Sunday, December 20, 2015

Gift Ideas for Writers

Welcome back to my last installment in The Proper Care and Feeding of a Writer. This week, I’ll be focusing on last minute things you can get for your writer friends if you still haven’t bought them anything. Because I’m a writer (and therefore part-crazy), half the items on this list are bound to be crazy, while the other half are serious. Have fun trying to decipher which is which.

A vacation to your writer’s favorite place ($700-your rent for the next 5 years)
Does your writer friend like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings? How about a trip to New Zealand? What about The River of Time series? How about a trip to Italy? How inspirational would it be to visit a place that serves as the basis for a fictional story!
Journals ($7-10)
If you don’t know the person very well, this is your standard writer gift. Even if writers say they don’t need anymore (they already have 10), it’s okay to get them another. Who knows when they’ll need another?

A typewriter ($12-150)
Call me old-fashioned, but how many writers have not wondered what would happen if all technology suddenly crashed? Sure, there would still be books to write in, but there is a beauty in the sound of clicking keys.

A time machine (Does anybody actually know how much these cost? Amazon doesn’t carry them.)
I’m not talking about the book or any of the movies (though those are pretty good).  If you know somebody writing historical/futuristic fiction, a time machine would be the perfect gift for the ultimate research experience!
A book of their favorite genre or a writing book ($7-15)
Need I say more? Writers love books!

coffee, cup, morning
The writers favorite tea/coffee/chocolate ($1-$15)
Another form of inspiration to get the mind working properly: food and drink.
Tape ($1-5)
Scotch tape, duct tape, you name it! The possibilities are endless. You can make crafts or fix things. FYI, I do not condone purchasing duct tape for kidnapping.
Silly writer knickknacks ($2-15)
Anything from a pen to a poster that reads, “Writer at Work, Do not Disturb” to a mug/t-shirt that claims to represent the World’s Best Writer. These are especially good for writers with a good sense of humor or writers who like to collect weird stuff. References to Best Character or the Toughest Villain are a plus.

Can’t decide between a pet and plant? Get both!
Meet Mars, my first Venus fly trap.
A pet/houseplant ($5-1000)
Also known as writing buddies, pets and houseplants can serve as a wonderful means of distraction aside from people. If your writer friend spends too much time staring at a computer screen or with a pen in hand, a puppy, a cat, or even a prickly pear cactus can be enough reason for the writer to step away. Although these writing buddies don’t actually give critical feedback, they can pose for the camera when the writer should be writing.

An honest review on Goodreads, Amazon, etc. (Free!)
Considering how much time and effort writers put into their stories, any feedback would be welcome! Remember, keep it honest, keep it polite, and writers will love you!

A clean work environment (Free!)
If a writer is struggling with writer’s block, one of the first things he/she will do is look for some sort of distraction, like cleaning. Make sure this person works well with this. Some people work better with clutter than without.
A hug (Priceless)
Depending on the writer, with permission of course. Who doesn’t like hugs? I sure do!

Writers, what’s on your Christmas wish list? Readers, what have you bought for your writer friends? Have any of these ideas helped/scared you?

My next blog post won’t be up until January, so you won’t hear from me on Word Storm until next year. But don’t worry, I’m planning several exciting additions. Have a Merry Christmas, everybody!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Every Last Reindeer

(Caution: This post contains spoilers for Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer and It’s a Wonderful Life. If you haven’t seen the latter, go watch it now! You won’t regret it.)

I’ve never cared for the story of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Sure, I felt pity for the poor creature who couldn’t help how unique he was, but I always hated the other reindeer. And please, don’t tell me this story is remotely realistic in the sense that it reflects life. All the reindeer loved Rudolf in the end? Every last one? None of them harbored any form of envy after the way they treated him throughout the story? 

Perhaps what irritates me most is how it took a giant act of revelation, of purpose that made the other reindeer recognize him. In other words, Rudolf was an outcast in his society until he proved himself to be useful. It took a dramatic, historic event, to wake up the reindeer, but it shouldn’t have happened that way. A similar situation can be seen in Happy Feet. Should characters ONLY be recognized for fantastic, world-saving deeds instead of their good, everyday qualities?

If this is the case, how should characters that are seemingly useless be handled? Say, for instance, there’s a boy who’s a little different and gets picked on for it. He barely manages to scrape by with passing grades in school. He doesn’t make it rich and can’t contribute something society would consider useful. But maybe he’s kind, and his friends recognize this.
The moment stories ONLY praise a character for what he/she does instead of who he/she is inside is the moment stories miss the point. After all, what do infants contribute to society other than joy and potential for the future? Likewise, characters who value usefulness over integrity are vulnerable to resentment.

I should know. In high school, I never fit in and was angry with some of my peers for excluding me because I was the “shy kid.” One day, we were talking about having a reunion in the future, and my thought was, “I can’t wait! I’ll be a published author by then, and then you guys can finally recognize me for who I am.”

Since then, I’ve only published a couple short stories, and I’ve learned not to place my value in my accomplishments. Because in the end, it’s not what I’ve written that my friends and my family will remember, but how I treated them.

Perhaps one quote that embodies my point is what Gandalf told Galadriel in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug:

“Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay—small acts of kindness and love.”

Bilbo Baggins may not have single-handedly liberated Middle Earth, but he cared for his friends. The same can be said of Sam, Merry, Pippin, and countless other characters. These characters aren’t just remembered for the contributions they made but how they cared. Besides, if Pippin was merely remembered for every mistake, nobody would like him.

Another good example of less-than-epic proportions but with spectacular plot is It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey had dreams. Dreams so big that he was bound to become a great success, right? But just because he didn’t go on to build skyscrapers like he planned or save hundreds of soldiers like his little brother Harry or become filthy rich like Sam Wainwright, he was still one of the most beloved characters because of the way he treated people.

