Saturday, October 19, 2019

Book Review: Strange Waters

I’ve been on a sci-fi kick lately. When the Phoenix Fiction Writers announced a collection of short stories with water-related sci-fi—oh my goodness so much yes! As somebody who has lived in Hawai’i and is in love with the sound of lapping waves, the smell of sea salt, and the thrill of the ocean and how freakishly big it is, I was a little excited for this collection. Of course, I can be a little picky about my underwater stories and my sci-fi, but I was still looking forward to this one.

Thus I found myself with yet another advanced reader copy for the latest Phoenix Fiction Anthology, so I present you with my humble estimation of the book. All opinions are my own.






Book: Strange Waters by Kyle Robert Shultz, E.B. Dawson, Hannah Heath, Beth Wangler, Nate Philbrick, J.E. Purrazzi, and K.L. + Pierce
Genre: Fantasy, Science-Fiction, Short Stories
My rating: 5/5 stars
Year published: 2019
Short description: WATER-BASED SCI-FI!!! (and fantasy)


“Backpack Boy” by Nate Philbrick



Oh, my goodness. Featuring fear and bravery, pain and adventure, I found this story is so sweet and heartbreaking simultaneous. I called the parallels within the plot, but they in no way detracted from my ability to enjoy the story. I particularly liked the boy’s stuffed elephant as a character who encouraged the boy as he went along. And Philbrick’s description, as always is brilliant:

“The elephant was crayon-blue once upon a time, but a hundred adventures have sapped the colour. He’s a bit lumpy and old, but the boy loves to press his cheek into the ruffles under the elephant’s chin, where it’s soft and warm like Mum’s knit sweaters.”

Overall thoughts: most heartfelt

“Finer Things” by C. Scott Frank


I’m a little biased because I don’t care for romance, and one of the descriptions for this story is “star-crossed lovers.” Suffice to say I wasn’t much of a fan, and I didn’t find the sci-fi elements or the character development to be very believable. But maybe that’s just the skeptical, non-romantic in me speaking.

Overall thoughts: squishy but with good themes

“Roanoke” by J. E. Purrazzi


Wow, that ending though! A sci-fi adventure set on an aquatic world with a ship called The Wells. I need to go back and re-read the story when I’m feeling a little more awake, so I can get a better feel for the narrative and the beautiful descriptions. I sure hope there is more to this world than this one story because now I’m hooked!

Overall thoughts: dynamic world-building


“Kamynosa’s Labyrinth” by Beth Wangler


I’d been reading the stories one at a time, one each day, and I was just going to read the description when I blinked, and I’d finished it. Suffice to say I was hooked by the plot, the beautiful descriptions, and the characters. Can I also say that the style was reminiscent of The Princess Bride, referencing a longer text and giving us gems like this one:

“I will not bore you with a detailed exposition upon the nuances of the Labyrinth and its history, which Professor Daus-sun has described in great detail elsewhere. Suffice it to say that Kamynosa, curls perfectly tamed and best coral-stamped skirt twisted around her hips, read aloud the script whose origins were ancient even then.

Overall thoughts: beautiful prose

“Barnaby Brown and the Glass Sea” by. E. B. Dawson


Highly entertaining, though the ending was a more abrupt than I would have anticipated. Full of wit and characters who may or may not thrive in an academic society, this story is about the joy and frustrations of discovery, even if that discovery just so happens to be a stowaway. I sure hope there is more to the story of Barnaby Brown because it can’t end like that!

Overall thoughts: most witty

“Through the Lens” by K. L. + Pierce


Not my favorite of the stories. While I liked the combination of fantasy and sci-fi, I was a little confused as to why certain characters behaved the way they did. I think if the story had more pages to develop the characters, it might have made more sense. All the same, I enjoyed the sibling dynamic and the lengths Dion was willing to go to for his sister.

Overall thoughts: dedicated siblings

“Ric Vayne and the Curse of Ghoul Nebula” by Kyle Robert Shultz


Highly entertaining, as is usual for Shutlz’s work. At first, I was a little appalled at the drunken state of Ric Vayne during the opening, but as the story went along, he grew on me. The way he cared for Ovo and her freedom was so endearing. Though are we going to talk about how he nicknamed her Ovo because he thought she looked like an owl but couldn’t explain how the name “Ovo” looks like an emoji of a bird? No? Maybe it’s just me…

Overall thoughts: engrossing story

“The Underground” by Janelle Garrett


Fascinating. Honestly, the description didn’t have me too hooked—a girl is kidnapped by dragons, and her brother is trying to rescue her. Haven’t we heard this one before? But as the story went on, I got the sense that there’s more to the story than meets the eye. While I’m still not sure of all the details, as it’s a part of a series, The Steward Saga, I have a theory that it’s not just fantasy.

