Five Life-Changing Reads

Every avid reader has a favorite book or two… or seventy-six. But some of those notable or obscure titles can be life-changing. So, here’s a list of some of the books that have changed my life – not only as a reader, but as a person!

1.) Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – Most folks probably think of the classic Disney movie when they hear the name ‘Peter Pan,’  but my first thought is always the book. This book was my first foray into a magical, multi-faceted fantasy world that explores joy and sorrow, light and shadow, happiness and fear. It captures both the wonder – and terror – of eternal childhood, of being terrified of losing something, and the bittersweet nature of fleeting youth against the inevitability of growing up. I realized, the first time reading this book, that the “never” in “Neverland” can be interpreted either as wondrous and whimsical, or grim and dour – or maybe a mix of both. I love a fairytale-esque story with a twist of something dark, and Peter Pan was the gateway book for me. The dual-nature of this book is encompassed in one of its most iconic lines, as said by the titular character himself: “To die would be an awfully big adventure.”

20190121_104043.jpg2.) Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman – I’ve never been a poetry person… rather, I wasn’t until I took a Major Authors course on Walt Whitman my second year of college. I immediately connected with his poems, especially the titular “Leaves of Grass,” “O Captain! My Captain!,” and “Great are the Myths.” Whitman’s poetry, though written in the mid-late 1800’s, has a universality to it, a timeless quality that can be applied to scenarios and events throughout history and around the world, not only those that occurred in his lifetime.. His poems and the themes he presents are personal and profound, passionate and playful, perceptive and piercing. His poems make me think and feel, to apply his words to my own experiences, and I could pore over this book for hours pondering the meanings of his poems and imagining what his life was like. I recently bought a beautiful copy of this collection (pictured) and it’s got a place of honor on my shelf.

3.) The Jungle by Upton Sinclair – I’ve mentioned this one before, but I’m going more in-depth this time around. This is the first book I ever read (followed a few years later by Native Son by Richard Wright) that made me realize why people were drawn to communism/socialism/unions during the Industrial Revolution in America. It was jarring to read about what conditions were like for workers, especially immigrant workers, in the meatpacking industry in the early 20th century, as researched by muckraker author Sinclair. If you have a rosy view of what America was like during that time, building itself up from fields to cities and growing into the capital giant we are today, prepare to have your image shattered by The Jungle. I was assigned to read it for a class and put it off until the last minute, then plowed through the whole thing in one sitting because I was so engrossed. This was my first real wake-up call that American History wasn’t always blue skies and valiant victories… there are plenty of dark clouds and shameful secrets that, though hard to acknowledge, are important to our nation’s identity.

4.) Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid – I read this book for my senior seminar class in college, which focused on Caribbean literature. The entire class was an eye-opening experience, but I had to do a presentation on this novel, so I got to dive a bit deeper into it than the others we read. This book was my first time reading a coming-of-age novel about a girl from a background/life/place so completely different from my own. Growing up on Antigua is nothing like growing up in a rural town in Pennsylvania. And yet, it’s still possible to find universal threads woven into the unique, deftly-told narrative. At times, my heart swelled for Annie – and, at times, my heart shattered for her. Themes of depression, separation, mother/daughter relationships, growing up, and colonization are all expressed in a timeless and powerful fashion, centered around Annie, a complex and beautiful character. If you’ve never read a book like this, I HIGHLY recommend it.

5.) The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – I mean… this book/series has probably changed every fantasy writer’s life, right? It’s THE pinnacle of high fantasy, and will never be topped. It’s just so, so… brilliant. Sure, the language and descriptions can be burdensome, at times… but it’s worth the journey, all the way from Bilbo’s first fateful meeting with Gollum in the bowels of the Misty Mountain to Galdalf’s epic “You cannot pass,” to Sam’s final line of “Well, I’m back,” as he greets his daughter and wife. LotR is the reason I want to write fantasy, and so, it has changed my life for the better.

