Category Archives: Literary World

The High Stakes of First Sentences

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You probably already know that a story’s first line is of upmost importance. Not only does it set the tone and expectations for the rest of the novel, but the first line also introduces tension and hints at bigger things to come. Your story’s first line introduces readers to your world, and if readers don’t like what they read, they may not go to the next sentence.

That’s a lot of pressure for one line!

The best way to learn how to write phenomenal first sentences is to read a lot of first lines.

Here are some great examples:

“I tell Mama I waitress in the Village so she don’t have to cut me out of her heart.”

–Kiran Kaur Saini, “A Girl Like Elsie”

“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”

–Norman Maclean, “A River Runs Through It”

“In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits.”

–John Updike, “A & P”

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

–Hunter Thompson, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”

“There are cavemen in the hedges again.”

–Stacey Richter, “The Cavemen in the Hedges”

The trick with first sentences is to start with the stakes high and then keep moving up. Grab readers from the get go and then don’t let them go!

What are some great first sentences you know of?

(Photo courtesy of Keith Williams.)

“The Serpent King” Book Review

The Serpent KingEvery high school has those kids that don’t fit in. In The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, three teens from Forrestville, a small Tennessee town named after the founder of the Klu Klux Klan, are bound together as misfits and as best friends. Lydia comes from loving and prosperous parents; she’s got a popular fashion blog and is on her way to college in New York City. Travis escapes his father’s drunken beatings in the fantasy world of knights and noble quests. Dillard Early Jr. can’t escape his name: his snake-handling, poison-drinking preacher father was incarcerated for child porn and his grandfather went around wearing snakeskins and killing every snake he could.

Written in third person, this novel alternates among the three characters. The story covers the characters senior year of high school and is filled with poverty in the rural South, enduring friendship, heartbreak, clinging to faith at all costs, fear of the unknown, and learning the courage it takes to survive and to thrive.

While it took me several chapters to get sucked into the story, I ended staying up way too late to finish the novel. The book covers the harsh reality so many outsiders have to live in. And while parts of the novel did showcase that this was a debut, it’s a phenomenal coming-of-age story about hope and courage, of salvation and betterment, of surviving and flourishing when life seems too bleak to continue.

(Photo courtesy of myself.)

“Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight” Book Review

Health at Every Size“Health at Every Size” (HAES) by Linda Bacon, PhD is not a diet book. It’s the philosophy that showcases how well-being and healthy habits are more vital than any number on a scale. HAES’ basic tenets are to:

  • Accept your size. Grow to love and appreciate your body. It’s the only one you’ve got. Self-acceptance empowers you to make positive life changes.
  • Trust yourself. Your body intuitively knows how to keep itself healthy. The problem is that society has taught you to ignore your body’s natural internal regulation systems. Relearn to trust your body’s natural signals of hunger, fullness, and appetite.
  • Adopt healthy lifestyle habits. Find purpose and meaning in your life. Often you’re eating to fulfill some social, emotional, or spiritual needs, instead of for hunger.
  • Embrace size diversity. Humans didn’t evolve to be one size fits all. We come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Recognize your unique attractiveness.

This book is a must read for anyone who’s ever wished to be thinner. One of this novel’s strengths is how it’s split into two parts. The first half of the book deals with research showing why the traditional diet fails and how society has warped body image and ideals, and research on how the HAES method has been more successful than traditional dieting. The second half of the novel deals with the specifics of the HAES method, and gives you resources to change your life.

Many aspects of this novel are empowering. The research provided a solid argument against dieting, especially focusing on calorie restriction, by showing that dieting doesn’t produce lasting results, the false notion that if you’re overweight you lack control, and demonstrated how the food, pharmaceutical, and dieting industry have manipulated peoples’ senses of hunger and satiety for profit.

