Monthly Archives: December 2016

“Exit, Pursued by a Bear” Book Review

Happy Holidays, everyone! Hope they were full of cheer, and that you’ve got your New Year’s resolutions in mind. (If not, don’t feel bad, I’m still figuring mine out…)

I’m happy to announce that I completed my Goodreads reading challenge. When I started at the beginning of 2016, I thought reading a book every two weeks wouldn’t be a big deal. Then, life got in the way, and I had some catching up to do. But, a week away from the new year and thirty books later, I’ve accomplished the challenge.

The final book I read was Exit, Pursued by a Bear. The protagonist’s voice was amazing; I got sucked in immediately, so I wanted to share a quick review of the book with you.

3117275267_ec87043835_oA surprisingly fast read exploring the fallout from a traumatic event, Exit, Pursued by a Bear will not let you put it down as you delve into the painful aftermath and resolute strength of seventeen-year-old Hermione.

This novel is about how a teenaged girl survives and overcomes being raped during cheerleading camp. However, this book is not like your typical rape novel. While I cried multiple times, Hermione’s story never fell into traditional rape survivor stories, either pursuing the rapist’s identity and the ensuing trial or how the survivor crumbles after the rape.

In this book, Hermione retakes her power from her rapist. She refuses to be defined by one event, no matter how horrific it was; she will not be a statistic. There are times when Hermione starts falling apart, but she has a phenomenal support system, people who gather around her and feed her their strength, when she can’t stand on her own two feet.

This one night—this one thing—this rape that happened to Hermione united her and those around her in a new and empowering way, as everyone felt the ripple effects of one individual’s horrible actions, as slut-shaming and victim-blaming spread, as the date rape drug left a blank spot in Hermione’s memory, and as Hermione claws her way past her anger, fear, confusion, and powerlessness.

The novel’s inspiring ending was one of hope for now and the future. By having such an amazing support system, Hermione was better able to choose how she reacted to her rape. By having people around her who offered understanding and compassion, instead of blame, Hermione was able to move past a potentially life-damaging moment.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear is an empowering, engrossing read. No one deserves to be raped, but everyone—especially those who go through such trauma—deserves a strong support system, and a best friend like Polly.

(Photo courtesy of Hawaiian Moore.)

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“The Shadow of the Wind” Book Review

“A story is a letter that the author writes to himself, to tell himself things that he would be unable to discover otherwise.”

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The Shadow of the Wind is a compulsive page turner. From the opening pages, I immediately knew that I’d love this old-fashioned book saturated with offbeat characters, passionate storytelling, Gothic twists and turns, and tragic, thrilling rushes. Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s book is reminiscent of the great 19th century novels, while maintaining the precarious balance between high-brow literature and commercial fiction.

The novel begins in 1945 in a Barcelona suffering the aftereffects of the Spanish Civil War. Daniel, a 10-year-old boy grieving from his mother’s death, is taken to a secret labyrinth called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his bookseller father. In this maze, Daniel chooses one book to care for; he selects a novel titled The Shadow of the Wind by an unknown author, Julián Carax. This choice dramatically shapes his life, sending him from childhood into young adulthood on an elaborate quest to discover the mystery behind why some dark, almost demonic figure is hunting down and burning all of Julián Carax’s books.

A novel about resourcefulness, courage, loss of innocence, love, cruelty, cowardice, murder, and redemption, The Shadow of the Wind mesmerizes as it elegantly unfolds mystery upon mystery, before shooting around breathtaking lurches and blurring the lines between reality and fantasy.

(Photo courtesy of Xavi.)

Do Everything But Kill Your Characters: Why Struggle is Vital for Character Development

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When we write, we all have characters that we love. We don’t want anything bad to happen to them. They’re our children, and like all good parents, we want to keep our kids safe. However, when characters are safe, they’re not interesting. More so, readers, and ourselves, don’t get to know who these characters are. We can’t discover what lies at their core. It’s only through the tough times that we get to truly know our characters.

