Book Wrap Up (April): Slow and Nostalgic Reading in Quarantine

Reading Nostalgic Books to Stay Sane

I don’t know about you but reading has been very different since the lock-down. Right now I have a short attention span, and I really just want to be sucked into whatever I’m reading. That’s why for April I let myself revisit some old reads. Nostalgia is the bored person’s entertainment, and Harry Potter is not the exception. Needless to say, take my rating of the series with some skepticism, as I can’t help but enjoy them.

Collage of nostalgic books read in April

Fused. by Jerry Gerold

2 out of 5 stars

This was just a short story I picked up for free on a whim. The concept was simple: guy dreams of a beautiful woman, and then when she becomes real, she’s not what she seems. Unfortunately I found this story to be pretty rough around the edges. I don’t know what the author was trying to make the message be, but any way I looked at it I just felt icky. Do you know when people try to do shock-value things just to throw people off and gross them out? Yeah, that’s basically what this one did. I almost wish it had been a full book, because there was no suspense due to its shortness. But that’s what I have to say about that.

Perchance to Dream by Lisa Mantchev

4 out of 5 stars

Honestly this book was better than the first one to me, which I read last month. This series makes me feel so warm and fuzzy, and even though the romance is pretty basic and not super in-depth, I think this is a great transition book for middle grade to young adult. For those who don’t know the series, Bertie is a human girl with magical powers who lives in a theater with every play character to ever be written. It’s cute. And there’s tons of Shakespeare references, which I love. This one in particular was much more coherent than the first one as well.

Sex God by Rob Bell

2 out of 5 stars

I wanted to like this book. I read Bell’s Love Wins last year, and it was my favorite nonfiction read of 2019. But this one felt like going to a purity conference, and I’ve had enough of that in my lifetime. There wasn’t really anything I hadn’t heard before. And as for the “shocking” title, he didn’t really talk about what sex actually can be for people who follow Christianity. It was disappointing and hard to get through, even with just under 200 pages.

RNWY by P.A. Lopez

4 out of 5 stars

I don’t usually read Sci-Fi, in part because I find it too complicated to keep up with a lot of times. But at the same time, I love watching the genre in movies or TV shows. So when I won a free copy of this book, I thought I would give it a try. The great news is that it read like I was watching a live-action or cartoon movie. There were fun pictures throughout, and I really felt like the world was a realistic evolution from our current society. Basically, the story involves a whole cast of character perspectives, which can seem daunting at first. But they’re all connected through a thread of events that involve fashion, social media, and intergalactic warfare. So it’s pretty sweet. Definitely check this one out.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

4 out of 5 stars

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

5 out of 5 stars

For my last two books, I’ve hit the nostalgia train. I can’t give pure ratings on these, because I’m totally blinded by my childhood love of these books. Although I do have to say that my partner and I are reading the fourth book together now and I’m picking up much more plot-issues than the previous ones. I love Harry, and I probably always will. In times like these, it’s nice to read the familiar and the comfortable. I do have to say that I think PoA pushed the series a lot farther than the first two. CoS was good, but the third book finally showed that Harry is a powerful, capable wizard.

TBR for Next Month

Right now I’m reading like five books including Goblet of Fire, Life of Pi, A Drop of Midnight, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, annnnnd…Twilight. Yes, the nostalgia landslide continues. But honestly, it’s so fun to go back and read books I haven’t read since middle school. They feel like completely new books, and yet I remember them like old friends.

Got any recommendations for me? I’m pretty much open to any genre. And You can probably tell by my current reading list that I read wildly and widely. What books did you read this month? Have you read any of the books I’ve listed?

If you haven’t yet, check out my Instagram where I take fun ambient photos of books.

Why You Should (Always) Read Middle Grade and YA Books

Hey guys, it’s been a while. But I’ve been doing a lot of reading. A lot of YA and Middle Grade reading. And I’ve been thinking about why I believe it’s so valuable to read these genres as an adult.

It may seem strange at first to read books made for kids as an adult and to find great joy from most of them. But trust me when I say there’s plenty of us who do it. From librarians to bibliophiles. So if you enjoy any YA or MG lit, leave the titles of your favs in the comments. Some of mine are Leven Thumps, Vampirates, Harry Potter, and Maximum Ride (but I have so many more that I enjoy).

Without further ado, here are five reasons why Young Adult and Middle Grade books are beneficial for adults to read.

1. They Show What the Current Generation Reads

As a writer, I’m always trying to stay current to my audiences. I often write Young Adult and Middle Grade, and as I get older I think about whether I can still write relatable content. I’ve read some dreadful books where the adult authors think they’re being funny or smart about characters or situations. And yikes. It can be bad.

I love reading YA and MG because it gives me insight to what these groups are into. Even if I choose to work on projects that aren’t like the majority of content being put out, I can still see what topics and plot lines are interesting to a younger generation (or at least what people think the younger generation is interested in).

2. It’s a Refreshing Break From Adult Lit

I don’t know about you, but I’m often exhausted by adult literature. The text is denser. The problems and plot lines are more complicated, and sometimes there’s just so much more fluff. The great thing about YA books is that they are almost always drama-centered. And the great thing about MG is that they are fast-paced. I’m a good reader, but I also want reading to be enjoyable. Sometimes the best answer to this need is a good old Young Adult Fantasy with lots of steamy supernatural boyfriends and ridiculous situations. You feel me?

3. Use Them for a Creativity Boost

Another issue I often have with adult fiction is that they feel too stiff or serious. Young Adult and Middle Grade are often silly, spectacular, and radical. They push the boundaries. They are the pioneers of so many trends in literature from paranormal romance to talking about sexual abuse.

So whenever I’m feeling stuck in a rut with my writing, I tend to read YA or MG. A bonus benefit is they’re often short too! It makes for a little break from your WIP, but a long enough one that you can get a little escapism in too.

4. Taking Great Nostalgia Day Trip

When I think about my favorite YA and MG books, I get thrown back to my middle school and high school days. It makes me cringe, laugh, want to scream. And I kind of love how rereading these books dredges all of those memories back up.

I’m sure some of these books may not be as good as my emotions attached to them are letting me believe, but honestly, nostalgia rules. And if we can do anything to make us feel comfortable during these times, why not?

5. They Are Legit Literature Too

People don’t give Young Adult and Middle Grade authors enough credit. They can produce amazing literature just as often as “Adult” writers. And they do it by relating to a group of people who are much more separated from them. I think these authors need more appreciation from adult audiences, and I’m always happy to give them moral support.

If you write MG or YA, what genre do you like to write, and where do you get your inspiration from?


What genres do you read, and why do you read them? What helps your writing when you’re stuck? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts with the community.

Stay safe everyone!

Book Wrap Up (March): Reading in Quarantine

With starting a new job and trying to manage self-care in quarantine, I wasn’t able to read too many books this month. But I read some good ones for sure. Here’s all the books I read during March!

What was your favorite book you read this month?

List of books I read this month

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

If you’ve never heard of this book or watched the movie, you’re missing out on one of the masterpieces of our time. And I don’t say that lightly. This book may be hard to grasp, as it covers thousands of years, several different story lines, and vastly different writing styles. But at the heart of the book is a similar thread of lessons: that the powerful exploit the weaker, and we have to learn from our history to create a better future. I was overwhelmed by this fiction novel, which reads much more like a nonfiction book that is literally predicting our future with ingenious precision. Seriously. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

For most of this sequel Witcher book, I was a little disappointed. The short stories were more disjointed and not as fairytale-oriented. But the last few stories really jerked the heartstrings and made me remember why I love this strangely affectionate, white-haired monster hunter. I can’t wait to continue the series!

The Fall of Castle Carrick by J. Edward Neill

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I got this book anticipating a good mystery set in a medieval castle in Ireland with a gloomy painter. Unfortunately between flat or sexist characters, nonsensical plot lines, and bizarrely edited writing, this story fell very flat for me. I powered through and finished, but I wasn’t happy about it.

Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

If you’re looking for a fluffy fairytale-like YA book, this would be a great pick. Bertie is a lovable and goofy MC who lives in a magical theater with characters from all of the plays ever made. The beginning was a little rough to get into—there’s a lot of “scene changes” that are like fourth-wall breaking. But the story was fun and exactly the lighthearted stuff I needed.

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

As charming and witty as the first book. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this audiobook. The story was a great continuation with new and more outrageous plot-twists. I was really looking forward to the conclusion of the series but…

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Unlike the other two in the series, this one felt awkward and overstuffed with too many people and plot lines. I kept losing track of who was involved with who or had screwed who over. We lost sight of Nick and Rachel for most of the book, which was disappointing. I was left feeling really confused and dissatisfied. But it was still really funny and witty at parts.


What books should I read next? I have a small list, but I’m always open to more. Leave any suggestions below. Also, what book from my March list would you want to read or want a full book review for?

Reading Outside My Comfort Zone Was a Mistake: The Dream Peddler Review

Rating: 2 Out of 5 Stars

The Dream Peddler is about a traveling salesman named Robert who has the ability to whip up potions that give people any kind of dream they want. He comes into this new town on the same day that Evie and George’s son, Ben, goes missing. As the townspeople begin to distrust Robert and his product, more secrets in the town start to pop up.

I tried. I really did try to like this book. But things just kept piling up, and more terrible things kept happening. Eventually, I realized that it was just a bad idea to have read this book in the first place. It was like a magical realism Christian fiction book, which was not what I was expecting at all. The writing was somewhat fun and whimsical, but the characters were boring, bland, annoying, or just one-dimensional. There were also few-to-no character arcs.

Even though I did enjoy some of the flowery, poetic writing, I almost feel like this story would have been better suited as a short story or novella. 300 pages made it a little long-winded. Nothing really happened in the book. It was pretty vanilla in all regards. In the end, the problem wasn’t the writing necessarily, but the story and all of its characters.

If you’d like to check out my spoiler-section read below in “Life Is But a Dream”

Life Is But a Dream (Spoilers Below)

The Dream Peddler in front of a painting

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty. The plot, the characters, their actions, and some smaller tidbits that just didn’t work for me. Lastly, I’ll talk about my favorite part of the book.

Inconsequential Plot

The hardest part of the book for me to digest and unpack is the fact that nothing truly happens. Everyone starts at the same place they end. The only exception is Evie, who slightly recovers from her child’s death but that has nothing to do with anything but time being able to heal wounds more than anything else can. There’s a big scene where a kid steals from a cash register and nothing ever comes of it. Jackson gets Cora pregnant, and he never gets found out. Robert wrestles with his grief of leaving his wife and daughter to live this new life, and he doesn’t change or grow at the end. The author might be trying to make a commentary about how nothing ever changes in this town, and no one ever gets what they deserve, but I just don’t feel like that was shown strongly enough. For one, the author stays separate from the narration the entire time, only letting the characters speak their own thoughts. But so many times throughout the book it turns very preachy about porn, masturbation, and the duties of women. I just felt like it strayed too far from the magical realism realm.

The magic was such a side-lined aspect of the book that it felt like it wasn’t there at all. Robert could have been selling inappropriate pictures without magical properties, and the results of most of the book would have been the same. There were so many times where the townspeople seemed like they were going to riot and kick Robert out of their town, but they never did. So whose fault is it really that he keeps selling potions?

Nonsensical Actions and Missed Opportunities 

I just don’t understand why there’s this mystery surrounding the death of the kid, Ben. The author writers two scenes about Ben as he leaves the house. The story kind of toys with the idea that there might have been foul play involved, as if there was something deeper to his story. But no, the kid was just chasing the moon and broke through the ice into a bay. It was disappointing, especially when the second scene (almost at the end) reveals nothing new. It would have been so much more interesting if someone like Jackson had actually killed him.

Speaking of Jackson, his character confused me to no end. He’s a pretty flat character—just a flirt who goes around and winks at all the girls. But then there’s also this very subtle hint that he might not actually be into women (besides forcing himself on them frequently).

There’s these lines:

“He would buy as many [potions] as it took, and then he would dream of women, only women, each more beautiful than the last. Their beauty and passion would overwhelm him, and there would be no more confusion.”

Later in the story, he tells Robert that the potions didn’t work for him. I don’t know what the author was trying to do with this. Maybe make Jackson seem more sympathetic because he lives in a town where his true self would never be accepted? But in a text that pretty much spells most things out, this aspect is so subtle that it’s hard to tell what the author is going for. Also it’s suggested that he forced himself on Cora? So I can’t really be sympathetic for him…

But most of the love life in this book was like that, besides Rolf and Christina who were actually kind of cute. I hardly ever felt like the husbands and wives loved each other in this town. 

Some Personal Beef

I only feel like I can argue this is a negative part of the book, as no time or place was specified in the text. But the moral high ground so many characters take, as well as the sexism and out-dated rules these people follow, are just annoying to read about. I guess the book might have been going for an early 1900s feel, but at the same time, I just couldn’t vibe with the beliefs of these people. Everyone in the town was just the worst.

Then there’s also the fact that new characters were being introduced to the story by the third quarter of the book. I just didn’t have the capacity to remember or care about any of these new people.

Some Redemption: Poetic language

A country road at Golden hour

The only aspect of the book I did enjoy was some of the dialogue and poetic language. The book has a good flow of words, and I could picture things well in my mind. The problem was that I didn’t like the pictures half the time. Despite my complaints, I did really resonate with these lines, if only because of my move to LA.

“I’ve been to many towns like this one before and known many people who thought of leaving but never did. And maybe if they did leave, sure, their lives would be better, but then again maybe not. Life is a matter of routine, in a sense, no matter where you are. Big city, small town, it doesn’t make much difference… There’s no adventure in leaving, when you come down to it. I’ve built a life on leaving, and I can tell you now, even that becomes routine.”

Life can be difficult when you choose to stay or when you choose to leave. Or when you read books that aren’t in your usual genre.

Conclusion

I don’t really think that reading outside of my comfort zone was the wrong thing to do. Every once in a while, I love picking up a random book and reading it. But I definitely think this was a bad case of reading a book solely based on the cover art. Maybe next time I’ll actually look into a book more before reading it.

Have you or someone who know read this book and liked it? Change my mind about what this book is supposed to mean—I would love to hear your thoughts!

Feel free to check out my other book reviews including Fireborne, Wilder Girls, You Are a Badass, and more!

Book Wrap Up (February): Good and Bad Books

Hello everyone! I finally got my reading butt into gear this month, even though it was a short one. If you’d like a full review for any of the books below that don’t have one already, let me know! I’d love to extend my thoughts on any of these books. Also, let me know if you feel different about any of these books. I’d love to hear your opinions.

The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

On audiobook, I found this book to be super engaging and intriguing. The story follows four siblings after their trip to a fortune teller who tells them what days they will die. The stories were tied together well, and I felt invested in each sibling’s story. I just felt like the ending was a little predicable and fell a little flat for me.

Dracula – Bram Stoker

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

Finally finished this one. For a classic, it was a pretty easy read. The biggest complaint I have about the book is that the pacing was so slow. But I expect this out of most classic books, to be honest. It was thoroughly entertaining to read all of the sexist lines about women not being able to handle themselves against such a horrible monster. The book also had a large build-up for like two scenes of okay action. I think my expectations were so high from years of knowing the basics of the story that the original fell short.

A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

Another classic that I just felt meh about. I didn’t know that this book was so conceptual and ethereal. I also listened to it on audiobook, but I just found it to be so boring and underwhelming. The kids bicker through the entire book, and the solution to defeating the big bad was…love… I know this book has been so influential for a lot of people, but it just wasn’t for me.