Despite all that, I had trouble believing Bacon’s argument that “fat does not cause any of our leading chronic diseases, except for some cancers, sleep apnea and osteoarthritis.” While there are overweight and obese people who are healthy, many are not. Bacon doesn’t discuss the ways that obesity can lead to disability. She spends all her time focusing on body acceptance—which is a concept I completely support—and seemingly being a fat activist. I don’t understand why encouraging people to fight obesity, in order to prevent disability, and fighting discrimination about overweight people has to be mutually exclusive.

It’s important to love yourself and your body, to listen to your signals of hunger, to eat fulfilling and healthy foods—limiting processed foods, to have meaning in your life, to realize that much of society’s war on obesity is sponsored by companies that profit from peoples’ fear of fat, to take measurements like the BMI scale with a grain of salt, and to not discriminate against overweight people. I’m just struggling to convince myself that there should be utter fat acceptance. (If you’re not familiar with the FA movement, check out the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance’s website.)

This book’s notion that your weight shouldn’t keep you from enjoying your life is why I recommend you give it a try.

(Photo courtesy of myself.)

Easy and Simple Aren’t the Same for Motivation

Recently someone asked me how she could motivate herself more. That’s not a rare question. Many people ask themselves how they can be more motivated to lose weight, run faster, eat better, get that job promotion, finish a novel… I’ve asked myself countless times how I can be better motivated.8078194256_db53b66f8d_k

Lately, something I’ve struggled with is going through beta reader feedback and editing. I keep finding other things to do. I realize that I’m making excuses, but even though I acknowledge this, I can’t bring myself to focus on editing.

That’s unusual for me, so when someone asked me how to improve motivation, I thought about what I’d want to hear. Better yet, what words would work to motivate me?

I’ve never been the type to seek out motivational quotes. More often than not, I roll my eyes at inspirational sayings. They seem cheesy and hollow. They don’t resonate, and when something doesn’t resonate, how can it inspire?

I started searching for the right way to answer the question of motivation. How could I inspire this person?

There wasn’t a correct answer. Each solution was personal. I couldn’t give that individual what she wanted. Because I could talk and talk and talk to her about inspiration and do anything and everything I could to motivate her, but the bottom was that she had to find what worked for her.

All I could tell her was the words that inspired me:

“When you get into a tight space and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”

— Harriet Beecher Stowe

Life isn’t usually easy, but think of the things you’re proudest of. Were they easy accomplishments? Or did you struggle and persevere?

Was the effort worth it?

(Photo courtesy of Luke Kondor.)

Frozen in Silk: A Trip Down Poetry Lane

I’m trying something different today. Something that I haven’t dabbled much in. Something that, when I’ve attempted it, has thoroughly kicked my butt. I’m posting a poem I wrote.

Yikes!

While I’ve studied poetry, I never had too much interest in writing it. Those times I’ve had to for class, I struggled to put words together to create a dense, but flowing story, a story that was supposed to sound like music, but always seemed to clatter loudly.

This poem came together by piecemeal. After many edits, my fingers are crossed that the image and message I want to convey is received. Let me know what you think!

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Frozen in Silk

My love,

 

Do you dare shout?

Do you dare sing?

Do you dare breathe?

 

Or are you forever holding your breath,

staring straight ahead,

a living statue.

 

Do you ever dance?

Do you ever laugh?

Do you ever see me?

 

Or do you stare through me,

never seeing what I hold in my hands,

a heart that beats less and less,

a breath that is turning cold;

I am freezing with you.

 

Soon we will be together,

two statues, a Romeo and a Juliet,

frozen just before their time-shattering deaths.

 

Living, breathing,

encased in ice made of satin and silk.

One day the ice may break, and

we may be free to walk hand-in-hand.

 

But for now we wait,

sleeping an endless sleep.

 

(Photo courtesy of Shutter Runner.)

