Friday, April 28, 2017

On the benefits of writing groups

Image result for writing group comic
If you don’t have a writing group, you need one. In addition to being ridiculously fun to have regular get-togethers with interested and motivated people, writing groups can help you a ton for a lot of reasons.
  1. Writing groups hold you accountable - If you’re meeting with people regularly and telling them about your writing, you’re going to feel the need to keep up. In her memoir You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost), goddess of geekiness Felicia Day talks about how meeting with a group about their creative projects motivated her to finally write her acclaimed web series “The Guild” - and she even roped some people from the group in to help create it. In my writing group, we have weekly goals and we report on these goals at the beginning of each meeting. It can be difficult to explain why you didn’t get that chapter written, but it’s excellent motivation to do more work before the next meeting.
  2. Writing groups give you a ton of beta readers - With a writing group, you automatically have a handful of folks who will review your work and give you the necessary feedback. While your significant other might only give your work glowing reviews, your writing buddies will be harsher with you - partly because they understand being in your shoes and they want you to be just as honest with them. And let’s be real - that honesty will make your work better and it will push you to be a better writer. Even if you don’t accept all their feedback, it’s useful to hear because you may hear something similar from a publisher or from other beta readers further down the path.
  3. Writing groups let you really discuss your work - In a writing group, you’re meant to discuss your work and why you’re excited about it and why this is the story you have to tell. Here is a group of people who understand your passion (even if theirs is centered on their own work and passions). Talking about your work forces you to really think about it and make some snap decisions about your characters and world. Also, in discussing your work, it’s useful to have people to point out inconsistencies in your world, your work, your philosophies, your characterizations, etc.
  4. Writing groups encourage really ridiculous conversations - These are real quotes from my writing group meetings: “I don’t think you should have plant magic powers because that would get rid of most of your menial labor needs, which is a big deal in a medieval society.” and “Well, if you’re stuck, the robot could stumble onto some corporate espionage. That would make things interesting.” and “If I understand your world correctly, your 19 year olds should all be married off at this point so the attendance at this matchmaking ball is going to be a lot less than you’re describing here.” and “Oh my word. I can’t decide if I love him or hate him but I’M FEELING SO MANY THINGS.” It’s beyond bizarre and if anyone walked past when the group is in a deep discussion about seemingly insignificant aspects of your novel, they’d be thoroughly confused. Which simply makes things more fun.
  5. Writing groups give you a chance to connect with people - Everyone in your writing group will understand you at a level that no non-writer ever will. A fellow writer will know the deepest secrets and inner workings of your soul without necessarily knowing the exact details. They will see and connect with a part of you that few others will and this, if for nothing else, is why you need a writing group in your life.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

On reading the book before seeing the movie

“The book is always better” is a decent rule, but I have to make exceptions to it. Like with “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett - the book is great, but the film is AMAZING and my beloved Humphrey Bogart plays the part of the clever (and somewhat brooding) detective beautifully (Bogie forever<3).
The rule I do try to keep is to always read the book before seeing the movie. I wasn’t always such a stickler about this, but then I went on a last minute date to see The Maze Runner and I hadn’t read the book (written by James Dashner) yet and I was panicking a bit inside, but didn’t know how to say that I couldn’t see this film yet because I HADN’T READ THE BOOK. I somehow survived the movie and then waited 2 ½ years to actually read the book, hoping I’d forget everything. That still wasn’t enough time to erase the ending from my mind and I knew what was coming from the first chapter.
Since that terrible experience, I had vowed not to see the film before I read the book. And I’m taking this seriously. Maybe a bit too seriously. My vow has often led to me reading books that I really don’t care that much about just in case I end up seeing the movie.
Take Me Before You by Jojo Moyes for example. Several of my friends went to see it and could not have spoken of it with more acclaim. So I put it on my TBR list and….waited. And waited. And waited. And finally, I told myself that this was getting ridiculous - it wasn’t even a big movie anymore and eventually someone would suggest we watch it (because they’d assume I’d already seen it) and I would have to tell them no. So I read it in a couple days. And it was fine. And now I can see the movie - but I haven’t. Now that I’ve read the book, I’ve lost all interest in seeing the movie. Because it just wasn’t that great in my mind.
The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins is my latest TBR book/film that I’ve been putting off. Maybe I’ll actually get around to it one of these days.

