Guest Post! Academic Writing: A Style I Once Despised

Hello, hello!  Welcome to 2019’s first guest post.  The illness of doom kept me from finding a victim (aka an awesome person who was willing to help me out) back in March, so I decided to wait and open with the incredible Lew Andrada who offered to sacrifice himself this month.  A fellow alum of Stonecoast, we met briefly during my graduation semester/his first semester and have maintained a writerly and foodie friendship on the book of faces.  The following post is a wonderful tale of how he fell down the academic writing well.  Read on!

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Lew Andrada!

Academic Writing: A Style I Once Despised

When I began my MFA program for creative writing at Stonecoast back in the winter of 2015, I could barely contain my excitement. I had a rare opportunity to hone the craft that I had first begun practicing as a young kid watching Saturday morning cartoons. While my days of writing Ninja Turtles fan fiction were essentially over, Stonecoast offered a focus on popular fiction that would allow me to explore and expand my understanding of my favorite genres, specifically fantasy and horror. I remember looking forward to everything: workshops, lectures, hanging out with my fellow classmates and writers… But there was one thing that I had dreaded. Stonecoast requires a third semester project, one with a more academic bent to it than the creative projects necessary for the other semesters. Academic writing wasn’t one of my strong suits in undergrad. There’s very little wiggle room in terms of creativity, and the tone can often come off as “dry.” Granted, I was a biology major with an English minor, so the majority of papers I had to write were scientific in style and nature. When the time came for my third semester project, I had a lot of anxiety, especially since I was working with the esteemed Elizabeth Hand as my mentor.

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They knew Lew could do it!

I chose a topic that was related to my second semester project, which focused on writing short stories with a humorous bent. My essay explored the evolution of humor techniques from Victorian Era comic fantasy to contemporary comic fantasy written from the 1970’s and onward. I won’t lie; it was a stressful experience. I had a lot of reading and research to do in a short amount of time. The finished product, however, ended up being something I was quite proud of. After graduating from Stonecoast, I didn’t think I’d ever have to worry about academic writing again. I would focus on my fiction and go on to make millions of dollars a la Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. But wait! Just like any good story, there’s a plot twist.

I had previously heard about an academic conference focused on genre fiction from my second semester mentor, Theodora Goss. Some of my classmates (shout-out to the hammocks!) had presented at the International Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA) and talked about the fascinating blend of fiction and scholarship that thrived at this event. I was interested but hesitant because of my anxiety with academic writing. There’s a lot of pressure when writing about “facts” because you have to get everything “right.” On top of that, I didn’t feel comfortable with the possibility of presenting a paper in front of a room full of academic hard-hitters. After some reassurance from my writer friends and some helpful examples from Dora, I decided to give academic writing another shot. I wrote an abstract on the effects of Spanish and U.S. colonialism on Philippine speculative fiction, received an acceptance letter, and tackled the paper with gusto. I presented the finished product at ICFA last year, and much to my surprise, it was received with enthusiasm. Fast forward to present day: 1) I attended ICFA again this year, presenting a paper on the writings of Nick Joaquín and how his style of Philippine magical realism explored the complicated relationships and dynamics of Filipino families; and 2) I’m currently working on two academic papers that have a strong shot at being published.

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So how did I get here? As someone who has never really enjoyed academic writing, how did I end up pursuing this style as a part of my writing repertoire? I can think of at least two major reasons:

My paper topics reflect my reading interests. Academic writing requires a TON of reading. Fortunately, that’s something I enjoy even when it’s not required. In the case of the academic papers and essays I’ve written, I’ve always chosen a topic that results in me reading stuff I find interesting, whether it be comic fantasy or Philippine speculative fiction. Having an sense of curiosity for my chosen topic motivates me to get through the hardest part of academic writing, which is the stacks and stacks of reading material. Once that’s all done, the writing is so much easier to tackle. Love what you read, and the rest will take care of itself.

I have a personal connection to my chosen topics. For the past two conference papers I’ve written, the focus has been on Philippine literature. That’s become something near and dear to me. Being Filipino American and the son of immigrants, I’m always looking for ways to reconnect with my culture, my heritage, and my roots. By examining the history of Philippine speculative fiction, I feel like I’m learning more about myself, and at the same time, my resulting work provides awareness for a culture that’s often forgotten in the United States. The Philippines was a U.S. colony for almost 50 years. Because Philippine history is also U.S. history, I want to help promote Philippine literature. Much of it is written in English, which is the second official language of the island nation. Yet many Americans couldn’t name a single Filipino writer. While my research interests focus on speculative fiction, in a way, my papers are also providing an opportunity for people to discover new writers and hopefully expand their reading interests beyond what’s published in the United States.

