Thursday, May 31, 2012

Read, Write, Edit, Repeat

I've plunged headfirst into the world of writing - specifically, reading about writing.  I feel as if I'm a desert cactus, surprised and delighted by a rainstorm and soaking up every drop within reach for that not-so-rainy day when I feel parched and uninspired.

This year my life themes seem to be discipline, learn, and opportunity.

I have the opportunity to learn discipline, specifically in writing, but it seems to be playing out in other areas as well -- fitness (healthy eating/exercise/sleep), housekeeping (keeping the kitchen/bathroom clean, basic organization so things run smoothly, schedules, etc.), and in relationships (maintaining a healthy balance of spending time with friends and time at home, time with the spouse and time alone).

It's strange to see it play out so, but a happy change from my chaotic post-adolescent attempt at living.

(Which isn't to say I'll fall back into that at times, but the more days I exercise discipline, the quicker it becomes a habit)

I'm so grateful for writers who open their closets and let the skeletons come out -- to actually see a story up close and take it apart to learn how to put it back together is a valuable experience.

I read a piece of advice that mentioned apprenticeships, particularly with writing.  This is something any writer can do.  "Apprentice" yourself to a writer you admire and think has a style similar to yours (or writes about subjects that interest you).  Drink in their work.  Take it apart, admire it.  Remember how they structure things and what you like about their stories (clever dialogue?  Great story pacing?  A satisfying conclusion?).  Only by analyzing these things as a reader (why do I like this?) can we get better at writing (what tools can I take from them and use in my own work?).

I'm sketching out a list of potential authors I'd like to "apprentice" to, which has me thinking about the kind of style I imagine I will have (based on past writing projects, current writings and ideas folder) and which authors are closest to the kind of author I would like to be.  So far, Sharon Creech and Madeleine L'Engle are heading the list.

I'm also thinking about reviving some of my short stories to see if there's even a spark of creativity in them and possibly using them for revision practice. 

...and I found a writing prompt generator that I can practice with several times a week to get my creative juices flowing.

I will be posting reviews in a few days -- along with more Harry Potter/Hufflepuff observations (I'm partway through Goblet of Fire), a spot of writing and perhaps that project I was talking about with The Legend of Eli Monpress...!

Stay tuned.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Crash Course

Wow.  I had no idea how much I would learn about writing over the weekend!

I took my Kindle to the beach intending to read the second book of a series and was flipping through my choices (I'd also brought a book by Jane Austen, a play by Oscar Wilde, and an old favorite by Kenneth Grahame) when I realized I had about seven books on writing still waiting for me to read through them.  I'd gotten them free as some promotion a while back but had barely skimmed through them.

I started in on the one I'd actually started ages ago, and I sank deeper and deeper into the nuts and bolts of crafting a story until I had to come back up for breath.

Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Your Readers At Page One and Never Lets Them Go by Les Edgerton is a phenomenal behind-the-scenes tell all about story crafting.  I'm halfway through and have taken dozens of notes and scribbled down things about my story that occur to me while puzzling through this book.

While my subconscious grasps the correct (and incorrect) way of writing from the fiction books I'm reading, my conscious could never process and put into words what I was learning.  Hooked is a brilliant exposition on what makes a story tick and is written so that my conscious and subconscious connect and work together in creating better writing.

I cannot begin to say how thankful I am for this book.  If the last half is as instructional as the first, I will be miles and miles ahead of where I was just a few months ago.

It's like learning in a well-lit classroom as opposed to trying to figure out how to build something in the dark.

Friday, May 25, 2012

No Plot To Speak Of...(YET)

A few days ago I got the writing itch again (it's happening more and more often now -- maybe reading all these books is making it worse -- or BETTER?) and I went over to Rachel Aaron's site to read her posts on upping word count from 2k to 10k a day (!!!), editing, and plotting.

 I started scribbling about the MC, her friends, and the background of the world I was creating and when I was done I glanced over it and realized two major problems:

1. I don't have an antagonist (I sometimes have them right from the beginning, but it's rare)
2. The stakes aren't high enough (low tension)

I feel like the second problem could be solved by having a great answer to the first problem.

 I'm pretty good at outlines, typing fast, and am getting better at world building, but I am LE WORST at plotting.

Luckily, it's a skill and I can develop it, and I can spot a good plot or a bad one pretty quickly (especially in movies), but when I create a story I usually fully visualize a character and then vaguely wonder where their story is going.  If they even have one.

So while I'm at the beach this weekend, I'll attempt to ferret out a bad guy/girl and several ways to make my MC's life miserable.  And also weave those into some sort of loose plot until I can think of a brilliant and entertaining tale.