Less – Andrew Sean Greer

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

I picked this book on audiobook at random, partially because it was so short. It was quite the different perspective, as it’s about a fifty year old gay man as he tries to find happiness again. I reminded me of Hector and the Search for Happiness in a good way. It had a lot of witty lines and author snipes that I chuckled at. But in the end, it was just okay.

Bird Box – Josh Malerman

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I had seen the movie before I listened to this on audiobook, but I quickly fell in love with this book. It was different in all the good ways, while also still have some of the most intense scenes I have ever read in a book. The narrator did a really good job as well. There are a couple things that hold me back from five stars including the jarring perspective the book was written in. Though this ended up working in favor of the suspense, it was hard to get into at first. The ending also seemed to drag. For me, it’s always the endings of suspenseful books that can make or break the whole thing.

The Braid – Laetitia Colombani

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

The Braid is a story of three women from different countries and very different backgrounds. I’m one of those people who read and don’t really predict what’s going to happen in the end. For that reason, some people might have seen the end of this book coming, but I was so pleasantly surprised about how all the stories wrapped up. Honestly I think this book was a joy to read. A little gem among the shelves, if you will. So I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes female power in their reads.

The House on Mango Street – Sandra Cisneros

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

This collection of semi-autobiographical short stories was so refreshing and real. It was a short read, but heavy in a lot of the themes and messages throughout the book. I definitely resonated with some of the stories over others, but that’s pretty typical of a short story collection.

The Dream Peddler – Martine Fournier Watson

Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

I’ll be sharing a full review about this book soon, so I’ll keep this short. The book is about a guy who sells dreams in a small town. I was just so disappointed in the magical realism of this book, the lack of character growth, and the story in general. But that’s alright. It just wasn’t for me.

Oligarchy – Scarlett Thomas

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I found this book in the popular section in my library and thought, “What the heck, why not?” This book is about a bunch of rich girls in a boarding school who are only obsessed with being as thin as possible. This book was hard to read as someone who’s struggled with food habits before, but at the same time the writing was beautiful. I really enjoyed it.

Wilder Girls – Rory Power

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

I was so disappointed by this book. Everyone including me was drawn to this book because of the gorgeous cover. But the book was so lukewarm for me. A schoolhouse of girls try to survive as they face physical mutations from a mysterious disease. There was something about the writing that made the whole book feel vague and distant from me as a reader. Check out my full review of Wilder Girls to see my thoughts on all the minutia.

Fireborne – Rosaria Munda

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Fireborne is a fantasy book set during the years after a political revolution. There’s dragons, too. So that’s great. I wrote a full review of Fireborne that you can check out if you’re interested. I was really impressed with the combination of fantasy and world issues, but there were just a couple story issues that made it not a full five stars for me. I’m really looking forward to book two!

Conclusion

Have you read any of the books I read this month or any books by the same authors? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Happy reading everyone!

Book Review: Fireborne Reignited My Love of YA

A Light Review (No Spoilers)

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

If you’d like to read my spoiler review section, keep reading through to the section titled “Into the Fire.”

So many YA books start before the revolution, but this one takes place several years into a new dictatorship/oligarchy that replaces the monarchy. It’s a concept that has been seen so many times throughout history, and I think it’s great to show the consequences of a rebellion in a fantasy setting. I’ll tell you this, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine when the original government gets overthrown — even if they were tyrannical.

The story follows the split-perspective of Annie and Lee, both orphaned from the revolution but in very different ways. They have grown up, dealing with the harsh realities of their new world. Now they’re part of the elite guard of dragon riders. But as the revolution becomes more complicated and other conflicts arise, the two must decide if they will continue to fight for this new government or lose themselves in the similarities between both regimes.

In order for me to give a book five stars, it has to be a fantastic story, but it also has to contain something that transcends the pages. This book did a great job of making a fantasy world still comparable to our society. There were just too many little story things that took it down a star for me. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy and reading about class struggle or the consequences of revolutions. Also, can I just say how refreshing it is to read a YA book with a decent Lexicon? 

Into the Fire (Spoilers Below)

There were so many things I liked about this book: a realistic descent into chaos after a revolution, vulnerable male characters, people talking through their psychological trauma, and so much more. But there was also a handful of details that I didn’t think worked well. Let’s talk about those first.

Although I loved the split perspective of Annie and Lee at times, there are some points where this structure worked as a plot crutch. Usually, this would happen when Lee or Annie encounters huge emotional events like when Annie and Rock “have to” burn a villager. We’re in Lee’s perspective when she first tells him what happens, and then we get to see a scene from her perspective. But this whip-lash of going forward and backward in time (while still being in present tense) was a little jarring at times. Not a huge deal. Just bein’ a picky reader.

Speaking of burning that villager though, this seemed so out of character for Annie that I was immediately thrown out of my reading immersion. Are you telling me that just because the villagers aren’t giving them enough of their food supply, that in an instant without any other warnings, Annie just decides that they should burn people? After everything that she’s gone through with people getting burned to death? I know this moment was supposed to make them question whether or not they were just as bad as the monarchy, but at the same time, it was unbelievable for Annie to do this. It would have been entirely different if she had witnessed Rock’s dragon burn someone and then voiced her anger at him.

Rock’s eyes meet mine in a silent question. I nod once to show I’ll do it. Though, I suppose, I have to. Rock’s dragon hasn’t sparked yet. He could cause injuries, but for the full effect of this demonstration, we require flames.

Pg. 328

A similar but more effective time the gang questions whether or not they’re just as bad as the previous rulers is when they’re making plans for the food distribution. Here they discuss the iron working class getting less food than the elite gold class. Lee and Annie have a reasonable and diffcult discussion about why this has to be this way, but that still doesn’t change the fact that their pal Cor will have to give his sister scraps. It was emotional. It was realistic. And it wasn’t preachy. It’s a real problem people in history have had to navigate before.

Scenes went really fast in this book, often jumping over travel time within single sentences. I got used to this flow, but it made fight scenes go super fast. Even the last major dragon battle between Lee and his cousin Julia was so quick and inconsequential that it ended up feeling pretty rushed. But Lee got a great speech out of it afterward so…

Let the blood on my hands be my offering; let the spoils of my battle stand as proof of my loyalty.

Pg. 422

One last major critique I have about the book is the dragons. The writing style was very non-descriptive, which I can deal with. You only get physical descriptions every now and then, and they come across very naturally. But if someone asked me what the dragons were like: how big, what color, what details do they have — I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Which is kind of disappointing? I love dragons. And the connection that the riders had with the dragons, which I would describe as similar to how Eragon sees through Saphira’s eyes, was very emotional and intense. But the dragons don’t have a voice in the rider’s minds, and they seem very robotic. More dragons in book two, please.

Realistic Consequences and People

I think my favorite aspect of the book was how well the consequences of the revolution were explored. People are uneasy and unsure about their new leaders and guards. When the gang has to take food from people or give speeches, the villagers would often would hate them for being so similar to the monarchy. And it would really pay an emotional toll on the main characters in different ways. For example, Annie, who had grown up in these villages and feared dragon fire, was now spit on and cursed by the people. It was just an incredibly powerful image. There’s a lot to digest with these parts of the book, which makes me excited for future books in the series.

The characters are also pretty well fleshed out. And I could tell they were fleshed out because I actually cared about most of them. Pitting Annie and Lee against each other even though they were best friends, and being able to see the story from each of their unique perspectives, was a super unique reading experience.

My only note in the character category is that it often felt like Annie had more depth than Lee. I think part of this issue was the result of him keeping his princely secret from everyone. But even when we were in his head, he was often pretty bland. Annie had to overcome not only the stigma of her birthplace but also her place as a female dragon rider. Meanwhile, Lee had to overcome…? It was an interesting dynamic that he had to face and report to the man who had killed his entire family. Even more interesting that he eventually agreed that the new ruler was right. But it was only because of the way Annie would describe Lee that I really ended up enjoying his character. I also think Lee reminded me of Zuko from Avatar the Last Airbender, so it was pretty easy to like him when I realized they were so similar.

I was especially impressed by Power, a major antagonist, who breaks several stereotypes when he helps out Annie with her training. He was still a crummy person, but he was realistic because he chose Annie over his hatred of Lee.

I know some people were pissed at Lee for acting like he owns Annie when they were children, but I could write it off as post-traumatic stress from everything he had gone through as a kid. People were waiting on him hand and foot, and suddenly he has the blood of everyone on his body? Yeah, that’s gonna mess a kid up.

Conclusion

Anyways, I really enjoyed this book. It was a dense and impressive read. I’m looking forward to book two!

Check out my review on Wilder Girls, Beautiful Creatures, or The Sun Is Also a Star if you liked this review. And let me know if you’ve read this book and what your thoughts were — especially if they were different.

Fiction Friday #8: Write the Prompt with Me!

Happy Fiction Friday everyone! I decided that I should branch out a bit — and basically only a little bit — and go for a Sci-Fi writing prompt this week. I usually don’t write Sci-Fi, but there’s been something in me that’s been calling out to the genre, so I said hey, what the heck. And here we are.

The Prompt

Sci-Fi Writing Prompt
Week #8 Writing Prompt

This prompt is from Deep Water Prompts, and they seem to have a lot of great ones. As always, I’m going to write for 30 minutes, and just see where the story goes. If you write along with me, I’d love to see your writing as well. Don’t forget to check out my other writing prompts!

The Writing

Photo by João Silas

It was only when my hands brushed against the clammy walls that I realized I was asleep. My eyes flicked open as my stomach dropped with a sudden overwhelming amount of dread. It was dark in the hallway, with the only light source coming from the faint green glow of wall lanterns. 

Then came the whispers. They reverberated from wall to wall, hitting me with their muffled voices. I thought I could hear my name, but then again, isn’t that what everyone hears? 

Squinting into the darkness ahead of me, I realized that with that many voices, surely I should have seen someone up ahead, walking towards me.

I glanced behind me, but there was no one. There wouldn’t be. Not this late. The lab got to work so early in the morning, and with everyone forced to stay on base for this experiment, there wasn’t any reason to stay up this late.

It’s just my head. Still half asleep. I should turn back. I should go to my room. 

Every corridor in this base looked the same. The only indication of what hallway I was in was the number painted over every door. But I was so far into this hallway that I didn’t even see a door.

I decided to listen to my instinct and walk towards the way my back had been turned. The likelihood that I had been doing multiple turnarounds was not that great, but then again, I had never sleep-walked either. At least as far as I knew.

There was a soft buzz radiating from the wall lanterns, and as I passed underneath them, I couldn’t help but feel like something was watching me just from the darkest parts of the hallway. But my feet kept moving, even with this fear rising in my tingling fingers and dry mouth.

When the double door leading to the next hallway come into view, I stopped walking. My whole body went numb as I stared at the number. 43. 43. 43. 43. 

My breathing hitched as my heart rate rose. The sleeping quarters were in number 15. There were only 40 numbers I was told of. It was reasonable to assume that there were more numbers that I wouldn’t have access to, but here I was. In a restricted area. That I had somehow gained access to in my sleep. And I hadn’t been shot yet.

I hesitated to reach out for the door handle. What if these people worked at night, to make sure that no one interfered with their work? What if I was one step away from being caught?

“Haaayes.”

The whispers had gotten closer to me, coming from behind door 43. This time I was sure I could hear the sing-song call of my name.

I should run. I should run out this door. Run as fast as I can back to my station.

I reached for the handle and pushed.

My eyes blinked as they adjusted to the brighter light of this hallway. For some reason the door had been tinted, not showing that this hallway was lit up with the normal fluorescents that were used during the day hours.

There was a long table, but that wasn’t what I was looking at. Sitting on the edge of the table was a girl, maybe close to my age or a few years younger. Her hair was loose and wavy around her neck. Her skin was a creamy brown and exposed through her thin dress.

“You found me,” she said with a soft smile. “Now find me for real.”

My body convulsed and I fell to the floor. But no — I sat up. I was in my bed. It was dark, but I could see the green glow under my bedroom door from the hallway lanterns. My hands were clammy, my breathing absolutely too fast.

A dream. That was all. Just a dream.

I laid back against my pillows, a hand rested against my chest so that I could feel my heart as it slowed down. This wasn’t the first time I had dreamt of wandering the halls past where my clearance let me go. But I had never dreamt of something so specific. 

It’s just because you saw those helicopters arrive today, I tell myself. Your head is telling you that something big is going on. But nothing is. Of course, it isn’t.

I go back to sleep, but even as I close my eyes, I can still see the girl. And I wonder if it’s true what they say: that you can’t dream of anyone you haven’t seen before.

Why I Continue To Send Query Letters (Traditional Publishing)

As I send my 70th query letter between the two different book series I’m trying to publish, I find myself wondering: why am I still trying to publish this way? The answer is complicated, slightly prideful, but also embedded in the fact that I don’t only want money. I want people to be able to read my book. I want to belong to something.

Close-up view of keyboard.

When I was in high school, I managed to get my book (Spell Bound, Kristen McDonald) published through a legitimate publishing house — Black Rose Writing. Though now that I look back on it, I realize that being on my own to navigate this publishing process was a nightmare. They’re one of the few companies that accept unsolicited query letters (for anyone who doesn’t know, unsolicited means you can send your work without being represented by an agent or someone on the “inside”). Me being the little naive teenager I was, I considered this to be a plus.

But at the end of the day, I had to pay out of pocket for 100 copies, I had to edit the manuscript myself (with a 9th grader’s experience in the English language), and I received little-to-no marketing besides the book being released online through major outlets.

A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down. If it is a good book nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book nothing can help him.

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

After hearing all of this, you may think that I wouldn’t want to go through a nightmare like that again. Maybe I should just publish through Amazon and skip the trouble. But instead, this experience has made me feel like the only route that will work for me is to get represented. Maybe part of me is just such a purist: I feel that getting published the traditional way feels like the only option for me. But I know it’s more than that.

Also, I can’t edit myself — even as an adult. And I’m not about to shovel out a large sum to have someone else do it for self-publishing either.

Why am I still trying to go the “traditional” route for publishing? Why do I believe that finding an agent is the route for me? There are several reasons.

Navigating the Expenses

Glasses resting on a pad of paper.

While I am continuously sending query letters, I have looked at self-publishing expenses before. I’ve even requested packages and received numerous phone calls from people who try to get me to join their programs. The bottom line is always the same: I don’t have money to self-publish through these companies. So many of these places offer only slightly different packages for you. Some offer a set amount of money to receive a set amount of books. Others help with marketing but you have to pay for everything along the way.

I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is.

-Anne Lamott

But who really has money for this? It’s an investment for sure, but books won’t make you that much money unless you’re selling a ton of copies. But it’s not about the money for me when it comes to books.

Really, as a broke kid with college debt living in LA, my only chance to get published right now is through some kind of book deal with a publishing house. While self-publishing companies claim to push as low as 500-1000 dollars to get published through their system, that price is just not practical in my current situation. I loved this line from firstwriter.com, “Remember, it’s better to have 15% of something than 50% of nothing.” When you publish traditionally, you have such a better chance of your book getting read and purchased. 

Gaining an Advocate

While I’m sure there are plenty of horror stories about agent-writer relationships, at the end of the day, I need someone to advocate for me. I need to know that I have someone on my team who is trying to market my book as much as I am. Why? Because until I can reasonably support myself with my writing, I’m going to have to work another job. Which leaves very little time to actually market my own books. Not that I wouldn’t push it HARD on every platform that I can. But this means that I’m going to need to get a good marketing deal with a publishing house.