So here’s the takeaway message. As a writer, you shouldn’t limit yourself to only writing in the styles you feel comfortable with. Don’t be afraid to take chances on projects that give you anxiety. Don’t be afraid to tackle imposing challenges. There’s a possibility that you may discover something that you can latch on to and make it all your own.

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Lew Andrada received his BS in biology and minor in English from UCLA in 2006. He then received his MFA in creative writing – with an emphasis on popular fiction – from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine in 2017. He currently works as a research assistant at the UCLA Department of Radiology, a position he has held for more than 12 years. Aside from his regular day job, Lew also teaches World Literature and English Composition online for the University of the People. He has presented two academic papers at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts: “The Lingering Effects of Colonialism on Modern Philippine Speculative Fiction” (2017) and “Nick Joaquín and the Tropical Gothic: How Magical Realism Explores Philippine Family Politics and Legacies” (2018). Lew was a fiction editor for the literary magazine, Stonecoast Review, for Issue 8 and also served as a first reader for over two years. His short fiction has been published in The UCLA Beat, The Literary Hatchet, and The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, among others. His home on the web can be found at lewandrada.com, where he blogs about writing, travelling, video games, and other random topics of interest.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Writing

Howdy, howdy!  Welcome to June.  How’s everyone doing?  Is the year going the way you were hoping so far?  Things have been weird for me with random bursts of productivity and bouts of “why bother?” generously sprinkled throughout.  I’m having more trouble than usual coming up with blog post topics, if you can’t tell.  It got me thinking about the writer’s life and wondering where I’m going wrong.  I Googled writer problems and found a few lists of “deadly sins,” but none of them quite worked for me.  Don’t get me wrong, they were cool in their own right, but many were directed toward the technical aspects of writing which aren’t where I’m having trouble.  So, I came up with my own list of seven deadly sins.

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The Seven Deadly Sins by Marta Dahlig.

1. Vanity/Pride.  The mother of all sins is dangerous for a writer, especially when we start thinking our stuff doesn’t need to be revised or changed.  When we’re not open to critique from our peers.  It’s perfect as is.  But art is never perfect.  The story may be great, but there’s always room for improvement.  A great story could become fantastic if you listen to others’ thoughts.  I never used to revise things, because they were “good enough.”  I learned a long time ago that that thinking was flawed.  Granted, I still hate revising pieces, but it’s usually because I’m not sure how to implement the changes I want to include.

2. Avarice/Greed.  Writing isn’t really a gig to get into if you’re just looking to make some quick money.  I mean, it would be nice to earn a comfortable living off of it and it’s totally fine to daydream about, but let’s be honest… we aren’t all Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.  And that’s okay.  It doesn’t make us any lesser as writers.  They work hard just like we do, but they eventually got lucky.  If we persevere, we might get lucky too.  But don’t expect an easy payday in this line of work.

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Don’t be like Greed from FMA.

3. Wrath.  If constant rejection and critique upsets you, writing isn’t the job for you.  This is one of the few things I haven’t really been bothered by.  If someone dislikes my work or thinks I need to change things, that’s their opinions.  I take what’s useful to me and put the rest aside.  As far as rejections go, in total I’m nearing 300.  It’s just part of writing.  It stings sometimes, which is fine.  We’re human.  We’re allowed to get upset.  But if it stops you from submitting, then you won’t last long as a writer.

4. Gluttony.  If you do anything too much, you’re going to burn yourself out.  This includes writing and reading.  I do this a lot on both fronts, but especially with writing.  I’ll get in a good rhythm and forget to take a break until I hit a wall and the words just won’t come, then I fall into a bout of laziness (see Sloth).  I know it’s super hard to find a balance, but remember to take a break now and then.

5. Sloth.  You remember that laziness I was just talking about?  This is that.  For me, sloth is putting off writing until I know what I want to say, which never happens.  I have a general idea of the story, but I don’t really know where it’s going until I start writing.  I know this.  Yet I still get lazy and use plotting as an excuse not to write.  But if you never actually write anything, you’re not really a writer.

