Thoughts on SHATTER THE SKY

Howdy, howdy!  It’s the last Wednesday of July, so you should all know what that means.  It’s time for another book review!  This month, I felt like getting into something fantastical, maybe with dragons or something, so that’s what I looked for on NetGalley.  They recommended the young adult novel Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells, which was released yesterday (July 30th).  It sounded interesting, so I went ahead and requested it.  I must thank NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for allowing me access to an ARC (advanced reader copy) in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Now, let’s get to the review.

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A pretty generic YA cover.  No idea what the glowy thing she’s holding is, but I’m guessing a vial which is never described as glowing in the book.

Shatter the Sky follows Maren who leaves her secluded home in the hopes of rescuing her girlfriend, Kaia, who is taken by the Aurati seers.  Maren never actually wanted to leave her home and always believed she was average, especially next to Kaia who was obviously meant for greater things than the mountains could provide.  But when Kaia is stolen, Maren decides she needs to reclaim a dragon from the Flame of the West (the warlord who loves nothing more than conquering lands) and rain down fire and destruction upon the Aurati.  But how is an average girl like her supposed to do that?  With a little help from friends, apparently.  But is Sev, a guy she meets along the way, really a friend?  And can his allies really help her rescue Kaia?  Maren doesn’t have any idea what she’s doing or who to trust, but she does all she can to keep moving forward.

The plot is pretty standard fantasy fare.  An underdog rises above her challenges in order to achieve her goals, discovering along the way that she’s actually super special.  Not only must she face physical obstacles, but there’s also a budding romance with the new friend despite her devotion to her heartmate, which brings up shame and all that good stuff.  And there’s an adorable little dragon that gets sucked into the adventures.  It’s a little predictable at points, but still enjoyable.

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But not so ashamed she’ll ditch him.

It’s not the plot that pulled me in, but the characters.  Of course, in the beginning, Kaia is the obvious choice for a heroine, but then she’s abducted and we only get to see snippets of her in Maren’s visions.  By the end, she’s so completely changed that it makes me want to read the next book to find out what she really becomes.  Maren is headstrong and a little flighty.  She rarely has more than a vague notion of a plan, but that never stops her.  However, her insistence that Kaia is somehow better than her does become annoying.  Sev is an ambiguous character that could either be really good or he could go really bad, which is fun.  He’s adamant that his cause is the only way to a better future, which most villains feel the same way.  But if he keeps with Maren, and lets her influence shape him, he could become a hero in his own right.  This book is leaning toward the latter for him, but it doesn’t mean he won’t veer off in the next book.  Otherwise, I love the dragons and want more of them.

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A Dragon Witch by Nene Thomas.  Just because dragons.

The writing itself was smooth and a made for nice read.  A lot of the description was beautiful and the pacing pulled me along at a good clip.  The dialogue occasionally felt stilted, but not enough to really distract from the story.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Shatter the Sky so much that I’m looking forward to book two and am a little sad that I have to wait for it.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.  Like I said, it’s standard fantasy fare, but the characters made it worth reading for me.  If you enjoy character development and can get past some predictableness, this is definitely worth reading.

A Look Inside Fritzl’s Euro Grill

Hello, hello!  How is everyone doing?  Is it hot enough for you?  Because it’s actually been relatively mild here in north Texas.  Anyway, for Dad’s birthday last week, he wanted some Austrian food, so we decided to go to Fritzl’s over in Rowlett in a little strip mall on the corner of Rowlett Road and 66.  It’s a small place owned and ran by Klaus Fritz, a fifth generation pastry chef from Austria.  I’ve linked to his restaurant Facebook page above for the most up-to-date information and pictures of pastries.  Full transparency: we used to go here pretty often (for us) before Mom died, but we haven’t been in at least 6 years (pre-Stonecoast, thus pre-blog), so I thought I would go ahead and do a review.  So, here we go.

First, a reminder of my rating system:

MMMMM = Everything is magnificent!
MMMM = Great, but something is off.
MMM = Pretty good, but a couple of things could be better.
MM = The bad’s starting to outweigh the good.
M = Definitely more cons than pros.
… = I couldn’t find anything nice to say.

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As usual, I forgot to take pictures, so I borrowed them from Google and Facebook.

Accessibility: much improved.  Back when when we first started going, there were various decorations blocking the sidewalk by the door, but over the years, everything has been cleared away to make the path easier to traverse.  There are a couple of different types of tables, one with the knee banger (the low hanging thing) and one without, so that’s not an issue.  The place is small, so it can be difficult to maneuver when crowded, but Klaus is super helpful about finding a place to sit.  So yeah, the accessibility is up to the usual Texas standards.