As someone trying to be picked up by the largest publishing house possible, an agent is a necessity. They’re going to be the ones who are able to push my work through what so many people call the “slush pile” and seen by publishing houses.

The Unfortunate Reality

Fancy letters that say "no"
Every response letter I’ve gotten so far.

It’s estimated that about 300,000 books get published every year in the US. And these are the books that are not self-published. So yeah, the odds are not in my favor. Even with a small, published book under my belt. Plus with the trends of genres always changing like the tide, it’s hard to catch the right agent’s attention. 

I can’t tell you how many articles and YouTube videos I’ve watched about “How To Get an Agent” or “Why Agents Aren’t Picking Up Your Book.” But at the end of the day, I’ve seen just as many agents tweet things about how it’s just luck. It’s just subjective. It’s just a personal opinion. And you just have to find the right one at the right time.

As a young man just beginning to publish some short fiction in the t&a magazines, I was fairly optimistic about my chances of getting published; I knew that I had some game, as the basketball players say these days, and I also felt that time was on my side; sooner or later the best-selling writers of the sixties and seventies would either die or go senile, making room for newcomers like me.

-Stephen King

According to theadventurouswriter.com, agent Janet Reid “gets 100 query letters a week; other agents in her office get 500 queries a week. Reid may request 4 partial manuscripts from those 100 query letters.” I know agents have a hard job. I follow quite a few on twitter, and I see how exhausted they are by writers who just don’t understand what “no” or politeness means.

But that’s easier said than done when it feels like you’re running out of people to send your work to.

Even worse, I’ve seen even agencies not accepting unsolicited query letters. At that point, I wanted to throw in the towel. How can I even hope to be published traditionally when there are all of these hoops to jump through? And yet I persist. Why? It might be because I still believe in this industry and want to be added to the YA shelves of every bookstore across the world. Or maybe I’m just crazy. Who knows?

All I know is that I will continue to write and continue to push my writing out into the world.

My Conclusion

My personal journey is to travel the narrow path of traditional publishing, but I know this isn’t everyone’s choice. What are your thoughts and reasons for wanting to self-publish or traditionally publish? I’d love to hear where you are in this process and how this journey has been for you. 

Book Review: Wilder Girls Is Not Quite the Wild Ride I Wanted

Firstly, let’s acknowledge the incredible cover art by Illustrator Aykut Aydogdu. I think this cover art is half the attraction and hype of this book. So good job, marketing team.

Alright let’s get to it. Few-to-no spoilers for this part (when regarding specific plot-points). Just a straight-shot review. If you’d like to see my in-depth analysis, read “Getting Through the Weeds” below.

A Light Review Section

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

Wilder Girls by Rory Power has been called a combination of Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies by literally every popular review website. Except, it’s really like a knock-off teen version of the movie Annihilation and a watered-down version of Lord of the Flies without the social commentary undertones. The writing was vague, the plot was thin and often petty. For a book saturated with powerful girls, this book was seriously lacking some girl power.

Wilder Girls is set in a time period most likely close to ours, where a group of students at a boarding school in Maine are attacked by a mysterious island disease that kills males quickly and leaves the females with nature-influenced transformations. With anything from scales to second spines, these girls are fighting for their lives. Meanwhile, the flora around the school continues to morph and a group of scientists search for answers to help them (from a distance). The story is told from split perspective of two best friends Hetty and Byatt, while other girls and teachers are splattered in scenes here and there.

The premise of Wilder Girls is obviously an interesting one, with potential for political commentary, LGBTQ+ romances and conversations (when considering the “biological” response to the disease), and scenes of girls being kick-ass. The author did a great job of making an ailment that might have been humorous actually seem terrifying and even cool at parts. But I came into this book expecting powerful girl romance and great story.

Unfortunately, that didn’t really happen. The romance was forced and weak. The “feminist” aspect of the book was non-existent. The writing was somehow so vague and dream-like that moments felt under-described and blurry. As if the picture wasn’t completely formulated when it was written. All in all, I felt super disappointed by this book. Especially because I felt like it had so much potential. If you’re into girl drama and an interesting setting, then this book might be an okay read for you. But if you were really banking on this book being your next favorite soft Sci-Fi YA, you might be let down too.

**Spoilers Below**

Getting Through the Weeds

Shallow Relationships

Things started out strong. We have a sassy narrator who described their current status, with shocking details of each girls’ mutations. We have some hierarchy shifts with Hetty getting picked to be a supply-runner, which drives some conflict with her loner friend Reese. And then this line:

“She looks almost shy. But Reese doesn’t do shy. Even when she came out to me, it was like a weapon. ‘Queer,’ she said then, as though she was daring me to disagree.”

I don’t know if this passage was just out of place, forced, awkward, or all of the above. Did we have to make it such a clunky statement? This line makes me feel like Reese is obviously going to have a crush on one of the main girls. There’s no tension, no tenderness. It’s just kind of awkward? Maybe I’m crazy.

The relationship between Byatt, Reese, and Hetty gets even more complicated when Reese tells Hetty that she doesn’t want Byatt to be a part of the picture anymore. It’s just cold and toxic, and automatically makes me kind of resent Reese as a person. I want to like the main characters, but they’re all so distant and mean to each other. Constantly bickering over trivial things when they’re all literally dying from a terrible disease. It’s almost like the book is saying girls can’t stop being petty even if their life depends on it.

When Reese kisses Hetty, it was really forced and also inconsequential. They kiss near the beginning and spend most of the rest of the book fighting or running. There’s not much relationship building at all, which was super disappointing. Hetty also seems to have feelings for Byatt, who’s gone for most of the book, but she’s still okay with making out with Reese? Maybe she’s going for a love triangle, but it was pretty lukewarm.

Disappointing Plotline

But the trivial conflict of our protagonists is really just the icing over the poorly laid plot. Most of the driving plot points are Hetty sneaking places with little-to-no tension or consequences (at least for her and her BFFs). In a setting of fantastic beasts and creepy mutations, we see very few interactions between our girls and the fauna. The climax of the book isn’t even a major point towards figuring out the diseases. It’s just a bear trying to break into their school. That also somehow gets diluted by the fact that Hetty and Reese escape super easily. Even when the scientists are threatening to blow up their school, because they’ve given up on trying to find a cure, there’s no suspense. I just didn’t care.

It’s definitely a challenge to make readers care about sick characters who are most likely doomed to die a horrible death. But this book didn’t even seem to try to connect characters to readers. Dialogue is pretty shallow and their constant bickering doesn’t help.

Byatt gets separated from Reese and Hetty pretty early on in the book and has her own adventure. Including purposefully giving the disease to a male scientist. I guess he was stupid enough to fall for her sick ass in a couple of minutes and kiss her. Because…feminism?

Speaking of which, feminist literature is supposed to be like a defense or establishment of equal rights of women — whether politically, socially, economically, or otherwise. I don’t think I would ever consider this feminist literature. For one, there’s nothing inherently political about the disease affecting only women. It’s not like The Power, by Naomi Alderman, where this is some sort of revelation of power dynamics. It’s just a hormone reactant. The only feminist power line was this:

“We don’t get to choose what hurts us.”

And yes, true. Preach! But that’s about it in the commentary department. I don’t need a book to be saturated in socioeconomic comments, but just because a book is an all-girl cast doesn’t make it feminist. At least in my opinion.

Byatt was by far the superior character, and I wish the story had been told by her perspective a little earlier on. She had some gorgeous poetry-like paragraphs when she was on drugs with the scientists. But she also had this gut-wrenching self-harm scene that made me tremble with nausea. It was honestly a bit much at times, but I kind of liked that about this book. It was definitely fearless with the horror descriptions. BUT, these clearly written violent details made everything else look even more under described.

There were a couple of logical errors like Hetty breaking open a window with her fist when she had a knife on her to use as a blunt force against the glass. And are you telling me that all they had to do was cut the parasite out of them and they’d be better? No scientist tried that at all before? Instead they just keep trying these drugs and gassing the girls. It’s just a little weird.

I think this book just focuses on the wrong things at the wrong time. The pacing is weird. The characters are just not great people and flat half the time. The concept was definitely interesting, but it just didn’t rock my world.


Change my mind about this book! I want to like it so much more, but right now I feel quite meh about it. What do you think?

Book Wrap Up (January): What I’ve Read So Far

I had a reading slump at the beginning of the month. I blame it on my anxious mental breakdowns and the usual — playing Skyrim. However, I finally got back into reading after finding the Booktube community. Mostly binge-watching ReadWithCindy. Anyways, here’s my book recap for the month. Have you read any of these books, or are they on your TBR list? Let me know what you think!

Books Read

  • Beautiful Creatures – Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl (2 out of 5 stars)
  • Becoming – Michelle Obama (4 out of 5 stars)
  • To Drink Coffee With a Ghost – Amanda Lovelace (3 out of 5 stars)
  • The Last Wish – Andrezej Sapkowski (4 out of 5 stars)

Beautiful Creatures was….meh. You can read my review, but I felt lukewarm-to-not-great about it. It was very bland with bad pacing. That’s about all I have to add to my thoughts on the book.

I actually listened to Becoming on audiobook, which is great because Michelle Obama just won a Grammy for the reading of this book. While I really loved hearing her life story and getting an inside look to what it’s like to be the President’s wife, I felt like she ran out of things to talk about in her early life. She did do a good job reading. I was entertained and engaged for most of the book. I also had an emotional breakdown when she talked about her disabled dad dying. My dad is similarly disabled, and it was like hearing my future before my ears. Needless to say, I was sobbing for most of my car ride home from work.

To Drink Coffee with a Ghost is a poetry book, and I realized a little too late that it’s actually the second part of a poetry collection. Despite this, it was definitely readable as a stand-alone. I connected to a lot of the poems about her mom, but some of them were just a little too obvious. I like poetry that’s pretty heavy in the metaphor department. So if any of you have recommendations, hit me up!

Ah, The Last Wish. This book made me believe in fairytale retellings again. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and read it really fast actually. The only reason I didn’t give it 5 stars was because it was a little disjointed at times (partially because it was a collection of short stories). But there was a lot of names thrown at you, and the “overarching” storyline was really short and non-essential for the most part. But, I’m looking forward to the other books in the series for sure. LASTLY, I think the show did a really great job of connecting these disjointed stories into one giant storyline. And I was still able to enjoy the book’s differences.

If you’d like a full review on any of these besides Beautiful Creatures (which I already did), let me know!

Books Currently Reading

  • Beautiful Darkness – Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl
  • Dracula – Bram Stoker
  • Wilder Girls – Rory Power

I’ve been reading Dracula for a while, and it will probably be another month before I finish. I mostly read it when I have nothing else to read. Or if I only have my iPad with me (because I’m reading it via Apple Books).

I’m also giving the second book of the Castor series a try. *Sighs for eternity.* I’m just trying to figure out why it’s so popular.

Lastly, I’ll be writing a full review of Wilder Girls when I’m finished, which should be in the beginning of the month of February. I’ve got a lot to say about it so far.


What books have you read this month? Do you agree with my ratings? Leave a comment below if you’d like to share your lovely thoughts.

Beautiful Creatures Is a Wannabe “I’m Not Like Other Girls” Mess

Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, is classified as a YA Southern Gothic Fantasy. It’s told in first person from the perspective of high school student Ethan Wate as he encounters the new girl, Lena Duchannes, the niece of the local recluse. As their relationship develops, Ethan discovers hidden secrets in his and Lena’s past. They also have to grapple with the curse on Lena’s family which determines whether she will turn into a Dark or Light Caster (basically a bad or good witch) on her sixteenth birthday.

I know this book was published in 2009, but I’ve been itching to read the series for a long time. **I’ve tried to keep the spoilers to minimum.** And although I rated the book 2 out of 5 stars, I’m almost interested in reading the others to see if they get any better. Let me know if you’ve read the series and your thoughts!

Problematic Issues with Race, History, and Creepiness in General?

It’s not really my place to decide if the character Amma is a racist depiction of a southern black woman. What I can do is give you her character descriptions and let you decide for yourself. Although Ethan seems to be attached to her like a mother, Ethan’s sentiment alone doesn’t override the writer’s descriptions of Amma. She’s one of the few characters who talks with a dialect at times, she’s a devoted Christian and yet also follows a magical practice which is most similar to a stereotypical Southern voodoo, and she lacks much character depth besides these tropes. She mostly comes into the plot to cook, to contrast against Lena’s uncle, or to stop Ethan from doing something. So….yeah. For a book that mentions the Civil War often, it’s a little strange to have Amma be a stereotype.

“History was a bitch sometimes. You couldn’t change where you were from. But still, you didn’t have to stay there. You didn’t have to stay stuck in the past, like the ladies in the DAR, or the Gatlin Historical Society, or the Sisters. And you didn’t have to accept that things had to be the way they were, like Lena.”

What the book did seem to have was Civil War apologetics. Or what ended up looking like apologetics. Above is the scene where Ethan contemplates how it feels to be a part of the South, comparing his feelings about his own heritage to those who live in Germany after WWII. I guess we’re supposed to feel bad for him, but I really just…don’t? On one hand this might be a real issue many people in the South feel. On the other hand, the writers try to make this white, Southern boy appealing by overcompensating a civil-war-glorifying town with one family that’s not. And we can cheer for Ethan because his relative ran away from the Southern army? Maybe…

There are several flashbacks to Lena’s past relative where it’s basically implied that her relatives owned slaves. And it’s never really addressed. The writers missed a really great opportunity to talk about that issue and make it a major point of reconciliation for the main characters’ pasts. I mean, sure they say that the war was bad, but they never really get to the main issue of why it was bad.

Lastly the adults in this book are just creepy most of the time. Uncle Macon sneaks into Ethan’s bedroom for *reasons*, and I was just reading thinking, I don’t think this is okay. Of course like most YA, the adults have no control over the teenagers, and the teens tend to do whatever they want. Fine, whatever. But then the adults are also super powerful and threatening and borderline abusive or negligent at times. Ethan’s dad basically lives in his bedroom, leaving Ethan parentless for no reason other than his dad feels closer to their dead mom in his room. Nice!

It’s more just something that makes me sad, rather than a knock against the book itself.

Lena Is “Not Like Other Girls” and Neither Is Ethan.

“And what would you know about that? You’ve never been burdened with a relationship in your life, not even a friend. You don’t understand anything. How could you? You sleep in your room all day and mope around in your library all night. You hate everyone, and you think you’re better than everyone. If you’ve never really loved anyone, how could you possibly know how it feels to be me?”

Someone screamed the quote above. And because I was mostly checked out at this point, I thought Uncle Macon was yelling this at Lena. But no. It was Lena yelling at Macon. And I was like, Girl. You literally are doing the exact same thing. You need to chill. I was about to cheer that Macon had put her in her place for once, but sadly I just had to listen to this whiny girl complain about her sad birthday to a guy who’s protected her throughout her ENTIRE life.

Lena is the traditional emo, bookish girl who is strongly contrasted against the Southern Bells of their high school. She has a necklace of sentimental knickknacks, she writes angsty poetry on her arms and bedroom walls… But the thing is, unlike real people who have more to their characters than appearance, Lena doesn’t. Her character relies on the images she projects of herself, and the projection is unoriginal and not interesting.

But Ethan is also not like other girls even though he makes the statement, “It was that she made me realize how much I was just like the rest of them, even if I wanted to pretend I wasn’t.” Despite his own view of himself, he separates himself from the herd so he can be with his girl Lena. He never really acts like the other guys, so I’m not sure where he’s even getting this idea from. But he’s also a bland character without any clear flaws.

So I guess this book goes out to all the teens who just don’t feel like they belong. A good concept in theory if it wasn’t so dang boring.

