What Book Scarred Me As A Child

Hello, hello! How’s everything going on this wonderful Wednesday? Things here are pretty good. Can’t complain, though I usually do. Anyway, it’s time for another one of those pick a number things. This week is 2, courtesy of the fab Derek! I’ve done 13 (you can find the prompt list there) and 7. Numbers 8, 3, 10, 6, 14, 11, and 1 have all been claimed, but feel free to pick one of the remaining numbers. Today’s prompt is “tell me which book had a profound effect on you as a kid.” Honestly, most of you probably already know the answer.

I don’t remember being much of a reader as a kid. I read what I was told to read for school, but never had much fun with it. There were two “book report” projects I remember from elementary school where we got to pick our own books from the school library. For one, I chose The Séance by Joan Lowery Nixon. I don’t remember the story itself, but it was my first locked door mystery and I vaguely remember loving it. It was a little advanced for my age at the time (it’s recommended for 12 years and up and I was like 8 or 9), but my teacher and parents didn’t say anything, so murder and mysteries kind of became my go-to at an early age. But still, it wasn’t enough to get me hooked on reading.

The other book from elementary school was Ransom by Lois Duncan. It actually had a cripple dude who wasn’t useless or inspo-pornified. Of course, back then, I didn’t know what inspo-porn really was and I didn’t care that he was cripple. I just liked him because he was the angsty loner guy and I already had the beginnings of a type (which eventually transformed into my love of fictional psychopaths). But it was about a busload of kids getting kidnapped. I loved it. And it wasn’t enough to stoke my love of reading either.

It wasn’t until 1999 (I was 13) that I really got into reading. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King had just come out and Dad plopped it down in front of me and said to try it. It wasn’t the first time he’d tried to get me into reading (even The Hobbit had failed to interest me until later), but it was the one that worked. There was creepy stuff and normal stuff and it wasn’t super scary, but it was something that could happen and that made it awesome (yeah, I was a weird kid). I tore through so many Stephen King books after that. I remember sitting in the library/game area one evening during a hospital stay reading the uncut version of The Stand (I brought it from home, it wasn’t actually in a children’s hospital library) and a nurse came in making idle chit-chat while checking on me. The look of horror on her face when I showed her what I was reading (she didn’t like “scary” books) was priceless. It was my first time seeing a grown person get freaked out over a book. She just didn’t understand why I wanted to read scary things. It was hilarious. But yeah. My early reading habits were strange.

Anyway, I still wasn’t a constant reader after that. I’d go through periods where I would read everything until I burnt myself out, then I wouldn’t read for months. It went on like that until Stonecoast, actually. Ever since then, I’ve learned to read a couple of chapters every day so I don’t burn myself out. And I don’t scold myself if I miss a day or two here and there. But if a book grabs me, I don’t deny myself a good binge either. But I digress. This is all just a big ramble about having to find my way into reading. It didn’t come naturally to me. And it took a while to find the right fit. But that’s okay. What about you? What book(s) had the biggest impact on you when you were young? As always, feel free to leave your thoughts and comments and questions here or on my social media pages!

10 Books/Series

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this delightful Wednesday? Things here have been weirdly social lately. The Minion and various members of his family have come over a few times to help Dad with stuff. Another family friend is due to drop by tomorrow. And our neighbors have been weirdly neighborly. So that’s been interesting. Anyway, I can’t think of anything to ramble about and Facebook memories have recently reminded me of that trend of listing 10 books that have stuck with you that went around a few years ago. I thought I had done a post like that on here, but I can’t find it (though I didn’t look that hard), so I’m just going to list 10 books/series that have stuck with me. No explanations. Just books.

1. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King.

2. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.

3. Angel Sanctuary by Kaori Yuki.

4. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.

5. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.

6. Ransom by Lois Duncan. The original version, not the crappy modernized version where they completely ruin the plot with mentions of cell phones and email.

7. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell.

8. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss.

9. Cruelty by Ai.

10. The Wild Iris by Louise Gluck.

What books have stuck with you? As always, feel free to share your thoughts or questions here or on my social media pages!

Obsessive Reading

Hello, hello! We’ve survived the first month of 2022. Good job! How’s everyone doing? Things are okay here. I finished the first draft of a story, but I haven’t started revisions yet. I need to read through it and decide whether it wants to be a novella or a short story because it’s currently that weird length that no one wants. Too long for most short venues, but not long enough for novella venues. Probably just needs a hefty trim. I’ll figure it out. But I keep getting distracted by reading, which is what I want to ramble about today. Obsessive reading. When books take over everything. You know what I mean.

When I was younger, pretty much everything I read pulled me in. Except the stuff I was forced to read. But Harry Potter, anything Stephen King, Neil Gaiman. Stuff like that. I’d get obsessive over it. The books were all I thought about. If I wasn’t reading, I wanted to be reading. And eventually, I burned myself out. I even went a few years without reading anything except the books I was assigned in school. It was hard to start reading for fun again. Even in grad school, I read every day, but I wasn’t particularly into it. It was weird.

Honestly, it’s still weird. I’ve been out of grad school far too long and reading is still mostly a chore. I’m usually reading two books at any given time, one to review and one for fun. If I finish either of them ahead of schedule, I have another book ready to go. But it is a schedule. For the review books, I literally count the days and figure out how many pages I have to read to finish with enough time to write the review. And it’s rare for me to deviate from that plan unless the book is super good. My for fun books usually get my attention for half an hour before bed. And I’m okay with this. Usually.

But occasionally, I run into a book or series that demands my undivided attention, like the series I’m reading now (the Simon Snow trilogy by Rainbow Rowell). I’m seriously obsessed. You have no idea how much effort it took to pull myself away to write this post. I’m a little ashamed of it, to be honest. But this feeling makes me so very weirdly happy. It’s an escape. And it’s so rare lately that I forget what it feels like until it happens again. I can only remember two other series (the trilogy with Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones and the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor) and a stand-alone (Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell) making me feel this way in the past fifteen years or so. I have to enjoy it while it lasts.

And now, I’m going to force myself to read the two chapters I need to read in my review book, then slip back into Simon and Baz’s world until dinner. What books or series have you obsessed over lately? Are you the type to obsess? If not, what drives you to read? As always, feel free to share your thoughts or comments or questions here or on my social media pages!

7 Stories for the Season

Hello, hello! How is everyone doing this lovely October day? It’s that scary time of year where people normally start decorating with spider webs and carved pumpkins in preparation to hand out candy to appease all of the little ghosts and goblins. Unfortunately, Covid is dampening this year’s Halloween spirit, but there are still plenty of ways to celebrate. You can always watch scary or corny movies. You can still decorate to your heart’s content as well. And now is as good a time as any to read (or reread) some scary stories. So, I thought I’d share some of my favorite short stories with you today.

1. “Strawberry Spring” by Stephen King. Of course King would be on my list, so I might as well start there. This particular story is in the collection Night Shift. What’s not to love about a serial killer story? But really, you can’t go wrong with any of King’s short stories.

2. “The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft. This is one of the few stories that kept me up at night and I have no idea why. It’s just one of those creepy stories that gets inside your head. It can be found in a number of Lovecraft collections or you can read it here. And yes, I acknowledge he was a racist. I don’t have to like a person or agree with them to enjoy their work.

3. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Because who doesn’t love a slow descent into madness? If you’ve taken any college level English courses, you’ve probably read this, but it’s always worth another look. It can be found in a bunch of collections or here on the Project Gutenberg website.

4. “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner. This is another you’ve probably read if you did your English homework, but I still love it. The story of a creepy recluse is always intriguing. You can find it in loads of collections and if you Google it, the whole text usually pops up in at least one public lesson plan.