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Because sloths are cute.

6. Envy.  I am guilty of this.  Of course I support my writer friends unconditionally, but I admit to feeling the occasional twinge of jealousy.  Humans do this and as much as I hate to admit it, I’m human.  I don’t let it get in the way of being excited for them and cheering them on, though.  Writing is lonely enough.  If you start getting upset and jealous at others’ successes, it’s just going to get lonelier.

7. Lust.  I had a hard time making this one work for writing, but then I thought about the fact that we all have authors we lust after in one way or another.  A lot of times it even appears in our work because we imitate them.  Imitation is a good teaching tool, but if writers don’t make the style their own, it comes off as derivative.  So, lust after whoever you want, but don’t just copy them.  Make it your own.

And that’s how I interpret the seven deadly sins for writing.  What do you agree with?  What would you change?  Feel free to share your thoughts and comments here or on my social media pages!

Thoughts on THE SCENT KEEPER

Howdy, howdy!  It’s the last week of May already, so you know what that means!  It’s book review time.  I went with something a bit more literary than I’m used to, but I wanted to shake things up a bit.  When I was browsing NetGalley, The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister caught my eye.  So, as usual, I must thank them and St. Martin’s Press for giving me access to the novel in exchange for an unbiased review.  The novel was due out on May 21st.  Now, let’s get to the review.

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The cover is absolutely lovely.

The Scent Keeper follows Emmeline as she grows up on a remote island with only her father and their mysterious scent-papers to keep her company.  Her childhood is filled with fairy tales and the type of fantastical fun that only opening up your senses can get you.  However, as she grows, so does her curiosity.  After making discoveries her father refuses to explain, life starts changing until she’s finally flung out into the real world with no safety net.  Can she adjust to real life?  How is she supposed to find out about her origins when her father never told her much?  These are just a couple of questions the book explores.

First, I want to talk about the use of the senses in this book because it’s amazing.  Most stories tend to lean hard on sight because that’s probably the easiest way to explain the world around you.  Not this book.  As you can probably guess, it uses the sense of smell to propel us through Emmeline’s world.  Her other senses work fine, but her nose is what she’s been taught to follow all her life.  She reads scents the way other people read facial expressions.  Smells can’t betray her the way other things can.  Or that’s what she thinks.  But the focus on smells as both deep memory triggers and helpful everyday tools is really neat.

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Have you ever noticed that the longer you look at the word “smell,” the more it looks like it isn’t spelled right?  No?  Just me?  Okay.

The story itself is weird because it has a tendency to move really slow, then speed up, then keep jumping between slow and fast.  I don’t know if that was just because I wasn’t as interested in Emmeline as I was some of the other characters or what, but even the slow parts were nice.  I was in love with the story, so the pace didn’t really matter.  Then the ending happened and everything fell apart for me.  I knew what was going to happen, but not where it would happen.  I was hoping for a return to the island for the big finale, but what I got was an abrupt ending that left so much open that it was unsatisfying.  I mean, Fisher (the love interest) was waiting for Emmeline to return to the cove (her childhood home after she had left the island) with him.  They had plans.  Does she just leave him waiting?  Does she go back home?  Nothing is explained and it reminded me why I avoid straight litfic.  Nothing is ever satisfactorily resolved and it’s annoying as all get out.

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As far as the writing goes, it is a beautiful and lyrical experience.  The description is gorgeous.  It makes the focus on scent easy to picture or understand even when I wasn’t sure what some of the things smelled like.  The pace is weird but the rhythm of the writing flows nicely.

Ultimately, I’m happy to have had a chance to be exposed to such wonderful writing in The Scent Keeper, but the ending ruined everything for me.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of five stars.  What I enjoyed of it, I really enjoyed, but what I didn’t like got the best of me in the end.  If you don’t mind a story that just cuts off but has lovely prose, pick it up.

Character Introduction: Alexsandro Reyes

Hello, hello!  May is slowly coming to a close.  How is everyone doing?  Is the heat sneaking up on you, yet?  It’s still pretty nice around here.  Anyway, last week, I introduced you to Lucynda “Cyn” Moseman from my cozy WIP.  Now, I want to introduce you to the handsome detective who is of course a potential love interest.  What cozy would be complete without the hot cop who constantly has to save our heroine?  Not that Cyn has a tendency to get in trouble, just that that’s how cozies usually go.  Anyway, please be kind to our dear detective Alexsandro “Alex” Reyes.