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Writing Techniques: Querying

This isn’t technically a “techniques” post, because, admittedly, I have very limited experience with this. So, instead, I’m just going to babble a bit about how my process with querying has been going thus far, so it will be a bit more personal.

I never attempted to traditionally publish I’m With You, though, in hindsight, I wish I had given it a shot. My confidence was festering in the gutter after my college graduation, and hearing about the horrendous odds of landing an agent as a fledgling writer didn’t boost my spirits. So when I heard about an indie publishing contest, I submitted I’m With You on a whim. Never queried an agent or anything.

But it’s over and done, and I’m attempting to query agents for my latest MS – a YA/Fantasy currently called Otherworlder about a girl named Evie teaming up with a pair of quirky talking animals in order to save her little sister from peril in a world full of magic. It took me a long time to get to this phase… not only because I’ve been working with editors, getting feedback, revising the MS over, and over, and over, and spending a lot of time tweaking my query materials and researching potential agents. But because I am a wuss.

Well… that’s not totally accurate. But I do, like many others, suffer from anxiety, which has prevented me from taking steps in my writing career and beyond. I used to be crushed by any and all criticism, and paralyzed with fear over the idea of rejection. It took me a long time to seek help for these issues (until I started developing ritualistic behaviors, which is a bit of a red flag) but I recently did so, and I’ve gotten a lot better in regards to handing my writing and general life stuff. Getting a proper diagnosis and learning how to handle it has done wonders – I’m not saying that as a sympathy grab, it’s just the truth. I still have bad days, but I’m improving.

Thus, I’ve drawn all the deep breaths I can manage and have at last begun to send out my queries. Of the 20ish I’ve sent out so far, I have gotten a rejection. It’s no great shock, but a few months ago, that would have destroyed me. I probably would have thrown in the towel immediately, even though I know virtually every author has been rejected at least once, if not multiple times. I literally used to have confidence as thin as a delicate, porcelain elephant figurine sitting on the mantle of an eighty-year-old woman named Ethel. Fortunately, I am now in a better mental state to handle rejection rationally. It’s going to happen, and I know that – but I need to take it, absorb it, use it as inspiration to do better, and move ahead. Keep going, and keep writing. Be Winston Churchill, and never surrender!

Send me all the positive vibes you can, fellow writers! And please feel free to message me with your own querying stories and suggestions! I’m working on my next MS in the meantime, but I’ll take all the support I can get, as I really want to share all of Evie’s fantastical escapades in Otherworlder with you.

 

Writing Rewind #12: Wings of Fate Chapter 8 Part 1

I’ll straight up admit that I’ve been putting this next installment off on purpose, because it includes the storyline I’ve been dreading. The romance subplot. My reasons for hating it will become more prevalent next time, but this is the set up to it…

Now that I’m older, I’ve actually done a total 180 on my stance regarding the main “romance” of this story, so revisiting will be difficult because I basically want to erase the entire thing and pretend it never happened. But I’m going to do my best to dissect all the issues without imploding from the massive cringe-fest that is about to unfold.

Last time on Writing Rewind, we found out what the mysterious mission is all about! It involves a floating land in the sky that was definitely not influenced by Castle in the Sky from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, no way no how. What adventures are in store for us this time as we vault into Wings of Fate Chapter 8: The Hated Day?

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Oh boy. It’s a Matthias-centric chapter. Brace yourselves for the avalanche of “cold” and “icy” character descriptions!

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That entire first paragraph is an abomination and deserves to DIE. I cannot fathom why I felt I needed to describe Matthias in vivid detail EVERY SINGLE TIME HE’S MENTIONED. He’s basically the Tin Man meets Mr. Freeze meets Frosty the Snowman, WE GET IT, GOOD GOD.

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There. Short, sweet, mostly to the point. And not a “cold” descriptor to be seen…

Next, after Robin spills the beans about the mission and gets Heiwa and Daisuke in trouble with their commanding officers, they are out on the deck with Shirotaka when a little accident happens, and our favorite mute magical girl falls overboard…

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She can fly, she can fly, she can flyyyyyyy!!!!!! And this portion’s not too bad, but it’s got too much fluff.