It’s Just Boring. They Somehow Made Magic Boring.

I love reading YA Fantasy books, but I found this book to be so dry. Firstly, Ethan and Lena are together for a majority of the book and only have one or two fights throughout 500+ pages. Their fights come out of nowhere and mostly result from Lena freaking out again about her impending curse-related doom. And they resolve almost instantly.

That means that a majority of the conflict comes from outside forces. People in the town are annoying and basically avoidable as the two main love interests basically hide away from them for the entire book. Lena is being pursued by a Dark Caster, but this threat is also not substantial and irrelevant for most of the book.

For a book about building a relationship, there’s not much to the relationship anyways. Ethan gives up his entire life to pursue Lena, including quitting the basketball team and hanging out with his best friend Link. Although, he quits in part because his team literally acts like five-year-olds whose toy got stolen away from them when Ethan starts dating Lena. Ethan and Lena’s attraction is physical-based, their conversations are boring, and I really just don’t care about either of them. There’s no chemistry, no romantic tension. It’s just like a dependent first relationship, and I’m just not about that life.

In a World of Magic, Not Much Happens

Even the magical aspect, which should be one of the most dangerous and interesting parts, was rushed and side-lined by the lifeless relationship. Lena gains control over her powers in a matter of a few months without much explanation. The source and resources used for magic are flimsily explained. And the curse that haunts their family seems to be as unstable as a Greek prophecy, and not in the exciting adventure kind of way. There’s just not much substance or foundation for the world to stand on.

“Mortals, I envy you. You think you can change things. Stop the universe. Undo what was done long before you came along. You are such beautiful creatures.”

I think that quote about sums up the book. The “beautiful creatures” aren’t even the supernatural ones, but the humans. And yet every human in this book is either hyperbolized or plain potatoes. And yet I can’t help but wonder, do these books get any better?

Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

Have you read this series? What are your thoughts? I really am curious if you liked it whenever you read it.

Response To: “The Decade in Young Adult Fiction” by Slate

Is YA Fiction Eating Itself Alive?

As someone who grew up as a teenager during the last decade, the state of YA Fiction is something near and dear to my heart. But I’m also a writer, and a writer of YA Fiction, so I feel like I have a second stake in this area. This is a response (obviously) to the Slate article “The Decade in Young Adult Fiction” by Laura Miller.

Readers of YA lit can get a lot of crap. In part because a majority of it is teenage romance, teenage angst, and teenage drama. But although these three things alone are not the makings of a genre that can transcend to almost any age, there’s so much more to YA than this article is giving it credit for.

Is YA Fiction Getting Out of Control?

I can list the different types of trends that have surfaced over the past decade: magic, vampires, boarding school romances, paranormal boyfriends, dystopian worlds, and alien boyfriends. Yeah it’s gotten a bit weird, but I wonder what’s causing that? Maybe it’s this crazy world we live in that’s driving writers to even crazier tactics to reach young adults.

Science fiction or fantasy, makes tomorrow’s ogres real and present, within the threatening framework of an imaginative world. It is within this framework that the writer can challenge readers, through the persona of the protagonist, to find answers…as they identify with the main character, they begin to understand the possibilities, the greatness of being fully human. They are empowered.


Young Adult Literature and Culture – Harry Edwin Eiss

It’s my belief that the fantastical makes the trials of everyday feel approachable and understandable. Sometimes the hard things in our lives seem impossible until we take a step away from them. But that’s easier said than done. Seeing similar — if not exaggerated or fantasized — events in YA books can help teens feel not so alone. So yeah, it’s gotten a bit weird. But it kind of had to.

Do YA Writers Shill Out for Movie Deals?

As for the whole James Frey conspiracy where he made up his “memoir” and formed a group of writers to push out literature and make money — I mean, yes, it’s true. The same thing can be seen on YouTube right now with bizarre content farms popping up. I think the difference is, when I was younger reading I Am Number Four, I actually enjoyed the books. They were some good juicy romance in my middle school eyes. And even if they were written with the intention of making money, at least they motivated me to be a writer myself.

I really think Frey’s quote is quite interesting in the article Slate references. I also recommend checking the actual article out for yourself.

Frey said he never considered whether A Million Little Pieces was fiction or nonfiction—and anyway, before the memoir craze of the nineties, it would have been published as a novel. “If Picasso painted a Cubist self-portrait,” he suggested, “nobody would say it didn’t look like him.”

“James Frey’s Fiction Factory” – Suzanne Mozes

Just like reality TV and most other realistic fiction YA, Frey just made a realistic and sensationalized book in the hopes of making sales. The point is, I think people are exploiting a broken system. Everyone is of course trying to make money. Only a few writers will write simply because they love the craft. But I think after the whole J.K. Rowling explosion of wealth, a lot of authors began to see that YA lit was where it’s at for commercial fiction. And if you’re a decent writer and a good business person, it’s not hard to imagine someone taking advantage of writing quick, trendy stories that capture the next generation’s imagination.

If anything, we just need to learn from this and recognize that many writers are just pushing out books for bragging rights and making money. And like the publishing company, movie producers know that teen flicks just sell tickets. Of course they’re going to keep making the worst and most dramatic of these books into shows and movies. But we have to think about young adults when we’re writing and publishing. We have to keep making content that pushes them forward and encourages them. Even if that kind of book is making bank, I would be okay with it. Maybe that’s just me.

What Is the State of Diversity in YA Lit?

As someone who is currently sending query letters to agents, I’ve come across a large amount of agents who are looking only for #ownvoices writers. If you’re not aware of this phrase, it basically means that the diversity the book includes is written by a person who has experienced the events or cultures.

While #ownvoices is a great invitation for more diverse writers for YA lit, there’s several problems that many people argue about. This is a sensitive topic for a lot of people, to say the least. If you feel like I missed something, please leave a comment below. I’d love to learn from your own experience of creating diversity in the publishing industry.

While inviting diversity in the publishing industry can result with great books like The Poet X and Children of Blood and Bone, some people argue that forcing diversity doesn’t automatically equate to good writing. Of course we should have way more minority stories represented in our YA lit. Young adults need to have mirrors (stories that reflect their experience) as well as windows (stories that show someone else’s experience). I personally have loved exploring the different authors who represent cultures and experiences other than my own. And I have also recently read books published by very white people that have problematic representation and themes.

However, there are two things that need to be addressed. One — a first person account will of course be more authentic, but genuine secondhand accounts can also be impactful. Two — agents and publishing companies who are accepting only diverse, minority perspectives, but don’t provide these writers security and protection, are putting these people in very vulnerable positions.

Although the publishing companies may be turning around in wanting more than a white perspective, a friend of mine from the LGBTQ+ community made the comment that she wouldn’t feel comfortable writing a story as a member of this community, but she would love to tell her story to a writer and help them write LGBTQ+ characters better. This is of course one perspective, but I wonder how many other people feel the same?

I think the point for diversity in YA is that you can’t force it. Just like you can’t force good writing. This isn’t a recent problem. But something that has been going on for a very long time. We have to protect and encourage people belonging to minority groups so that we can support them as writers. But also I personally don’t only want to write about white girls my entire life. Writing only what you know just isn’t what writers do. All of us have to do better. Every writer must be willing to accept they were wrong about something or someone and change for the better.

Is There a Future for YA Lit?

If you haven’t checked out my post for Sex in YA Fantasy, you should definitely read part one and two. YA is an important genre for teenagers, and we need to keep publishing quality stories that encourage young adults to read, think about themselves in new ways, and help them see the lives of different people more clearly.

Also young adults aren’t the only ones driving this burning car. According to a study done in 2012, about 55% of YA readers were over the age of 18 and therefore classified as “adults.” I wouldn’t be surprised to find that statistic is pretty much the same today. But why?

I think there’s several reasons:

  • They’re easy to read.
  • They bring up feelings of nostalgia.
  • They simplify complex topics.
  • They’re exciting to read.
  • There’s an endless variety.

YA books are the reason I decided to be a writer, and I’m sure many others can say the same. Even as an adult, I love reading YA books — even the bad ones. Of course we need to work on a better system, but let’s not forget all of the good it’s done in the past decade either.

Books Read in 2019 and the “Best of” Winners

As the year comes to an end, let’s all reflect on all the wonderful books we’ve had time to read this year!

As you can probably tell by the list, I like to read. And I like to read widely. From biographies, to young adult, to fantasy, to philosophy — I love it all. Below is the order of books I read this year. You can probably tell when I got tired of a genre and needed to try something new.

Believe me when I say this was an unusual number of books for me to read in just a year. I had a lot of time traveling with audiobooks and physical books, and I had a job for several months where I listened to audiobooks while I worked. Needless to say, these past three months I’ve slowed down a lot. I can already tell this upcoming year won’t be as big of a list!

Have you read any of the books listed below? What books did you read this year? List out your book winners or want-to-read(s) in the comments below!

I’ve also written several reviews for the books listed below. Check out their links!

Books Read In 2019

  1. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
  2. The Solitude of Prime Numbers, Paolo Giordano
  3. The Baron in the Trees, Italo Calvino
  4. Lord of Shadows, Cassandra Clare
  5. The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, A.S. Byatt
  6. Mind If I Order the Cheeseburger?, Sherry F. Colb
  7. Eye of the World (WoT #1), Robert Jordan
  8. The Circle Maker, Mark Batterson
  9. Roots of Yoga, James Mallinson and Mark Singleton
  10. The Great Hunt (WoT #2), Robert Jordan
  11. If You Could Be Mine, Sara Farizan
  12. Queen of Air and Darkness, Cassandra Clare
  13. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K. Dick
  14. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman
  15. Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbit
  16. Storm Front (Dresden Files #1), Jim Butcher
  17. Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
  18. Fool Moon (Dresden Files #2), Jim Butcher
  19. The Magicians, Lev Grossman
  20. The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron
  21. Ready Player One, Ernest Cline
  22. The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo
  23. The Story of Owen, E.K. Johnston
  24. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  25. The Magician King, Lev Grossman
  26. Finding Ultra, Rich Roll
  27. Over Sea, Under Stone, Susan Cooper
  28. Dragon Reborn (WoT #3), Robert Jordan
  29. On Writing, Stephen King
  30. Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor
  31. Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi
  32. Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan
  33. The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman
  34. Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
  35. The Dark Is Rising, Susan Cooper,
  36. D.I.Y. Magic, Anthony Alvarado
  37. The Devil Wears Prada, Lauren Weisberger
  38. The Green Mile, Stephen King
  39. Love Wins, Rob Bell
  40. White Cat, Holly Black
  41. The Power, Naomi Alderman
  42. Grave Peril (Dresden Files #3), Jim Butcher
  43. Red Glove, Holly Black
  44. The Shadow Rising (WoT #4), Robert Jordan
  45. Black Heart, Holly Black
  46. Greenwitch, Susan Cooper
  47. The Awakening, L.J. Smith
  48. The Struggle, L.J. Smith
  49. The Fury, L.J. Smith
  50. The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss
  51. Odd Thomas, Dean Koontz
  52. Forever Odd, Dean Koontz
  53. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
  54. We Are Okay, Nina Lacour
  55. A Gift of Magic, Lois Duncan
  56. Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer
  57. The Kiss of Deception, Mary E. Pearson
  58. Good Omens, Terry Pritchett and Neil Gaiman
  59. The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness
  60. The Heart of Betrayal, Marry E. Pearson
  61. The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman
  62. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert
  63. You Are a Badass at Making Money, Jen Sincero
  64. The Biblical Clock, Daniel Friedmann
  65. You Are a Badass, Jen Sincero
  66. Project Tau, Jude Austin
  67. Writing Magic, Gail Carson Levine
  68. We Are Voulhire, Matthew Tysz

Best Book to Movie Adaptation – Odd Thomas

Odd Thomas

If you’ve never seen this move starring Anton Yelchin (Star Trek), you should definitely check it out. It was on Netflix the last time I watched it. What’s great about this movie is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it also maintains a pretty cohesive and entertaining story. Basically Odd Thomas can communicate with dead people. But he also can see these strange creatures that bring about bad luck and death. It’s really funny, very charming, and both the movie and the book made me cry.

Best Fantasy – Eye of the World

Eye of the Word

When I started this book, I didn’t know how much I’d been missing a grand fantasy series. Little did I know I’d be strapping in for another 14 books (and a prequel). I haven’t finished the series yet, but this one is by far my favorite. It’s fast-paced, nostalgic of those old fashion epics of yore, and creates a very unique world. It’s also being made into a TV series, so definitely read this first book before it comes out!

Most Inspirational Read – The Artist’s Way

The Artist’s Way

I’m usually pretty skeptical of how-to or self-improvement books, but this one really spoke to me. I’ve been hearing about it for a long time by a variety of different creatives that I follow on podcasts, YouTube, etc. So I finally gave it a go. This book is so helpful and encouraging for people who feel like they’ll never be creatives and make money. It also gives fantastic, practical advice for getting through creative blocks.

Best Fiction – The Solitude of Prime Numbers

The Solitude of Prime Numbers

I went through a phase of wanting to explore “classic” Italian literature and ended up reading this book among the few I selected. It was one of those rare times when I couldn’t stop reading, and when I wasn’t reading, I was thinking about this book and how much I wanted to know what happened next. I’m usually not a huge fan of realistic fiction or pretty dry storylines, but there was something almost mystical about the writing. If you’ve ever read The Sun Is Also a Star, you might like the dynamic that is created in this book between the two leads.

Best YA Book – The Knife of Never Letting Go

The Knife of Never Letting Go

I was recruited to read this book by a teacher who wasn’t sure if it would be okay to let her grade school students read. It was pretty violent and had some swearing, but the structure, voice, and story were so strong and engaging that I couldn’t put it down. Every spare second I had, I found myself gravitating back to this book. It does a lot of unique things with the white space of the page, and I think that it’s a great addition to the YA world.

Best Short Story Collection – The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye

The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye

If you’re tired of the same fairytale stories of helpless girls and misogynistic knights, this collection of stories will be perfect for you. It’s a bit of a story within a story, but it also gives new twists to stories that feel a little familiar. I’ve never read Byatt before this book, but I’m definitely interested in reading more of her works.

Weirdest Series – The Magicians

The Magicians, Lev Grossman

If you’ve ever seen American Horror Story and felt like it was trying too hard to be edgy for the sake of being edgy, you might feel the same about this book series. Honestly, though I liked the first and kind of liked the second, this series got out of hand and wacky way too fast. Set in a boy’s Narnia-dream-world come to life, this book series pushes sexual tension, the cost of magic, and realistic wizard schools to the extreme. Interesting, but definitely not my favorite read this year.

Best Writing Book – On Writing

On Writing

Coming in a close second to my favorite audiobook of the year, this book was super inspiring as a writer. I’ve read only a few of King’s books, but hearing him talk about his experiences as a struggling writer, while also being highly entertained was a highlight of my day. Seriously, I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to grow in their writing. I also highly recommend listening to the audiobook, as Stephen King reads it himself.

Best Theological/Philosophical Read – Love Wins

Love Wins

While my philosophical reads this year were pretty limited, the few that I read were very insightful. This book really made me question my beliefs about heaven and hell — especially regarding if hell even exists. Even if you don’t necessarily consider yourself a Christian, Rob Bell writes in a very approachable and inclusive way. Annnnd this book basically got him excommunicated from the church. So it’s definitely filled with controversial ideas.