I *really* love the world and the sets of characters...I just hope they sit me down and spin a good yarn so I can dictate.

What makes a great villain? Who are some of your favorite villains in literature?
Any tips on plotting for me?  (Any good books you can recommend that have stellar plots?)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ratfist by Doug Tennapel

Another graphic novel I picked up during my binge* a few weeks ago, Ratfist is an incredibly unique, hysterical, heart-breaking and thought-provoking story based on a portion of Ecclesiastes.

This novel yanked me through the story at a break-neck pace, not even stopping for me to catch my breath from laughing so hard (seriously, this guy writes the best jokes).  It's a little dark, a little silly and provides tons of food for thought.

It looks deceptively simple on the surface, but once you plunge in, it just keeps getting deeper.  I may have to read it again to pick up on even more of the themes and issues grappled with in this tale.

I read Tommysaurus Rex (also a great graphic novel) and Creature Tech (and this one's great too) a long time ago and never realized just how MUCH Doug Tennapel had written.

Looking forward to catching up.

*I have a bad habit of binging on books -- I'll grab 20 books in one genre and devour them over a few weeks.  I'm so glad I don't have to count calories for reading.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Harper's Bazaar Fashion: Your Guide to Personal Style by Lisa Armstrong

I wasn't really interested in fashion until my grandmother drew me my very own 1940's glamour style paper doll.  She created the most beautiful outfits (a red-and-black fur coat with boots, and upon my request, a tie-dye t-shirt and shorts) and I realized then that fashion is an art.  What you wear is a statement, and I wanted to say something interesting.

I've designed a few things here and there, sewn some things, created a few crazy outfits for the recycling fashion show held every year in the city I live in, but mostly I've consumed books on fashion -- everything from style icons to fashion advice to books written by fashion experts (my favorite?  Tim Gunn).

Browsing in the library a week ago, I spotted a bold book in the arts and crafts section -- it was gold with big black letters and definitely made an impression.  Harper's Bazaar Fashion: Your Guide to Personal Style.

Usually the fashion books I have found in the library are out of date (except for a classic few) or they're geared toward style trends that won't last the decade.

This book, however, made the distinction between trends, fashion, and personal style.

Personal style is all about finding a) what looks good on you (shape, color, length) and b) making the look uniquely yours.

This, while elementary, was something new to think about for me.  I don't have to buy trendy things?  I don't have to worry about what color will be out next fall?  I don't need to bother with an entire section of clothes because I know the cut won't look good on me?  (Thank goodness!)

Updating your wardrobe is a must, but knowing the correct proportions and cuts for your body type and keeping in mind those colors and fabrics that stay on trend no matter the season...this downsizes considerably the time you will have to spend on wondering what to wear and what to purchase.

So while my style is evolving (and it's different at work than it is at home), I took this book's advice to heart.

I need to sit back and think about what I want my clothes to say.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Instructional Books + Last Chance for Eli Monpress Raffle!

I've once again stepped out of my comfort zone and have been rewarded with a bounty of information that will inform my summer activities.

I recently read two books on painting that were chock full of interesting tidbits, helpful tips and a mini-education on painting with oils.  They were so well done, in fact, that they are on my short list to purchase for my own.  Unfortunately, I shall have to return these copies to the library.

The books are:

Composition & Perspective by James Horton -- this book was really helpful even with my photography.  I had a family portrait shoot and used some of the information I gleaned to frame my photos.  And I'm really happy with the results.  They actually look professional!  The book is short, but the information within is worth its weight (and more) in gold.  One of the things I really appreciated about this book is that it had images (a good thing for a visual artist or visual learner) illustrating the points of the book.  I never want to read a text about painting without seeing what it's talking about.

Collins 30 Minute Oils by Melanie Cambridge is a more up-to-date look at EVERYTHING about painting with oils, with particular attention to enabling the reader to learn how to paint quick studies (in 30 minutes).  There is so much here, I feel as if I learned a semester's worth of information!  There are dozens of images here as well, but there are all different kinds -- paintings, sketches, photos, etc.  Anything you'd want to know about painting in oils is here, and I can't wait until I have my very own copy.  

Next up, I've got reviews on a fashion guide, a web comic-turned-graphic novel, and a discussion on the second Harry Potter book...and something a little different and fun about The Legend of Eli Monpress Omnibus, which is headed my way!