If you are one of the heathens who likes to see the movie first, you should probably check out The Little Blog of Horrors for movie reviews and cinema opinions.

Monday, April 24, 2017

On how to declutter your bookshelves like a boss

Image result for cluttered bookshelf


If you’ve gotten to the point where there isn’t room to fit your books next to each other anymore, so you’ve started stacking books on top of the filed books, then you might benefit from this post. If you hit that point seven years ago and that was back in the good, tidy days for you, then you definitely need this post. I’m like you - I suffer from having too many books and buying more before I finish the ones I already have and tripping over the stacks of books next to my bed. It’s spring, so I’m trying to help all of you (and myself) by telling you the best tips I’ve found on decluttering your bookshelves.

  • Host/attend a book swap - This post on hosting a book swap will help you a lot. Basically, you bring the books you want to get rid of and you pawn them off on your friends and you put someone else in charge of handling all the ones that no one wants (since you’ll probably be unable to actually donate them like you’re supposed to). Downside: If you’re an openhearted person who wants to adopt ALL THE BOOKS, then you might come home with more books than you gave away. Remedy this by setting a rule that people can only take as many books as they brought - problem solved!
  • Donate to your local library/used book shop - Most libraries and used book shops take donations and will be happy to accept anything you bring. Keep in mind these tips and you’ll be ready to donate like a pro. Downside: If you have a sentimental attachment to your books, this can be a lot like giving your books to the local orphanage and hoping a nice family takes them in and not the evil innkeeper who needs another maid (cue Cosette).
  • Build a Little Free Library - Basically, a Little Free Library is a large birdhouse-esque thing that you stock with old books and let people come and take the books as they please. It gives you an opportunity to slowly get rid of books, promote reading in your community, and maybe get a few new interesting books in return. Downside: If you aren’t much for woodwork or nailing things together, this may not be your sort of project. The folks at Little Free Library offer an instructional video that may be very useful, though. You can also buy a library on their website.
  • Give them to friends who you know will like them - It can be difficult to give books to friends. Sometimes they don’t want more books (because they have similar book-hoarding problems) or aren’t interested in the book you want to give them or just aren’t much of a reader. If you think that handing a book to your friend in person will go badly, then mail it to them (I’ve done this with mixed reactions). They won’t be able to immediately react in front of you, and if they live in another state, there’s a good chance that they won’t send the book back to you. Downside: Postage can cost quite a bit, though Media Mail can help bring those costs down a bit.
  • Hide all your books under your bed - While this solution doesn’t actually get rid of your books, it moves them away from being stacked on top of and next to and against your bookshelf and it creates the illusion that you’re actually a very neat and uncluttered book lover. Downside: Whatever you’ve previously been storing under your bed will have to find a new home.
  • Think outside the bookshelf - Before taking this step, you have to decide if you want to declutter your bookshelves or your entire house. We both know that decluttering your bookshelves is much for important, so this solution may work wonders for your shelves. Stop thinking of bookshelves as the only place to store books. Books can be stacked nearly anywhere - kitchen counters, desktops, window ledges, on chairs, on beds, in car trunks, on stairs, in cupboards, in the fridge, or really anywhere you’ve got a spare bit of space. Downside: You may have to prioritize a bit to decide what’s more important - keeping your breakfast cereal in the cupboard or letting Pride and Prejudice continue living there. I think we all know that P&P is going to win.
  • Put your books to work - You paid so much for all these books - it’s time for them to earn their keep! Stacks of books can function well as all sorts of household furniture - chairs, end tables, desks, bed frames, basically anything you can think of. The bigger the novel, the better it’ll work as a base for whatever furniture it’s serving as. Downside: If you want to read the book on the bottom of the stack, you’re in trouble. Best to start with the one on the top and work your way down.
  • Use/build a shed in the backyard to double as a library - If you’re near to having to move out of your house because the books have taken over, this may be your best option. If a shed isn’t large enough to hold your reading collection, then you may have to buy the property next door and build an entirely new house just to store your books. Just line every wall with bookshelves and you should have enough storage space for another year or two. Downside: You’ll have to leave your house to get a new book instead of reaching for the next one on your nightstand. It’s worth it for all the storage space.
  • Burn them. I shudder to even type this, but for some people, desperate times call for desperate measures. This solution should only be implemented if you’re waging a losing war against the books in your home. Once you’re sure this is a step you want to take, read this article for tips on how to best burn your traitorous books. Downside: Beaten down and traumatized, you’ll suddenly emerge victorious - and realize that without the books, you were nothing.
Happy spring cleaning!:)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Dear You: Under Pressure

