Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018 Books in Review

This year, I set out to read 17 types of books, the main goal being quality over quantity. As far as numbers go, I read 100. As for how many of those books actually met my reading goal, you’ll just have to read and find out!

Don’t worry, I’m not going to be talking about books I didn’t enjoy unless they happened to be a part of my goal. Books that earned a five-star rating are marked.

1) At least one poetry collection. (Not a novel in verse.)

A Boy’s Will, North of Boston, and Mountain Interval by Robert Frost.

Turns out I like selected poems from Robert Frost. There’s maybe one or two of the poems in these books that I remember aside from the famous “The Road Not Taken.” I prefer “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening” from his New Hampshire collection, but I didn’t make it that far in the complete works.

2) Two rereads.

Yes, I own several books with movie covers, and yes, I like them. Judge me.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (5/5 stars), A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (5/5 stars), Methuselah’s Gift by Mary Elizabeth Edgren (5/5 stars), Stardust by Neil Gaiman, and The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis (5/5 stars).

I think I like rereading books! Maybe I can calm down now? What is this “calm” I write of?

3) Three nonfiction books.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, A Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros, The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery, Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey by Simon Armitage, The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper (5/5 stars), and the Bad*** Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer.

Since when do I enjoy philosophy books? 2018 apparently.

Also, I have very eclectic taste in nonfiction. I thought I’d read more serious stuff (like astronomy and art) and ended up reading about octopuses. Yep, it’s octopuses not octopi.

The House on Sugar Beach, A Philosophy of Walking, and The Bad*** Librarians are pretty serious though.

4) Four classics.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (American classic), Kindred by Octavia A. Butler (sci-fi classic; totally counts), The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (children’s classic), Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada (German classic), and Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs (American classic).

There I go with the sea creatures again! The Old Man and the Sea explores the joys and trials of fishing, and The Jungle Book even features a story about a sea lion.

5) Five indie-published books.

The Beast of Talesend, The Tomb of the Sea Witch, and The Stroke of Eleven by Kyle Robert Shultz; Colors of Fear and Flames of Courage by Hannah Heath; Embassy by S. Alex Martin; The Crystal Tree by Imogen Elvis; and The Lake of Living Water: A The Firstborn’s Legacy Short Story by Beth Wrangler; Antiheroes by by Kyle Robert Shultz, E.V. Dawson, Hannah Heath, Beth Wangler, Nate Philbrick, J.E. Purrazzi, and K.L. + Pierce; and Masters and Beginners by Daley Downing.

I didn’t mean to pick such short books: the shortest being 19 pages, the longest 356. It just sorta happened. I also think it’s a trend for the indie authors whom I follow to write compact books and short stories. *shrugs*

6) One book published before 1800.

Paradise Regained by John Milton.

Yes, only one. I started it near the end of November, so can you blame me? Having read and wrote on its predecessor, Paradise Lost, for my dissertation, I thought it appropriate to finally pick up this one. Though I wasn’t as drawn to the story as I was in Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained certainly has some excellent principles.

7) One book over 1,000 pages long.

Soooo… I didn’t quite make this one.

Perhaps the longest book I read was Obsidio at 615 pages. The book that felt the longest was probably The Final Empire at 541 pages, and those pages were long. I know neither are thousand-page books, but I did read a total of 29,400 pages this year. In 2019, I’ll start my bigger goals a little earlier, like I did in 2017 with Moby-Dick (Jan. 1 through Aug. 24) and Les Miserables (Oct. 6 through Dec. 12).

Considering how many of my challenges I actually met, I’m pretty proud of myself. Next year maybe I’ll fully meet each goal.

Bonus: Novels in Verse

Audacity by Melanie Crowder, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, Somewhere Among by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu.

I read my first novel in verse back in 2016, and I’ve been hooked ever since. This one wasn’t an initial goal, but I wrote a whole post on why I like this type of poetry, and I eventually want to write a novel in verse. So I had to read more of them! 

Other Books I Enjoyed

The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen (5/5 stars; see book review)
Ender’s Saga by Orson Scott Card (especially Xenocide; bought the series)
A Conspiracy of Stars by Olivia A. Cole (see book review; bought it)
A Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. Drews (see book review; pre-ordered)
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (see book review)
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan (see book review; want to buy)
The Art of Feeling by Laura Tims
The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
Beren and Lúthien by J. R. R. Tolkien (bought it)

Looks like I read 16 out of 17 target books. Maybe next year I’ll challenge myself to read more books I actually own. Seriously, not checking out books from the library and forcing myself to read books on my own shelves was hard. Rewarding, but hard all the same.