Service: great.  It was just Klaus when we went this time and the restaurant was really slow (like only one other couple just finishing up when we arrived kind of slow), so we didn’t have long to wait for anything and he never rushed us.  He was super helpful about placing things where I could get them and making sure I was okay.  I admit it was a little disconcerting because people around here aren’t that helpful, but it was much appreciated.

Appetizers: betting they’re still yummy, but we didn’t get any this time because Dad only had eyes for the schnitzel (meaning he missed them as he scanned the menu).

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A picture of the woodcutter schnitzel and a brat that I found on Google.

Entrees: delicious as always.  Dad had the wienerschnitzel with a brat, spaetzle, and sauerkraut.  I had the woodcutter schnitzel with potatoes and sauerkraut.  It was lovely and the meat was wonderfully tender, so I had zero problems chewing it.  I look forward to going back just to get the paprika schnitzel (my other favorite from when we used to go).  Sometimes, there’s nothing as comforting as meat and potatoes.  I even enjoyed the kraut, which I’m just now starting to get a taste for (never liked the stuff until a few months ago).

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The pastry shelves change a little each day.

Dessert: no words, just drool.  Dad had a napoleon that was flaky and creamy and delicious.  I had the Black Forest cake that had a lovely balance of chocolate vs. cream vs. cherry.  But!  My personal favorite from this trip was the rum ball that I decided to take home for dessert the next day.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but a ball of chocolate that actually had a rum taste wasn’t it.  It was awesome and I hope he has them next time we go.

Alcohol: nice selection of beer.  It’s one of the few places around here that we can get a dunkel (dark German lager).

Price: fair.  You get huge portions of freshly prepared food.  That’s what you pay for, so it’s definitely worth it.

My rating:
MMMMM

I could take an M away because of the potential for not fitting in the place if it’s crowded, but that’s true of basically anywhere.  So, my first five M rating!

Another Round of Shameless Self-Promotion

Howdy, howdy!  Can you believe July is already more than halfway over?  Neither can I.  But I must admit it’s a good month.  First and foremost, Dad’s birthday is tomorrow (happy early birthday, old man!), so drop him some birthday love here or on my social media pages and I’ll pass it along to him.  Secondly, I recently found out that a piece of mine called “Cracked and Broken” will be appearing in Harbinger Press‘s Flash Fiction Fridays.  So, I thought I would take this week’s post as a chance for some shameless self-promotion.

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For Dad.

Harbinger Press is a brand new venue that opened in March of this year and was founded by Marie Robinson and B.C. Palmer.  It will be running its first round of Flash Fiction Fridays from July 19th through November 29th. My story will appear during this time.  I will announce via social media the exact Friday it comes out, plus I will share links to the story in those posts and on my website.  In other words, if you haven’t done so already, please stalk my pages all of which can be found off to the side here or at the top of my website.  And if you want to see all of the flash fiction pieces in this series (and participate future events like the “best of 2019” contest they’ll be having for their flash fiction selections), subscribe to Harbinger Press’s newsletter, which can be found on their website linked above.

If you’re interested in submitting your own flash fiction pieces to them, their winter call opens on August 1st and runs until November 1st.  They’re open to fantasy, sci-fi, and horror according to the submission page.  I know I have some friends whose writing could fit in those categories!  Harbinger Press pays a flat rate of $25 for stories with a maximum of 1,000 words (so, basically semi-pro pay).  You can find their guidelines and the basic rights they purchase on the website I linked above.

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Borrowed from their website.

I’m extremely happy to be included in this debut batch of flash fiction.  “Cracked and Broken” is one of the few pieces I’ve written that I liked even before my writing group  gave their approval of it.  They helped me improve it a lot, so I have to thank them for the suggestions and critiques.  They know who they are.  It was also one of the first pieces I wrote after Stonecoast, without the guidance of my mentors, so it was a little scary to send it out into the world.  But I’m glad it has found a home!

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Will o’ the Wisp by Rob Powell.  Not what the story is technically about, but close enough visually.

As I mentioned above, I’ll announce when the story is released on my social media pages, so stalk me or subscribe to Harbinger Press’s newsletter to catch it when it comes out.  Next week we’ll return to our regularly scheduled program of trying to figure out this writing life.  Or maybe something cripple-focused.  I haven’t decided yet, but I’ll see you then.