Best Audiobook – Children of Blood and Bone

Children of Blood and Bone

Audiobooks are usually hit or miss with me, as they can often be read so poorly. But even more often, reading them out loud reveals all of the book’s flaws. But in this case, I would recommend listening to the audiobook over reading the physical book. Firstly, the reader (Bahni Turpin) was fantastic and made hearing the names of places and people much easier than reading them. Secondly, there were several times where characters chant or sing songs. And Bahni sings. Actually sings. It gave me literal chills. There was one part near the end where this happened and I started screaming with excitement in my car. Yes, I know I’m a nerd.

Most Anticipated Sequel – The Kingkiller Chronicle Book 3

The Name of the Wind

These might be the longest books I’ve ever read in my life. And while you can’t really say that they’re action-packed, this slow-burn fantasy series is so addicting and hypnotic that I couldn’t put it down. The only problem is everyone has been waiting for the third and final book to come out for several years past its promised released date. I know that I will be super hyped to read the conclusion, and if you like really scientifically grounded fantasy with great bard-like storytelling, you should definitely read these two.

Special Mentions

Practical Magic – It wasn’t awarded above, but its one of the best magical realism novels I’ve read. It’s definitely worth the read. If you like to imagine how real witches live in our world and want something similar to The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants at the same time, this one’s for you.

If You Could Be Mine – this deserves a mention just for being incredibly unique and powerful. It follows the story of two young Muslim girls as they wrestle with feelings for each other and how to survive in a society that strictly forbids their relationship. Definitely a book worth considering if you want to see a different perspective than most YA books.

Conclusions

Well, that’s it for this year! What books did you read in 2019 or have planned to read in 2020? I would love to know your tops for the categories I’ve listed above. Have you read any of the books I’ve read this year? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Fiction Friday #7: Write the Prompt with Me!

The Prompt

Writing prompt #7

I couldn’t find the actual website this prompt used to belong to. It took me instead to a Game of Thrones online game… Well that’s alright. Anyways, let’s get to the prompt.

As always, 30 minutes and enjoy your writing everyone! Don’t forget to leave a comment about what you think of my version, or where you’d want your own prompt to go.

If you have any prompts you want to see on this website, be sure to leave them in the comments section.

And for even more prompts, check out my Pinterest board just for writing prompts!

*WARNING THIS PROMPT CONTAINS VIOLENT IMAGERY*

The Writing

I inhaled as the creature rounded Tommy once more. Not today, I begged. Please, just not today.

The monster was a milky pink with layers of skin folding over its body like an obese worm. No eyes, only two small slits where eyes and nose should be. And his mouth was ripped open to his ears, filled with several rows of razor teeth.

Of course, my friend couldn’t see the thing licking his ear. He probably couldn’t even feel it.

But I could.

“Claire?”

My eyes snapped to meet his.

“What?”

His eyes narrowed and then rolled to the side. “Never mind. I’ll see you later, okay? I have to get home before my dad does.”

He adjusted the strap of his backpack on his shoulder and walked away from me. I took a breath as the creature vanished in a single blink of my eyes. Like its existence had popped out like a bubble. As long as it was gone, I didn’t care.

As I waiting for Tommy to turn the corner and start on my own way home, I noticed a rustling in the leaves.

I walked towards it, numb in my fingers and face. Just thinking about all that I was yet to see today. They had started to show up when I was seven. My aunt had been arguing with my mom when my dad came home. Then they all got into it. The next thing I know, some freaking ugly-ass creature blinks into existence, slices mom and dad’s throats and leaves my aunt to go to jail for the crime. Now I live with my grandma. If you can call “living with” a situation where I don’t even usually see her. I don’t know if she leaves the house or is just hiding in one of the massive rooms so I can never find her. Either way, I’m on my own.

I realized that I was now standing in front of the bushes. Two black-pit eyes were staring back at me through the shrub and several feet below my eye-level. The eyes swayed from side to side until I made out its gaping mouth in the darkness. Filled with row after row of yellow teeth.

I took a step back.

The creature beckoned me forward, pushing its frail hand — from which long black nails jutted out — through the branches of the bush.

I can’t tell you why I moved forward. There’s no reason why I should have. But I did.

I entered the shrub as I started to hear shouting from across the street. A group of kids — two girls and one boy — crossed the street and raced towards where I had been standing. I stepped farther back into the bushes, knowing full well that the creature still stood beside me, gawking. Not really moving, just staring at me and the scene that was unraveling before my eyes.

“Claa-ire,” the shortest girl called out in a song-like tone.

“I swear I saw her,” the other girl said.

“Yeah, I definitely did too.” the boy said. He had something he held in his hand that was sharp on the end. It caught the glint of the street lamp like some sort of glass dagger.

I recognized them all as my classmates, with varying degrees of feelings towards each. The boy was Jake, the basketball center and often too quiet to make assumptions about. The other girl I had seen before but only knew her name as Trisha. The short girl was Hailey, the only one in most of my classes and someone I had personally tried to avoid since we had met.

“Shut up,” Hailey said, brushing her cropped curls behind an ear and raising a hand to silence them. “Maybe we can hear her.”

I knew the art of silent breathing. When I was in bed at night I was often “greeted” by these strange beings. If I hid under the sheets without making any sudden movement or noise, they would often just stand there until morning. One time I accidentally coughed and the loudest moan echoed off the creature’s lips. I had run out of the room and searched through the house for my grandma all night. And I still didn’t find her.

“She’s definitely not here,” Trisha said.

That’s when Hailey and Jake turned in towards her.

“You tipped her off, didn’t you?” Hailey demanded, grabbing the sharp tool from Jake’s hand.

Trisha took a step back with her hands raised at her chest. “Um, no — why would I do that? I told you, I thought she was weird. I wanted to go through with this.”

Hailey’s chin lifted up so she could make eye contact with Jake, and he nodded.

Then two things happened. A shadow appeared behind Hailey and latched itself onto her back like some sort of felt fabric sewn to her skin. Only the shadow’s hand wrapped around her hand and dragged it forward as she pushed the dagger into Trisha’s body.

Jake grabbed Trisha’s arms and pulled them behind her back as the Hailey-shadow combination plunged the knife in two more times.

“That should have been Claire,” Hailey said, wiping her dagger off on Trisha’s shirt. On the only spot she could find that wasn’t drenched with blood.

Trisha was still gasping for air. But only for a few minutes. Then she was gone.

And so was the shadow.

In my paralyzed fear, I realized that the creature in the bushes was still beside me, breathing faintly. As I noticed it again, its hand reached out at me. I flinched, but not before one of its claws brushed against my skin. It scratched the surface, but not in a normal way. Instead, it left a symbol, almost like a rose but with thorns built inside of the petals.

And somehow I knew at that moment: these creatures might be more complicated than I had first thought.

Even More Fiction Fridays!

Fiction Friday #6: A fugitive running through the graveyard leaves it with ghosts

Fiction Friday #5: A curse of constantly dying terrorizes two lovers

Fiction Friday #4: Witchy quest for Necromancy spell

Fiction Friday #3: Vampire Noir mystery action in a fancy restaurant

Fiction Friday #2: Mutated human wolf creatures

Fiction Friday #1: Giant battle with a human killing machine

6 Methods of Self Care for Writers

Take Time Off Main Projects

Bicycle clock

If there’s anything that can help a writer, it’s taking a break from your WIP. You may want to wait until you finish a first or second draft to do this. Another great time to pause your writing is when you’re facing major roadblocks in the plot department.

Tuck your writing away. Save it for when you’re itching with excitement to write again. In the meantime, read a book. Watch a movie. Don’t think about your main project.

It might also be helpful to take some time to write something else. This can be a great time to explore a different idea or genre. Writing daily writing prompts can be a great way to keep writing while also taking a break from your main work. Be sure to check out my post for reasons why writing prompts are super helpful for writers.

Share Your Writing Wisely

Hand holding flower

When your writing is in its beginning stages, you may feel like you want to share it with the whole world to make sure you’re on the right track. DON’T. While your writing may be fully realized in your mind’s eye, what people are seeing is a newborn child.

That’s why it may not be wise to share your first draft. You might have written a masterpiece, but chances are, you’re writing still has a far way to go. And that’s okay! Sharing your writing too early can be discouraging and can prevent you from moving forward on your project. If you do share it with someone, make sure you specify what you’re looking for regarding feedback.

Explore Non-Writing Hobbies

Painting supplies

Although it may seem like a good idea to just branch out in just the genre that you’re writing, it’s also helpful to try new activities besides writing. Going on walks, drawing, playing video games, role playing, sewing or knitting — all of these different activities can help you relax an over-worked writer’s mind. You might even find that previously convoluted or messy ideas untangle themselves when you’re in the middle of one of these hobbies.

Hobbies are great stress relievers. But they also help you relax your mind. Like breathing a breath of fresh air in the mountains after being surrounded by city pollution.

For me, sketching, yoga, and playing guitar are super helpful when writing has become stressful.

What hobbies help you relax?

Find a Supportive Writing Community

Group of girls

For a long time, I viewed other writers as an almost threatening presence. The artistic community can often turn so competitive that we turn against each other. Who gets published first? Who “succumbs” to self-publishing? Who gets represented by an agent?

Does it matter? Not really.

On Twitter, there’s a giant community of writers who all use the hashtag #writingcommunity and #amwriting. They show support by following, they repost other writer’s tweets, and they’re incredibly encouraging. I’m sure like any social media, this group might have it’s negatives, but there are plenty of other online platforms for writers to gather, as well as physical groups for writers.

When I think of writer’s groups, I think of the old group that Tolkien and Lewis belonged to called the Inklings. They used to meet for a drink and work on writing together. Maybe you just have a small group of friend writers who can help you process your writing. Maybe you meet over video chat.

The next time you see the chance to join a writer’s group, give it a chance. As writers, we need to support each other and lift each other up. If one of us succeeds, we all succeed.

Be Kind to Yourself Daily

Person in field with mirror

The writing world can be tough at any level. Whether you’ve received your first bad review or just can’t figure out a character’s motivation for taking her next step, YOU as a writer need to take a moment to be kind to yourself.

Tell yourself 5 things you love about your writing abilities. That’s right — compliment your own writing. Get as big-headed as you want.

Next tell yourself 5 things you love about yourself besides writing. This might be harder, and that’s okay. But it’s also important to remind yourself that you are more than a writer. You have a set of unique characteristics.

What do you love about yourself or your writing?

Spend Time with Your Critiques

Person at riverside

After you’ve pepped yourself up a bit, you’re ready to face those reviews, those edits, those comments. Spend time reading critiques from your fellow readers or writers. Take time to mull them over. Keep the comments that will help your writing and chuck out the rest — and that includes all personal attacks.

Only you can choose how you receive and process your critiques. Not every review will be true, but they can also be helpful. Take your time with them and be gentle with yourself and your writing. You’ve worked hard. Now it’s time to work harder.

Pin-able reminder of self care for writers!

5 Tips for Beginner Freelance Writers

So in my quest for finding work in LA, I began to look into freelance writing and ghostwriting. Writing has always been a passion of mine, and though I love fiction writing, any writing feels “right” to me. Like many accountants love balancing checkbooks, or mathematicians love solving equations, I love completing a well-rounded article.

That’s also why writing for the blog has been quite the challenge. I’ve been working a 7 hour job — editing photos, taking photos, and content creating for a fashion company — and then I come home and work on articles for separate companies.

There’s a couple things I’ve learned in my short time in the freelance writing world, so I thought I’d share for all you writers out there.

1. Take Opportunities You Find

Person leaping across the floor
Image by Andy Beales

When I first started looking for gigs to freelance write, I was overwhelmed by the number of other writers doing the same thing. Not only were there so many freelancers, but there was also so many businesses who were hiring freelancers for different reasons. But I couldn’t seem to find a job that fit for me. I applied to several companies and heard nothing back.

But as I continued to study my options, I came across several opportunities to write. Here are just a few things that helped me get started:

  • Blog, blog, blog. It only gives you writing samples and builds a network.
  • Look for chances to submit short pieces as a contribution post.
  • Keep applying to places.
  • Study websites and other company blogs.
  • Listen. Sometimes people talk about needing a writer before they even realize they actually do.

After I started blogging, I also contributed a short story. I picked up a freelance writing gig for a SEO company that was just starting out and needed someone with a background in excellent proofreading and content writing. I also got the opportunity to write for LA Elements and go on the red carpet to interview actors and crew members about the new movie Agent Emerson.

The point is, opportunities are out there. You just have to be persistent.

2. Not Every Opportunity Is Legit

People discussing a project
Image by Thomas Drouault

After I submitted my short story as a contribution post, I received and email saying they loved my piece so much that they wanted me to be a paid author on their site. I was so thrilled (obviously!). But when I sent an email in response, I got back silence. Nothing. For over two weeks.

When I sent another email, I got back a short reply that they actually had meant to send that email to someone else. *Sigh.* Back to square one.

While this situation is pretty particular, there are going to be tons of scams out there. Be sure to look up where your writing will be posted if you contribute writing. Make sure you’ve established good communication with whoever you write for. Make contracts ahead of time. Meet up face-to-face if possible. People want writers to work for free. Don’t let that happen.

There are also tons of people who are “professional freelancers” who just want to sell you their $500 freelancer kit. If you really trust one of these people’s programs and have the money to spend, sure. Go for it. But personally, I’ve found I can learn just as much about anything through YouTube and Google. I’ve left some resources at the end of the blog if you’re interested in SEO and content writing.

3. Know That Not Every Gig Will Pay Big

Person fanning money
Image by Alexander Mils

The internet will tell you that freelancers are paid anywhere between $.03 to $.10 per word. Some crazy ones even say $1 per word. In reality, you’re more likely to get paid $.02 per word or a set payment for a project. For example, I’ve gotten paid $60 for a 600 word article. And I’m currently getting that rate of $.02 for my SEO writing. It does add up, and it can still make you a good amount of side change. But you won’t be able to live off these rates at first.

Don’t be discouraged. If anything, a paid gig is still better than just contribution posts or working for free. You can add it to your resume. Also, keep track of your assignments so you can send them to future clients as examples.

Dig into the grind of getting paid little for work that deserves much more. Prove to your employers that you’re worth more than the rate they actually pay you. Eventually you might be able to negotiate higher rates.

4. But Also Know Your Writing Is Worth Something

Person writing in cafe
Image by Kat Stokes

Above all, remember that your writing is a craft that not a lot of other people are capable of. Whether it’s fiction, poetry, self-help, SEO, brand writing, etc. You are a word artist. And just like any other legitimate job and craft, you deserve to get paid.

It’s fine to do a couple jobs pro bono, especially if it’s for a cause you love, contests, or contribution posts to major blogs. But don’t let anyone tell you that your writing is an easy thing to do and doesn’t deserve to be paid. If it was so easy, then all of these companies and websites would just do it themselves.

The world needs great writers. And they need to pay them too. Stick with your guns. You’re a great writer, and you deserve to get paid for it.

5. Make Time for Yourself

Person reading a book
Image by Nathan Dumlao

As much as I love content creating for other people, it’s important to still take time for yourself. You’re a writer for a reason, and there were probably projects you were working on for yourself before you started working for others.

If you started writing that book, keep writing. If you love poetry, keep working on your poems. Just because you aren’t getting paid for those projects now, doesn’t mean they aren’t worth your time. Your passions are important. They bring you life. They’re the reason you’re a writer. And someday, those projects will come to life before your eyes.

So make time for your craft. It’ll be hard. You might have to start with a small amount or one day a week. But make time for your own writing. And make time to relax too!

What are some lessons you’ve learned as a writer? Comment below!