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Eduardo Verastegui.

Alexsandro (32) has only been in Dallas for a couple of years after bouncing around Texas looking for a place that was the right fit.  His Armani suit and fancy shoes don’t mesh well with his detective’s salary, but that doesn’t stop him from looking sharp on and off the job.  But where does a cop get that kind of money?  It’s a secret he isn’t willing to share, but that doesn’t stop the rumor mill from churning out tall tales.  Just ask Cherry, the medical examiner who adores drama when it’s about other people and who happens to be Cyn’s bestie.  But he takes it all in stride and keeps his secrets locked behind an enigmatic smile.

Despite being a relative newb in a job surrounded by old timers, Alex has gained a certain level of respect for his abilities.  That’s why he gets assigned to Dallas’s first serial killing case in years.  It’s not like these things just fall into his lap because he’s pretty.  He’s talented too.  Although the case is horrible, he can’t help being a little happy that it pushed him into Cyn’s path.  But won’t she be angry if he has to arrest one of her employees for murder?  He can’t let that stop him from doing his job.

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And the full body.

Confidence, charm, and mystery are all qualities that Alex uses to hide his true self from the world.  It’s been a long time since anyone has been able to break through his veneer.  Can Cyn do it?  Does he want her to see the real him?  Would she understand?  These are some of the questions floating around his mind as he searches for a murderer.  Luckily, he’s a good multitasker.  And he’s fairly adept at avoiding having a personal life, so it’s not like those questions even matter.  Or do they?  Only time will tell.

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Pretty much, except he isn’t all that much like House.

At the moment, that’s Alexsandro Reyes.  I might tweak some things, but overall I like him as is.  Who’s the potential love interest in your book?  Are they harboring a secret that could change the protagonist’s feelings toward them?  Did you decide to skip the love interest altogether?  What kind of character did you replace them with?  Feel free to share your thoughts, comments, or anything else here or on my social media pages!  Next week is book review week, then I may or may not have more character intros for you.

Character Introduction: Lucynda Moseman

Howdy, howdy!  A friend recently tweeted about the fact that many writers have an idea of what the main characters in their WIPs look like and he asked for pictures or GIFs.  It made me realize that out of all my stories (shorts, novellas, and novels), I had only come up with character images for one story.  My supernatural/paranormal cozy mystery characters all have pictures associated with them, which I would reference as I was writing the first draft because the cast is large enough that I needed reminders.  Now, that novel is tucked away until I finish revising another one, but I thought I would introduce you to its main cast of characters.  First up, the protagonist: Lucynda “Cyn” Moseman.

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Yes, that’s Cody Horn.

Lucynda (30) is the owner of Dreamscapes, Dallas’s first and only host club.  It was always her dream to own some kind of club, but she never expected it to be one where most of the employees were vampires.  Thanks to her prolonged exposure to her number one host and roomie, Jyou, she’s not particularly susceptible to certain charms the vampires use to get their way.  And she’s not afraid to remind them of the rules everyone agreed upon when they came to work for her, the most important of which is “no biting the customers.”

Originally from Marfa, Cyn got out of there as fast as she could when she turned 18.  She keeps her past to herself.  So much so that even Jyou only knows bits and pieces.  However, her bestie, Cerise “Cherry” Wapachee, grew up with her and followed Cyn all the way to Dallas (not that she’d ever admit that was the reason).  Their friendship is the only non-familial connection to Marfa that Cyn maintains.

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Of course a full body shot was needed.

Quiet, sarcastic, and a natural people reader are some of the best ways to describe Cyn.  She has a weird ability to pair new guests with their ideal hosts and she’s an outgoing, friendly face that helps club customers feel at home.  But outside the club, Cyn likes to mind her own business and keep to herself, which makes being dragged into a murder investigation pretty damn awkward.  She’s a reluctant participant who winds up getting deeper and deeper into the investigation, but she doesn’t let her trepidation stop her from rising to the challenge no matter how badly she thinks it will end.

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But let’s do it anyway!

That’s Lucynda Moseman at the moment.  Do you have any characters you would like to introduce to me?  Are you the type who gathers images and creates character sheets to get to know your characters?  Or do you just wing it like I usually do and hope they seem like real people?  Feel free to share any tips about character development, characters, or general comments here or on my social media pages!  Come back next week to meet Detective Alexsandro Reyes.