So this Christmas, may we find contentment not just in the spectacular but in the ordinary. May we care like Bilbo Baggins and George Bailey. May we love like Jesus. And it’s just like Clarence said: “Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.”

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Movie references: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Happy Feet, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, and It’s a Wonderful Life.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Short Story Review: "Skies of Dripping Gold" by Hannah Heath

Short Story: “Skies of Dripping Gold” by Hannah Heath
Genre: Christian, dystopian, young adult
Awards: None
My rating: 4/5 stars
One word description:  Genuine

I know it’s not a novel, but all the novels I have been reading lately are in the middle of a series. And as much as I enjoy series, and I hope you do too, I don’t usually post reviews for sequels on my blog. That being said, I’d started following Hannah Heath’s blog a couple months ago, and if you’re a writer, you should definitely check it out! Anyway, Heath did such a good job promoting “Skies of Dripping Gold” recently that I just had to read it.
I was really impressed. Heath presents a typical dystopian society with relevance to situations today. Instead of your typical, catastrophic “the world is ending!” dystopian, this story is up-close-and-personal with the lives of the characters, Gabriel, Lilly, and Cole.

Told from Gabriel’s perspective, the world seems hopeless. Or at least it would be without his older sister, Lilly. The way that Gabriel desperately cares for her reminds me a bit of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. And Gabriel’s emotions are so real that I could easily picture the story and feel his pain along with him.  

Without giving too much away, one of the main themes of the story is how a good God could exist in a world with so much pain. I appreciate how Heath handles such an issue without resorting to deus ex machina.

Another quality I really enjoyed was Heath’s writing style, which is typical of YA. Here’s one of my favorite lines:

“As far as Gabriel was concerned, there were only two all-important laws on earth: 
1. Don’t murder people.
2. Never swear in front of Lilly.”

I gave this story 4/5 stars for its well-told narrative but some vague descriptions. But because this is a short story, I recognize that there is only so much a writer can do with a limited amount of space. Because of the instances of profanity, I’d have to go with Heath’s own “rating” and recommend it to anybody older than 13. I look forward to reading more stories from Heath.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Movie Was Better Than the Book

Many people may recall how I tend to rant about movies and the superiority of books. In fact, many of my friends claim I don’t even like movies. This is true to an extent. There are exceptions. Sometimes, the movie is better than the book.

Now before you condemn me for heresy, please allow me to propose a couple questions. Do quality movies exist?  And do poorly written books exist? If you answered yes to either of these questions, might it be possible that these two coincide?

In my experience, there are three general reasons why some movies may be better than their books, and they may overlap in some circumstances.

1) The movie was better researched than the book.

You don’t usually see these kinds of books, but they exist. In these cases, the book falls short of enriching details whereas the movie fills them in. And I’m not just talking about setting. A well-researched story should include culture, setting, time period, and character development just to name a few aspects. Sometimes movies include cultural aspects or languages that the books skims over.

A great example is Dances with Wolves. I enjoyed the movie for the development of the Sioux culture and language, not to mention the music, but when I read the book, I was disappointed. The Indian language was mentioned, but none of the words were included like in the film. Likewise, the characters had more depth in the movie than the book. Though this may seem unusual, this was the case.

2) Writing was not the author’s main talent.

As a reading challenge from a friend, I read Collision Course by William Shatner. Despite being a Star Trek fan, I had no idea who the author was until halfway through the book. (This is because I know more character names than those of actual people.) Ultimately, the name of the author had no impact on my low rating for the book.

Some people make good writers. Others don’t. And sometimes people who are better at something else, end up writing poor books. Just because a person can write a book, doesn’t mean he/she should. It takes more than a big name to make a book successful. Often times, writing is 99% dedication and 1% talent. Dedication gets the work done, but talent makes it effective. Some authors’ talents lie elsewhere instead of with writing.

3) The book was based off the movie.

Basically, I’m not a big fan of fan-fiction. I’m a firm believer in the original writers getting the credit for their fictional worlds because they came up with the ideas. The main reason that some fan-fiction falls short is because readers cannot draw from the same experiences that the writer has already drawn from.

This is not to say that fan-fiction is completely worthless. Writing fan-fiction may be a fun writing prompt activity. Some writes may even manage to capture a character’s essence and an author’s style. But this is rare. Besides, there are plenty of books I wish people would write a based on movies and shows, such as Ladyhawke or Leverage, but that’s another story.

So, though many readers may discount the value of film in appraise of the written word, there are some cases, rarities, that a movie might actually be better than the book. Ultimately, neither books nor movies can be a perfect form of culture, and audiences may prefer one over the other. But if readers are going to claim to be avid, it’s important for them to tell the difference between a good book and a poor one.

Are there any book-to-movie adaptations where you considered the movie to be better? Why/why not?

Literary references: Michael Blake’s Dances with Wolves, William Shatner’s Collision Course.
Movie references: Dances with Wolves, Ladyhawke, Leverage, and Star Trek.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The #1 Thing Writers Want from Readers

Have you ever wondered what a writer’s biggest dream is? Honestly, many writers would like to have their stories end up on the bestseller list, receive a reward, and have a movie adaptation made. While these may be wonderful goals, more often than not, they may not happen, and instead many writers end up with more rejection letters than bestsellers. But that doesn’t mean those stories are worthless.

This month I’ll be focusing on things that readers should say to writers. So on the one hand, writers have struggles within the publishing market, and on the other hand they might get “But it’s a good story!” or “I really enjoyed it!” from friends in family. While purely positive feedback can be nice, it isn’t always beneficial when it conflicts with rejection or criticism.

Here are just a few things readers should keep in mind when talking to writers:

Friends should encourage their writer friends, not flatter them.

This has two dimension to it.