Resources to Help Freelancers

Canva – helps you create easy graphics for your writing

Grammarly – is great for picking up little grammar mistakes

Hemingway Writing Ap – useful for correcting sentence structure and length

All Freelance Writing Jobs – a website that shows great and diverse writing jobs

How To Have an Easy Vegan Thanksgiving

Last year was my first vegan Thanksgiving. And fortunately, my mom was so wonderful enough to go all-out for me, Mitchell, and my vegetarian sister Bri. She made us a full spread of vegan goodies.

This year, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to make it home for Thanksgiving. And we won’t necessarily want to make everything from scratch if we make a dinner of our own.

Maybe your family doesn’t know how to make their traditional meals veganized. Or maybe you just want to bring a few dishes to your meat-eating relative’s party.

Here’s a compiled list of amazing products and recipes to make your vegan Thanksgiving easy and delicious.

The Vegan Dinner

Vegan Green Bean Casserole

Vegan cream of mushroom soup

There’s plenty of recipes out there that use coconut milk for the cream of mushroom soup, but if you’re lazy like me and don’t want to make it completely from scratch, here’s a great cream of mushroom soup mix that’s completely dairy free. This recipe is based off the casserole from Mccormick.com.

  • 1 packet of cream of mushroom soup mix prepared
  • 3/4 cup of plant-based milk
  • 2 cans of green beans
  • 1 can of bean sprouts
  • 1 1/3 cup of Crispy Fried onions (most are vegan!)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

All you have to do is mix everything except the crispy onions and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Then add the crispy onions on top and bake for five more minutes.

Vegan Dinner Rolls

Vegan dinner rolls

I don’t know about you, but yeast dinner rolls are one of my favorite parts about Thanksgiving. Luckily, there are quite a few of the frozen brands that are vegan.

We usually put two in one muffin tin so they look like butt rolls. But they’re perfect to split apart and slather with some vegan butter.

Vegan Thanksgiving Roast

Vegan holiday roast

Most vegans have come to the consensus that the Gardein Holiday Roast is the best alternative to turkey for Thanksgiving. I’ve tried a couple from Field Roast, but this one was definitely my favorite. It reminded me of a Thanksgiving-themed frozen Cordon Bleu, which used to be one of my favorite things in the world.

Vegan Pies!

Vegan pie crust

There are tons of pie crusts that are ready-to-bake and also vegan. All you have to do is fill it with canned pie filling of your choice. Of course, there’s also recipes to make vegan pumpkin pie out there. But if you’re lazy like me, this is as good as it gets.

My mom’s pie crust actually uses Crisco which is vegetable shortening, so all of her pies are vegan already which is amazing. I haven’t mastered the art of the pie making yet, so I think I’ll stick to pre-made.

Vegan Mac and Cheese

Vegan Mac and cheese

This mac and cheese is great baked, and it’s super creamy. If you want to make something from scratch, all you have to do is make a rue from vegan butter and flour, add cooked macaroni noodles and your shredded vegan cheese of choice. Then you can bake it at 350 degrees with some breadcrumbs on top.

Check out this recipe and swap out the ingredients for vegan ones for a fantastic baked mac and cheese!

Vegan Mashed Potatoes

Vegan mashed potatoes

Sure you can boil potatoes and mash them yourself, but why not make it easier? All you have to do is add your plant-based milk and butter of choice and boom. Mashed potato paradise.

Vegan Mushroom Gravy

Vegan mushroom gravy

You can’t have mashed potatoes without gravy! Last year we made some vegan gravy from some fancy mushrooms, but it did take quite a while. To save time, there’s plenty of vegan gravy options. But you can also make this simple recipe below. It was inspired by Cookingwithcurls.com.

Instructions: melt the butter over low heat, add flour and whisk, simmer for 2 minutes, add stock and seasoning, continue stirring until thickened. Make sure not to boil!

Vegan stuffing

A lot of stuffing mixes have hidden milk or egg ingredients or just a lot of garbage. I really like this one in particular because it has a lot of interesting fun ingredients that are both healthy and vegan. Just bake and eat!

Vegan Corn Casserole

Vegan cornbread mix

You may have already thought corn casserole was vegan (someone at one of our Thanksgivings definitely did). But just because it has a vegetable in the name doesn’t mean it’s vegan. But don’t worry! Making vegan corn casserole is one of the easiest ones out there. And it only has 5 ingredients. This receipt was inspired by the non-vegan recipe found at tastesoflizzyt.com

  • 1 box of VEGETARIAN Jiffy cornbread mix (it’s vegan, don’t worry)
  • 1 can of creamed corn (it’s non-dairy)
  • 1 can of plain corn
  • 1 cup of vegan sour cream or yogurt (like Toffuti)
  • 1/2 cup of applesauce or vegan butter

All you have to do is mix all those ingredients, put it in a 8×8 pan, and bake at 350 degrees for around 45 minutes.

The Thanksgiving Experience

Of course, one of the most difficult parts of Thanksgiving can be family. While my parents were cool with a vegan Thanksgiving (even though they still ate turkey), when we went to other Thanksgiving dinners, it was usually a little more awkward or meat-oriented. Of course, right? That’s pretty much the norm.

But here are a few tips for vegans at Thanksgiving.

  • Try bringing one or more dishes to gatherings
  • Don’t make a big deal about them eating your food or their food
  • Try not to get offended by their comments
  • Be prepared to answer questions
  • Be thankful for your family — even if they’re not vegan!

More Vegan Blog Posts

How To Go And Stay Vegan

11 of the Best Vegan Junk Foods

Fiction Friday #6: Write the Prompt with Me!

Happy Fiction Friday everyone! Can you believe it’s already #6? If any of you has great prompts you think I should write, be sure to leave them in the comments section. I’d love to know what you all are writing out there too! Whether it be these prompts or just your personal projects.

The Prompt

https://promptuarium.wordpress.com

This week’s prompt is from promptuarium.wordpress.com. I have a huge obsession with Celtic mythology. While I’ve never heard of this particular lore, I think a lot of creative ideas can come from it.

Is the fugitive innocent or guilt?

What kind of spirits would follow him out?

Does he believe in ghosts at all?

As always, spend 30 minutes writing today. And don’t forget to check out the links at the bottom of the page to previous Fiction Fridays!

The Writing

Ghostly figures holding hands
Image by JR Korpa

As I ran through the darkness, my thoughts ran loose in my mind, like a roll of paper dropped on the ground. How did I get here? How did it come to this? When did I get that stain on my only good shirt?

Blinded by my spinning mind, I tripped over a root poking up from the ground. My world flipped as my feet lifted into the air. My head angled downward. And cracked right into the glowing gravestone in front of me.

I reached for my head, wanting to feel if there was any blood. My fingers touched a warm liquid that proceeded to drip down my forward. I thrust my hands out — trying to find any kind of surface to help me stand.

Even in my haze, even between the many trees in the graveyard, I was starting to see a flicker of a flashlight. I could hear the dogs barking.

My hands took a hold of the gravestone, and I felt the blood transfer from my hands to the rough surface.

“Stupid, stupid stupid,” I hissed, kicking the stone with each word. I was going to get caught this night. That much was certain.

At the pressure from my kicks, the stone buckled as if it was made of chalk. The entire top half of the rounded stone made a large cracking noise and fell to a dozen pieces to the tangled grass.

“Caylen!” a barking voice called out from too close. “Come out now, or we’ll make it even worse when we find you!”

“Not a chance,” I muttered. And I kept moving.

I stayed crouched this time, my eyes trained on the ground to look for more roots. But every few seconds I had to blink the dizziness away and wipe the blood from dripping into my eyes. I had only just gotten out of range from the flashlight wielding police officer when a stubby gravestone caught my foot.

I flew forward, hitting the ground on my elbows this time, but getting a mouthful of grass and dirt. So much for just one stain on this shirt. I’d be lucky to get to wear it again at all. My wardrobe was the least of my problems. My knee had hit another gravestone that was only a square polished stone poking up from the ground. When I hit it, the entire stone had been pulled away from it’s original spot.

Who makes these gravestones so flimsy? Come on, Caylen, keep moving.

I stood and hobbled my way forward as fast as I could manage. Which wasn’t as fast as I preferred. I could see the iron gate ahead. I could jump it, no problem. But I would definitely be seen if the cop got too close behind me.

A crow sounded over my head as I passed under the last couple trees. My hands grasped the rusty iron gate at last. For a moment I hesitated, looking over my shoulder into the quiet night. No sign of flashlight.

I started climbing.

“Caylen!”

The voice had gotten much closer. I didn’t dare look over my shoulders. I just kept climbing. When I reached the top, I narrowly avoided the pointy bits and jumped to the ground below. My knee screamed out in burning pain, and I gasped as my hand reached towards it.

A flashlight lit up my face.

“Gotcha,” Officer Paula said. “Don’t move, kid. I’m coming over.”

I started to back away from the gate as she started climbing. But it wasn’t out of fear that she was coming after me. It was the vapor white figures materializing behind her. It was…it was like a ghost.

I opened my mouth, but I found that my breath had been stolen from me. The figures became clearer: one woman, one man. They floated into the air next to Officer Paula. For a moment they only rose higher as she climbed.

They each took hold of one of her shoulders. And pulled her to the ground hard. I heard the crack of her body hit the gravestone. She moved a little. Alive. For now.

The figures still hovered above the grass. But I was already turning to run. My heart pumped adrenaline through my injured body. I had to get out of here. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, but worse — maybe worse — was that I knew I would get blamed for Paula’s injuries. Just another thing to add to the list.

The ground under my feet changed from grass to assault. I was on a road. Not great, but better. It was still quiet. A country road at the dead of night wasn’t going to get many visitors.

A chill spread along my bruised arms. I let the shivers come for a moment but paused as I started to see my breath.

“Is Caylen your name?”

I swirled around and there were the two figures — pale and white like inverted shadows — staring at me. Their feet touched the ground now, and they were fully detailed. Both were close to my age and I could tell by their similar features that they probably were related. Their clothes were older than mine by a few centuries at least, though both of them wore trousers. Though they had just pulled Paula off the gate and injured her possibly fatally, their faces were calm and examined me.

I couldn’t find my voice. My throat was dry and as cold as the iron gate.

“Caylen?” the woman asked again. She put out a thin hand towards me, expecting me to take it. “I’m Lucy. I believe you just knocked my gravestone over?”

More Fiction Fridays…

Fiction Friday #5: A curse of constantly dying terrorizes two young lovers

Fiction Friday #4: Witchy quest for Necromancy spell

Friday #3: Vampire Noir mystery action in a fancy restaurant

Fiction Friday #2: Mutated human wolf creatures

Fiction Friday #1: Giant battle with a human killing machine

Blood Fae

Blood Fae

Blood Fae
— Read on darkleigh.com/2019/11/06/blood-fae/

Hey everyone,

I recently had a fantasy short story published on darkleigh.com. If you like fantasy, fae people, and murder mysteries, you should definitely check it out.

Thanks!

Sex In YA Fantasy Part Two: How Fantasy Can Change Young Adults

Before reading this, check out Part One of this blog series.

“When I started working as a child abuse and neglect family therapist…one quick conclusion I came to was that until we are willing and able to talk openly about sex in this culture—healthy sex and sexual thought—we will never be capable of talking about sex abuse.”

Chris Crutcher

Relationships Shouldn’t Be Fantasy

Image by iam Se7en

What we read changes us. Changes our minds, our hearts, our viewpoints on the world. What we read as young adults impacts how we view other young adults. After all, this is a published book written by an adult who already went through it. Even if the genre is fiction, there must be some shred of truth in it, right? Some great example to follow?

Sure, we’re not all going to have hot vampire boyfriends, but the kind of relationship that develops between a Bella character and an Edward character is realistic right? We can aspire to have relationships similar to Tobias and Tris?

The answer is, not quite.

If we look at the trends of readers, you’ll see a large disparity between what they’re reading and literature that has examples of healthy relationships.

Fantasy alone accounts for 15% of the 577 Best Books for Young Adults Book list since 2000. Yet out of the fifteen books on YALSA’s list of books dealing with healthy relationships or relationship trauma, only one book could be considered Speculative Fiction.

As I recall reading Allegiant, the third book in the Divergent series, I remember scenes with lines like:

“I was so afraid that we would just keep colliding over and over again if we stayed together, and that eventually the impact would break me…I am too strong to break so easily, and I become better, sharper, every time I touch him.”

Right after fighting and worrying about losing each other — not because of their situation but because of their insecurities — the two have sex. What kind of message was that to me as a middle/high schooler? I can tell you that it didn’t teach me about being honest with my partner or asking if they were comfortable with going further physically.

Why Sexual Elements Can’t Be Fantasy

“Adolescent romance in dystopia—or romance in a divided, plural world—is at the crossroads of adult authoritarianism and teenage emotional growth.”

Mary Hilton
Image by photo-Nic.co.uk

While young adults reading speculative and fantasy books will know that many of the topics are fictional, they’re still emotionally connecting to the aspects that can relate to them.

And boy, do authors take advantage of that.

How many young adults fantasy books are out there right now that DON’T have a single romantic element? I can guarantee there’s not more than 20. And in a sea of bestselling paranormal romance books, it’s easy to imagine those that don’t have romance getting swallowed whole.

But I’m not saying that fantasy should have less elements of romance or sex.

I’m saying it should have better ones.

If young adults are connecting to the only aspect they can in fantasy — the romance — then we as writers better make sure it’s the best representation of sex and romance we can give.

I’m talking about consent, honest conversations, realistic expectations, protection.

In a world of dragons and magic, these elements might feel as awkward as writing a character going to the bathroom.

But they don’t have to be.

“The first characteristic of romance…is that it contains a ‘definition of society always corrupt, that the romance novel will reform.’ To the emotional awakening which the Young Adult novel generically enacts…responds, in perhaps equal measure, a form of political awakening.”

Mary Hilton

If we want to see changes in rape culture and poor middle/high school relationships, we have to examine what messages our YA books are sending. Even if these books do contain emotional manipulation or rape, are we glorifying it? Do we root for it?

This isn’t even about removing those books from our current shelves. For readers and parents of readers, it’s about knowing what’s in the book and talking about it with young adults.

Young adult fantasy novels have the power to change minds. How will they be changed?

What Will Be In Part Three

In the next part of this mini-series, we’ll look at two books that got it right. Ashfall and Lady Midnight.

Have you read these books before?

Have you read any books with terrible or great examples of relationships? Leave a comment below.

And don’t forget to check out Part One of this blog series!

Resources

Cart, Michael. Young Adult Literature from Romance to Realism. The American Library Association, 2016.

Cole, Pam B. Young Adult Literature in the 21st Century. McGraw-Hill, 2009.

Hilton, Mary, and Maria Nikolajeva. Contemporary Adolescent Literature and Culture: The Emergent Adult. Ashgate, 2012.

Roth, Veronica. Allegiant. HarperCollins Publishers 2013.

Wetta, Molly. “Booklist: Dating Violence, Consent, and Healthy Relationships in Young Adult Fiction.” American Library Association, 2016, http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2016/01/25/boo klist-dating-violence-consent-and-healthy-relationships-in-young-adult-fiction/. Accessed 15 November, 2018.

Fiction Friday #5: Write the Prompt With Me!

The Prompt

Today’s prompt is from TheFakeRedHead.com. I was really intrigued by this prompt, because it kind of reminded me of Happy Death Day. Let’s see where we go with this one!

As always, 30 minutes, free-write.

Write with me! It’s so great for writers to use writing prompts to improve their writing.

Let’s do this!

The Writing

Image by Fabrizio Verrechia

“I’ve lost count of how many times you’ve died in front of me,” I said.