She’s a Pisser, All Right…

Hello, hello!  How is your month going?  Things are about the same as usual around here.  Writing is a struggle, submissions are on schedule, reading is being accomplished, and I’m slowly getting into my new hobby of crocheting (we’ll see how far I can get with it).  But I have nothing writerly to talk about, so I thought I would formally introduce you to the dog we got on Christmas.  You’ve seen pictures of her if you’ve been stalking me, but it’s time to let you know all her dirty little secrets.

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On Christmas, Dad’s friend and the friend’s woman-friend brought over two Pomeranians, husband and wife.  The woman had inherited them from her dead husband who had inherited them from a friend who had passed away.  Due to the hours she works, she didn’t have enough time to dedicate to properly caring for the dogs, so Dad’s friend suggested us as potential pupper parents.  Unfortunately, they neglected to mention that the boy dog had congestive heart failure (claiming repeatedly that he just had a cough and was always lethargic like that) and didn’t bring his medicine until the next day, so he passed away.  It was a bit traumatic for Dad (especially since the dog died in his lap while he was trying to give it its medicine) and I, but the girl dog stuck around.

Her name is Lady.  For the record, we didn’t name her, not that it really matters since she doesn’t seem to know her name anyway.  She answers to “Hey!” more than anything.  I tend to call her Fuzzybutt, but Dad thinks she should be named “Rocks” since she’s about as smart as a box of ’em.  She doesn’t know any commands and doesn’t seem keen to learn any.  But aside from being on the dumb side, she is the happiest dog ever!  Always prancing around like she deserves ALL the treats.  She demands cuddles and pets, but she won’t kiss for them.  As long as you’re touching her, she’s your friend for life.

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Pretty much.

She’s a great dog.  Super sweet.  She goes outside to poop.  The only problem is that she pees wherever she wants, which is usually in the house.  Dad even installed a doggy door for her, but it makes no difference.  In the beginning, we assumed it was her bedwetting problems, which she has medicine for but refuses to take recently.  Apparently, she just likes peeing on soft things.  The sofa, clean laundry, pillows, our beds, her bed.  It’s weird.  And it’s like she holds it all day or night just so she can soak things down.  She’s just doing it out of spite, because it seems to get worse when we leave her alone for a few hours (like to go get dinner).  She’ll be fine while we’re gone, then she’ll soak her bed or a pillow or something after we’ve been home a while.  Suggestions for how to break this habit are welcome.  Everything on the Interwebz starts with “put her bed there because she won’t pee where she sleeps!”  But I call bullshit, because she most certainly does.

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And they do.

Other than the peeing thing, she’s such a good pupper (she’s 8, but all dogs are puppers).  The vet and staff love her.  The groomer loves her.  We love her, but shhhhh… don’t tell her that.

Summer Reading List

Hello, hello!  It’s already the first day of May.  Can you believe it?  And even though it’s not technically summer, we’re starting to warm up around here, so I’ve been thinking about what to sit outside (at least until we hit the triple digits, then I’ll probably stay inside) and read.  Do you have your summer reading list ready?  I thought I would go ahead and share mine.  These are just my “for fun” books, not the ones I plan to review.  Also, the list is a work in progress, so I might add some or replace some.  Nothing is concrete, but these are all part of my current plan.

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Anyway, here are the books in no particular order!

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1. A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman, Rafael AlbuquerqueRafael Scavone, and Dave Stewart.  It’s been a while since I’ve read a graphic novel, so this should be a fun read.  Not to mention that it’s a Lovecraftian Sherlock Holmes story with Gaiman at the helm, so it’s right up my alley.

From the back: This supernatural mystery set in the world of Sherlock Holmes and Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos features a brilliant detective and his partner as they try to solve a horrific murder.

The complex investigation takes the Baker Street investigators from the slums of Whitechapel all the way to the Queen’s Palace as they attempt to find the answers to this bizarre murder of cosmic horror!

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2. Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse.  It’s the second in The Sixth World series and I’ve been looking forward to it since I read and reviewed the first book.  Can’t wait to see what Maggie and Kai get up to this time!

From Amazon: It’s been four weeks since the bloody showdown at Black Mesa, and Maggie Hoskie, Diné monster hunter, is trying to make the best of things. Only her latest bounty hunt has gone sideways, she’s lost her only friend, Kai Arviso, and she’s somehow found herself responsible for a girl with a strange clan power.