Let’s chat! What kind of books did you read in 2018? Do we share any books read? What are your reading goals for 2019?


Sunday, December 16, 2018

3 Tips for Writing Seasonal Stories

Now before anybody starts freaking out about or praising my “politically correct” title, allow me to clarify: I will not just be talking about Christmas stories but also about stories set in specific seasons whether it be Christmas or All Saints Day (Nov. 1, DE), the Fourth of July (US) or Guy Fawkes Day (Nov. 5, UK). However, I will be focusing a lot on Christmas stories for my examples because the holiday is nearly upon us, but these tips can apply to various holidays.

1) Consider the Literature Written about that Season

Research. Research. Research.

Ask yourself what are the themes that are usually connected with this season? What do the settings look like? What makes the literature worthwhile? How can I write something unique?

When it comes to Christmas stories, I don’t necessarily enjoy ones filled with white Christmases (I’ve never had one) and mistletoe (not a romance fan either), but I do enjoy narratives with realistic characters and great themes.

2) Please No More Stereotypes

A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life are among my favorite Christmas movies because they’re not your typical everything-is-perfect Christmas stories. I wonder what Charles Dickens was thinking when he wrote his famous book. “You know what Christmas stories really need? How about a stuffy businessman, ghosts, and death?” It’s a Wonderful Life, on the other hand, hardly takes place during Christmastime at all. Not really. And it’s a story about a man contemplating suicide. Merry Christmas—here’s more death (potentially).

Yet both stories have been considered classics for years. Why? Because in light of darkness, they offer hope.

Christmas is a time about love and hope, certainly. But that doesn’t mean the day is exempt from tragedy. During WWI, troops on both the German and British ceased fighting to celebrate Christmas Day only to resume fighting the next. When I was a kid, my dad was deployed in Afghanistan, and we got to meet up with him for Christmas, only to have him go back after a week. Another time, when I was a teenager, my dad was the on-call duty chaplain, meaning he had to carry a government cell phone with him and be ready to respond to any emergencies regarding the military—and he had to go counsel the wife of a service member who committed suicide on Christmas morning.

Even Mary and Joseph fled with young Jesus because King Herod was trying to kill him and massacring the toddlers and infants in Bethlehem.

Ignoring tragedies won’t make them go away—they only feed taboos. That’s not hope. That’s fear.

“Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”—C. S. Lewis

3) Get Ready to Write Outside the Season

Perhaps one of my favorite facts about It’s a Wonderful Life is that the film was shot during the summer and that the actors were sweating wearing winter coats.

Writing is similar. If you can write, edit, pitch, edit again and again and again and publish and market a Christmas story before the Eve, HOW? Marketing itself is a long process, and even the fastest writers and editors are dependent on an attentive audience. While you can write a certain story during its set season, it’s not practical to only write then.

When I started writing “The List”, I was listening to Christmas music for inspiration in July 2014. Submissions for Splickety ran from August to September, and most of my edits took place during October/November. Though the magazine released December 5, I didn’t receive my author copies until January 2015. All that for a 1,000-word story.

If you’re going to write about a particular season, prepare to be focused on it for a while, even longer than the season itself lasts.

There you have it. And because I’m not politically correct…

Let’s chat! What are some of your favorite Christmas stories? Do you have any tips for writing stories about certain seasons?


Film & Literary references: Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, and the Holy Bible

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Poem: Pine Trees

I had a hard time picking a poem for this month. I haven’t been doing a lot of creative writing lately and nearly ran out of original poetry. Then I remembered some of my favorite poems from my undergrad writing class.

This one in particular is loosely inspired by some of my childhood memories of Washington, aka the evergreen state. I spent seven years of my life there, a pretty long time for a military brat. Of course, when I say loosely inspired, I mean loose. My dad did deploy to Afghanistan, but the rest of the family and I were living in North Carolina at the time. After a year, my dad came home.

Here’s to the soldiers deployed this Christmas season. Here’s to the spouses and children waiting for their return. Here’s to the families living overseas.

You are not alone.

Pine Trees

In green they mock fall’s bright red-orange décor
to show off leaves where small squirrels abide
with naught but cones for life on forest floor.
My friends and I, we’d build small forts to hide
pretending tales were life with every stride.
Like sweets, the sap did cling to child’s small hands
and time blew through the trees with open fronds.

The evergreens wore their cold cloak of snow
among the dead bushes from which we picked
berries until he left. Would that I knew
safety was guaranteed, but stars were pricked
by tall toothpicks. For pines, the world’s not strict.
For one long year where trees upward did press,
I stood beneath the boughs now fatherless.