If you still want to enter Rachel Aaron's awesome Eli contest, you have 1 more day! Submit your raffle-y info here:

Eli Monpress Raffle

Friday, May 11, 2012



I GET TO READ ABOUT ELI MONPRESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So exciting.  :D :D :D

Enter here: ELI RAFFLE

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Legend of Eli Monpress

The Legend of Eli Monpress

I've been curious about this series for a while now -- guess it's time to enter the author's giveaway (for her Omnibus, books 1-3 of the series, or the new book, which is coming out in July) and see if I get lucky!

You can read her blog here: Pretentious Title and the rules for the giveaway are here:

Eli Monpress Book Raffle

Wish me luck!  And enter if you dare...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Spellbound: Book 2 of The Books of Elsewhere by Jacqueline West

At the beginning of this book, I felt somewhat lackadaisical.  After the intro of "The Shadows" (Book 1), which was amazing, I was wondering if this book was going to be just as good or, as is the usual with second books, a bit of a let-down.

This book was sneaky.

While the intro was slow, what it was doing was slowly dragging you in until you realized what was going on.  And then you were trapped.

I finished most of the book in one sitting, desperately hoping that everything would turn out all right.

It did not.

In fear of spoiler police, I will just say: another book is in order (!!!), and that one's being released this summer.  And then there are two more books to go.

But whew!

It was scary once I realized what was going on.

Clever, clever Jacqueline West.

Lull you to sleep with the feeling of peaceful, nothing's-happening-here safety and WHAM!  Who do you trust?  Who is on your side?  And who's side are YOU on?!

What I love about Jacqueline West's characters is that they're endearing, easy to relate to, and annoying.

Annoying in the way that your friend's pesky quirk is annoying, yet somehow it's cute, too.

The characters are real (as much as they can be -- I mean, there's talking cats and paintings), they're imperfect, and yet they have this quality about them that lets you forgive them easily because, after all, we let ourselves off the hook all the time.

The other thing I like about them, however, is that the characters learn from their mistakes.

I can't wait to see what annoying quirks and endearing mistakes the characters make next time.

Have you read The Books of Elsewhere?  What's your favorite thing about the series?  If you haven't read them, what's on your reading list for the summer?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Harry Potter Series Project

After writing an article on the spiritual lessons I've learned from reading fantasy, I decided that there were several more specific articles I could write on my favorite series alone (spiritual and otherwise).

To that end, I'm starting a research project on the Harry Potter series, looking particularly for any mention of Hufflepuff House.

I was sorted as a Hufflepuff in Pottermore and while I love my house (PROUD BADGER HERE!), there are some misconceptions about the house and an opinion that we are somehow worth less than the other three houses.

So, I've read through Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone and am starting Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Did you know:

  • Hufflepuff is the second house mentioned in the series, after Slytherin (when Harry meets Draco Malfoy at Madame Malkin's)
  • Hufflepuff is mentioned MORE than Ravenclaw in the first book
  • The first student sorted in the first book is a Hufflepuff (Susan Bones), and some of her family were killed by Voldemort (a throwaway fact mentioned by one of the professors)

Very interesting stuff.  I'm curious to see just how much I can pick up on Hufflepuff -- I might even get on Pottermore and get more information straight from Rowling that wasn't in the book (she has said that she wanted Harry to visit each common room during the series but that Hufflepuff never worked out).

So that's what's occupying me at the moment.  I'm also reading Spellbound (2nd book in the Elsewhere series by Jacqueline West), Harper's Bazaar Guide to Personal Style (excellent) and a guide to completing oil paintings in 30 minutes (I hope to do more artwork this summer).

I'll be back here soon to discuss Spellbound.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice

I finally finished reading it.

While I love Anne Rice, her early work and her post-conversion work, this work left me confused and disappointed.

Gone were the philosophical and spiritual questions that had deeply interested me in Interview With a Vampire and Song of the Seraphim.  Gone were the strong, realistic characters I had loved so well, and gone was the distinct voice I had grown used to hearing when I picked up one of her stories.

This book is a weak shadow of what I knew of Anne Rice.  In pursuing truth, she somehow overshot it and now, on the other side, she's wandering.  There isn't a single, straightforward theme in the book.

Two of the characters seem to be Anne debating with herself, reassuring herself that she's in the right, or validating that her morality and beliefs are correct.

Several distinct shoutouts told me for sure that Anne is waffling.  Unsure of her footing, her story unfolds less lushly, and without depth or a strong voice or even a resolution, it fades with a whisper.

The concept is intriguing but without firm command at the helm, Anne lost me almost from the beginning.

It pains me to see an author struggle so.  Life is full of these difficult trial periods, and I hope to see her rise once again from the ashes with a tale as powerful as Interview With a Vampire or Servant of the Bones.

