against Galbatorix and Shruikan, and while the shade is clearly an antagonist, there are allies who are witches, and even the dreaded Urgals do not all serve Galbatorix.

“"Magic’s just science that we don’t understand yet.” –Arthur C. Clarke (Tweet this!)


Genetic and Academic Magic—Harry Potter series


As I was growing up, I wasn’t allowed to read J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books because they included wizards and witches as the main characters. But once I graduated from high school, my mom told me I could read anything I wanted because she trusted my judgement. When I first started reading the books, my mom was a little startled and my brother was appalled.

As I read the books, I never quite agreed with all the witchcraft and spells, but I still appreciated the books for its world building and many of its characters. Magical abilities in these books are passed down through generations or simply appear for others. Then each wizard or witch is taught how to use magic in schools such as Hogwarts. But there’re still forbidden spells and the dreaded Lord Voldemort. Essentially, it’s yet another fight between light and dark.


Sophisticated and Natural Magic—Jonathan Strange & MrNorrell


Or as the book puts it, English and Faerie Magic. While Norrell advocates for intellectual learning and polite, English magic (talking gargoyles, weather illusions, etc.), Strange experiments with Faerie Magic (The King’s Roads, Faeries themselves, and anything dealing with the Raven King) or Black Magic (raising the dead and causing madness).

I read this book on my own so I could form my own, untainted opinions on it. Here goes. The struggle between Strange and Norrell serves as a primary conflict throughout the book, but neither of them can be said to be particularly bad, although they have their faults, namely arrogance and selfishness. At the same time, the Faeries themselves are devious and act as the primary cause of most of their troubles.

Throughout the book, the moral aspects concerning magic is another key aspect:


“‘Can a magician kill a man by magic?’ Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. ‘I suppose a magician might,’ he admitted, ‘but a gentleman never would.’”

Of course, these categories are not absolute. In fact, trying to catalogue the different types of magic almost drove me mad (thankfully, not the Jonathan Strange, pineapple-hating mad). There’s no reason to say that Narnian magic doesn’t have a science to it. After all, the Pevensies come up with an explanation to figure out the differences in time elapse between Narnia and England. Similarly, the characters in Harry Potter clearly have souls, for without them the Dementors would be purposeless. Even an afterlife is alluded to several times.

The main problem audiences tend to have with the different types of magic depends on their perception of it. To some people, all magic is evil. To others, if the magic doesn’t align with their spiritual views, it’s bad. In fact, many Christians I know tend to prefer the spiritual aspects of The Chronicles of Narnia over other forms of fantasy. Others yet may believe it’s all just fiction anyway, so the same principles of fiction don’t apply to fantasy as they do in the real world.

Although my brother Gavin still refuses to read, watch, or talk comfortably with people concerning Harry Potter, he still likes fantasy. In fact, he uses Once Upon a Time’s terms for magic: light and dark. Essentially, it seems most fantasy abides by these principles. Every struggle between magical forces is more often than not a struggle of good versus evil, light versus dark. That isn’t to say that either side is strictly pure (Edmund betrayed his siblings and Eustace was turned into a dragon; Harry used forbidden spells; and basically every member of the fellowship was tempted by the Ring), but even magical worlds strive for a sense of justice and moral standards.

I once heard it said that magic can be a metaphor for power, and it’s true to a sense. Some people are granted more power than others, some inherit it, and others don’t. But each person can choose to use that power, for good or for ill. And in that sense, because fiction itself holds a sort of power, words themselves can be magical.

***

Previously in Controversy in Fiction: Banned Books and Censorship

Literary References: Donita K. Paul’s DragonKeeper Chronicles, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, and The Screwtape Letters, Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance Cycle, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

Let’s chat! What’s your stance on magic? Of the above types, which do you prefer?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Bury Me: A Poem

I’ve been meaning to write more travel poetry, considering how many places I’ve seen, so this month’s poem focuses on cathedrals, but it also concerns death and writers. This summer, I had the privilege of going back to London, this time with one of my best friends and fellow writers, Faith Boggus. On this particular trip, we saw many places I hadn’t been to before, including Westminster Abbey.

Not only is it the famous designated cathedral for crowning monarchs, but it’s also the resting place of over two-thousand famous persons from kings and queens to scientists and people whose stones have been tread on so much nobody can decipher the names anymore. Perhaps the section that stands out most in my mind is Poets’ Corner, the section where many famous writers have been buried who were influential throughout English Literature.

As I’ve traveled throughout Europe, I’ve found that no two churches are the same, no matter what anybody else says. Even buildings similar in architecture cannot have the same frescos or people buried in the floor. Yes, they have buried people in the floor. And if you think that’s more disturbing than a cemetery, the Sedlec Ossuary (Prague, Czech Republic) has decorations made of hundreds of human bones. It’s definitely something I will never forget.


Bury Me

I’m surrounded by a forest of words,
these weathered leaves and bleeding ink
sticky as pine sap, with branches from Geoffrey Chaucer
to Arthur Conan Doyle stretching to the sky.

Don’t ask me why I find comfort
among the dead words, written on forest green and jet-black spines,
the tombstones of authors lined up on a shelf.
Their eulogies are in their lasting words,
coming to life and dancing across the attic of my mind,
sweeping away cobwebs of boredom and dust from life’s stress,
unpacking emotions, thoughts, and dreams I never knew I had.
Read me a story, mommy. That child buries her nose in a book
when she should be making friends. If worms eat up the decay of earth,
what are full-grown bookworms, devouring leaf after leaf?

I set foot in a gray abbey, each step echoing across the halls
of time. Nobody told me the place was a tomb.
The hall of kings and queens, ancestors and forgotten names—
their tombstones worn on the floor from countless feet—
poets survived by words. I’ve gasped at rows of books,
but never before have I been surrounded by rows of dead authors.

My search for Lewis’ plaque discovered Chaucer,
Eliot, Dryden. I stopped before Spenser and Milton,
marveling how life is oft’ separated by generations,
but in death two poets are separated by stone a book’s width.
Poor Dickens denied his last request;
my friend was standing on his grave.
I passed over countless corpses under the floor—
would that I could recall their names,
but I’m awful with remembering the names of the living.

Weeks ago, I jokingly told my mother
that should I die before I turn twenty-five
burn me like the Vikings of old.
Forget a sorry cremation when I’m ground to dust,
but give me a pyre fit for a book burning.
But in all seriousness, I’d rather rest
under the green leaves of a willow.
Let the trees weep and do not cry—
I’ll let my tombstone etch a weathered lullaby,
drowned in rain and washed away—
Do not cry. We all must die. 


***


Let’s chat. What’s the most sobering place you’ve ever visited? Which author(s), living or dead would you like to meet/have met?