Overall thoughts: intriguing


“This Pain Inside” by Hannah Heath


Brilliant, as is usual for Heath’s work. A powerful story with well-developed characters and excellent themes, this one is actually set in an underwater society. I particularly liked the way Heath combined the science of what it might be like to live so deep and the fantastic abilities that come from the Ne, and I’d like to see the concept fleshed out into a longer piece.

Overall thoughts: excellent themes

Interested in Strange Waters? Have you read it yet? You might also enjoy these books: Antiheros by the Phoenix Fiction Writers (Shultz, Dawson, Heath, Wangler, Philbrick, Purrazzi, and Pierce), Skies of Dripping Gold by Hannah Heath, Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman.

Let’s chat! Has Strange Waters made it to your to-be-read list yet? Have you read it yet? Have any underwater fantasy/sci-fi recommendations?

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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Let's Talk about Murder in Fiction

Sherlock: Let’s talk about murder. Imagine someone’s going to get murdered at a wedding. Who exactly would you pick?

Mrs. Hudson: I think you’re a popular choice at the moment, dear. 

—from “The Sign of Three”, Sherlock

When I was in high school, I used to be obsessed with murder mysteries. My mom and I watched the entirety of CSI Miami, and I went on to read all the Sherlock Holmes books and fangirl about and critique the movies and shows. Nowadays, I don’t read near as many mysteries, save Sanderson’s The Alloy Era series, but I still enjoy the occasional who-done-it because of the intellectual challenge.

As I’ve gotten older and my tastes have changed, I can no longer tolerate some things that I once did. I still enjoy action and adventure, but I don’t like much violence, and I’m more sensitive to death in stories.

Death in fiction is disturbing. Sure, it’s not as intense as it would be in real life, but it’s not appealing all the same. Yet it’s there more often than not. But what exactly are the different stances on death, and how do readers deal with them?

Caution: this post contains spoilers for films The Mission and Les Miserables. Proceed at your own discretion. Likewise, this post may contain controversial opinions that are not necessarily the same as those of readers.


Pacifism vs. Revolutionaries


In the film The Mission, two priests have an argument about morality and the defense of the mission where they serve. *caution: spoilers ahead* As the Spanish are coming to claim the territory and sell the natives at the mission into slavery, one priest—who happens to be a reformed slave trader—argues that they should fight back, and the other—the man who led the first to become a priest—argues for peaceful protest.

For a while, I really struggled with the dilemma—if I found myself in the situation, which would I choose? Would I fight to protect peoples’ freedom even if it meant killing, or would I protest nonviolently, standing up with people even if it meant injury or death? And does it really matter because they both die as martyrs in the end? *end spoiler*

A little while later, I was reading Les Miserables and reflecting on the rational behind why many of the young—and sometimes old—men joined the revolution, whether it was to escape poverty and destitution, to stand up for human rights, or simply because they had nothing but their lives to lose. While I don’t remember all of the great prose, I remember thinking, “Wow, Victor Hugo is so persuasive he could convince me to be a revolutionary.”

*spoiler* Of course, like in The Mission they all die, save Marius. *end spoiler*

Another time, my dad put on the movie Tears of the Sun in which a group of Special-Ops are on a mission to rescue a doctor in Nigeria and end up bringing refugees along with them. As the team and the refugees are headed for safety, the Special-Ops team fightr off rebels along the way. My dad told me situations like the ones in the film were one of the reasons he joined the military—to protect the innocent.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” 
—Edmund Burke

In the end, I decided I’d rather be a revolutionary than a pacifist. I’m not for killing but when it comes to the innocent, I’m for protecting them.



Casual Death and the Value of Life


Perhaps one of the most disturbing moments concerning reading came when I was studying for my English Lit degree. We had read The Road for or speculative fiction and were discussing it in class. When we inevitably addressed the cannibalism present in the book, one of my classmates said, “I don’t see why the girl had such a hard time with it.” Essentially, she gave me impression that in a post-apocalyptic world, killing somebody else to ensure one’s one survive was acceptable.

I was stunned. How could somebody blatantly disdain a child’s horror and advocate for cannibalism? Weren’t they missing the point of the book?

Another novel—one that I actually enjoy—that addresses the devastation of death is Illuminae: “Sure, the story kicks off with the deaths of thousands of people, but *** forbid there be cussing in it, right?”