Then the Goodacre twins show up at Maggie’s door with the news that Kai and the youngest Goodacre, Caleb, have fallen in with a mysterious cult, led by a figure out of Navajo legend called the White Locust. The Goodacres are convinced that Kai’s a true believer, but Maggie suspects there’s more to Kai’s new faith than meets the eye. She vows to track down the White Locust, then rescue Kai and make things right between them.

Her search leads her beyond the Walls of Dinétah and straight into the horrors of the Big Water world outside. With the aid of a motley collection of allies, Maggie must battle body harvesters, newborn casino gods and, ultimately, the White Locust himself. But the cult leader is nothing like she suspected, and Kai might not need rescuing after all. When the full scope of the White Locust’s plans are revealed, Maggie’s burgeoning trust in her friends, and herself, will be pushed to the breaking point, and not everyone will survive.

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3. Murder Lo Mein by Vivien Chien.  This is the third book in the A Noodle Shop Mystery series, of which I reviewed the first.  It’s a cute little cozy series and I really enjoy the characters even if the mysteries have been a little predictable so far.

From Amazon: Lana Lee’s stake in her family’s Chinese restaurant is higher than ever now that she’s been made manager. So when she enters Ho-Lee into Cleveland’s Best Noodle Contest, Lana makes it her business to win—at all costs. But when a local food critic receives a threatening note in a fortune cookie and is later found dead, face-down in a bowl of lo mein, all bets are off. . .

Now, along with her sweet-and-sour boyfriend Detective Adam Trudeau, Lana decides to take matters into her own hands and dig into the lives of everyone involved in the contest. But when she receives an ill-fated fortune, Lana realizes that in order to save the reputation of her restaurant, she needs to save herself first. . .

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4. Past Due for Murder by Victoria Gilbert.  This one is also the third cozy in a series (A Blue Ridge Library Mystery) where I reviewed the first one.  I really don’t know why I keep coming back to this series except that I find the love interest and side characters amusing, but I will give it another shot.

From Amazon: Spring has sprung in quaint Taylorsford, Virginia, and the mayor has revived the town’s long-defunct May Day celebration to boost tourism. As part of the festivities, library director Amy Webber is helping to organize a research project and presentation by a local folklore expert. All seems well at first—but spring takes on a sudden chill when a university student inexplicably vanishes during a bonfire. 

The local police cast a wide net to find the missing woman, but in a shocking turn of events, Amy’s swoon-worthy neighbor Richard Muir becomes a person of interest in the case. Not only is Richard the woman’s dance instructor, he also doesn’t have an alibi for the night the student vanished—or at least not one he’ll divulge, even to Amy. 

When the missing student is finally discovered lost in the mountains, with no memory of recent events—and a dead body lying nearby—an already disturbing mystery takes on a sinister new hue. Blessed with her innate curiosity and a librarian’s gift for research, Amy may be the only one who can learn the truth in Past Due for Murder, Victoria Gilbert’s third charming Blue Ridge Library mystery.

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5. Finding Baba Yaga by Jane Yolen.  Ever since I read Briar Rose, I’ve been meaning to look into more of Yolen’s work.  This seemed like a good opportunity for a quick read by an awesome author.

From Amazon: A young woman discovers the power to speak up and take control of her fate—a theme that has never been more timely than it is now…

You think you know this story.
You do not.

A harsh, controlling father. A quiescent mother. A house that feels like anything but a home. Natasha gathers the strength to leave, and comes upon a little house in the wood: A house that walks about on chicken feet and is inhabited by a fairy tale witch. In finding Baba Yaga, Natasha finds her voice, her power, herself

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6. A Hero Born: Legends of the Condor Heroes 1 by Jin Yong (translated by Anna Holmwood).  A friend sent me this one a few months ago and I haven’t had a chance to dig into it yet, so I’m looking forward to it.

From Amazon: China: 1200 A.D. The Song Empire has been invaded by its warlike Jurchen neighbours from the north. Half its territory and its historic capital lie in enemy hands; the peasants toil under the burden of the annual tribute demanded by the victors. Meanwhile, on the Mongolian steppe, a disparate nation of great warriors is about to be united by a warlord whose name will endure for eternity: Genghis Khan. Guo Jing, son of a murdered Song patriot, grew up with Genghis Khan’s army. He is humble, loyal, perhaps not altogether wise, and is fated from birth to one day confront an opponent who is the opposite of him in every way: privileged, cunning and flawlessly trained in the martial arts. Guided by his faithful shifus, The Seven Heroes of the South, Guo Jing must return to China – to the Garden of the Drunken Immortals in Jiaxing – to fulfil his destiny. But in a divided land riven by war and betrayal, his courage and his loyalties will be tested at every turn.