1) While it’s good to encourage your writer friends to submit and resubmit, sometimes stories have mistakes. Though many friends are tempted to skim over this and assure the writer that their story is fantastic no matter what, please don’t do this. Consider sports for example. If an athlete makes a mistake, like tripping, and a coach notices, friends shouldn’t pass this off as the coach being unable to see how great the athlete is. If there’s anything more harmful to a writer than rejection letters it’s dishonesty. Leave it up to a writer’s parents to tell him/her that he/she is the best writer since Shakespeare. (Thanks for all your encouragement, Mom!)
2) A writer’s artistic style will not always match up with every audience. This may cause rejection letters or bad reviews. If your writer friend is discouraged, it’s okay to encourage them, but it’s not beneficial to slam whoever turned down/critiqued a story. Leave the harsh words to villains and people who write poor book reviews.

The #1 thing writers want from readers is honest feedback.

For published authors, this may include an honest book review. Even if you don’t give a book 5 stars, providing constructive criticism can mean the world to a writer. Besides, book reviews are a good means of publicity. For unpublished authors, you can still help your writers by being honest. Who knows, if you provide enough support and critical feedback, you might even get to be a beta reader and get a sneak peek at a book before publication.

Writers may be wondering why particular stories are rejected or why some stories do better than others, but they don’t usually get such feedback from publishers. So they have to rely on you, dear readers (yes, and editors too), to tell them not only which story is good but why you believe that. Writers should enjoy constructive criticism. And if they don’t, they haven’t received enough of it yet.

Have you missed the first part of “The Proper Care and Feeding of a Writer”? Check out Part 1: Some of the Basics and Part 2: 7 Things No Writer Wants to Hear. Be sure to let me know if you think I’ve missed anything, and come back Dec. 20 for the conclusion: Gift Ideas for Writers.

Readers, how comfortable are you with constructive criticism? When is the last time you wrote a book review for a book you enjoyed? Writers, what else do you wish you heard from your readers?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Scanning Draft 3

There’s a reason writers call plot bunnies, well, plot bunnies. Perhaps they should call them Tribbles. Once you have one, you suddenly have ten and they never go away. Especially when you’re trying to write an essay or trying to sleep. I recently found a black-and-white, dystopian plot bunny wandering about and decided to house it in my little bunny hatch. (Aka my folder of story ideas.) Can you guess what else I found there? A really old bunny that developed into a novel, which I know call Breaking a Thief. I looked back on the original idea and laughed. Wow, had my story taken completely different turns than I had originally planned!

Pfeffer: my writing/editing buddy this summer.
She's not cuddly unless she's hiding from the wind.
Photo credit: Lori Klein
What had started out as historical fiction changed to medieval fiction with my own countries and towns. Characters came and went and others developed. Major plot points changed. Earlier this year, I posted my experiences rewriting giant portions of my novel (You can read about it here: Wrestling with Draft 2.) But the work didn’t stop there. After I set the novel aside for another month so I could take part in Camp NaNoWriMo, I dove right back into editing.

After a whole month dedicated to Visionary, a story with no plot, I was excited to get back to some structure in Breaking a Thief. I enjoyed the characters, the setting, the plot, all of which is vital to working on a story. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have stuck with it so long. In my third round of edits, I decided to try two new techniques to help me catch as many mistakes as I could.

First, I enlisted the help of several beta readers. (Thanks again, you lovely people!) I did this in cycles. After Draft 2, I got feedback from my first beta reader, then got feedback from another reader after Draft 3. Though these readers didn’t edit for me, they told me what they thought of the story and if there were any inconsistencies.
Perhaps the three most valuable things I learned from them was that some of my characters needed rounding out, whether or not a plot twist was obvious/plausible, and that my ending needed some serious work. And by serious work, I mean I rewrote it four different times. Though the extra comments meant a bunch of extra work, it was worth it to receive honest, critical feedback from my peers.

Then I read through the whole story again by reading each chapter twice in a row. In no way would I ever recommend this as a way to read a novel for fun, but two readings helped. First, I reacquainted myself with the chapter, getting to know what the story was trying to say. Then I would reread the chapter to analyze each sentence and see what the story was actually saying. Because of this long process, I would get through two or three chapters on a good day (that’s about 20-35 pages a day).

By the time I got to the midway point of my novel, I was sick of reading it. It was tedious, but I managed to look beyond the story and at the grammar and wording. Once I finished this process, I set the book aside and didn’t touch it for three weeks (During that time I worked on another project until my classes started. More on that story later! J)

Then I sent the story off to my editor. I recently got it back, and have been working on more edits throughout the week. Once I’m done editing, I’ll be off to sending out query letters to agents! Until that happens, I’ll keep writing, reading, editing. You name it. Talking about stories and ideas is fun too.
In fact, whenever I tell people I’ve written a novel, I get the age old question: “What’s it about?”

After my initial annoyance at this difficult question, I’ve learned to enjoy telling people about my story, which is easier now that I know the story inside-out. So now I say, “It’s about a thief.”
“Cool,” People typically say. “What does he do?”
I smile. “She seeks to become the greatest of all thieves by challenging a superior.”
Then I sit back and watch the shock on their faces as I defy stereotypes one character at a time. Silly readers. Whoever said all thieves had to be guys?
Writers, what does your editing process look like? Have you ever employed the help of beta readers?  Readers, what’s your favorite genre? I’m torn between several new ideas for my next story.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Freak: A Riddle Poem

Hint: There are two hidden meanings.
Happy Halloween, everybody! I don’t usually post random bits of poetry, but I recently wrote this and had to share it with you. It’s a riddle poem, so feel free to comment with your speculations of what the poem is about. The answer will be revealed Nov. 1. No cheating for those who’ve already heard it. Have a fantastic Saturday!