My Writing Space: 5 Things That Aren’t Writing Related

Hello, hello!  How is everyone doing this bright and beautiful July day?  I’m still finding motivation and focus hard to achieve, which means most of my writing goals have failed miserably.  Slumps suck, but I’ll get out of it.  Anyway, I don’t really have anything writerly or exciting to post about, so I thought I would reintroduce you to my writing area.  I know I posted about it before, but writing areas aren’t entirely about writing.  They’re also about the writer (in this instance, me), so I wanted to introduce you to some of the non-writerly things that I keep nearby.

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An old picture.  Things have changed, like a new stereo and different pictures, but still a good representation of my work space.

1. Yarn.  I decided to teach myself how to crochet, so I have a slowly disappearing skein of yarn and an 85% finished project sitting on my computer.  I just have to make a few more rows, then figure out how to sew it into a hat.  As usual with my creative endeavors, I’m finding it difficult to work up the motivation to finish.  Mostly because the next project I want to undertake scares me.  It’s supposedly fairly easy, but it looks so complicated!  And kind of big, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle it physically.  But I’m enjoying the new hobby even though it scares me.  That’s about all it has in common with writing.  Well, that and shitty first attempts being acceptable.

2. Tequila.  I actually have two bottles of tequila on my desk.  One is an anejo from Republic Tequila in a bottle shaped like Texas.  It hasn’t been opened yet, even though I’ve had it for years.  I also have a Kah reposado in a sugar skull bottle.  I’ve only had a couple of shots of it, so it’s mostly full.  I’m not a lush.  I swear.

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This one is similar to my bottle, but the designs are always a little different because each one is hand painted.

3. Assorted treats.  I keep a jar of chocolates on my desk, plus various candies and Pocky that I pick up or that people give me.  I still have chocolate from Christmas and Easter, plus candy and Pocky that are at least a couple of years old.  I keep forgetting they exist.  It’s weird, I know.  But my sweet tooth only activates at random times and I usually go for the chocolate instead of the rest.

4. Random creepy creatures.  Well, they aren’t really creepy.  I have a little rubber rat finger puppet that a neighbor gave me one Halloween.  His name is Yuki (it means snow) even though he’s black.  I just really like Fruits Basket.  And he cheers me on from my computer or right next to it.  I also have a tiny glass octopus named Tako that a friend sent me during one of her visits to Italy.  He watches me from one of my shelves.  And I have a bunch of other random figurines I’ve collected over the years.

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Sohma Yuki, year of the rat.

5. A pile of CDs.  My new stereo doesn’t have a multi-CD function, so I have 60+ CDs sitting around in plain sight (many more hidden in my cabinets), waiting to be ripped to my computer.  But I’m lazy and keep forgetting about them.

So, that’s some of the non-writerly things I have in my writing space.  If it tells you something about the kind of person I am, feel free to share.  What are some of the things you keep in your work space that have nothing to do with your work?  Feel free to leave your comments, thoughts, or questions here or on my social media pages!

A Look Inside Yoshi Shabu Shabu

Hello, hello!  Happy July!  Since I haven’t done a food review since November (we haven’t really been anywhere new), I thought I would take the chance to do one now.  A couple of weeks ago, Dad and I made the trip to Richardson to pick out some stained glass for a project he’s working on.  Richardson has a decent selection of restaurants, so I looked around and found a shabu shabu (Japanese hotpot) place.  We’ve never had it, so we decided to give Yoshi Shabu Shabu a shot.  They’re located in the Shops at Eastside, right off 75 at the corner of Greenville and Campbell.  You can visit their website (linked above) for the address.  There’s also one in Plano.  Now for the review!

First, a reminder of my rating system:

MMMMM = Everything is magnificent!
MMMM = Great, but something is off.
MMM = Pretty good, but a couple of things could be better.
MM = The bad’s starting to outweigh the good.
M = Definitely more cons than pros.
… = I couldn’t find anything nice to say.

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Forgot to take pics, so all images are borrowed from Google.

Accessibility: not bad, but not the best.  There seems to be one handicap parking spot at each building (maybe more on the other sides), so there’s only one near the restaurant.  Luckily, it was empty.  There’s also a parking garage we didn’t look at.  Getting into the restaurant is fairly easy, but the tables are tightly packed, so maneuvering can definitely be tricky if the place gets busy.  The tables themselves have the little knee bangers (the part that hangs down a couple of inches), so I couldn’t get close.  It’s probably there to protect people from the heating device under the table, though.  All in all, the accessibility is the usual standard for Texas (I say Texas because other states I’ve been to vary from great to shitty when it comes to wheelchair friendliness and Texas tends to lean mostly toward the really good end of things).