She rolled up her sleeves and buttoned them down before glancing up at me.

“So far twenty, but I’m sure it’ll be more before we figure this out.” She didn’t say this as if it was annoying to her that she lived a life of constant death. She only stated it.

“Come on, let’s go,” I said. “The car’s parked by that streetlight.”

We started walking, and the warmth of her body next to mine was a comfort. She was alive. She was flesh and blood. And yet she was something else entirely. Though I’d seen her break both her legs in a fall, smash her head on concrete, get in accidents, and burst into flames, she was fine for the moment. Her skin was unmarked. Even her clothes were clean. But that was because I’d brought her some.

“You know you don’t have to do this,” she said. She stared straight ahead as the shape of the car came more into view.

I didn’t respond until we both had gotten in and closed the door. I started the engine. Or tried to when it turned over a couple times and puttered out.

I sighed and laid my head on the steering wheel.

“I know I don’t have to do this,” I said. “But I want to. I’ve never…I’ve never met anyone like you. And I’m not just talking about the death thing. You’re special. And I can’t just leave you to face this by yourself.”

Cami was picking at her nails, the only place with evidence that she’d been buried alive under a pile of rubble.

I turned the key again, and this time it sputtered to life. We were rolling.

“It’s not just me,” she said after we had been driving for several minutes. Her head was turned away so I could only see her curls as they brushed her shoulder.

“Wait, there’s more of you?”

“What?” she turned then, eyebrows turned up in confusion. “No, I meant it’s not just me who’s in danger. People die around me. They get sucked into this. You shouldn’t have to deal with this in your life. It’s bad enough that I do.”

At her warning, my hands gripped the wheel tighter and my eyes shifted from side to side as if I expected a semi to run a red light right into us. Even though the roads were empty at this hour, my heart was still beating fast. What if she was right? What if she was like some sort of magnet for bad luck that couldn’t be unmagnetized?

“Jake?” she said. “Can you say something please?”

“I don’t really care,” I said.

“About…?”

“My life has always been bad luck. But since I met you, it’s gotten so much better. Good things are happening to me for the first time. I can’t just leave because I’m scared.”

“It’s more than that,” she mumbled.

“It’s not,” I assured her. “I’m scared, but there has to be something I can do.”

“Tell that to the last three doctors who tried to hold me hostage and peel my skin off to examine the cell growth.”

We stopped at a red light even though there wasn’t any cross traffic. I debated running through it, but I could see the camera hanging from the metal pole. If people were still after her, I couldn’t risk it.

As I was thinking this, a black Sedan pulled up to the street adjacent to us. Even though he had a green light, he slowed to a stop. His window was too tinted to see into. He flashed his brights at us.

Cami squinted into the darkness.

“Go,” she said.

“Wh-what?” I was still trying to see into the window. I could just barely make out gloved hands.

“Go!” Cami shouted and slapped my arm with the palm of her hand.

I gunned the gas, and we sped through the red light. The camera didn’t even flash. As we drove through, the black Sedan pulled out behind us. I was already going over the speed limit, but I pressed down harder and swerved into a side street.

“Go, Jake!”

Cami’s body was twisted as she looked through the back window towards the car. It had missed the turn I made and was having to back up before following me.

“I know what I’m doing,” I said, clenching my jaw. My knuckles were white with strain. I didn’t trust myself to be one of those crazy car-chasing maniacs I’ve watched in movies. But I knew every street in this city. I knew how to lose him.

My small car squeezed down an alleyway. I circled back towards the way we had come from. I made wild turns that didn’t make sense. I never went down the same road twice. My eyes never flashed up to check if I could see the Sedan in my rearview mirror. It wouldn’t matter. I was doing everything I could to lose him.

I stopped behind an apartment surrounded by human-planted trees that made a canopy around us and the car. There was an entrance to the highway just to our left if we had to make a quick getaway. But the night was quiet for once. Both of us were breathing hard. I blinked several times to get rid of the black spots in my vision.

“Any clue who that could be?” I asked.

Cami bit her lip. “There might be more.”

“More?” I asked, with a shaky laugh. “Like more to your story, or more to your curse?”

“Both,” she whispered.

I opened my mouth to respond when our car was rammed into from the side so hard that the car flipped and started to roll. I clenched everything, letting out a yell that I knew I would regret later. When the car rattled and stopped moving, we were upside-down.

“Cami?” I said, my voice a raspy mess.

A cloud of dust surrounded us as the airbags went off in delayed reaction. They hit my lungs so hard that for a moment I couldn’t breathe. A wheezing gasp escaped my lips. As I waved my hands to clear the air, I saw that Cami’s neck was bent at an odd angle. Blood lined her forehead. Her airbag hadn’t just gone off—it had exploded. Hunks of the car had caved in between us. I could see her, but I couldn’t pull her body through the gap.

“Cami!” I yelled.

I wrestled with my seatbelt, which came undone easily. In surprise, I caught myself just in time before crumpling to the roof of my car head-first. I examined my hands and my ripped jeans. No scratch? Not even a mark? My body vibrated with energy as my ears rang in cycles of annoying tones. My door had been ripped open and hung by a slim piece of metal.

“Cami, I’m coming,” I said, crawling on all fours to the other side of the car. “Ah man.”

The entire right side of the car was smashed in so deep I could see some of the underside. I reached for her door’s handle, but there wasn’t a handle. Only compressed metal molded into a solid form.

“No, no, no,” I said. If I couldn’t get her out, that meant I had to call someone. And if I had to call someone, they would see her lifeless body. Hospitals. Doctors. Tests.

“Hey man!” a voice called out behind me. “Hey man, are you okay?”

A big man in a white t-shirt came into the light.

As he examined my non-bloodstained body, he breathed audibly. “I’m so sorry. I was driving my truck and couldn’t brake down that hill. I saw this parking lot and thought I could use it to stop. I didn’t even see your—oh gosh is there someone still inside?”

“Crowbar,” I said. “You got one?”

For More Writing Prompts, Check out…

Why I Got Married On Halloween: 1st Year Anniversary!

When I tell people that our anniversary date is on October 31, people kind of cock their heads at me and give me a strange look. “Why in the world would you want to do that?” they seem to ask.

What they don’t realize is that Halloween has brought me and and Michell closer together when we were working, during our long-distance period, and when we finally finished college.

Flynn Rider and Rapunzel Costumes – 2015

1. The First Year Is Full of Mistakes and Butterflies

This was our first Halloween as a couple and of course we had to dress up as one of our favorites! At the time we were both working at our church as worship leaders. It was also the only year of college that we were together. This year was full of learning moments of time management, getting healthy, and learning how to be in a relationship.

Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers Costumes – 2016

2. Long Distance Helps You Grow Together and Individually

In 2016 I drove to Bloomington for the weekend to go to a Halloween party. We dressed up as Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers. Props to you if you know the movie! Anyways, this Halloween was the first fall that we weren’t living in the same area. We had just started going to different colleges, and it was definitely really hard. Being able to celebrate Halloween together was just really meaningful.

Me as a Starbucks cat – 2017

3. Sometimes You Have to Be Alone

In 2017 I had to work at Starbucks for Halloween. It was still pretty fun because the kids would come in dressed so cute, and we’d give them candy. But as you can see, I wasn’t exactly a happy cat! This year was the hardest year for me. Mitchell and I were so busy and later this year he went to Los Angeles for his internship. There was a lot of learning how to manage my emotions and anxiety. We made it through, just like always.

Our wedding photo – 2018

4. Sticking Through the Hard Stuff Is Worth It

Finally made it! This is our wedding day a year ago. It’s crazy how much we’ve changed and grown as people. We went vegan, we finished college, we traveled to Taiwan and Los Angeles, we got MARRIED!

What I’ve learned is that holidays can mean something different than you would expect. Halloween has always been important and special to me as a child, and I’m so glad that Mitchell has become a part of this tradition with me.

We also learned that struggling through these years made us stronger as people. We’ve been through so much, and Halloween was just one of those great things that kept us going.

What does Halloween mean for you? What traditions do you have on Halloween? I’d love to hear about them. Comment below!

Further Reads

How Traveling Helped Me Heal

23 Things To Know Before You’re 23

Sex In Young Adult Fantasy (Part 1)

An Overview

Oh boy. This is a tricky topic for so many people. Should writers put sex in their books? How should it be portrayed? Are the relationships healthy? Is the sex safe? Is it consensual? Instead of just writing off the conversation as too difficult, let’s start talking about it. As writers, readers, adults, and young adults.

Realistic fiction writers haven’t been too afraid to approach these topics in the last couple decades, but what about fantasy?

Fantasy — you know, where both genders are usually hyper-sexualized and are helplessly pining over their supernatural significant other? Where werewolves and vampires toe the border of consent and stalking.

Maybe this hasn’t been your experience with reading Fantasy. I’ve read a couple great examples that break the mold of typical Fantasy Romance, but the question remains.

Why should writers put sex in their fantasy books?

This is going to be a several part exploration on Young Adult literature and how sex is portrayed and avoided in the texts AND by readers, librarians, and parents.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

How YA Fiction Has Been Changing

For several decades YA Realistic Fiction writers have taken on the topic of sex in their writing. I mean, it’s one of the top things teens deal with in their lives. It’s uncommon (but definitely needed, writers!) to have a high school story without an intense relationship explored. But for the majority, Realistic Fiction has tackled this topic.

Several well-known YA writers who have taken on sex include:

  • Meg Cabot
  • John Green
  • Judy Bloom
  • Laurie Halse Anderson

There’s been a push in this genre particularly to show consensual, protected, “relationship-based” sex over just writing garbage that glorifies rape, sexual assault, and abusive relationships.

Why?

Because writers are beginning to realize that YA literature impacts young adults more than anything else they read (Cart). If we want to push movements like #metoo and #timesup, then the literature has to reflect what we want young adults to know.

Something people don’t think about very often, but needs to be mentioned, is that ADULTS are writing most of these YA books. Adults who are maybe starting to get disconnected from today’s youth, but must put themselves in the minds and settings of today’s young adults.

If we want young adults to learn what healthy relationships are, we have to give them examples through what they engage with.

The Reason YA Fantasy Needs To Change

Science fiction or fantasy, makes tomorrow’s ogres real and preset, within the threatening framework of an imaginative world.  It is within this framework that the writer can challenge readers, through the persona of the protagonist, to find answers…as they identify with the main character, they begin to understand the possibilities, the greatness of being fully human.  They are empowered.

Eiss 81

Growing up as a huge reader — and knowing full well that I was getting most of my knowledge of the real world from books — I stayed far away from Realistic Fiction. I was already living in the real world. Why would I want to read about someone else’s realistic problems?

No, instead my reading list consisted of nothing but Fantasy: Magical Realism, Urban Fantasy, Fairy-tale retelling, and soft Sci-Fi. And I know for a fact that many people read nothing but the same.

Fantasy was able to reach me both emotionally and mentally, in a way that Realistic Fiction didn’t. But that meant that I had to suffer through the dozens of terrible relationships, verbal and emotional abuse, and down-right stalker behavior that permeates so much of YA Fantasy. I’m talking about Linger, Vampire Academy, Fallen, Dead Beautiful — the list goes on. Don’t get me wrong. I loved reading these books for many other reasons. But for examples of healthy relationships, not so much.

YA Fantasy As Positive Examples of Romance

Librarian Donna Freitas states that she has frequently witnessed graduating seniors who openly express their lack of education in sexual topics. Her advice is simple, reading can help. Especially Speculative/Fantasy, where the writing usually opens the door to more engaging romance.

But if all YA Fantasy books are bad examples of sex and relationships, how will those who enjoy only reading this genre get to see positive examples? And don’t give me any of that bull that parents should be teaching kids. Many young adults aren’t going to be learning how teens interact in relationships from their parents. It’s awkward for one. And for another, outside sources are sometimes easier to receive advice from than parental figures.

Lesson For Today

The take-away from part one is just to start thinking about what we read as young adults. What books shaped the way we view relationships? And what can we as readers and writers do to encourage this generation of young adults so that they can both engage with a fantasy world AND learn about healthy romantic relationships?

What are some bad examples of YA Romance books, whether realistic or fantasy?

What are some good examples of YA Romance books, whether realistic or fantasy?

And how can Fantasy actually help young adults? We’ll tackle that in Part 2!

Resources

Cart, Michael. “The Value of Young Adult Literature.” YALSA, 2008. Accessed 18 October 2018.

Eiss, Harry Edwin. Young Adult Literature and Culture. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009.

Freitas, Donna. “Be Still My Heart.” School Library Journal, vol. 55, no. 2, 2009. Accessed 15 September 2018.

Further Reads

Fiction Friday #4: Write the Prompt With Me!

The Prompt

There were no library resources on advanced Necromancy — only beginner.

Today’s prompt is from Deep Water Prompts. I liked this one just because it was simple and intrigued me. What kind of person would be looking for necromancy books, especially advanced? And where would they be looking? This one got a little spooky for Halloween!

Spend 30 minutes today and write! It might not be this prompt. Check out some of my older prompts if you’d like to use another idea.

The Writing

Image by Annelies Geneyn

Jess’ eyes scanned the bookshelves for the fifteenth time.

“It’s not there,” Kye said. He folded his arms over his purple hair and put his cheek down on the wooden table. “I told you, they wouldn’t just keep that kind of thing out for public use.”

“Well I didn’t think there would be that many people looking,” Jess said. She folded the creases of her pleated skirt before collapsing into the chair beside Kye. “It’s not like the whole village comes here looking for zombie spells.”

Kye blinked at her. “What would I know? I don’t know how those crazy village people think.”

“What are we going to do?” she asked. “Pedro said that if we don’t find the spell by tomorrow, he’s going to kill her.”

“Well if it takes longer than tomorrow, at least we’ll know how to bring her back,” Kye mumbled into his sleeve.

Jess tapped her fingers on the table. “It’s not funny, you know.”

“I know.” Kye sat up again. His disheveled hair was sticking up in odd angles. The collar of his wrinkled button-down was askew. “I know, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t make fun of this.”

“I didn’t even like her. And now I have to try to save her before All Hallow’s Eve?”

Kye stood up and started pacing the length of the table. Jess watched him, arm leaning against the back of the chair.

“What are you thinking?” she asked.

“The professors are bound to have private collections. And you know that Jaxby would be the one to have something like this.”

Jess touched the cover of the only book they they had found on the subject of Necromancy. They were both surprised that the cover and pages were worn with use. The binding nearly crumbled as they opened it. But it was just beginner’s prattle. Mostly warnings and starter chants. Not anything like what Pedro had asked them for.

“So how do we get to his stash then?” Jess asked.

“We take the book to him. Ask him if he’s seen anything more in-depth. If he starts to act worried, we definitely know he does.”

“Yes,” Jess said. “I think that would work. But then what, we break into his office? He’d know who took it for sure.”

“We just need the spell,” Kye said. A smile was spreading across his lips. “Just a spell. Not the whole book.”

Jess stuffed her belongings back into her shoulder bag and Kye followed to do the same with his things.

“We can still catch him tonight,” Jess said. “He stays late. Mites, he never leaves this place.”

Jess nodded. “Okay, let’s hurry then.”

The two raced down the hallway, paying no mind to the students who balked at them to calm down. They both knew they were acting strange, but it wasn’t anything new. Especially when they were together. The halls were covered in decorations for the holiday. Moving charmed bats hung on strings from the ceiling rafters. Shadows of ghosts walked beside them when they passed by glass windows.

After crossing through the courtyard, where dozens of pumpkins were lit up in perpetual illumination, they came to Jaxby’s office.