While profanity is a topic for another time (one I briefly touched on in Controversy in Fiction: Censorship), the book makes an excellent point. Why is death more readily accepted in fiction than swearing? So it’s okay to read about a book about genocide or a cozy mystery—an interesting choice of words—but when you have a bunch of swear words in a young adult novel reflecting the degradation of society, some readers lose their minds.

I’m not saying that I’m an advocate for swearing in fiction, but I do think it’s important for readers to establish their priorities. Perhaps one of my favorite quotes considering justice versus mercy concerning death comes from Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring:

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the wise cannot see all ends.”

Let’s chat! What’s your take on murder in fiction? Have any favorite quotes from fiction that influenced your stance?

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Update: next week I’ll be posting a book review a day early in celebration of the book’s release day. While you’re welcome to come by on Sunday, the review will be up on Saturday.


Movie references: Sherlock, CSI Miami, The Mission, Les Miserables, and Tears of the Sun

Literary references: Brandon Sanderson’s The Allow Era, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Haiku Collection: Down South (Audio)

I’m not used to living in a place where it’s still 95 degrees Fahrenheit in October. I’m ready for fall weather, especially the crisp sweater-worthy mornings. Though at the same time, I’m still hoping it doesn’t come just yet because I’m still living out of my suitcase. All I have are the same seven summer shirts I’ve been wearing since June. (Somebody save me.)

Some days, I still enjoy living in the American South. Other days I hate it. I enjoy my jobs, which is a wonderful change, but the bug population here is nuts. That and the buildings here are hideous, and recycling is basically nonexistent.



Moving back to the States after living in Europe for the past four years has been an adjustment for sure. As my mom put it, my family may be American by birth, but we’re European at heart. It may take some time to settle in. But I’m not quite there. Not yet.



Incandescent

the way the light shines
on the water at sunrise
birds herald the day


Stick Bug

she dance, the way she
steps—back—forward—back with those
green legs she sways, here


Wasp Nest

don’t. move. when she lands
on your collar, take her out
of doors, say goodbye


Culture Shock

hits me like a wave—
would that only the salt is
making me cough hard


***

Let’s chat! What did you think of the poems? What’s one unique trait you like about where you live?

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Email Draft: Why I Walked the Camino

The following is an unsent email I wrote based on my experiences walking the Camino. The address is to the man I met, once when I let him back into our albergue and again later on down the road and at its end. For the complete story, see In Medias Res: Walking el Camino. Unlike my last post, this one is less of a narrative and more speculation.



Dear Looney,

It’s been a while. Well, maybe not a while. But four months can feel like a long time when you’re still waiting for an e-mail. It seems silly now—that I would’ve given you my name and contact information but neglected to ask for yours. Perhaps it doesn’t mean anything that I meant to ask. I just never found the opportunity.

Please don’t think that this correspondence is the result of some love sick girl. It’s not.

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to share why I walked the Camino. I’ve heard my parent’s reasons countless times, and I’ve shared a bit of my parents’ stories. While I may have shared the story of how you and I met (did you know I’ve told that story more often than we’ve talked?), I have yet to share why I walked the Camino.

Here goes.

It started off as a physical and philosophical challenge. Could my body handle 800 kilometers? What would it be like? After I read A Philosophy of Walking by Frederic Gros, I was honestly, dreadfully curious. What is it like to walk for days on end? Would I lose my sense of place on the road? Would I think of nothing but putting one foot after another?

Truth be told, I never got to that last, mind-numbing stage any more than I walked 800 kilometers. 260 km isn’t so bad, I suppose, but it’s still not 800.


All the same, as I walked along the road to Santiago, I came to learn more of what it meant to be a pilgrim, not just a mere passerby or tourist. I learned what it was like to take a journey with countless others from across the world, people from different backgrounds, different denominations, even different faiths, all seeking one destination. A pilgrim is a seeker—a traveler with a goal, sometimes a person seeking some self-inflicted penance.

What is that even like?

To use an old cliché, being a pilgrim felt like a small representation of life. But, at the same time, a pilgrimage is not like life. In some ways, it felt more real. How many people in everyday life will talk about their purpose instead of making meaningless small talk? How many people will open up about why they’ve forsaken the comforts of home—the convenience of modern transportation, the accessibility of the internet—simply to walk?

Walking the Camino felt real. I’ve never seen so many people tear up in one journey, whether at the foot of the Iron Cross or over breakfast because they’re morning a wife or daughter. Never have I gotten both my parents’ approval on a man I’d just met. Never had I come to the acceptance that my relationship with God is more than just an emotional connection. It’s so much more.