Service: great!  Our server was nice and attentive and showed us how to do everything.  She also acknowledged my existence and treated me like a normal human being from the very beginning.  You know that earned her some bonus points.  There were a couple of mistakes along the way, like a plate of edamame we didn’t order and everything coming out at once, but overall she provided a great experience.

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Karaage.

Appetizers: tasty, but they came out after the food.  We got the karaage and the garlic noodles with shrimp.  And for some reason, edamame ended up on our table, but Dad and I aren’t fans of it in general.  Karaage is fried chicken and it was nice and crunchy.  The garlic noodles were pretty good too.  BUT!  If you’re going to order apps, make sure they’re on the table before you order the shabu shabu stuff, otherwise it all comes out at once and no one wants that.  It crowds an already small table and it’s just plain inconvenient.  Things get cold before you can eat them.

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One of many possible combinations.

Shabu shabu: delicious and fun.  Shabu shabu is a Japanese hotpot.  When you sit down, there’s a pot of water on the table which has a burner under it.  You pick a base (we went with tonkotsu) to create a broth, then you pick meats (they have different combo options and we went with the five meat combo with Wagyu ribeye, pork belly, Berkshire pork, scallops, and mussels), then they have a bunch of veggies and you can pick and choose what you want or just let them bring a little of everything, then you choose your noodle (udon, ramen, or their gluten free option).  There are also a few dipping sauces for the meats.  Basically, you cook the veggies and swish pieces of the meat in the broth until it’s cooked to your preference and eat as you go, then cook the noodles in the leftover liquid and veggies to make a nice soup.  In all honesty, the whole cook-it-yourself thing isn’t really a great option for cripples with limited motion in their arms (like me), but it’s still a really fun experience if you have someone to do it for you (like Dad).  A word of advice: add the veggies in small increments as you go along, otherwise they get super mushy.

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Coconut pandan waffles.

Dessert: weird, but the good kind of weird.  Of course they have mochi, but they also have ice cream popsicle things (which we didn’t get) and waffles.  Yup, I said waffles.  Dad got mochi and I got coconut pandan waffles.  It’s a matcha and coconut waffle and it’s the weirdest thing ever.  There was also caramel drizzled on it.  I want to go back just to try this again.

Price: fair.  It’s expensive because meat is expensive, but it was actually cheaper than we were expecting.  They tell you right on the menu which meats cost extra, so if you keep an eye on that and order combos, you can fill up for a decent price.

My rating:
MMMM

They lost an M mostly because of the appetizer thing and a little because the accessibility could be better.  Otherwise, I totally recommend going at least once for the experience.

Thoughts on BELINDA BLAKE AND THE SNAKE IN THE GRASS

Howdy, howdy!  Can you believe it’s already the last Wednesday of the month?  You know what that means!  It’s time for another book review.  Since my mind has been drifting to my own cozy mystery, I decided to see if any new series in that genre were releasing this month.  Yup!  I went with the Exotic Pet-Sitter series because who can resist animals and a good murder or two?  Not me.  It’s by Heather Day Gilbert and the first book is called Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass (kind of a mouthful, I know).  Since it was only released yesterday (June 25th), you would be correct in assuming that I got an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) through NetGalley.  So, I must thank them and Kensington Books for allowing me access to this ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review, which I’ll be getting to presently.

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A cute cover that has nothing to do with the story.

Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass follows (you guessed it!) Belinda Blake as she embarks on a new phase of her life.  Moving from a studio apartment in Manhattan to a carriage house on some rich family’s property in Greenwich, Connecticut, Belinda works hard to keep her exotic pet-sitting business going strong.  She’s currently taking care of a ball python for a client in Manhattan who insists she carts the animal back and forth from his place to hers (because snakes need vacations too) as well as taking it for walks and even bathing it.  As if that plus an embarrassing run in with the homeowners’ handsome son, Stone Carrington the fifth, isn’t bad enough, she finds a dead woman in her garden.  From there, things just get stranger.

The plot of this one is pretty standard.  A young woman (26) finds a dead body and gets dragged into investigating it with the hot new guy in her life, who she falls in love with, of course.  But could he possibly be the murderer?!  Dun dun dun…  It’s a cozy, so what do you think?  He’s still shady, though.  And I admit that I picked out the murderer as soon as they showed up, but it took me a little while to piece together the why part, so it’s still a fun journey.