Then pines sang songs of lights and frailty—
One snap. One ax for Christmas time all ‘round.
Soft smell, strong hearts for God and our country,
like stumps uprooted from their ground,
he left a hole. Still there, old wound,
the pines, they stand in mist shrouded from sight,
empty patches sinking into the night.


Don’t forget to vote on your favorite poems on Word Storm from 2018.

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Let’s chat! What are your thoughts on the poem? Any fellow military brats out there? What’s the longest you’ve lived in one place?

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Book Review: Antiheroes

I received an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review. I want to thank the Phoenix Fiction Writers for their anthology and for helping me practice how to properly spell the word “antiheroes.” (Nailed it!) All opinions are my own.

As this book is not a traditional novel but rather a short story anthology, I found myself confronted with the unique pursuit that was writing a review. With so many different authors and stories, it hardly seems adequate to evaluate one story based on another. So, I thought I’d break up my review in a similar fashion to the short stories with mini reviews and a precursor review of the book as a whole.

Book: Antiheroes 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: 4/5 stars
Awards: None (yet!)
Year published: 2018
Seven-word description: A story a day keeps boredom away.

Some of the stories work well as stand alone narratives, referencing but not depending on other novels, other stories are a little harder for me to grasp. Overall, the fantasy stories made more sense, not that the science fiction ones were bad. I’m just saying that, as independent stories with unique world building and character development, the fantasy ones worked better for me.


“The Wolf at the Door” by Kyle Robert Shultz

Don’t read this. Don’t look at a single word past this introduction.

I’m sorry to say I followed the advice, at least for a few minutes. I was sitting at my computer when I first downloaded the e-book, then moved to my bed for more comfortable reading. Author of the Beaumont and Beasley series, Shultz is brilliant at writing fairy tale retellings. Though this story references characters from the series, it can be understood and read on its own.

Reminiscent of the tale of Red Riding Hood, the story follows one Wilhelmina Grimm to a village in the woods. And that ending, though! I definitely didn’t expect that.

Overall Thoughts: Best Plot Twist

“Vengeance Hunter” by Hannah Heath

“Quila turned away. ‘I would rather starve than live on the blood of innocents.’”

I don’t usually read stories about vampires, but wow! That one was good.

I was first introduced to Heath’s writing by her short story Skies of Dripping Gold, and I’ve been hooked on her stories ever since. Her themes are amazing. Yes, even in a story told from the perspective of an antihero who harvests blood for her people. Creepy. *shudders*

My only question: is it plausible to harvest blood from a person after they’re dead without compromising the blood? I mean, sure, it’s a story about vampires, but still.

Overall Thoughts: Best Themes

“The Word Thrower” by Beth Wangler

“Words are sharp; wield them kindly.”

Several of Wangler’s books are on my TBR list, but I haven’t read much more than her short stories. While I may not have much to compare Wangler’s work to (yet), I still enjoyed this story and the way it explores how words have power and how they might have even more power if certain people have the ability to speak and have their words become reality.

I’m still not sure whether or not Dax counts as an antihero, though. I mean, I’m pretty sure I get what the author is going for, but still. *shrugs*

Overall Thoughts: Most Thought Provoking

“The Astounding Mortal Peril of Denna Dorwen” by Nate Philbrick

“When six o’clock tea-time settled over the Dragon Tooth Curiosity Shop, Denna Dorwen found herself suspended by the blouse from a peg on the wall, contemplating her own imminent doom.”

Well that was entertaining! I was first introduced to Philbrick’s work when I read his novel Where the Woods Grow Wild, a light-hearted fantasy adventure with great characters. Philbrick doesn’t disappoint with this short story, either. His writing style is witty and entrancing, and the plot twists took me by surprise. Seriously, I should have seen that coming!

The only thing is that I’m not sure whether to root for Denna or not. I’m leaning toward not. Antiheroes are so complicated.

Overall Thoughts: Best Antihero

Science Fiction

“Stealing Freedom” by J.E. Purrazzi

I’m sorry to say I don’t remember this one very much. I like the idea that Koya seems to be some sort of cyborg with some pretty cool abilities, but nobody seems to view his physical appearance in a positive light. That and he doesn’t seem to take a very active role in his own story. The story ended on a sort of cliffhanger, though, so perhaps there’s more to be told.

Overall Thoughts: Most International

“Gynoid” by K.L.+Pierce

This story is about a balance between logic and emotion, human and artificial intelligence. I liked the uniqueness of the writing style. Though it threw me off at first, I came to appreciate it more as the story went on. And the narrative introduced me to some terms I hadn’t understood before.

I’m not sure I fully understand this story. There were organizations I’m quite sure what their purpose was, much less what their acronyms stand for. Perhaps it’s meant to be a part of another novel I haven’t read?