A Badass Hidden Gem: “Wool” Book Review

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A breathtakingly creative and horrifyingly disturbing post-apocalyptic novel! Hugh Howey’s “Wool” is one hell of a ride. Starting as a short story, this tale grew into a novel due to popular demand, and then, once it became an online sensation, was picked up by Simon & Schuster and became a New York Times bestseller.

In a twisted futuristic world, where everyone lives underground in a silo because the surface was horribly poisoned hundreds of years ago, and where the levels of the silo are split into different social classes, mistrust breeds rampantly and the worst thing a person can do is ask to go outside. Because, while there’s a sheriff and a mayor, the true power lies with the highly secretive and malicious IT department, and they are more than willing to grant your request.

Howey created a phenomenal aura of dread and desperation. Claustrophobia claws at you, begging you to ask the same forbidden questions those who take a one-way trip outside do. Told from multiple characters, this story is rife with suspense and contains so many plot twists that I couldn’t guess the end!

I can’t say it better than Kathy Reichs, bestselling author of the Temperance Brennan series, “Wool is frightening, fascinating, and addictive.” “Wool” is flooded with a highly detailed and authentic world, realistic and relatable characters, and a terrifyingly believable story. A compulsive read.

(Photo courtesy of Sam Cox.)

When Beauty Destroys the Beast: “Uprooted” Book Review

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Before I began Uprooted by Naomi Novik I had high expectations. With over 50,000 ratings and nearly 9,500 reviews, this young adult novel has over a 4 star rating (out of 5). This book had to be phenomenal! At least, that’s what the overwhelming majority of the reviews indicated.

The first pages—almost the entire first chapter—grabbed my attention. This book is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, where the Beast is a magician known as the Dragon and Beauty is a village girl about to discover that she has a much larger role to play than she’d ever imagined.

However, after the first pages, I had a difficult time reading the first third of the book. It didn’t seem any different than most of the young adult books out there. The protagonist Agnieszka is a seventeen-year-old brown haired, clumsy girl, whose best friend is beautiful and talented and brave. The Dragon is a one hundred fifty year old guy, who looks like he’s not much older than Agnieszka and is a jerk. (Where have we heard that scenario before?)

In the original Beauty and the Beast, the Beast was also a jerk, but I felt that there was a reason behind it. (He did look like a monster, after all.) The Dragon seemed to be a jerk just for the sake of being a jerk.

I felt like the Dragon being terrible and incredibly rude to Agnieszka for no reason, and she reacting like some exceedingly self-conscious, mumbling, and messy girl, was a story plot I’d seen before. One where the jerk of a guy was going to be the love interest. A story plot I’ve never liked.

But that all changed when I entered the second half of the book. Basically, I liked the book better when the Beauty and the Beast retelling ended and the story took on a life of it’s own.

Agnieszka started growing as a character. She began standing on her own two feet. As the world, characters, and plot built layers and layers on itself, I was pulled back into the story. I ended up not being able to put the book down. Some of the my favorite scenes were when Agnieszka and the Dragon were separated, because then I got to see what Agnieszka could do and what her personality was truly like, without the Dragon’s shadow looming over her.

While the final third of the book made me late a few mornings to work—I ended up reading longer than I should have—there was one scene that chucked me headfirst out of the story. Normally, a scene like this one wouldn’t have bothered me, if it were in an adult novel. However, this scene was in a young adult book that is intended for thirteen to seventeen year olds. This scene is a detailed sex scene between the Dragon and Agnieszka. Detailed enough that I could picture everything that was happening. I wouldn’t have wanted my fifteen-year-old cousin reading this scene. When I was fifteen, I read books that had sexual content, but never anything that I’d describe as soft Harlequin.

Other than that scene, the final section of the novel was extraordinary. The creativity and imagination fueling the rising action, climax, and resolution was brimming with excitement and depth. When the ending finally came, it was satisfying, mature, and realistic. It was a perfect ending to a book that turned out to be an incredible fairy tale.

Have you read any good books lately?

(Photo courtesy of Chris Alcoran.)