That’s what they call me.
That’s what I am. Freak of nature. Hours.
I spent hours working on it. I dove into the wind, freefalling
until I grabbed the first green mile marker, drawing my experiences along,
toiling, spinning, clawing. Isn’t it beautiful? The way silver catches the morning dew
and skewers it on a string? Perhaps you mayn’t consider my art so fine, for dragons and
monarchs both have succumbed to mummification at the work of eight appendages,
but bloodsuckers and creeps have met their doom at my work. Judge for yourself:
be you a victim, slapped in the face by my toils or an admirer from afar.
Either way, the silver is short lived, wrenched apart
in the wind, and tomorrow,
I’ll build another. 


Update *contains spoilers*:
This poem is about both a spider and a writer.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

7 Things No Writer Wants to Hear

Caution: High levels of sass. Read at your own peril!

Everybody has introductory questions they hate. You know the ones: in college it's “What’s your major?” and for nomads it’s “Where are you from?” The same goes for writers, though annoyance is not limited to first-time conversations. Below are some sure questions and statements to irritate your writer friends/acquaintances:

“What’s your story about?”

This is one of my pet peeves. It’s almost like the equivalent of asking somebody what his/her life is about. How do you put all that in one or two sentences? Writers (at least writers like myself) are generally thinkers and may require time to think over an answer like this. So don’t be surprised if I give out two completely different answers for the same story on the spot to two different people. Unless you are an editor/agent/publisher, please don’t ask this question.

Some alternate questions that writers don’t mind answering: “What genre is your story? Who is your target audience? Can you tell me about your protagonist? What’s the setting?” Etc. Go specific! Writers enjoy this kind of stuff.

“Oh! So it’s like [insert TV show/movie here]?”

If this is a follow up to question 1, the writer is likely irritated already. This question just makes it worse. As a writer, I already tend to over criticize and compare my half-finished work to something well-edited and successful. The above comment might not only make such a comparison but implies plagiarism on the writer’s part. (See The Greatest Literary Thieves.)

Alternate questions: “Where do you get your inspiration from?” Inspiration doesn’t imply that the writer is a plagiarizer.

“You should do [insert plot element] next!”

 Are you the writer of this story? No? Then feel free to write your own story.! While writers enjoy honest feedback, they don’t want people telling them how to write their book. Of course, writer’s still enjoy brainstorming plot elements. If they ask to brainstorm, you can throw in some ideas, but other times writers need to talk at you. If an idea isn’t plausible, let him/her know, but usually writers stumble upon epiphanies even if it sounds like utter nonsense to you.

Alternate phrases: “What do you think of [insert plot element]?” If the writer responds negatively, drop the subject.


“I’m writing a story about [insert complete synopsis].”

This one is tricky. It’s not that writers don’t want to hear about your story, but if you just met, or if the conversation just started, this might not be the time to add this. A general tip: don’t smother the writer, especially if the writer is an introvert. This might be the first time in who-knows-how-long she/he is talking aloud. Allow him/her to voice his or her thoughts.

If a writer asks you about your story, take it as compliment. Writers can make some of the best listeners. This isn’t to say that the writer should dominate the conversation. This principle of listening goes both ways.

Remember: Listen as much as you speak.

“Would you consider writing my life story?”

Not always phrased like this, but it’s pretty close. If a writer specializes in young adult fiction or poetry, they might not be interested. Just as there are different types of sports, there are different styles of writing. Writers may not specialize in all of them.

Alternate questions: “Do you enjoy/would you consider writing nonfiction?” If the answer is “yes,” you might consider building up to the main question.

“What do you mean you’re rewriting your book?”

This question implies that writers should always get it correct the first time and if they don’t, they’ve failed. This is simply not true! Writers may go through several drafts before they get it right, much less the way they like it.

Remember: Every writer is different. Some may work at a different pace or with a different system than others.  Even every story is different. The same writer may come out with several drafts for one story, but get another nearly correct the first time.

“Writing doesn’t pay.”

Correction: writing doesn’t pay well. But it can pay. And it’s not about the money. It’s about the expression through words and imagination.

Alternative phrases: “You must be a brave soul.” Okay, now I’m getting a little dramatic, but you get the picture. If you want a writer as a friend, don’t poke him/her in the eye.


Have you read the start of this series? Check out “The Proper Care and Feeding of a Writer: Some of the Basics.” And come back Nov. 15 for “Part 3: Things Writers Want to Hear from Readers.”

Readers, what are your thoughts on this? Writers, what would you add to this list?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Never Enough Books

Some of you might be wondering what a bunch of cupcakes has to do with books. First of all, I’ve been craving chocolate lately, and you may notice some of those little beauties have chocolate icing. (You can have the cupcake. I’ll take the icing. Now we’re both happy!) Secondly, both chocolates and books are delights of mine.

So, if cheap plots can be compared with potato chips, what about comparing good books to mouth-watering chocolate? The more chocolate, the merrier. Right? Or so people say. Is there really such a thing as not enough chocolate? Even for the greatest of chocolate lovers, like myself, tubs of ice-cream with five different flavors of chocolate can be overwhelming.
What about reading? Is there ever such a thing as too many books? Many books worms would laugh and say “No!” Really? That’s just how the chocolate lovers responded.

This summer I finished reading Anne of Green Gables for the first time, and one thing I found surprising was some of the talk about books. Both Anne and her best friend Diana enjoy reading fiction, much like myself, but Marilla (the woman who adopts Anne) and Mrs. Barry (Diana’s mother) believe both the girls read too much. In fact, in several instances the girls are discouraged from reading so much because it might ruin their eyes or detract from their ability to socialize.