5. “Berenice” by Edgar Allan Poe. Pretty much any Poe story fits the season, but the one that creeps me out the most is this one. Why? Because teeth freak me out. Of all the things to be obsessed with, I just don’t understand why anyone would fixate on teeth. But I digress. If you have a collection of Poe, it’s probably in there. If not, you can read it here.

6. “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” by Neil Gaiman. This is a weird and cute story that’s pretty predictable, but still fun. It was published in the anthology Impossible Monsters (edited by Kasey Lansdale), but you can listen to Gaiman read it here if you have 10 minutes to spare.

7. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. It’s not scary like the usual horror story, but it’s terrifying because it’s not a particularly far-fetched idea. This could happen because people suck. It has happened in the past in various ways. It’s basically ritual sacrifice without the whole appeasing a god angle (at least from what I remember). Stuff like this happens and that’s terrifying. You can find this one in a bunch of anthologies and it’s usually around online if you Google it.

I could keep going, but I think I’ll save some for another time. What are some of your favorite scary or creepy short stories? How about corny Halloween short stories? As always, feel free to share your lists or comments or thoughts here or on my social media pages!

That Explains A Lot

Hello, hello! It’s already August and I have no idea where the time is going or what I’ve done while it was passing. I admit that I’ve been majorly slacking on writing. It’s not that I’m feeling burnt out or anything, but I still can’t find the motivation. The slew of rejections doesn’t exactly help get me pumped to write, but I was expecting them, so I’m not super depressed by them either. I’d just rather be reading or watching TV with Dad or something. Other than the actual writing, I’m still doing everything else I should be doing. Including reading. I thought I’d take a chance to ramble a bit about the books I’ve been rereading from years ago.

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Accurate.

Along with my books for review and other new-to-me stories, I’ve been working my way through a list of things I’ve been wanting to read again. So far, I’ve made it through C.S. Lewis’s the Chronicles of Narnia and am currently working on The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King. Other books I eventually want to get to include Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit, the Anne of Green Gables series, His Dark Materials, and some other standalones. If you’re interested, the full list (minus the things I’ve already reread) can be found on my GoodReads profile.

Anyway, I’ve definitely had some thoughts while rereading these things. First, the Chronicles of Narnia. I knew they were on the misogynistic and racist side because C.S. Lewis was a man of his time, but I really didn’t remember them being as bad about it as they are. All of the girls do amazing things, but they’re constantly written off as doing the best they can for a girl. Then there’s the whole thing with the Calormenes being stereotypical heathens that basically need Aslan (Jesus) in order to become good people. There were also some slurs that I didn’t remember being in there. But I’m not too sensitive to these things, so I still found the stories entertaining and fun. Misogyny and racism existed. They still exist. They show up in literature, especially in certain time periods. I understand that and accept that if I read stuff from back then, I’ll run across these kinds of things. I’m just saying it’s interesting how my younger mind glanced over this stuff.

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The other thing I noticed with the Chronicles of Narnia was the religious aspect. I know there were things that always made me uncomfortable with this series as a kid, but I never quite put my finger on it. Rereading it now, I realize it was probably the same things that makes me uncomfortable about religion in general. Aslan abducts kids, forces them to do his bidding before he’ll send them home, and for some reason they love him for it. It’s all a little brainwashy and super creepy. Not to mention the whole Aslan versus Tash thing. It comes down to “my god’s better than yours” and Aslan literally explains that no matter who people worship, good things are done for Aslan while bad things are done for Tash. No other god can be good, I guess. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind that the Chronicles of Narnia are pretty much just Bible retellings, but the creepiness of it all still shows through.