Dear You,
You’ve got a lot on your plate. I know that. Everyone’s on your case, asking why you don’t have a girlfriend, asking what you’re going to study, asking why you’re still living at home, asking where you’ll move after graduation, asking if you’re going to keep managing the front desk at the gym forever. Everyone has an idea about what you should be doing with your life - except you. And that can feel like a lot to handle sometimes. I’ve been there - I get it.
I’ve been thinking about what would help you and I’ve decided that you need someone to relate to you and to understand instead of constantly berating you for not having things figured out. I think Greg Gaines from Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews might get it to some extent. He’s trying so hard to fit in, but his mom is pressuring him to befriend this sick girl and then there’s school to keep up on and college to figure out….it’s a lot. And Cath from Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl understands trying to strike out on your own and how lonely and confusing that can be. She’s not much like you, but I think she gets having a tough first year of college and it might be good for the two of you to commiserate together. And I can’t forget Ed Kennedy (I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusack), who desperately wants the girl, but can’t get motivated to make anything happen anywhere in his life - he’s got a dead-end job and a tiny group of friends that he can’t break away from, but that hold him back more than he knows. Sounds a bit like you.
I hope they help you. But either way, I’ve got something else that might be of assistance. Here’s that CD I’ve been promising you for ages. Let me know how everything goes. And good luck.

Love, Anna

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Series Review: The Demonata by Darren Shan

Image result for demonata
There is so much blood in this series.
Like, SOOOOOO much blood. The Demonata is, without a doubt, the bloodiest series I have ever read (and I like horror novels!).
And yet, I really really enjoyed this series - even though I’m not at all the intended demographic and it definitely wasn’t my first choice of book and I probably won’t read other series by Darren Shan.
You see, I mostly read The Demonata because all my younger siblings went through a Darren Shan phase and I felt like I should keep up with their interests somewhat (though, honestly, reading Darren Shan hasn’t suddenly brought us insanely close or influenced my siblings to read anything I’ve recommended ever). So over the course of a year, I dutifully read the series and, at the end, I was actually kind of happy that I had.

There are a lot of good things about The Demonata:
  • STRANGE AND BIZARRE PLOT ELEMENTS GALORE - So Grubbs Grady lives with his uncle and along the way there’s a lot of demons and plenty of magic and some life-or-death chess matches and colorful blobs and werewolves and bullying and famous filmmakers and family drama and motorcycles and medieval times and just a lot of everything. Grubbs spends most of his time hunting/fighting demons and the rest of his time being an average teenage boy, but all the fun fantasy elements and plot twists make the story much more fun.
  • GOOD BALANCE OF HUMOR AND HORROR - Overall, I’d classify these books as YA fantastical horror (or maybe YA horrific fantasy?), but it’s not all dark and bleak. Shan does an excellent job of making our characters funny and likeable and able to see the good in their terrible situations. They’re frequently joking around and having fun, in spite of their circumstances and that makes them very fun characters to read.
  • UNPREDICTABLE - I’ve read a LOT of YA books and I feel like I have a pretty good idea what’s coming most of the time. But Shan kept me in the dark frequently. He took the story in ways I never imagined, he started telling the story from a different point of view, or gave the reader more background (which completely changed my ideas of what was going to happen). It’s really fun to read books when you legitimately don’t know what will happen.
  • UNIQUE CHARACTERS - While a few of the characters in this series fit stereotypes (i.e. Grubbs Grady as the tortured teen hero), most of them are interesting and unique. Having the story told from different viewpoints also helps the reader to appreciate each character, their background, their place in Shan’s world, and their contribution to the story.


And even though I really enjoyed this series, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows (in fact, I don’t think there was any sunshine and there were definitely no rainbows in the entire series). There were some parts that I didn’t appreciate:
  • MEH WRITING - I wasn’t expecting too much out of these books, but I was still a bit disappointed. The writing is passable at best and doesn’t really suck the reader in at all. Shan writes best when he’s writing about really bloody and graphic scenes (and there are a lot of those), but being a good writer is being able to write the whole story well, not just the gory parts. Shan’s The Thin Executioner is written much MUCH better (and is somewhat less bloody), so it may be a better place to start.
  • UNREALISTIC - I know, I know - it’s partly a fantasy series, but STILL. Sometimes, the plot would go to extremes that were just too much for me to believe. Things would either work out far too well for our heroes or everything would suddenly come up to stop them and it was just too much for the sake of a dramatic ending (since this usually happened at the end of one of the books).