Alas, this is not that tale.

Friday, May 4, 2012

In Lieu Of

I've got to finish up The Wolf Gift so I can return it to the library.

Reading it has made me remember why I fell in love with Anne Rice's writing in the first place -- but not in a good way.  It's an ok story, but the struggle with philosophical and spiritual issues isn't really there.  It's shallow.  It's fluff.  And while that's all fine and good, I wasn't expecting that from her, and I am disappointed.  Not because I don't think she should write fluff if she wants to -- but because I know what she's capable of and I want THAT.

So I'm posting some quotes from one of my favorite books from her, Interview With A Vampire:

"It seemed at moments, when I sat alone in the dark stateroom, that the sky had come down to meet the sea and that some great secret was to be revealed in that meeting, some great gulf miraculously closed forever. But who was to make this revelation when the sky and sea became indistinguishable and neither any longer was chaos? God? Or Satan? It struck me suddenly what consolation it would be to know Satan, to look upon his face, no matter how terrible that countenance was, to know that I belonged to him totally, and thus put to rest forever the torment of this ignorance. To step through some veil that would forever separate me from all that I called human nature.

I felt the ship moving closer and closer to this secret. There was no visible end to the firmament; it closed about us with breathtaking beauty and silence. But then the words 'put to rest' became horrible. Because there would be no rest in damnation, could be no rest; and what was this torment compared to the restless fires of hell? The sea rocking beneath those constant stars - those stars themselves - what had this to do with Satan? And those images which sound so static to us in childhood when we are all so taken up with mortal frenzy that we can scarce imagine them desirable: seraphim gazing forever upon the face of God - and the face of God itself - this was rest eternal, of which this gentle, cradling sea was only the faintest promise."


How incredible is that?  It gives me chills every time.  It's astounding.  And knowing her personal journey makes it all the more real, deep and intimate.  

And here are some others:

"People who cease to believe in God or goodness altogether still believe in the devil. I don't know why. No, I do indeed know why. Evil is always possible. And goodness is eternally difficult."


(Louis is the MC. He's having a conversation with Armand, who begins)

"Aren't there gradations of evil? Is evil a great perilous gulf into which one falls with the first sin, plummeting to the depth?"

"Yes, I think it is," I said to him. "It's not logical, as you would make it sound. But it's that dark, that empty. And it is without consolation."

"But you're not being fair," he said with the first glimmer of expression in his voice. "Surely you attribute great degrees and variations to goodness. There is the goodness of the child which is innocence, and then...there is the goodness of good housewives. Are all these the same?"

"No. But equally and infinitely different from evil." I answered. (pg. 188)


"That passivity in me has been the core of it all, the real evil. That weakness, that refusal to compromise a fractured and stupid morality, that awful pride! For that, I let myself become the thing I am, when I knew it was wrong." (pg. 245)


"I wanted love and goodness in this which is living death," I said. "It was impossible from the beginning, because you cannot have love and goodness when you do what you know to be evil, what you know to be wrong. You can only have the desperate confusion and longing and the chasing of phantom goodness in its human form." (pg. 269)


This is what I love about Anne Rice.  This vast and curious search for the truth.

It's missing from The Wolf Gift, which makes me wonder if she's lost her way.

If you've read Anne Rice, what is your favorite book by her?  And if you haven't read her, what other books have you read that struggle with philosophical and spiritual questions in a wonderful, interesting or powerful way?

Thursday, May 3, 2012


I've been asked to write a short article on the spiritual lessons I've gleaned from reading fantasy/sci-fi.

I thought about just writing about my experience with one series, but that whole series taught me so much there's no way I could cram it all into a 500 word article (or even a 5,000 word article).

I'm having a difficult time trying to condense all I've learned into a succinct piece that will hopefully enable people to think about what they learn from what they read.

What do I focus on?  What do I save for another article?  How should I begin?  How should I end?  Which books should I discuss?

And the scarier questions:  What will people think?  Will they laugh at me?  Will they want to talk to me about their own personal journey through literature?

Really, though, I've boiled everything down to the following:

I can talk on something I'm passionate about.  Someone is giving me the opportunity to share experiences that have changed my life. 

It's an incredible opportunity and, while scary, ultimately worth the frenzied re-writes and ideas thrown out and the exhaustion (and relief) I'll feel once the article's submitted.

I might post some of it here once it's done, or at least post a link to the online version of the newsletter.

I'm almost done reading The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice, and I'm re-reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's next time I should have something awesome to discuss. 

Have you experienced a moment while reading a book where you suddenly felt enlightened?