Not long ago, I provided feedback on several chapters for a fantasy novel. These chapters were about midway through the novel, and after having read from chapter one to this point, I found myself not knowing who the protagonist was. Sure, she was a princess, the last of her family (the rest of them having died in peculiar accidents), and was on the run from evil fairies and a traitorous royal court. But her two loyal companions were always there to save her from any attack.

So, while the princess constantly thought about how she had to be brave and kind and show that she deserved the crown, I never got to see her in action. She was always standing around, waiting for her companions to fight off various sinister creatures. I got to a point where I asked the author, “What would happen if the princess was attacked, when there was no one around to save her?”

It turned out that the princess could take care of herself.

It’s easy for characters to think or say they’d act/react one way, but eventually something bad has to happen to them. Only when our characters are forced to act do we uncover their true personalities.

And, once characters face hardship—and the more that they confront—they grow. They can only become better people if what they care about is shredded to tiny pieces. Rip characters’ souls apart and they’ll be forced to build more resilient hopes, dreams, and spirits.

It’s not easy to knock down your characters, not only because you care about them, but because it’s emotionally taxing on you. Some of the hardest scenes I’ve written are when I’m ripping apart my protagonist. I become so emotionally invested in the story that I experience what my protagonist experiences, so by the end of stressful scenes, I am emotionally and physically spent.

But, I continue to write those scenes, because of all the books I’ve read, the best ones are usually those where the characters are torn down. Even if the book is fantasy or science fiction, I can relate to the core of the hardships they face, and that makes me care about the characters.

(Photo courtesy of Ewan Cross.)

How to Write a Novel When You Don’t Have Time

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Often I hear about how people say they don’t have time to write. Their full time job, family, pets, etc. get in the way. I understand, and there are times when I believe that I have to choose between writing and working. However, even though I work full time, maintain a blog, participate in a critique group (which means spending time working on other people’s writing), exercise, and deal with the unpredictable speed bumps life chucks in everyone’s path, I somehow manage to write.

How is it possible to spend time writing, when you don’t have time to write?

Fight through the Sludge

Don’t allow yourself time off from writing. It’s easy to let one day off grow to two days, three days…until the time snowballs into weeks and then months. On the last day of my writing master’s thesis class, my professor told us that, once we step out of the classroom, most of us will never write again. More specifically, my professor was talking about how we wouldn’t write the genre/type of writing we’d just spent years working on to culminate in a novel/short story collection.

At first, I hadn’t believed my professor, but, after staying in contact with some of my classmates, I do. Many of them haven’t written anything creative since thesis…that was about 6 months ago, and, of those that have, they haven’t written much.

Their reason? Life got in the way.

Be Disciplined, Like a Samurai 

Writing a novel or short story takes time and effort. Anyone who writes knows that it’s not easy. Writing is exhausting. It uses a lot of brain energy, and it can be easy to come home from a long work day and just want to veg. I’ve done it. But writing is a skill, and every skill takes discipline.

One of the best ways to become disciplined is to be motivated. Motivation commits you to writing. Maybe a specific character in your story encourages you to write, because you have to tell that character’s tale. Perhaps you’re in a writing group and you’ve got deadlines to meet. Perchance you’re the type of person who’s motivated by visual stimuli. Create a writing space that you have to pass by on a daily basis. You could tape motivational quotes and pictures to the wall above your space.

Remember, as Robert Collier said, “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”

If you still think you never have time to write, here are some writers that became famous authors, while working full-time:

Anne Rice

Anne Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire, when she worked full-time as an insurance claims examiner and while she was grieving over the death of her 5 year old daughter.

Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll penned Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, while working. He continued to work, even as he became famous and earned enough money writing to be a full-time author. He taught at Christ Church until late in life, as well as being a mathematician and a photographer.

Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker worked as a civil servant at Dublin Castle for 10 years, while writing for the newspaper the Dublin Evening Mail. He went on to manage Sir Henry Irving’s production company/venue: the Lyceum Theatre. While working as the company’s manager, he wrote and had published his first horror story, and eventually published his most famous work Dracula in 1897. Stoker worked as Lyceum’s manager for about 30 years.

(Photo courtesy of Tony.)