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I’ve noticed that Past Allie certainly leans toward repetition, or saying things in a roundabout way that could be explained in a much shorter fashion. I’m verbose, basically. And it ain’t cute. And I think it is definitely the worst it’s been in this chapter.

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Wow, look at that! The same revelation with much fewer words! It flows a lot better this way, without all the excess.

Next, Heiwa takes Shirotaka up to Dr. Black to tell him about her ability…

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Why, oh why, does Dr. Black feel the need to pontificate so often? Might as well stamp “I’M A SECRET VILLAIN!” on his forehead.

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I think Dr. Black needs to keep it subtle. Not be so… forthcoming. Like, Heiwa asked one question and he goes off on a rant, and it’s not necessary at all. Also, I think he’d be more upset by the lack of positive reception to the mission reveal than he lets on in this version, so him keeping his response short will work better. Gotta keep some element of suspense.

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There we go! Look how much better it is when all the babbling is chopped out!

Next, Matthias’s frigid ways continue…

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Uh, oh! Something’s up with Mattie! What could it be?

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The set up of Matthias’s hissy-fit and Tango’s musing can definitely be handled in a more… fluid way. Keep the mystery without beating the reader over the head with it. Matthias’s behavior is weird, but it can be shown and not told.

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Much better! Enough to show that Mattie is behaving like an asshat and Tango is perplexed by it without being too wordy. The theme of the week seems to be trimming the fluff, and I gotta say, seeing all the superfluous bits getting shaved away is making my hatred of this plot-line wane, just a bit.

After Matthias blows up in spectacularly unprofessional fashion at Pilot, the commanding officers begin to speculate about his pissy mood…

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So, Tango knows – or thinks she knows – why Mattie is behaving like this. That can be said in far fewer words, and the remaining words can be shuffled around and tweaked to make the passage flow better.

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Clearly, the romance being set up is between Tango and Matthias, so this portion is meant to set up the fact that Tango knows him better than the others and views him in a more positive light. And by cutting some parts out and reworking some others, that message will come across a bit clearer.

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Okay, so this part of Chapter 8 wasn’t quite as bad as I expected, but next time, the real cringe sets in. Will we find out why Matthias is acting like such a jerk to everyone? Will Tango be able to improve his mood, or will her intervention make things worse? Stay tuned, for the exploration of the most regrettable romantic subplot of my early writing career!

For some less regrettable writing, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

Writing Rewind #5: Wings of Fate Chapter 3

When we last left off on Writing Rewind, Heiwa met a new friend named Daisuke and attended a “mysterious meeting,” which announced a year-long mission on an airship under the command of the cold, icy, frigid, glacial General Matthias von Schneider. However, Heiwa doesn’t believe he can go because of his obligations to his mother and grandmother, even though he technically shouldn’t have the ability to refuse because it should have been an order, not an optional offer. Will Daisuke be able to convince Heiwa that going on this mission is his destiny?

To set the scene for chapter 3, Daisuke and Heiwa have arrived at a fast-food establishment called Burger Village (my creativity at its peak) where Daisuke and Kato (their cab driver, who comes along for some reason) are going to attempt to convince Heiwa that he must not pass up this chance of a lifetime…

KEY/GUIDE:
Strikethrough = cut out
Highlight = rephrase/reword/awk
Blue highlight = minor additions
DANGER RED HIGHLIGHT= massive cringe

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I’m all for similies and metaphors, but sometimes they should just… not. They can be a bane instead of a boon, if you know what I mean. And in my early years as a writer, I over-relied on them to the extreme. You should see my old fanfiction, it’s even worse than this!

My first scan yields this:

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Oh, look – familiar issues are cropping up again! Superfluous dialogue, awkward phrasing, needless detail… which means it’s time to fetch the trimmer! And there’s some tweaking to do, as well, to help eradicate the choppiness.