Sound like something familiar today? The first thing that came to my mind is technology. Perhaps one of the main concerns of parents (or siblings) today is that children spend more time watching TV or playing video games than they do playing outside, hanging out with friends, or reading a good book. After reading Anne of Green Gables, it was surprising to think that parents may have seen fiction in the same destructive manner!

Of course, this book has to be considered in its own cultural context, way before the time of technologies we have today. But perhaps there has always been something throughout the centuries that detracted from socialization, exercise, or chores. In Anne’s time it was books, later it was the radio, then television, and today it’s video games and the internet. Who knows what it will be in the future.

But the question remains: are books still a distraction today? Perhaps they aren’t a major concern like different forms of technology because many children and adults don’t read. Yet that doesn’t mean that an abundance of books can’t hinder avid readers. While reading can provide a welcome escape, it can, at times, serve as a hindrance just like technology if readers aren’t careful.
After our most recent move, my sister was sitting around reading in a social situation when everybody else was greeting each other. I poked her and told her to come say hello to people. One guy behind me remarked, “Yeah, don’t let her do anything intellectual like read!” I actually fully support my sister’s reading, for it’s been a long struggle to encourage her to do so! But this man didn’t realize this was the way she avoided people. We’d just moved to a strange, new place. How could I expect her to socialize with complete strangers when I was the introvert and her the extrovert? When I had read to avoid people countless times before?

Yes, books can be a distraction. Sometimes there’s a fine line between reading as an enjoyable, intellectual activity to an antisocial, withdrawn one. It’s important for readers to recognize this line and know when to put the book down. After all, even Anne and Diana ended up good friends, and Anne came to be at the top of her class.
While it’s not a bad idea to pick up a book, don’t abandon the opportunity to make a friend. After all, other readers can engage in excellent bookish discussions. Like how there are too many books in the world for a person to possibly hope to read. It’s not that readers can never have enough books. It’s that readers can never have enough time.

How many books are on your shelf? Do they ever serve as a distraction? Bonus question: What’s your favorite type of chocolate? Go!

Literary references: L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Book Review: "The Shifter" by Chris T. Acadian

Reading The Shifter on my computer.

Book: The Shifter by Chris T. Acadian
Genre: Contemporary fiction, science
           fiction, young adult
Awards: None
My rating: 4/5 stars
One word description:  Intriguing

I had the privilege of meeting Chris T. Acadian in my creative writing class at Evangel University. Acadian spoke to our class and first proposed the potential of the fourth dimension, a topic that has baffled yet fascinated me from a young age, especially when connected with another book Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. But that’s a book for another time. Then Acadian introduced The Shifter and blatantly told the class we would not like the main character, Faedra Madison Mae. My original thought on that: “Challenge accepted!”

This fall, I dove into The Shifter, determined to enjoy reading about this protagonist. Three chapters in, I discovered Acadian was right. I didn’t like Faedra. She is arrogant and dislikes nearly every other character in the story. But, hard as it may seem, I found myself relating with her in so many ways, especially concerning her awkward nature around other people and the way she rarely voices her feelings. Ultimately, though an unlikeable protagonist, Faedra remains a character of strong convictions, making her admirable in other ways and contrasting her faults.

The story starts out in a seemingly ordinary way, filled with the everyday life of Faedra attending school. But the Institute for Dimensional Studies is not just any school, and Faedra isn’t your typical three-dimensional being. She’s a shifter with fourth-dimensional capabilities, and the story soon becomes about anything but ordinary life, with hints of super-human abilities. While the plot builds up to encounters with other shifters, the book never loses its touch of ordinary life with its supporting characters. 

At first, Acadian’s writing style was a little jarring. The story is written in first person, past tense (not unusual if you ask me), but there were very few of Faedra’s actual thoughts. She saw things and reacted. Life seemed to merely happen to her. The descriptions were rather minimal, and Faedra acted far more than she thought, even when she was alone. But, as the story progressed, Faedra spent less time letting life happen and more time doing something about it. Even Acadian’s writing style plays in with one of the novel’s major themes that one of the characters, Nic, mentions:
“I don’t care what bubble of self-pity you’ve lived in until now. I’m not going to let you be a little baby any longer…take my advice as you will. But life doesn’t happen to you; it happens because of you. Stop being so helpless and make your life happen.”
I gave The Shifter 4/5 stars for its slower place and seemingly confusing climax. There was a lot of build up throughout the story, but very little is actually resolved. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the story more and more as it progressed. My only complaint? When will there be a book two? Chris T. Acadian, you can’t end it there! In other words, I look forward to the sequel. I’d recommend this book for anybody interested in the possibilities of the fourth dimension or even a good book with human characters and adventures.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Proper Care and Feeding of a Writer: Some of the Basics

Caution: you might have one of these strange creatures living in your house. But wait! Before you grab your bug spray, consider the following. Do you know somebody who intentionally writes in the morning, writes in the afternoon, writes in the evening, writes when everybody else is asleep, writes during lunch breaks, or builds a time machine to have more writing time? If you answered yes to one or more of these, this strange organism is a writer.

Tip: Sometimes it's impossible to
tell whether this is a writer on a
good day or a bad one.
You may find these odd creatures flocking like pigeons to coffee shops or curled up in a dark corner like a recluse, weaving a plot or two. No two writers are alike. Sometimes they say peculiar things when they finally defeat writers block. Or maybe they collect silly phrases, like what just came out of your mouth (beware: writers will collect such things).
If you happen to have a writer friend, here are some things you might want to keep in mind:

Yes, writers may be weird, but that’s okay.

If you had the read the same story over and over and over, and it changed with each reading, you might go crazy too! Many writers will even do strange things in the name of research (skydiving, self-defense classes, climbing through windows, staring out the window, etc…). Just let them be. Unless, of course, they’re doing something illegal or something that might cause self-harm.

Writers are readers too.

