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.

Guest Post: Joseph Carro On Writer’s Block

Howdy, howdy!  Welcome to another guest post.  This time, we have my friend and fellow Stonecoast alum, Joseph Carro.  He’s got some super helpful tips for working around writer’s block, which I struggle with a lot.  So, read on!

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Joe and I at the Harraseeket Inn.  Pretty sure that was January ’15.

On Writer’s Block

By Joseph Carro

Writing can be an extremely frustrating and hopelessly solitary artistic endeavor, and as writers we know and understand this when we choose it as our lifestyle. Yet it doesn’t make it any easier when we’re holed up in the basement, writing the next big thing on our minds. Whether you’re trying to write a blog post, a poem, a screenplay, or a novel – Writer’s Block afflicts us all. I know that personally, real life usually gets in the way and saps my creative juices with its constant demands, but to keep writing I have acquired several techniques which I use in order to get my brain jumpstarted again. My hope is to share a couple of my own techniques with you. I know that many of you have your own techniques, but as a writer – I usually appreciate any new ways in which I can defeat this annoying affliction. Feel free to chime in with your own methods below in the comments section.


WALK OR DRIVE: Walking, to me, is a lost pastime. And I’m not the only one to think so. If you’re stuck on a certain spot in your manuscript or post or what have you, get OUT of that space for a little while. If you don’t like walking, then just sit outside or maybe take a drive. Anything to get yourself out of your stagnant state. Maybe you’ll see or experience something that will ignite that spark. You just have to step outside your comfort zone for a bit. Fresh air does wonders for the mind and the thought process needed for writing.

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READ SOMETHING: As Stephen King once said; “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Writing is a skill in which you absorb technique and inspiration from reading other writers. To do so, you need to actually read. Sometimes, reading someone else’s work is the perfect way to jumpstart your own. In my case, I will sometimes put aside my writing for one day and try to finish the book I was already reading or start another one. By the time I’m through a few chapters, I’m usually chomping at the bit to get back into my writing project. Obviously, it’s “dangerous” to put aside the writing to do something else (because you can get too much into the habit of doing that), but in moderation I think it works. Just really pay attention to what the authors are doing; their prose, the construction of the novel or short story or poem or whatever, and the way in which the strongest parts of it make you feel as a reader. Try to infuse your writing with some of that magic, without trying to ape their style. Be you.

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LISTEN TO MUSIC: This one is very divisive within the writing community. In one camp, you have people who absolutely cannot listen to music while writing. Or, they at least must listen to very quiet, ambient music rather than anything heady with lyrics. That’s okay, this technique may not be for you either. However – when I’m trying to write a certain scene or a certain tone to my short story or screenplay, I sometimes pick an appropriate piece of music. For a tone, I will generally choose a playlist I’ve created on Spotify or find a playlist on YouTube – for example, if I’m looking for a melancholy tone I will choose a playlist that’s labeled as “sad songs” or “bittersweet songs”. Generally, the mood conveyed through these songs, and the emotions they bring out enhance my writing. It’s all about knowing your tolerance for this kind of distraction while you’re trying to write. This also works if you just need to listen to a song or two BEFORE you write, rather than listening to entire tracks during your actual writing. Just make sure to fire up another song here and there to renew your creative juices and emotions, because sometimes sitting in a chair and writing prose does not automatically generate emotions until you really get into the meat of the story. Writing is both a technical skill and an art, and art comes from emotion. Sometimes, we wade too far into the technical aspects and lose the emotional momentum.

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USE WRITING EXERCISES AND PROMPTS: This method is actually my favorite, and thanks to the internet, there are countless online sources for finding writing ideas. These aren’t necessarily meant to replace the project you’re working on, but are more for trying to write something in general when you’re stuck. However, if you need some distance from your novel, it’s okay to take a brief respite and write something else. A few of my favorite sources for writing prompts are from books I’ve found or have been given. My wife gifted me a sort of “activity book” called 400 Writing Prompts by Piccadilly Inc and that one has given me quite a few ideas. A couple of other books I’ve found to be pretty useful are The Writer’s Book of Matches: 1,001 Prompts To Ignite Your Fiction from Writer’s Digest Books, What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, and The Pocket Muse: Ideas & Inspirations for Writing by Monica Wood. There are also lots of online sources out there as I mentioned above, and some of my favorites are Writer’s Digest, Poets & Writers, tumblr, and even reddit. Various bloggers like myself also dedicate entire sections of their blog to writing prompts. My own blog, Away With Words, has just such a section that you can find HERE. I try to do at least one weekly prompt, but sometimes I do more.