I guess you could say I started off the Camino looking for a spiritual reason to be walking. What was I doing, treading the path of so many before me? Those of great faith. Who am I to walk where they walked? What do I know, when I’m filled with all these doubts?

I didn’t even start the Camino with some spiritual purpose.

But still, I heard God speak.


It was on our own rainy day, believe or it not. The rain wasn’t a downpour or anything torrential, but after an hour, it was plain tedious. Even with our ponchos, we felt soaked to the bone. So it was that my family and I shuffled into a tiny art gallery on the roadside just to get out of the rain. There we met Art, a painter who created these beautiful watercolors and who prayed with us before we continued. There, along the road in a building that looked like any other, I gazed at the paintings and postcards and read their inscriptions, “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’”

There, I heard it. Not in audible words, just in an inclination.

Find the truth.

I’m not referring to my truth, or even your truth. But rather the truth. I’ve always enjoyed learning, and as the old saying goes, “The more I know, the more I know I don’t know.” There are so many things I want to learn.


How does climate change affect our world, and why are most conservative Christians adamantly against the very concept? Aren’t we supposed to be stewards of our world?

How can I be a Christian and show love to my friends who have openly admitted they aren’t religious?

How can I truly accept other people if I can’t even accept myself?

I can never learn everything. Such a task would be impossible and take the lifespan of the entire world. But maybe, just maybe, one day I can ask the right questions, challenge the right stereotypes, face the honest truth. It’s a daunting task. In some ways, I don’t feel up to it. But it starts with plain, bold, honestly.

Here it is, Looney. Did you lose my e-mail, or did you just forget?

Write me back.

I miss you.

Sincerely,
Azelyn Klein

P.S. You never told me your actual name. I know, you gave me something you thought would be easy for my American tongue to pronounce. And it is, but might I trouble you for your real name?

***

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Mini Book Reviews: from Isle of Blood and Stone to Sadie

“There’s no rule that says you have to be a prodigy to be a hero,” [Nova] insisted. “If people wanted to stand up for themselves or protect their loved ones or do what they believe in their hearts is the right thing to do, then they would do it. If they wanted to be heroic, they would find ways to be heroic, even without supernatural powers.”

—excerpt from Renegades by Marissa Meyer

I’m changing things up a bit. Usually, this is the time of month where I’d post a book review if I’ve read a good one lately. Or I’ll just cram something else in its place. Seeing as I like to feature exclusive content on my blog before I post things on Goodreads and how my reading schedule is all sorts of messed up, I don’t have a book review for today.
I have five!

If you enjoy young adult and new adult novels, you’re in for a treat. Book are arranged by the order I read them.


Isle of Blood and Stone by Makiia Lucier


Genre: young adult, fantasy
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Mini description: secretive… shhhh


“The look Mercedes sent him was pained. ‘That is your first choice? Not every girl enjoys playing with dolls.’“Elias gave her a considering glance. He guessed again. ‘Knives?’”

Yes, Elias. Give the little ghost children knives. There’s no way that could possibly go wrong. A plot built on secrets with characters determined to unravel them, Isle of Blood and Stone swept me away with its world-building.

The sequel, Song of the Abyss, just came out, and I’m impatiently waiting for my library to get a copy. Anybody know how long it typically takes a library on the continental US to get new books? I’m used to waiting a year if that’s any sort of reference.


Renegades by Marissa Meyer


Genre: young adult, science fiction, superheroes
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Mini description: heroes?

I almost passed this one up, but I’m glad I didn’t. A story that plays on and embraces superhero tropes and culture, Renegades is an excellent page-turner. Not to mention the characters are well-developed, more so than from what I remember of The Lunar Chronicles, which I actually had some issues with. Renegades, on the other hand, confronts many aspects in its world.

If I could have any prodigy power from those in the book, I’d go with Honey’s. She can talk to bees and wasps and such. Never get stung again and have a lifetime supply of honey. I see no downsides to this aside from possibly getting labeled a supervillain. #savethebees #allthehoney

I recently talked my sister into reading the book. Mwuahaha! And I read the sequel, Arch-Enemies—which was a little mind-bending—and the third and final book, Supernova comes out this fall! Super excited!


The Boy Who Steals Houses by C. G. Drews


Genre: young adult, contemporary
My rating: 5 STARS!
Mini description: waffles

You know how I pre-ordered this book and kept ranting about Drews’ work? (By the way if you haven’t already, you should check out her blog at Paper Fury.) Well, I finally got around to reading her second book, and it was even better than the first! While I was reading it, I kept thinking things like, “Aw! That part’s cute… Oh… Oh, dear. There’s NO WAY this can end well.”

