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.