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These are just some tools for trying to get back into the swing of things, and my hope is that by using these techniques and resources, you can dig yourself out of whatever funk you’re in and get back to writing. Remember – try not to be too hard on yourself. Writing is hard work, it’s thirsty work, and your brain can quickly become parched when it’s dealing with the same tedious task over and over. Give it some variety and keep yourself from getting mired. Good luck!

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My name is Joseph Carro, and I am a Maine-based freelance writer and editor trying to make it in the big world of letters and semi-colons. I work currently as a barista to (barely) pay the bills, and in the meantime, I’m working on a YA novel, currently untitled, as well as various other works like screenplays, comic scripts, short stories, and flash fiction. Heck, you may as well toss in some comic books with that, too.

I live in Portland, here in Maine – with my beautiful wife and our five-pound chihuahua, Brewtus.

Above photo courtesy of Helen Peppe.

A to Z: Quotes

Hello, hello!  Today, I thought I would compile a list of quotes from various authors (ranging from A to Z).  Some will be old favorites and others will be new things I find during my searches.  What are some of your favorite writerly quotes or quotes from authors?  Feel free to share here or on my social media pages!

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A. Isaac Asimov: “Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.”

B. Judy Blume: “Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.”

C. Angela Carter: “Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.”

D. Roald Dahl: “I understand what you’re saying, and your comments are valuable, but I’m gonna ignore your advice.”

E. Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

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F. F. Scott Fitzgerald: “That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”

G. Louise Gluck: “Of two sisters one is always the watcher, one the dancer.”

H. Ernest Hemingway: “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”

I. John Irving: “Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you—and summons them to your recall with will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you!”

J. James Joyce: “History…is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

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K. Stephen King: “People think that I must be a very strange person. This is not correct. I have the heart of a small boy. It is in a glass jar on my desk.”

L. H.P. Lovecraft: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

M. A.A. Milne: “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together, there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart, I’ll always be with you.”

N. Friedrich Nietzsche: “People who comprehend a thing to its very depths rarely stay faithful to it forever. For they have brought its depths into the light of day: and in the depths there is always much that is unpleasant to see.”

O. George Orwell: “Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.”

P. Edgar Allan Poe: “I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”

Q. Paul Quarrington: “Everybody is damaged goods. Everybody got bumps and dents, ja? But sometimes two people fit together, and the bumps go into the dents, and you have a whole thing like a potato.”

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R. J.K. Rowling: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

S. Maggie Stiefvater: “There are moments that you’ll remember for the rest of your life and there are moments that you think you’ll remember for the rest of your life, and it’s not often they turn out to be the same moment.”

T. J.R.R. Tolkien: “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”

U. John Updike: “The world keeps ending but new people too dumb to know it keep showing up as if the fun’s just started.”

V. Jules Verne: “We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read.”

W. Oscar Wilde: “Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”

X. Xue Xinran: “Everybody says women are like water. I think it’s because water is the source of life, and it adapts itself to its environment. Like women, water also gives of itself wherever it goes to nurture life…”

Y. Jane Yolen: “Literature is a textually transmitted disease, normally contracted in childhood.”

Z. Sarah Zettel: “The true lady treats the whole world as her dance floor…”

Books Vs. eBooks

Hello, hello!  It’s October already, so I wanted to give you a quick update on my September goals before I get into this week’s ramblings.  I wrote about 19,000 words (huzzah!), finished reading two books and am working on a third (which is where this post is coming from), queried my 100th agent (the waiting continues), submitted a flash piece to my critique group, and messaged some different people (the conversations didn’t last long, but at least I tried).  In other words, September was super productive and I hope October will be as well!

Now, onto what this post is really about: books.  Pretty much everyone I know has strong opinions on whether regular old books or ebooks (Kindle, Nook, etc.) are better.  Here are my thoughts.

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Book 1, eBook 0

First up are books.  Personally, I adore them.  The smell of an old book is basically the best thing ever.  The feel of a page against your hand is lovely.  And going into a library or bookstore (or our back bedroom) to peruse titles is one of the funnest activities in the world.  Or maybe it’s just a nice activity because it doesn’t usually have to involve other people (unless you’re me), which is a plus for introverts.  There’s also something about seeing book covers outside of a screen that’s awesome.  I bought one book online and had no idea its cover was shiny and metallic until it got here, which only made it cooler.  So yes, I love books.

On the other hand, books are a pain in the ass for me.  If they aren’t in a couple of very particular places, I can’t grab them by myself when I’m in the mood to read.  I know asking someone (read: Dad) to hand me a book isn’t a big deal, but it requires them to stop whatever they’re doing just for that.  It’s weird.  Plus, I sometimes have trouble opening/keeping a book open (especially when they’re new).  If you’ve ever had a book close itself and forgot what page you were on, you know how annoying it is.