That’s my list so far!  Plus, I plan to read a poem every day starting today.  Recommendations for books or poetry are always welcome.  Feel free to share your own summer reading lists here or on my social media pages!

Thoughts on the PIECES OF ME Duet

Howdy, howdy!  It’s the last Wednesday of April!  Can you believe it?  Time sure flies, I guess.  Anyway, it’s time for another book review!  Actually, this month is a little different because I’m reviewing two books at once.  My friend, Danielle Rose, has a duet coming out on May 14th, so I decided to see if I could get some Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) of the books.  Thanks to NetGalley and Waterhouse Press, I did just that.  The duet is called Pieces of Me and it’s comprised of Lies We Keep and Truth We Bear.  They are contemporary romances, so they’re not my usual reads, but I knew that going in.  I thought you should know as well.  Anyway, as usual, I have to thank NetGalley and Waterhouse for allowing me access to the ARCs in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Let’s get on with it!

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The covers are pretty!

The Pieces of Me duet is centered around famous author, Jezebel Tate, and her bodyguard, James Blakely, as their relationship blooms from “just sex” into full blown love.  Lies We Keep is told from Jezebel’s perspective and follows her as she hires Blakely to protect her from her stalker.  Along the way, she has to confront her past and accept that she isn’t to blame for her parents’ deaths.  Truth We Bear is told in Blakely’s perspective and follows him as he and his past chase each other into a head-on collision.  He has to learn the same lesson as Jezebel, but under completely different circumstances.

Let’s talk plots.  The whole of the stories are vastly different, but both books are pretty similar if you boil them down to their bones.  Both Jezebel and Blakely have to deal with stalkers while they sort out issues revolving around the deaths of their folks.  Plus, they have to find time to cram in lots of steamy sex (a requirement of the romance genre, so don’t pretend you didn’t know it was coming).  Granted, Jezebel’s journey to resolving her issues is more internal and psychological while Blakely actually gets to confront people from his past, but still similar.  I enjoyed the parallels.

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The characters were interesting and mostly fleshed out.  Jezebel vacillates between a strong woman who knows what she wants and takes it and an insecure woman who feels that only a big strong man can save her.  It’s annoying at times, but not out of the realm of believability.  Blakely is basically your average stoic dom on the outside with a bunch of weird insecurities inside (I say weird because I didn’t understand why he was worried about her leaving him over what happened when he was a kid).  Tara, the literary agent, was a neat character that I felt could have been used more.  As far as the bad people go, I felt like Jezebel’s stalker could have shown up earlier and played a bigger part.  He seemed a little like an afterthought.  I really liked Blakely’s stalker, though.  Her development was quick, but nicely done.  And lastly, the pastor (Blakely’s actual bad guy) was a bit flat.

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I laughed every time a lip was bit.

The writing is crisp and flows well.  It makes for a quick read.  There are some gestures that became repetitive.  Distractingly so.  Lots of bit lips and bobbing Adam’s apples and clenched jaws, especially in the first book.  But to be fair, this happens in every romance I read, so I guess it’s a genre thing.  But what I really liked was that they’re written to work as both a duet and standalone novels, so even if you only read one, you get the pleasure of a satisfying ending.

Ultimately, both books in the Pieces of Me duet were fun and I’m glad I read them.  It’s good to get outside of my comfort zone once in a while.

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Overall, I gave both books 4 out of 5 stars.   The issues I had with them are minor and seem fairly common in the genre.  If you like romance and lots of random sex, these are definitely worth a look.

More Shameless Self Promotion

Hello, hello!  How is everyone doing this wonderful day?  I just realized it’s National Poetry Month and what better way to celebrate than to announce my latest publication?  My poem, “Dear God,” was released on Monday in Breath and Shadow’s Spring ’19 issue.  So, I thought I would take a moment to update you on this and on how Road Kill: Texas Horror by Texas Writers Vol. 3 is doing.

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Couldn’t find one with a writer instead of the skier.