Overall Thoughts: Most Scientific

“Striker” by E.B. Dawson

“I may not be religious, but I think my mother would have said that no scientific procedure can remove a man’s soul; he has to give it up willingly. And I’m not gonna do that.”

I had read one of Dawson’s novels before and didn’t care for it, but her short story in this anthology had to be my favorite in the sci-fi category. The plot follows Danny, a government agent with enhanced abilities known as a Striker, as he goes rouge and embarks on a self-imposed mission of vengeance. With stellar world building (pun intended), well-developed characters, and thought-provoking themes, this story is everything I enjoy about sci-fi.

My only complaint is the cliffhanger. I need more!

Overall Thoughts: Best Suspense

In all, I gave the Antiheroes anthology 4/5 stars for some great stories and some confusing ones, some heroic actions and some less than heroic. But hey, we’re talking about antiheroes here. Whoever asked for perfection? I’d recommend this anthology to readers of science fiction and fantasy looking for some interesting and thought-provoking stories.

Interested in Antiheroes? Have you read it yet? You might also enjoy these books: Colors of Fear by Hannah Heath, The Beast of Talesend by Kyle Robert Shultz, and Where the Woods Grow Wild by Nate Philbrick.

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


Sunday, November 18, 2018

3 Types of Writers You Should Know

I’ve learned a lot studying for my MBA, from marketing techniques to filling out an Excel spreadsheet. Yeah, I’m still trying to figure out that second one. It’s a steep learning curve. But one of the things I’ve enjoyed so much about the course is the way the professors encouraged each student to study what they’re interested in—particularly the area of business they wanted to pursue.

My interest lies with publishing and book retail. I did projects on various companies, from Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing to Barnes & Noble to my own idea for an independent bookstore.

One particular piece of advice that I’ve taken from my studies has been concerning leadership and learning. If you want to improve your skill, you should know three different types of people. And I thought, “Hey! This can apply to writing as well.” So I’ve put the following categories into writer’s terms.

The Student: A Writer with Less Skill

When it comes to learning, one of the best teachers is experience. Another is teaching. I’ve heard it said that if you can’t explain a concept in simple terms, then you don’t really understand it.

Not only do students help me refresh my memory on a concept I’ve heard about a million times (e.g. what is POV?), but they also teach me things I may have forgotten or may have missed (e.g. new words!). When it comes to classes where I’ve taught writing, I like to review the material myself and do extra research so I really know what I’m talking about. The same goes for editing or beta reading. Just because I may have been writing for years doesn’t give me an excuse not to pick up my Chicago Style Handbook, Writing the Breakout Novel, or even the dictionary.

Yes, talking to a less-skilled writer may make you feel smart, but it’s also a great way to pass on knowledge.

The Ally: A Writer with the Same Skill Level

The allies are perhaps the most fun to hang out with. No offense to the mentors or the students, but it’s easiest to make references and jokes when you better understand where the person is coming from.

Writers with a similar skill level also make great critique partners. That’s not saying you shouldn’t have somebody with more skill look over your writing. You probably should. Writers whom you can easily relate with are pretty good at catching mistakes you may have missed and critiques are easier to receive when they come from your peers.

That and when you’re done talking about your stories—Haha! That’ll never happen—you can talk about the latest books you’re reading.

The Mentor: A Writer with More Skill

I like to think of myself as a humble writer, but if I’m going to be completely honest, sometimes I can be particularly arrogant. I’ve been writing since I was twelve; I earned an M.A. in English Literature; and I’ve self-published a novelette series. (See, I even know what novelette means!)

Recently, I was put in charge of the writing group at my local library, and I was super excited to kick off our get together for the fall. Two people aside from myself showed up, one of whom is a published author (with an agent and everything!). When we got around to talking about querying agents, the author switched into teacher-mode and went into some of the details I feel like I’d heard or read countless times before. I wanted to say I already knew what she was talking about, but I kept my mouth shut for the benefit of the other writer who hadn’t heard it.

I had to remind myself that sometimes it’s okay to listen to advice instead of show off what I already know. Even though the meeting didn’t go quite as I expected, I still walked away with some valuable advice on showing emotion in writing, something I’ve struggled with for a while.

Mentors help keep writers humble. At least they do for me. While they can also make me feel uncomfortable sometimes, what with my lack of skill or review of concepts I already know, they can still help me learn.

If you haven’t already, find a writing mentor. You don’t have to go and stalk the writer closest to you (actually, please don’t), but ask for advice. This mentor can be a teacher, an indie author, a traditionally published author—so long as they have more experience than you. You may just learn something.