That means they also have feelings. So before you completely butcher a writer’s story or attack a writer for killing off your favorite character, remember they’ve read their share of heartbreaking books. Besides, if you and the writer wanted a “happily ever after” ending, you both would have picked a different genre. Right?

Writers are hoarders.

They will collect everything you say. Everything you don’t say. Everything you do. Everything you don’t do. So stop avoiding the inevitable. Just be yourself. A writer’s best work comes from copying real life not playacting.

Tip: Cats aren’t the only ones plotting
world domination. Shhh, it’s a secret!

Writers blame things on their characters.

This is perfectly normal. You can blame things on the writer of his/her subconscious all you want. But don’t try to break writers’ abilities to give their characters realistic attributes. Sometimes this means writers allow their characters to make their own choices. Don’t try to debate it!

Sometimes writers need people to or talk at.

If a writer asks to discuss a plot point or character with you, this is great! Some days writers want feedback. Other days they just need to voice their story problems aloud. Even if their ramblings don’t make any sense to you, merely bouncing ideas off you can help them. If you’re not sure whether your writer friends want to talk with or at you, just ask. Writers spend a lot of time inside their own heads, so talking aloud can help them gain a new perspective.

Every writer is different.

There is no one-technique fits all. One writer may like coffee (like me!) while another might like tea (*cough* Faith *cough*). Some writers may find motivation in chocolate, and others may prefer sauerkraut. Hey, it’s possible! Get to know your writer friends. Ask them questions. And stick around for “The Proper Care and Feeding of a Writer: Part 2” coming next month for what not to ask!

Writers, do any of these points describe you? What would you add to this list?
Readers, how crazy do writers really seem? Or is this craziness news to you?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Importance of Poetry: A Journey of Acceptance

Poetry and I have an interesting relationship. For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed prose, especially fantasy and young adult fiction. But I haven’t always enjoyed poetry. In fact, there was a time I hated it. Why? Poetry was confusing, abstract, and (I thought) pointless.

I wondered why readers would want to trudge through something confusing with hopes of deciphering meaning. Wasn’t writing supposed to be clear and to the point? And for goodness’ sake, why did all poetry have to be so structured? If there was anything I didn’t like doing with my writing it was thinking within the box. Coloring in the lines. Conformity.

For years I hated poetry.

My sophomore year of college, I took Children’s Literature where reading and evaluating children’s poetry was a requirement. Of course, before taking the class I knew that there are many types of poetry, but I hadn’t taken the time to read many of them.

Ultimately, I selected “Ballad of the Wandering Eft” from Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night. The poem was short and straightforward, but it was full of imagery and told a narrative. It was a lovely poem. I began to wonder if perhaps not all poetry was bad. I moved on with my life, struggling through classical poetry for several more semesters.

It wasn’t until the spring semester of my junior year that I came to actually enjoy poetry. I was sitting with my friend Faith before Modernism and Postmodernism class when I came up with an idea for a poem. During this semester, I learned that philosophy is ten times more intimidating and baffling than poetry for me (leastwise when it comes to (post-)modern stuff). There’s nothing like good old philosophy to get my mind to work creatively.

I told Faith about my poem idea, becoming more excited as the idea developed. So she encouraged me, saying she’d never seen my so excited about writing a poem before. Which was true. I never had been so excited about poetry.

After class, I rushed back to my dorm room and started researching and scribbling. In the end, the poem turned out to be a mish-mash of movie quotes and some of my own words. The poem made a fun piece of performance poetry for Friday’s Epiphany Coffeehouse (Evangel’s monthly open mic event hosted by Epiphany Magazine staff).
So it was that I came to enjoy writing poetry.
My senior year, I took creative writing and wrote more poetry. Our class even visited the Springfield Art Museum to write poetry based on pieces of art. I wrote three poems based on three separate paintings. My final semester, the poems were displayed in the art museum next to the paintings. You can read more about it in the Springfield News-Leader.

It took a few years, but I went from hating poetry to accepting poems to enjoying and writing poetry. I learned that poetry can be an art form of its own. Since I can’t paint using acrylics or watercolors, I may as well use words.
I learned that poetry comes in different forms, much like prose, and can allow writers to think beyond mere structures. I learned that I enjoy free verse and lots of clear imagery. I learned that poetry can stretch the mind, and being open minded isn’t such a bad thing. After all, you can’t think outside the box, if you don’t at least open the lid a little bit.
In celebration of reading and writing poetry, I’ve included a short, free verse poem I wrote specifically for this post. It’s based on tourism vs. local life in Germany, and I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Book Review: "Stranger Things" by Erin Healy

Some books are easier to review than others, not necessarily because of the book but because of my writing style. I’m used to writing fiction instead of critiques, so I apologize for being a day late on my post. Without further ado, here is my latest review.

Such a captivating cover! I've got
a thing for pretty covers, can you tell?
Book: Stranger Things by Erin Healy
Genre: Christian fiction, suspense
Awards: none
My rating: 5/5 stars
One word description:  Eye-opening
I never win anything during raffles. You can imagine my surprise when I entered an online book scavenger hunt and received signed copies of Erin Healy’s The Baker’s Wife, Afloat, and Stranger Things. Of the three, Stranger Things is my favorite, hence the blog post. You can read my review for The Baker’s Wife here (I gave it 4/5 stars).
I put off reading Stranger Things during the school year because it was labeled as suspenseful, and it didn’t disappoint. I finished the book in two days. When I first started reading it, I didn’t know what to expect. I make it a policy not to read the back of books I own because of their tendency to give away major plot points (Caution: the back of Stranger Things does this).
Proof of my signed copy.
Stranger Things is a fictional story involving a pressing issue in society that we don’t always here about: human trafficking. The books is a reminder of humanity and tragedy, yet there are themes of hope woven throughout the story. Healy creates realistic characters, many of whom are not the kind I would have expected to like but liked nonetheless.
The story was heartbreaking yet inspiring. Heartbreaking because I would never want to see my own siblings in any of the book’s situations, yet inspiring because of how the main characters respond to their crisis. The book not only made me more aware of human trafficking, but also challenged me with the way I treat people, family members and strangers alike. There were so many takeaways from the story, but if had to pick the major one it would be this quote:
“‘If everybody just had one person who cared, everybody would be okay. Just one person.’” 
Because of its dark themes, I would not recommend Stranger Things to anybody under 15. I gave this book 5/5 stars for its eye-opening elements and theme of hope. I would recommend this book to anybody with a sister/daughter/girlfriend and those who enjoy suspenseful and thought-provoking stories.