First, the new one!  “Dear God” is a piece I shared on here a few years ago, so if it seems familiar, that’s why.  However, the version posted on Breath and Shadow has been edited into a more streamlined piece.  It was originally written while I was an undergrad taking an Intro to Poetry Writing class with professor Jennifer Key.  One of our assignments was to write a poem speaking to God.  Many of the students wrote extremely happy and/or vague poems, so it was a little weird when it came time to read mine.  But I’m glad I read it to the class and I’m proud that this newest version is out in the world.

A little bit about Breath and Shadow.  It’s a quarterly journal out of Maine that focuses strictly on disabled writers, no matter the disability.  It’s a wonderful publication that gives a voice to a vast group that often goes unheard.  Normally, I keep my disability to myself when I’m submitting my work because I don’t want to be a publication’s token cripple or fodder for inspiration porn, but Breath and Shadow is a place where I didn’t have to worry about any of that.  Why?  Because all of the editors and staff have their own disabilities, as well as all of the contributors.  It’s simply a neat journal that publishes awesome writing by people who happen to be disabled.  Check it out.

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Inspiration porn, BUT there’re also adorable puppers.  I’ll let it slide.

And lastly, an update on Road Kill vol. 3.  It recently won the North Texas Book Festival Book Award!  I’m super proud to be in a collection with such a wonderful group of writers.  Thank you once again to E.R. Bills for putting it together.  If you haven’t checked it out, visit the link at the beginning of this post and consider picking up a copy.  It’s available as a paperback and a Kindle ebook.

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Wootwoot!

I’m wrapping this up a little quicker than usual, since I’m sure you’re tired of my shamelessness.  I’ll be back next week with a special book review of a duet (two reviews for the price of one)!  In the mean time, feel free to share your thoughts, comments, or recent accomplishments here or on my social media pages.

Hobbies Are Important I Guess…

Howdy, howdy!  I’ve kind of been in a funk for a long time.  None of the things that used to excite me (anime, manga, even music) have held much interest for me.  While I was sick, I even stopped playing my mindless games for a few weeks.  The only thing I’ve been consistently doing is reading, and that hasn’t really drawn me in either.  I read a chapter or two at a time, then get bored no matter whether I’m enjoying the book or not.  And I think we all know (if you’ve been following my blog) that my writing schedule has been super inconsistent.  So, I decided to try finding some kind of hobby that might interest me.

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Apathetic, not sad.  Thank you very much.

While we were running errands on Friday, Dad and I stopped by Hobby Lobby for some yarn for a project he’s doing in the pond.  As he was searching for a certain type of yarn in green, I looked around the aisle just for the fun of it.  I like yarn and random crafts.  I used to love cross-stitching.  But I don’t do anything like that anymore because I have a stupidly limited range of motion and can’t get my hands close enough together to manipulate everything that needs manipulating.  It’s the same reason I stopped playing video games.

Anyway, when I was younger, I had tried crocheting.  I never finished anything and have no idea why I stopped, but I never started back up because the hooks were all too short for me to reach with both hands.  Needless to say, I was surprised to see a few hooks that were super long hanging above the normal crochet hooks at Hobby Lobby.  After much internal debate, I decided to get one and a skein of multi-colored yarn.  Actually, Dad got them for me (thanks, again!).

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This is going to be more fun than I thought.

A lot of writers I know seem to knit or crochet or have similar hobbies, so when I saw that hook (which is apparently a Tunisian/Afghan hook designed for a special type of crocheting, but can be used like a regular hook) I figured I could give it a shot.  Granted, I remember absolutely nothing from my earlier attempts at the craft, so all I’ve been doing thus far is research, but I feel that little tug of excitement that I’ve been missing.  I have a project picked out (and approved of by a friend who crochets as something a beginner can handle).  I’ve been watching videos of how to do the chain and single crochet, as well as how to sew the project together when I reach that point.  All I’m missing is a yarn or tapestry needle, but I won’t need that until I get the crocheting done.  I hope to start on that part soon.

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Me: “Wish me luck?” Also me: “Nope.”

What about you?  Do you have a particular hobby (or two, three, forty)?  What drew you to it?  Are you currently looking for a hobby or learning a new one?  Feel free to share your thoughts or comments or questions here or on my social media pages!

P.S. If I succeed at my first project, I’ll make sure to post pictures!  If I fail, I’ll probably just let this whole thing fade into oblivion with no further mention.