Let’s chat! How many of the writer types do you know? When’s the last time you talked with a writing mentor? What are they like?


Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Joys of Rereading

Minimalization can be pretty important.

Sometimes more is less, whether it’s having fewer knickknacks (do I really need 500 bookmarks or twenty-five?) or using fewer words in a story or blog post. Because my family tends to move at least once every three years, I even have to limit my book collection. Books mean weight, and more weight means more money.

This past year, we’ve paired down some more, and I got rid of more books. *gasp* But I only got rid of the books I knew I wouldn’t read again. The ones I bought on impulse and didn’t care for. The books I liked but couldn’t remember enough to want to keep it.

My reader goal is to own only books I like. The ones I know I’ll reread and reread again. The ones that are signed. The ones with covers that are falling apart because I read them so much. The ones with notes in the margins.

Then again, minimalization is great… but I’ve never understood people who don’t like buying books because “Why would you want to read it again if you already know how it ends?” To which I like to reply, “Why not?”

So here it is, a semi-brief case for owning books to reread.

1)      Rereading great books means no due date.

I like visiting the library so much, I often leave with way too many books. Every now and then I have to return a book without having even started it. Which then makes me feel guilty for not having read the book and messing up the library’s statistics for books read. At least I don’t have to worry about library fines because military libraries rock and rely more on the honor system. I’m dreading the idea of one day checking out books from a civilian library.

With books I own and want to reread, I don’t have to worry about a due date. Of course, this also means sometimes, they’re harder to start because I feel like I have all the time in the world. Once I get started on a reread, though, I cannot be stopped.

2)      Rereading comes with fewer disappointments.

That’s not to say that your opinion on the book won’t change. Maybe it will. And that’s okay. But when you pick up a book you’ve read before, you know what you’re getting yourself into. If you choose one you gave five stars, you’re probably less likely to wind up giving it two stars upon finishing it again. Whereas books you’ve never read before can be pleasantly surprising or they can be incredibly disappointing. You don’t know.

Rereading is like revisiting an old friend.

3)      Every time you read a book, you have a different perspective.

When I first read The Tale of Desperaux as a kid, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But when I picked it up as a teenager, for some reason, I didn’t like it at all. Then, when I reread it for a class in Children’s Literature during my undergrad, I liked it again. I must have been a weird teenager because my reading tastes have switched since then.

Every time I read a book, my perspective is different though. I don’t just read a book for the sake of reading a book. I read it having enjoyed (or not enjoyed) the book before it. I may pick up a fantasy book after having been immersed in nonfiction. Or maybe I’ll start a middle grade novel one after another and then switch to adult fiction.

Then there’s life. The books I read during midterms weeks are the same books I read after I finished my first graduate degree, but that doesn’t make me the same person. I have more experiences and a slightly different view.

No matter how many times you read the same book, the experience will not be the same.

4)      Rereading helps you discover new things!

When I first picked up The Scorpio Races, I almost didn’t finish it. Say what? This from the person who won’t stop ranting about how good it is. I checked it out from the library during the summer when my professor posted which books we’d be reading for YA fiction the next semester, but I didn’t make it past the prologue. Later, I bought the book for class and read the entirety then, starting from the beginning. I discovered that I could really like some slower-paced books with just a smidge of romance and a lot of blood. Nearly three years later, I picked up the book again, having completely forgotten why I enjoyed the book so much.

Similarly, my family and I have a Lord of the Rings marathon once a year. Because I tend to remember plots pretty well, when I’m re-watching movies, I start predicting what will happen in the next scene before it happens. Before I know it, my mind is three scenes ahead and then I get frustrated because the movie is so slow. With the watching The Lord of the Rings, I started focusing on certain characters, their mannerisms and character development, so by the time I got to the end, I could enjoy the movies as a whole instead of mentally skipping ahead. I like to apply this same focused technique to rereading as well, whether it’s focusing on the writing style, the dialogue, or the character development.

Reading acquaints readers with the plot and the characters. Rereading helps readers get to know them even better. Reading is an introduction, but rereading is a friendship.

5)      Rereading is rewarding.

Sure, it’s fun to have books up on my shelf to look at and show off to all my fellow readers. With all the time I spend collecting my treasured books, what good are they if I don’t actually read them? Going to the library is good, yes. But it’s important to spend time on books you’ve invested money and space to.

After all, rereading isn’t just educational. It’s also fun.

Let’s chat! What’s your stance on reading a book once vs rereading it? How often do you reread books? What’s one book you’ve lost count of how many times you’ve read it?


Literary references: Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Desperaux, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and Mary Elizabeth Edgren’s Methuselah’s Gift