My favorite book in the series is Bec - the fourth book. We've spent most of the series up until now hanging out with Grubbs Grady and hearing his sad tales and seeing things from the point of views of Grubbs and the people he hangs around with. But we begin Bec by being transported into another time and seeing the history of a lot of the problems that Grubbs is facing and that changes everything. Also, Bec is a fantastic female character (in a series with mostly tough men and a few hardcore women) and her influence throughout the rest of the series is huge.

If you don’t like blood and guts, don’t read this series. However, if you can tolerate some of that and some mediocre writing for a fun and absolutely ridiculous story about good vs. evil and teenage angst, then this is a good series for you.

Monday, April 17, 2017

On TBR books that intimidate me #2

As I’ve stated before, my TBR list is out of control and probably beyond help. Probably partly due to this, my relationship with it is….complicated and full of mixed emotions. Yeah, I love reading and if I had my way, I’d easily devour every book that comes within 20 feet of me. But life isn’t that simple and I’ve had to pick some TBR books to read before others. Here are a few that I’m holding off on - for all the wrong reasons.

-The Crucible of Doubt: Reflections On the Quest for Faith by Terry L. Givens & Fiona Givens - I’m a pretty religious person, but for some reason or other, religious books are a struggle for me. I recently finished The Infinite Atonement by Tadd R. Callister after THREE YEARS of struggling through it a few pages at a time. I enjoyed it, I loved it, I learned a lot, but I crawled on my belly through most of it, slowly dragging myself from page to page. It was rough and I’m not ready to put myself through that again. I’m also hoping that if I wait a bit longer, maybe I’ll suddenly become incredibly mature and be able to get through these sort of books at a halfway reasonable speed.

-The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt - I dated a guy in college who LOVED this book and talked about it all the time. We were both studying psychology, so it made sense that he thought I’d be into it. But after things ended between us (on less than good terms), I was torn about what to do with this book. A part of me refused to take it off the TBR - I couldn’t let a mere man have that sort of power over me! Another part of me argued that I only put it on the list since said man had loved it so much. I still haven’t made up my mind and there it sits, waiting for my verdict.

-Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie - I recently read another Rushdie book and I….didn’t get it. I can acknowledge that it was well-written and obviously well thought out, but I just didn’t connect with the book at all. I’m sure Midnight’s Children will be different, but if I couldn’t handle a different Rushdie book, I’m not sure how I’ll do with this one. Also, this is a classic and a must-read and those always intimidate me more than they reasonably should.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

On "The Lord of the Rings" as Christian Literature

My father recently sent me this article on The Lord of the Rings and the Christian symbolism and analogies present in Tolkien’s work. This prompted some binge-reading of any article I could find about Tolkien and religion. A lot of the articles aren’t fantastic, but a few really informed me and expanded my view of Tolkien as a writer. Also, they motivated me to finally read more Tolkien than The Hobbit (I know, I know - I’m way behind the times), so if all goes according to plan, I’ll make it through LotR sooner rather than later.
Here are a few articles on both sides:


For: Tolkien lit as Christian lit
-This article by SDG from Decentfilms.com is an in-depth look at the Christian (and specifically Catholic) elements displayed in the LoTR Triology.
-In this interview, Devin Brown (author of The Christian World of The Hobbit) speaks about his work and some elements of Christianity that are evident in The Hobbit.
-In this more condensed article, Stan Williams of the Catholic Education Resource Center lists Christian elements found in Tolkien’s work and separates general Christian beliefs from specific Catholic practices and beliefs.


Against:Tolkien lit as anti-Christian
-Here, Minister Eric Barger discusses why the magic found in LoTR is anti-Christian and should be avoided by practicing Christians.
-In this article, a former witch identifies some aspects of the magic in LoTR that are similar to the witchcraft this individual experienced in the 1960’s and why these practices are anti-Christian.


And BONUS!: An article on Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Note: Please keep in mind that this can be a very sensitive topic. Any unkind or insensitive comments will be promptly deleted.