That’s enough about C.S. Lewis. The book I’m currently reading, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King, is the one that got me into reading and that explains a lot about me. There are blood and guts and a mean voice in Trisha’s head and curse words and all of the fun stuff I still enjoy. There’s a decapitated deer (head first, body later). A disemboweled fawn. Butterflies that turn into creepy hooded people who claim to be sent by various gods. The signs of a “special thing” lurking just out of sight. Not to mention all of the regular scary things in forests like snakes and bugs. And I’m not even finished with it yet. I remember some of this stuff, but at other points I have no recollection of it. The joys of gore. I still love it.

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It’s weird to look back at things and see what the mind has retained versus what it has purged over the years. Makes me wonder exactly which tidbits helped shape my mind. Anyway, what are some books from your earlier years that you’ve reread recently? Did they surprise you? Did you notice anything about yourself? Do you still like them? As always, feel free to comment here or on my social media pages!

Slacking Off…

Hello, hello! I have nothing to ramble about this week and I just can’t find the motivation to force something. Since my last post, I’ve prepared everything I need to start my agent hunt (query letter, a full synopsis, a partial synopsis, and one last round of quick edits). All I need to do to get ready for PitDark is write a couple of Twitter pitches and schedule the posts for Thursday (which I will be doing today). Otherwise, life is the same. Nothing exciting is going on, so I’m going to slack off on today’s post. A friend tagged me on Facebook to post the covers of ten books I love (one book a day with no explanation) to ward off the Covid-19 quarantine boredom with something positive. Or something like that. Anyway, I’ve already forgotten to post for two days, so I figured I’d just post them all here.

So, here are the covers of ten books I love in no particular order.

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There you go. Ten books that I love for whatever reasons. I tried to include some I haven’t mentioned before, but a bunch of the ones you know about snuck in anyway. As usual, feel free to comment or post your own lists here or on my social media pages!

Quarantine TBR

Hello, hello! Welcome to May. How is everyone doing? They’re currently trying to reopen Texas in phases even though we’re beating records for most new cases of Covid-19 just about every day. Because that seems like the smart thing to do? I guess? Whatever. Everyone else can do what they want. I’ll be keeping myself at home until things actually settle down and/or there’s a vaccine or treatment protocols that work. So, that means I need to find ways to entertain myself for a while longer. That means books. Lots of books. And since I have nothing else to ramble about today, I thought I would share my to-be-read list thus far (I add books every day).

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It’s not wrong.

Instead of just listing some books, it’ll be easier if I group them together by genre or whether I’ve already read them. So, here are some of the books on my TBR list.

1. Books I’ve read, but want to read again. This year, I’ve been making my way through the Chronicles of Narnia. I have three left (The Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle). I also plan on rereading The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King, Ransom by Lois Duncan, and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman at some point before the end of the year. Depending on how my other reads go, I might also try to start Harry Potter again, but I might save that for next year’s reading list.

2. Mysteries (cozies or otherwise). I don’t know how this list ended up being so long, but it is and it’s still growing. I want to read The Missing Ones by Edwin Hill, Bound for Murder by Victoria Gilbert, A Crafter Hooks a Killer by Holly Quinn, and Death in a Budapest Butterfly by Julia Buckley. Also, Killer Kung Pao by Vivien Chien is due out in August, which I’m looking forward to. And if you look at my GoodReads page, you’ll see a bunch more like these that I probably won’t get to this year.

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3. Fantasy. I’m currently reading Dragon Brothers by L.B. Lillibridge for this month’s book review. I was originally going to read The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna, but its publication date got pushed back until February, so while I’m still going to read it this month, the review will wait until closer to February. I also have Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi, The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones, and Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw on my list for this year. The next two books in Danielle Rose’s Darkhaven saga are also due out before the end of the year, so those go on the list too.

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I doubt I’ll be able to make it through all of these books by the end of the year, but since there probably won’t be much progress with Covid-19 in the foreseeable future, maybe I’ll be able to finish them and more before I stop hermitting. Quarantining. I meant quarantining. What are some of the books on your TBR list? As always, feel free to share your thoughts or lists or suggestions or whatever here or on my social media pages!

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.