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Next up are ebooks.  In my opinion, they aren’t nearly as magical as regular books.  No one can see the cool cover as you read or how far along you are, so they can’t really strike up a conversation about the book (but who really wants that when they’re reading?).  They don’t smell, they don’t have weird stains on the pages, they don’t have the right feel.  BUT!  They’re easier for me to use.  I can pull a book up on my phone or computer whenever I want.  I can browse for titles online without any help.  They’re just really convenient for people with a limited range of motion.  And that makes them awesome in their own special way.

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It’s true.

Ultimately, for me, both books and ebooks have their pluses (neither of the plurals for that word look right) and minuses.  If I love an author and can be reasonably sure I’ll like the book, I’ll automatically opt for a hardcopy.  If I don’t know the author or have doubts about whether I’ll enjoy a book, I automatically go the ebook route.  For everything in between, my choice usually boils down to how fast I want/need the book.

What about you?  Do you prefer one over the other?  Why or why not?  Feel free to share your thoughts and comments here or on my social media pages!

Three Golden Rules For Writing That I Never Follow

Howdy, howdy!  I recently talked to a friend from my critique group about some comments I sent her on a story, and she mentioned the notion of writing rules.  These are the things that get constantly reiterated in writing programs (like our MFA program).  We’re told all of the things we can and can’t do.  Meanwhile, authors who are getting published are breaking all the rules and no one else seems to care.  Does that mean the rules are really suggestions?  No, not necessarily.  It simply means people are choosing to break the rules that don’t work for them or their stories.  Some of them do this more successfully than others, in my opinion.  But I’m glad I learned the rules because breaking them deliberately tends to work better than breaking them because you don’t know any better.

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Sure they are.

But here are three of the rules of writerhood that I never follow:

1. Write EVERY day, even on holidays and when you’re sick.  Because everyone knows you’re not really a writer unless you write a bunch of words every single day and never take a break.  Except, that’s complete bullshit and anyone who tells you otherwise is a Liar McLiarson.  Yes, it’s good in the beginning and helps train your brain to take writing seriously, but beyond that, it’s just not possible and you shouldn’t feel obligated to work that way if it doesn’t help you.  Personally, I need a weekend, even though I mostly just sit around and play mindless games.  Self care is important and you deserve it.  Plus, who wants to write after they’ve been up all night projectile vomiting (just an example)?  It’s okay to take breaks.

2. ALWAYS read your work aloud.  This is great advice if you’re practicing for a reading or if something doesn’t feel right and you can’t figure out what it is, but I don’t like reading things out loud.  For one, I feel stupid doing it.  But mostly, I don’t want to read my novels out loud because I’m lazy.  It would take forever at the pace I speak.  Plus, the voices in my head make reading silently more interesting for me and I can hear when things sound abnormal in their voices, whereas if I’m reading aloud, I might find out where I stumble over phrasing, but I’ll miss things that feel natural to me even though my character wouldn’t actually say it.  So, reading everything out loud isn’t for me.

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Stephen King said it, so it must be true!

3. Adverbs are BAD.  This is one of those rules that I ignore when I’m writing, but follow when I’m revising.  Yes, there’s usually a better way to say things than using adverbs, but I’ll be damned if they aren’t awesome in a first draft (which is the writing part of writing for me).  It’s difficult to think of the perfect phrasing when your goal is to get words down on a page.  That’s where adverbs come in handy.  Sure, there are better, more evocative ways of saying “she walked slowly upstairs,” but it’s a perfectly acceptable phrase for a first draft.  You can decide in your edits whether she trudged, or hobbled, or snuck (sneaked?), or whatever.  But adverbs are great placeholders until that point.

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Such a rebel.

So yeah, those are a few of the golden rules of writerhood that I break.  What about you?  Are there any rules of your craft that you don’t follow?  Anything that seems like it was created by an overzealous person who didn’t understand that not everyone works the way they do?  Feel free to share your thoughts, comments, etc. here or on my social media pages!

Ten Books (Or Series) That Have Stuck With Me

Hello, hello!  I haven’t been feeling 100% the last couple of days, so I thought I would make today’s post short and simple.  We all have books or movies or songs or works of art or whatever that stick with us.  You know the ones.  Those things that we randomly think of even though we haven’t seen or thought of them in years.  The things that pop up in our lives at the most unexpected of moments.  They helped shape who we are today, for better or worse.  That’s what I’m going to talk about today.  Namely, the books or series that have stuck with me.

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It’s kind of like that.

1. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King.  It was the first book I remember reading that I didn’t actually have to read.  Pretty much everything by King sticks with me, though.

2. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.  I don’t think there’s anyone around my age who wasn’t at least exposed to Harry Potter.  It’s one of those series that keeps surprising you, even after you’ve read it for the third time.