Have you read any of Healy’s books? What did you think of them?
Ever won anything in a book giveaway? Comment below with the title!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Joys of Reading Aloud

Focus on the Family Radio Theatre has absolutely ruined audio books for me. Not to worry, I mean that in a good way. Back when I was a kid, we lived in Washington State, where my dad used to take my brother and I to visit Mt. Rainier, and along the way we would listen to The Chronicles of Narnia.
The audio dramas were and continue to be fantastic, more so than any of the films. Why? Because each drama mirrored the books practically word-for-word. And the books weren’t just read aloud. Each character had a voice, and several scenes had music, heightening the drama or the tension. It was like watching a film without the visuals.
So it was that at eight-years-old, I fell in love with The Chronicles of Narnia, and regular audio books were ruined forever. How could I listen to one person on a CD read on an on after that? But my delight in being read to was different whenever family members or teachers read aloud. In third grade, one of my teachers read Junie B. Jones and Methuselah’s Gift to the class, and at home my dad read The Hobbit to my brother and me.
As a child, I grew to enjoy books so much that I tried to read way above my reading level even when I didn’t understand what I was reading. And today, my family continues to read aloud. Last summer, we took turns rereading the entirety of The Hobbit as a family, and every year we read the Bible together.
But not all of my experiences listening to books have been rewarding. While my brother is an auditory learner, I am a visual and kinesthetic learner. My brother can recite most of any film after watching it once, but I find it difficult to retain whatever I hear aloud.
Often times whenever somebody is reading aloud, my thoughts wander. This can even happen, believe it or not, when I’m reading aloud. While my voice is saying the words on the page, my thoughts are somewhere else completely. Talk about bizarre.
Nevertheless, I have found ways to concentrate whenever somebody else reads aloud. I fiddle with something in my hands (a slinky, an eraser, a candle, etc.) or I read along if another copy of the book is available.
Of course, I still like reading silently. I do it all the time. But there is a certain joy to reading aloud. It can bring people together into a narrative, and each story becomes a shared journey instead of a solitary one.
Coffee and stories?
What a perfect combination!
Not only is reading aloud great for readers, but it’s also beneficial to writers. Reading an unfinished draft aloud can help writers catch their mistakes, or reading a polished piece to others can be a great way for writers to share their work.
Back when I attended Evangel University, I was on staff for Epiphany, the university’s literary magazine. Once a month, we hosted Epiphany Coffeehouse in the student union where students and professors would read their original poetry, stories, or essays.
At first, the prospect of reading one of my stories in front of my peers and professors was quite terrifying. But after several months, sharing my stories with others became quite fun, and I always relished listening to works by my friends and acquaintances.
So if you’re a writer and find yourself with the opportunity to read aloud at an open mic event or at a coffeehouse, go for it! There’s nothing quite like hearing writers read their works in their own voices. You never know what kind of people you’ll meet or what kind of friends you’ll make. 
As for readers, remember that reading can be a relaxing, solitary experience, but it’s also an excellent way to spend time with others. Statistics even show that children who are read aloud to are more likely to enjoy reading throughout their lives. If you don’t believe statistics, take my own story as evidence. Who knows, you might instill the love for reading in a child or two. They’ll thank you for it one day.
Which books (if any) have you read with your family? Has reading aloud increased your delight in reading?
Literary references: C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones books, Mary Elizabeth Edgren’s Methuselah’s Gift, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and the Holy Bible.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

6 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got Published

What writer doesn’t want to see their name in print? As a teenager, I was determined to publish my first book at age 14. Instead, my first short story wasn’t published until I was a freshman in college. That’s not to say that dreams can’t come true. Things just didn’t turn out the way I had expected. Here are just a few of the things I learned along the way that I wish I knew beforehand:

1) Publishing is a long process.

And I mean long. Okay, not like getting your doctorate long (though it could be…). But publishing a short story can last 3+ months, and that’s not including the writing or editing processes. Although I have not yet published a novel-length work, simply writing one has taken months. I can only image how long it takes to publish something of much length.

So you’re thinking about publishing a Christmas story? You’d better start writing it in September or sooner.

2) It’s okay to submit more than once.

Some magazines or publishing houses don’t accept simultaneous submissions but others do. Make sure you check each company’s guidelines. When it comes to publishing, it’s important to be persistent. Keep submitting for publication after publication. As I mentioned before, I didn’t get my first short story published until I was a freshman in college. After that, I didn’t get another short story published until my senior year.

I wish I had submitted more often and before I reached college. Even if the only tangible results meant more rejection letters, at least I would’ve had the experience.

3) Not everybody will read my story.

We live in a world where (sadly) not everybody enjoys reading. Just because I got a short story published didn’t mean that every person I met would demand to read it. While I thoroughly enjoy reading, many of my family members will never read for pleasure. Even though I have three short stories published, some of the people I know well have never read them.

4) Rejection will happen.

Rephrased: rejection may happen to some stories and not to others, but it will happen. Before I got published, I acknowledged rejection as a fact somewhere in the back of my mind. I was fortunate enough to have my first submission published, but afterward I had multiple rejections. Each publication is fantastic, but it will not guarantee the next one.  