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The end result is a bit clearer, not so clunky, and doesn’t feature quite as many similies.

Next up…

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Good LORD, Heiwa could have probably said all of his opening dialogue bit in like… two sentences. That is over-explaining to the maximum, and it must be destroyed!!!!

My first round produces…

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It’s rare, but there are a couple of additions to be made (gasp!), along with the usual rephrasing and cutting. Also, I wish I could eliminate every single time Daisuke says “Dude,” because that was a definite mistake. I still might – it’s up in the air, at this point.

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And there we have it; Heiwa’s blathering is sliced down to a far more manageable 3 sentences, and the awkward sentences have been reworked to improve clarity. A couple of sentences/snippets have also been swapped around, which I think flows better.

Next up, we have…

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For the life of me, I cannot fathom why everyone in this story is astonished that Heiwa would get to go on an actual airship during this (absurdly implausible) mission. He’s a member of the military branch that deals DIRECTLY WITH AIRSHIPS. It shouldn’t be such an uncommon thing, but apparently, this made sense to 15 year old me. So that needs to be phased out, obviously…

Other than that, it’s the same old, same old…

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That first sentence is complete cringe. There are many ways to convey surprise, and in this sentence, Ritsuko is displaying two, and “stunned disbelief” is somewhat oxymoronic. And I’m just plain moronic.

Other than that, this selection is a bit tame, actually! A few redundant thoughts to hack off, and a bit of tweaking, then we have…

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Ritsuko is showing her surprise in only one way, as opposed to two. Some dialogue was rearranged, and other sentences were removed, and we still have a functional passage that isn’t completely awful!

For the penultimate selection, we’ve got…

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Whoooooo boy. This passage can only be described as DRAMATIC AND OVERLY-DRAMATIC. I mean, Heiwa is obviously conflicted about the decision he has to make, but damn… it should not take this many conversations and repetition and blabbing on, and on, AND ON, to come to a conclusion.

So the proposed changes include…

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That red-highlighted sentence is flat-out ridiculous. I am now a firm believer that “orbs” should never be used to describe eyes, EVER. Or certain parts of female anatomy, but that’s just my opinion. Also, I thought garnet was green when I wrote this. It is not green. So… yeah. That’s gonna pop up a lot in the future, too.

Also, WAY, WAY TOO MUCH dialogue for Izumi. The heartfelt words kind of lose their impact when it’s stated repeatedly in various ways and in a massive chunk of as opposed to compacted into a concise version. THAT MUST CHANGE, STAT!

So basically, we need to chop, chop, chop, and polish, polish, polish!

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Ahhh, look how slim and trim the fixed version is compared to the original! It’s so svelte.

So, their interaction is cut dramatically, but doesn’t really lose any meaning. Heiwa and his mom can profess their thoughts to one another and enforce their bond without PRATTLING ON FOREVER.

And last, but certainly not least, there’s this gem…

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Ohhhhhh my. This is just… no. No, no, no. I wish I could deny that I ever wrote this, but alas, it has my old trademarks all over it!

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The axe is going to have a lot to do in this one, because the sappy, melodramatic blabbering has GOT to go. It doesn’t need to be reworked, or preserved. It needs to be terminated.

So, with that as the strategy, our final version is…

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The same ideas have been expressed in two sentences instead of 10+. It’s so simple. Even though there are a lot of words that CAN be said, and a lot of emotional gravitas to be conveyed, they don’t always need to BE said or included. Simple is good.

And there we have it! Chapter 3 is also completed in one fell swoop! If it isn’t obvious, Heiwa has decided to go on the mission after being persuaded by his mother, grandmother, new friend, and a random cab driver. Next time, the mission is underway and we might meet a couple of new characters! That might be chapter 5, though. I can’t remember; I’ve blocked it out of my memory…

Next time, Chapter 4: The Point of no Return … a chapter likely named after the Phantom of the Opera song of the same name. I went through a musical phase in high school, so… yeah…

 

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