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My main problem with this story is the pacing and the odd scenes that feel tossed in for no particular reason.  It’s super jumpy.  Things would be going along nicely, then something completely random would pop up.  Like the kiss.  It doesn’t feel like it belongs there to me and it’s out of character for Belinda, so it seems really forced.  Then, she goes home (upstate New York) for Thanksgiving and randomly gets sent to a neighbor’s house to pick up honey.  I’m guessing he’s supposed to be the rival love interest, but his part in this particular book seems unnecessary and rushed.  His introduction could’ve waited for a book or two until he’s needed.  There’s also this thing with escaped cows that makes no real sense and does nothing for the actual plot of the story.  There are some other instances, but these stand out the most.

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Me wondering how things fit together in this book.

As far as the writing goes, it’s a little stilted in spots.  The book is in first person, so we’re in Belinda’s head when we’re not dealing with dialogue.  I spent a lot of time telling myself that people don’t talk that way.  It’s distracting, but I was still able to enjoy the story.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass enough that I’ll check out the next book to see if it’s better.  Also, I kind of want to see just how much randomness makes it into the next one.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of five stars.  While many, my complaints are actually pretty minor.  If you like cute cozies and animals, go ahead and check this one out.  If you have too many books on your TBR lists, you’re not missing much if you skip this one.

To Re-Read Or Not To Re-Read…

Howdy, howdy!  First and foremost, I want to thank Lew Andrada one last time for his awesome post last week.  If you haven’t read it, you should go do that after you read and comment on this one!  As for this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about stuff I read as a teenager or in my early 20s.  And there are a lot of books that I would love to read again for various reasons, but I’m afraid it’ll ruin the love I hold for them.  Like, what if they’re actually really bad and I’m just in love with the notion of them?  I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement from friends to go ahead and make 2020 (and probably 2021 because I’m a slow reader and would still have to read new books to review) the year(s) of book nostalgia and re-read all the things, but the fear is real.  So, I thought I’d list the 35 books I want to read again and ask everyone for opinions on whether it’s a bad idea in general or which ones would best be left in the past, etc.

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Probably stupid.

1. The Harry Potter series (7 books).  I’ve only read the series all the way through once.  Yeah, I’m a bad fan.  Whatever.  But I’ve been getting the itch to go through it all again.  I’m not too worried about ruining this one, though.  It’s the series I remember the best.

2. The Chronicles of Narnia (7 books).  I blew through this series in my mid-teens and can only vaguely remember it, which is why I want to read it again.  Granted, the memories are fond ones, but I still worry that maybe it wasn’t that good.  It has a decent sized fan base, but I often dislike books everyone else seems to love.  It’s worrisome.

3. The Anne of Green Gables series (9 books).  Normally, I hate slice-of-life (not sure if that’s an actual genre, but it’s what I’ve always called things like this series) books.  It makes me curious as to why I enjoyed this series as a teenager.  It’s one of the few that I’m most afraid of ruining for myself.

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Will it, though?

4. His Dark Materials (3 books).  This was a series I read in my early 20s.  I remember a bit of it, but not enough to read the Book of Dust series or any of the stories connected to His Dark Materials.  This is the usual predicament that forces me to re-read things.

5. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (4 books).  I’ve actually read these twice already, but I wouldn’t mind going back to them.  Just because.  There are some books that call to you.  It happens.

6. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and The Talisman (2 books).  It’s not often that I feel the desire to re-read Stephen King stuff, but these are two I’m feeling drawn back to.  Will they stand up against the test of time?  I don’t know.  Am I willing to risk it?  Don’t know that either.

7. Neverwhere (1 book).  So, I have a love/hate relationship with Gaiman.  I absolutely love his work, but there’s always something I hate about his stories.  Neverwhere started my love of his work.  The problem is that I can’t remember hating anything about it.  That worries me, because what if it’s truly horrible and I’ve blocked it out?

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So many worries…

8. Ransom (1 book).  This one I actually read back in 4th or 5th grade.  I’ve never read anything else by Lois Duncan, but this one stuck with me.  It’s the first book I read that had someone with a disability who played a major role.  Granted, he wasn’t disabled like I am, but it was cool.  I’m afraid that connection was the only actual good thing about the book.

9. The Wild Iris (1 book).  I fully admit that I re-read poetry more than anything else.  This is a collection I’ve been meaning to read again for years.

So, what are your thoughts on reading things more than once?  Is it a worthwhile endeavor or would you stick with new books?  Anything on this list that isn’t worth a second look?  What’s on your list?  Feel free to share your comments or thoughts here or on my social media pages!

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.