5) Acceptance will happen.

Unless you give up, you’re likely to get something published if you’re persistent enough. But wait? Isn’t acceptance the goal of submitting a story? Well, yes. But it is also quite terrifying. Publication means more people will read my work, and I always wish I knew what they will think. Will they like it? What if they don’t? And so on. If there’s anything more terrifying for me than getting rejected, it’s getting accepted.

6) There’s more to being a writer than being an author.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to be published. But the delight I felt after I received my first letter of acceptance didn’t last. After I finished the final edits, my involvement with the story was over. I didn’t go back to read my story, except maybe at somebody’s request to read it aloud. For me, that particular story was over, so I went back to writing.

This is not to say that publication is some evil dragon that destroys writing. It’s not. But it’s not a glamorized ultimate goal for writers. If you write and aren’t published yet, you’re an aspiring author, not an aspiring writer. Writers are called writers because they write whether they’re published or not. Publishing is just one way to share that writing with others.
My dear writer friends, here’s to more submissions, (hopefully) fewer rejections, and more writing! Don’t stop now!

What are some things you wish/want to know about publishing? What are your thoughts on the process?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Camp NaNoWriMo 2015

At the beginning of last month, I set out to write 50,000 words in one month. I’d always wanted to take part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, held in November) before but never had the time. Until I learned about Camp NaNoWriMo, which took place in April and July (I opted for July due to college). So after 31 days, I have 50,038 words and a complete story, Visionary.

Here is the working premise: Sometimes, it only takes a dream to wake up. All Hannah Davidson has known is the life of a typical American kid. When she is thrust 2,000 years back in time with no explanation, she must learn how to survive on the streets. She hopes it’s all a dream, but when she finally gets to sleep, Hannah wakes up in yet another life with family members she’s never met. Hannah wonders if she will ever find her way back home, not realizing that her deepest beliefs are about to be tested.
Below are just a few of the takeaways from my experience during Camp this July!

Highlights from my daily journal of experiences:

Day 1: Our building caught fire! Usually, I write a scene with fire somewhere around the middle of the book when I’m stuck. Not at the beginning when the ideas are (semi) flowing. Ironically, a fan started the fire. No, the building did not burn down, and all my books are fine.
Day 13: Inspiration. This day was probably the day I wrote the most. I had a cappuccino in the morning, added some music, and wrote 3,000 words. I also took the time to write earlier in the day instead of trying to cram everything in before I went to bed.
Day 19: Discovery. As I tried to think of something to record for this day, I realized the opposite themes in the novels I’ve written lately (Visionary and Breaking a Thief). I’d worried that they would be too similar because both protagonists live double lives. This day I realized how they are different. As for the differing themes, well, I’ll leave that up to readers to find out for themselves (I wouldn’t want to give everything away).

Day 21: No progress. From July 20-22, the movers came to pack out our house (I don’t post this kind of thing at the time for security purposes). Although I didn’t write anything towards my story the first two days, I found packing to be very inspirational. And by inspirational, I mean boring. It’s amazing how many scene ideas I can come up with as I watch somebody wrap the 50th piece of furniture. Oh, and if velociraptors were still alive, I’m pretty sure they would sound like the tape rollers. Just saying.

Day 25: Catching up. This was a productive day, and I even got to relax a little. What’s more, I got to write something that didn’t involve this story, which was a special treat. Sometimes I feel as though writing can be more enjoyable if it’s not mandatory. For example, I come up with the best story ideas when I’m trying to write a paper. It just stands to reason that I can work on one story idea while I've promised to write another. I actually find this can be helpful. If I get tired of one story, I can just switch to the other and work on that one for a while.  

Day 31: Last day of Camp NaNoWriMo. I worked on a bunch of paperwork (4 hours’ worth! Ugh!) and finished my novel. Suffice to say, my post-paperwork writing was perhaps some of the best I’ve written so far because it had a scene with pancakes. Yum! 

For a full list of my daily reflections, you can check out my Twitter profile here.

Things I enjoyed:

Being able to write 2,500 words on some days because I have no life.

This blog post, which served as a welcome distraction from my story. Come on, you didn’t actually think I wrote this in one day, did you? (I also redesigned my blog as another means of procrastination. What do you think?)

Getting back into writing. For the longest time, I didn’t know which story I should write next. I’m still not sure if Visionary was the right one. But I came to realize that if I never actually decided on one and stuck with it, that I would never get anywhere. So here’s to projects that may not be used but help get writers out of their ruts.

My daily Twitter reflections. I stopped journaling every night because I began staying up until 2 a.m. at times, and it usually takes me 30 minutes to journal. The account helped me remember some things throughout this time.  

Things I would do differently next time:

Not move/travel in the middle of writing a novel. Seriously though, have you ever tried to pack all your household goods while trying to meet a daily word count?
Actually have an outline. In May, I had graduation, then I went on four international vacations, and I finished the second draft for my previous novel. I guess you could say I was too busy to write an outline. That’s not exactly true. I did have time, a little anyway, but I just didn’t use it to give myself the direction I needed.
Develop my characters more. This may have also kept characters from randomly popping up, though I’m sure they’d do this anyway. By the end of the story, I had 17 characters with names. My last novel (about 300 pages) had 9. Pretty sure some characters will disappear with revisions.
Of course, this story was like many first drafts: fun but rough. It will need revisions, but it was still good to write. Whether or not I will ever return to edit this story is another matter. Next year, I plan to take part in NaNoWriMo again, but I may choose another month due to grad school. Until then, I shall return to editing and plotting outlines.
If you have ever participated in NaNoWriMo, what was your experience like? Did you have any insights, funny stories, or excellent lines?