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.


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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?