I’ll try not to give spoilers (or repeat authors in reviews on my blog, shhhh), but this book helped me through a recent bout of depression. You should check it out. And for all my American friends, you can buy it in print via Book Depository or other international sellers, AND it’s now out in e-book via Amazon and Barnes & Noble! *throws glitter that will permanently get stuck in the scales of my dragons*

For the full review, check out Goodreads.


Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia


Genre: young adult, contemporary
My rating: 5 STARS!
Mini description: relatable

The contemporary novels win the year. I’m just saying. Having read one of Zappia’s works before, I thought I’d give this one a try. Within the first few chapters or so, Eliza and Her Monsters had me hooked, and by that, I mean I-stayed-up-until-two-a.m.-hooked. Since graduating from college, I don’t do that with many any books. And the story hit close to home in its social anxiety and depression representation without belittling either.

For the full review, check out Goodreads.


Sadie by Courtney Summers

Genre: new adult, contemporary, mystery
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Mini description: fight for justice

Yeah, so this book ripped my heart out and stomped on it. A lot of people classify this one as young adult, but I’d put it in the new adult section, especially if you consider the age of the protagonist—19. It was a good book with a fast pace and alternating points of view, though the content was rather intense.

Interested in any of these books? You might also enjoy The Supervillain and Me by Danielle Banas (superheroes), In the Palace of Rygia by L. Nicodemus Lyons (non-magical fantasy), A Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. Drews (contemporary, see book review), and Made You Up by Francesca Zappia (contemporary).

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Let’s chat! Have you read any of the listed books? Which did you enjoy? Which are you most excited about reading? Want to more mini reviews like this one? Let me know!

Similar book reviews: Kids Like Us, Antiheroes, and A Thousand Perfect Notes

Sunday, September 15, 2019

A Writer's Guide to Job Interviews

Welcome back to my 2-part miniseries! Last month, I wrote about A Writer’s Guide to Job Applications, and today I’m here to post about the interview portion. Points one and two are all about preparation while the third is about the interview itself.

While actual interviews may come more often than manuscript requests, they’re still going to be fewer than the number of applications you send out. So when you finally make it to the interview stage, it can be exciting and nerve-wracking all at once. Here are a few tips I’ve employed for interview preparation.


1) Do Your Research


Come on, writers. You know you like this step. Or even if you don’t, it has to be done. But unlike writing a story, you can’t stop the middle of an interview to look up information on the company you’re applying to. You have to do that beforehand. And it helps a lot!

When I had my first ever job interview, I had no idea what I was doing. Even though I researched the company I was applying for, I failed to research confidence. So when the questions came up, I froze.
Some key information to know:

  • The company’s name and mission
  • The job position and salary estimate
  • Your mission


2) Have a Motivational Theme Song


You know how some writers like to pick certain songs for scenes or for their books? I know I do. I wrote Last of the Memory Keepers to the first How to Train Your Dragon soundtrack. Origami Swan shared the Doctor Strange soundtrack and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. You get the picture.

When it comes to interview prep, you too can have a theme song (sung in your head during the interview, not aloud). I personally like “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman and this Marvel-themed adaptation of “We Will Rock You”:

Credit: Trailer Blend

3) Don’t Fall Your Face


Most how-to’s in of this type will teach you to have a firm handshake (important!) or proper posture (also important!), but I’m here to tell you that you can go into an interview without faceplanting. In all honesty, this is an actual concern I’ve had when trying something new. Fencing? Didn’t fall on my face. Job interviews? I’ve got this. Walking the dog on snow? Okay, that time I did faceplant, but that one’s on the dog.

Some tips to achieve proper upright position:

  •  Get a good night’s sleep the night before.
  • Exercise and stretch beforehand. Or if you don’t want to or don’t have time to shower, just stretch. It’s easier to have a clearer mind when you have a body that feels good.
  • Take a deep breath. Or two. Or three. Whatever it takes.
  • Stand tall. You made it this far. You deserve this interview. Remember, you are a writer! You are a (insert job position you’re interviewing for)!


It’s okay to make mistakes. If you do end up tripping, get back up again. If you forget which way you came from when you walk out of the office and walk down the wrong hallway, let your interviewer take the lead. (Yes, this happened to me. Yes, I still got the job.) If you stutter, don’t apologize. Just keep going.

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Let’s chat! What are some of your tips for job interviews? Any fellow writers out there with a separate day job? Anybody have any tips for balancing work and writing? Tell me all!