3. Angel Sanctuary by Kaori Yuki.  I know it’s a manga (Japanese graphic novel) series, but it taught me so much growing up.  I learned that, sometimes, the cruelest of demons comes packaged as an angel, and vice versa.

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From Angel Sanctuary.

 4. A Separate Peace by John Knowles.  I honestly don’t even remember liking this book, but I find myself thinking about it quite often.  It’s one of those books that I’m afraid to read again, in case it ruins the nostalgia.

5. The Seance by Joan Lowery Nixon.  This is another of those books that I haven’t read since I was small (it was my first “pick your own book” book report in elementary school).  It was my first foray into the whole spooky mystery thing.

6. Ransom by Lois Duncan.  Again, this was something I read in elementary school.  It was the first book I remember reading that had a disabled kid.  He wasn’t in a wheelchair or anything, but he was different from everyone else and it was strange to see someone else deal with that kind of stuff.

7. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.  I fell in love with Gaiman’s writing because of this book.  It will always hold a special place in my heart, even if some of his other stuff was less than impressive.

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I should read it again.

 8. Anne of Green Gables and most of the other Anne Shirley books by L.M. Montgomery.  Yes, I went through a stage where reading about the everyday antics of Anne entertained me.  I still think of her fondly every once in a while.

9. His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman.  This is another series that forced me to ask questions.  It makes me think.  I come back to it a lot when I’m thinking of religion and all that.

10. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t been exposed to this title thanks to the movies, but that’s not how I know it.  For me, it will always be that short, fun read that opened up the fantasy door.

What about you?  What are some of the books that have stayed with you over the years?  Feel free to list them here or on my social media accounts.

Craft Books And Why We Need Them

Hello, hello!  A few days ago, I was bored and skimming through Facebook when I came across a friend’s post about how she had finally gotten back to writing after a pretty long break.  Being bored makes me nosy, so I read through the comments and noticed someone who is admittedly new to writing ask for some tips on how to improve her writing beyond practicing each day.  Let’s be honest, practicing every day is great, but if you don’t know the basics and how to push yourself beyond your limits, you’re not going to get very far.  How do you learn the basics of writing?  Surprise!  There are instruction manuals for basically everything, including writing.  We just happen to call them craft books.

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If you’re like me, you despise craft books because all of your English professors made you read the most boring literary ones they could find.  When you just want to write about demons and serial killers (or dragons and fairies for the fantasy crew/aliens and far away galaxies for the sci-fi crew/etc.), these books get old fast.  So, here’s my quick list of crafty type books for genre writers.

1. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler.  It’s based around Joseph Cambell’s Hero’s Journey (the basic structure of Western mythology and the different archetypes of the characters and all that).  My favorite part is that it’s aimed specifically at genre writing, so you won’t run across any random derogatory remarks about your chosen field like I have in other craft books.

2. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss.  I don’t care if you’re the smartest grammar Nazi in the world, we all need a little help with punctuation sometimes.  If you like dry British humor and concise explanations, this is the punctuation rulebook for you.  Yes, there are certainly more comprehensive and technical books out there, but unless you’re an English professor or an academic writer, I don’t really find them necessary.

3. Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder.  Okay, so it’s not your traditional craft book, but it’s helpful with things like structure and dialogue.  Plus, it might just encourage you to try your hand at screenwriting.  It’s one of those books that explains a lot of the same things traditional craft books cover, but it comes at them from a different perspective.  So, if other books aren’t working for you, give this one a shot.

4. Danse Macabre by Stephen King.  This one is more of a history of horror than it is a craft book, but there’s a ton of useful information in here for horror writers.  I’ll also mention that On Writing by King is supposed to be a wonderful, more general craft book if you’re not looking for something specifically horror related.  I haven’t read the latter yet, but it’s on my to-be-read list.

5. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway.  I have no idea which edition I read (I believe it was the 8th), but I do know that she insinuates that genre fiction is common and lowbrow while lauding literary fiction.  Why would I suggest this book then?  Mostly because the writing exercises were worthwhile.  Plus the technical parts are short and to the point instead of super repetitive.  So, if you want a decent version of the undergrad go-tos, pick this one up, just be prepared for derogatory remarks toward genre fiction.

 I’m sure I forgot a lot of great craft books, and I’m definitely trying to forget a lot of bad ones, but I think this is enough to start with.  What about you?  Do you have any favorites that aren’t on this list?  Do you think they’re important to keep around even if you’re a seasoned writer?  I admit to selling most of my undergrad craft books, but I’ve kept all of the ones from Stonecoast (even the ones I hated), because there’s always something they can teach you.