Kye looked to Jess. “Go on, you knock.”

Jess rolled her eyes as she pulled the beginner’s Necromancy book from her bag and knocked on the door.

“Professor?” Jess called.

No answer. Jess knocked again. Silence.

She sent an exasperated look to Kye, who reached for the doorknob. Jess swatted his hand away.

“Are we just going to go in?” she hissed.

But Kye was already going for the doorknob again and pushed the door open. The room was dark except for two blue candles — not real fire but the closest thing they had to electricity at the school.

“Be quiet,” Kye whispered and slipped through the door.

“What if he’s in the back or something?” Jess asked, but she followed him anyway.

The room was colder than the chilly October courtyard, which confused Jess until she spotted the open window at the far end of the room. Kye was already making his way to the bookcase pressed against the wall of the office. It took up nearly half the wall, and a thick sheet of glass separated them from the books inside.

“There’s no handle,” Kye said.

“It’s a spell, stupid,” Jess said. “Do you think that a Professor would just trust his private collection with a normal cabinet?”

Kye shrugged. “Well, do you know the spell?”

But Jess’s eyes were focused on Jaxby’s desk where a book was closed and covered in scattered essay papers. Surely it couldn’t be that easy. But maybe hiding something valuable in plain sight was Jaxby’s style.

A grandfather clock went off, striking eleven booming drones before resuming its ticking nose.

“Jeez that made me jump out of my socks,” Kye said, pressing a hand to his chest. “Jess, do you know the spell — what are you doing?”

Jess was pushing the paperwork carefully aside, taking note which order the papers were stacked. Beneath the papers was a green-tinged tome, thicker than the beginner’s guide. An energy rose from this book as if it was breathing.

She reached down to touch the cover. The runes embossing the front in a square border kept swimming in her mind’s eye when she tried to translate it.

“I think this is our book,” she said softly.

Kye came beside her and looked down. “This book?”

Jess pulled back the cover with unusual effort, as if the tome didn’t want to reveal its secrets to her. At first the runes that covered the pages shifted as the cover had, but then they settled and formed tight scrawling handwriting.

She began ripping through the contents. “It’s here. It has to be here. Jaxby’s so sensitive to events that he must have gotten some sort of feeling this book was in danger.”

Kye watched her as she searched the pages with vicious eyes until her finger stopped at the top of a page.

“This one,” she said.

Kye stared at her finger. “Are you sure?”

Jess nodded and held the page with her hand as she flipped to the end of the spell.

“Holy mites,” Kye breathed. “It’s like twenty pages long.”

With a single flourish, Jess ripped out the entire section. She was quick enough that it left minimal damage to the spin. Slamming the cover closed, she heard rustling in the courtyard.

Kye’s eyes widened as she stuffed the spell pages into her jacket and had just enough time to push the papers back over the tome as Jaxby walked through his office door. His eyebrows rose into his fluffy gray hair as he noticed them standing by his desk.

“Kye. Jess,” he said with confusion radiating from behind his spectacles. “What are you doing here so late? And without me?”

Kye stammered as Jess answered, “We were looking for you. We thought you were here when the door was open.”

“It’s only been a moment,” Kye said then added, “Sir.”

“Right,” Jaxby said neutrally. “Well, what is it that you so desperately wanted to see me for?”

“We—” Jess said, feeling like she was trapped. They couldn’t ask him about the beginner’s guide now. If he saw the spell was missing, he would know it was them. He would probably know it was them anyways.

“I was wondering if you did private tutoring?” Kye asked.

Jess bit her lip in surprise at Kye’s quick thinking.

“Ah, a bit behind are we?” Jaxby said, wiping his glasses. “I can’t say I’m surprised. You seem to spend more time on your hair than your homework, Kye.”

Kye stifled his indignation with trembling closed lips.

“Oh, for me, Professor,” Jess interjected. “Kye was asking for me.”

For More Writing Prompts, Check Out…

Second Month In LA: Brutally Honest Thoughts

So it’s mid October. I’ve been working as an intern, getting paid 200 a month for doing work most graphic designers would get paid 200 a day for. I took this job because I believed in the company. It was exactly what I wanted to do. Content writing, graphic designing, good company with good values. There was also a promise of commission and a full-time job at the end of two months (which will be November 18th for me).

The bad news is that we thought this would work because Mitchell would have a job by now. He’s had a couple good interviews this week after applying to over fifty places and not hearing a peep out of anything. Nothing solid yet.

We have this month’s rent and some change, but next month is about to kick us hard. We’re struggling. It’s not fun, it’s not easy.

Some people may look at this situation and say, “Well, why did you move out here in the first place?” My answer, to be honest, was that I trusted that God would provide for us.

Mitchell and I both put our trust to go into the wilderness, working hard, and praying that God would provide the necessities. We don’t expect things to just fall into our laps. We don’t believe in prosperity gospel. We just believe that God takes care of us.

But it’s been hard to believe this lately. I mean, I have no idea what will happen tomorrow. The company I work for might close down. They might let me go before they hire me on full time (or what’s actually looking to be part time now) because they can’t afford me.

The good news is we found a nice community to be a part of. We joined a church and have started serving on their worship team. A song we’re singing this week has the lines, “I’m going to see a victory.”

But I don’t know if I actually will.

Maybe I was stupid for wanting to follow my dreams. You might think so. But I believe that I was meant for something. I trusted that this is what I was supposed to do. I didn’t expect the road to be paved. But I thought there might at least be a machete to hack through the weeds.

I’ve started applying to other part time jobs: donut shops and coffeehouses, because if we don’t have enough money to pay our student loans and rent, God only knows what’s going to happen to us.

If you resonate with these struggles, I encourage you to share your story in the comment section below. If you’ve ever come through the other side after going through hard times, let me know. I need some inspiration and encouragement. I need to know that there are people out there who have gone through the same thing and made it.

Also, if you’re able, please check out my donation page, which you can find here. It would really help us out.

What I’ve Learned About Giving Up Books

Finishing Books Just To Finish Them

Dead end sign
Image by Donald Giannatti

All of my younger life I felt like I could never EVER give up a book. Even if I hated it. Even if the writing was terrible. Even if I didn’t enjoy a thing about it.

I remember reading The Boggart by Susan Cooper. It was so dry and lacked the whimsical magic I had hoped it would have. But my mom helped me make a reading plan to finish the book in about a week.

When I had finished, I remember her asking, “Was that so bad?”

While my answer at the time was no, the book hadn’t really gotten better. I basically only learned that if you power through books, thy’ll eventually end.

But this isn’t helpful. While sometimes it’s good to challenge yourself to read books that are out of your comfort zone, reading too many books you don’t enjoy will only make you resent reading entirely.

We shouldn’t force ourselves to read books just to be satisfied to finish them. Part of the joy of books is in the journey of actual reading.

Reading Books You Love Only Makes You Love Reading More

Seeing a book through glasses
Image by Dmitry Ratushny

Recently my husband (finally) started to enjoy reading. His mother is an English teacher and has always encouraged her kids to read, but Mitchell has never really enjoyed it.

Until he picked up The Wheel of Time. I saw him read that book faster than he’s read anything in his life. What made the difference? He found books that he actually loved and realized that it wasn’t the reading he disliked. It was just the books he had been trying to read.

This brought me back to my Elementary days, when I was a terrible reader. My teachers must have seen something in me, because they kept giving me harder books than the rest of the class. But I hated the books they gave me (The Indian In the Cupboard, The Mouse and the Motorcycle to name a few).

That’s when I found Harry Potter. Oh, the librarian, my parents, and my teaches all looked at me like I was crazy. I was in first grade and was going to read a book that most sixth graders couldn’t handle.

But I read it. And read all the others. I realized I loved reading. That I loved writing. That I had been missing this piece in my life — all because I had found the right book.

You Have Too Little Time To Waste It Reading Bad Books

Girl surrounded by books
Image by Annie Spratt

In my senior year of college, I remember the head of the English department saying, “It’s okay to stop reading a book you really don’t like. There’s too little time to waste it reading bad books.”

This was not something I expected to hear from an English Professor, especially the head of an English Department. But these words have stuck with me over the last couple years — and I have given up several books in this time.

I give up reading books when I find myself avoiding reading. When I feel like slogging through the rest of the book is more of a chore than something I look forward to. I’ve read books that I can’t put down. And I’ve read books I can’t put down enough.

But my professor is right. I have so many options of books to read. And so little time to read them. What we choose to spend our time on matters. Why waste it?

Have you ever given up a book? What made you decide it was time to quit? Leave a comment below!

Writing Tips: Why You Should Use Writing Prompts To Improve Your Writing

1. Keeps You Writing Consistently

Ferris Wheel
Image by Matheus Fade

You may be at the beginning stages of a novel or in the editing phase. The great thing about writing prompts is they keep you writing, no matter what stage you’re at.

All writers must practice their craft in order to get better. But sometimes we’re in a weird stage where we’re looking for agents or finished with our manuscript and don’t want to touch it anymore.

Writing prompts are great tools to keep your writing consistent.

2. Gives Your Mind a Break From Familiar Characters and Worlds

Stopwatch
Image by Veri Ivanova

I first started getting into writing prompts again during the intense editing phase of my 264,000 word book. My mind was saturated with the character arcs and the world mechanics. I was beginning to forget how to even write certain characters because it was all running together in my head.

When I started doing morning writing prompts, I discovered that the prompts allowed me to take a break from familiar characters and explore new kinds of people. It’s like taking a vacation from your family to explore a new world.

The benefits went both ways too. Not only did I enjoy “hanging out” with new people, but I also felt refreshed when I went back to my main work in progress. I could write their dialogue more clearly and could visualize originally stale scenes with much more ease.

Sparks Creative Ideas For Now and Later

Reflection of lightbulbs
Image by Dragos Gontariu

As I was finishing my very large book, I did a writing prompt that turned into its own book. It started out as a simple prompt about magical coins, but I could feel that under the surface, there was a whole world to unearth. But if I hadn’t been doing writing prompts, I wouldn’t have thought of this story at all!

I also keep all of my writing prompts in a journal so if I ever want to revisit them or use parts of them for another piece, I still have them. You might be surprised at how good some of your writing prompts will turn out. Sometimes they take you places you never thought you would go, and that might be exactly what you need for your next big project.

A Great Warm-up

Lit Matches
Image by Devin Avery

Like drawing quick, gestural sketches before diving into the 2-hour portrait session, writing prompts can get our writing minds awake and moving. Not a lot of people consider the fact that just like most muscles, your brain needs to wake up and loosen up before it can deliver the goods.

Sometimes it’s daunting to move straight into your giant manuscript and pick up right where you left off. When you take twenty minutes to warm up with a writing prompt, your mind will be more relaxed and engaged with your writing by the end. I usually shoot for about three handwritten pages (a guide I got from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron).

Improves Imagination and Memory

Plant growing from sidewalk cracks
Image by Stanislav Kondratiev

Writing prompts have often challenged me to write in perspectives and genres that I’ve never tried before. For example, last Friday, I wrote the beginning of a vampire Horror Noir. I’ve never written about vampires, and I’ve definitely never written a Noir. But it was a ton of fun!

Along with stretching my imagination, I’ve also found that writing prompts cause memories to surface that I hadn’t thought about in years. Sometimes I’ll be writing a scene when a certain smell or feeling creeps up on me, and I think, Wow I totally forgot about that. That would be an awesome story.

Writing prompts are great if you feel blocked and stuck in a rut as a writer. There are tons of great resources online. And I also have a Pinterest board you can follow.

Teaches You To Write Without Attachments

Chains on a gate
Image by Jose Fontano

I don’t know how many times I’ve started a writing prompt and wanted to keep writing it into a full story when I’m done. As many times as I’ve done that, I’ve also had times when I never want to see that writing prompt again.

I don’t know about you, but for me, I tend to latch onto projects and have a hard time letting go unless I finish them completely. The great thing about writing prompts is that they teache me to start without needing to finish. I have the ability to go back and add more when I want to, but I’m not chained to this project. It’s just an exercise.

If you feel like me and want to just be able to enjoy a short time of writing without feeling pressured to create a masterpiece, I encourage you to try writing prompts.

Resources

Reedsy Prompts – online database for hundreds of writing prompts.

Squibler – one of my favorite sources for Fantasy writing prompts.

For Further Reads About Writing, Check Out…

YA Fantasy Title Generator

I’ve been noticing a trend with YA books. Especially Fantasy YA books. Titles commonly consist of this formula: “NOUN Of NOUN And NOUN.” Examples: Court Of Thorns And Roses, Children Of Blood And Bone, House Of Salt And Sorrows — the list goes on.

So I thought it would be fun to make a name generator for people to come up with their own wild titles. Let’s have a little fun, shall we?

Feel free to actually use these as titles if you find one you really like! Or to adjust the plural/singular so it suits your nouns properly.

Leave a comment about the title your name/birthday generates. Mine is Cats Of Light and Steam.

Similar Posts

Fiction Friday #3: Write the Prompt With Me!

The Prompt

Writing prompt

This week’s writing prompt is brought to you by Prompturarium.wordpress.com. They have a lot of great writing prompt ideas on their site that you should definitely check out if you’re interested. I tweaked this one a little (changed 23 years to 10 years).

As always, please comment below with where your ideas take you. Or where you might want my story to go next! Take 30 minutes to write out some scenes based off the prompt below. Who knows what ideas will surface when we brainstorm a new piece?

Alright, let’s write together!

The Writing

Image by Chuttersnap

When I walked into the restaurant, the hostess eyed me up and down before straining to smile.

“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to leave your weapons at the door, ma’am. We like to offer our guests a peaceful experience.”

I nodded as I pulled the strap around my head and dropped the scabbard and backpack down. There were too many tools in it to dump them all out in front of her. Besides, I think I scared her enough without exposing my entire artillery to her. As I piled my belongings on the bench next to her podium, I scanned the restaurant. I should have dressed nicer. The place was a combination of dim lighting, crystal decorations, and spicy aromas. I was more in over my head than I had thought.

“You have someone to watch over this stuff?” I asked, watching her gingerly pick up the pack and sword and place them on a shelf alongside a dozen other miscellaneous weapons and bags.

“Of course,” she said. Her eyes darted to the big guy dressed all in black at the end of the long row of shelves.

I felt a pang ripple through me. I hadn’t even seen him.

“Here,” she said, handing me a tag with a number that matched the one on my stuff’s shelf. “Now, dining for one, or are you waiting for someone?”

“I’m Corsen. Here to meet Mr. Giochi. Has he arrived yet?”

Her smile wavered a moment before she pulled the ends of her lips back up as if by puppet strings.

“Of course, right this way.”

She led me with a menu in her hand to a table in the back. It was in a room by itself, separated by red-tinted glass doors. At the table, sat a man dressed in a combination of black and green snakeskin. His face was clean-shaven and sharp with delicate features. Even in the low lighting, I could see the yellow of his eyes.

“Have a pleasant evening,” the hostess said, already half out of the door.

“Take a seat, Corsen,” Giochi said with a flourish of his hand. His nails were long and pointed. Painted black.

I sat without taking my eyes off him, tucking the sides of my cloak around my lap as I should do with the fancy napkin they provided. I wasn’t sure if I would make it through dinner.

Giochi was a few years older than me, but that wouldn’t be the case forever. Not anymore.

As if he read my thoughts, he asked, “I’ve never helped a vampire before. What brings you to seek this city’s best mage?”

I took a breath and fingered the silver forks lined up so precisely against the red napkin. How many times had I seen silver against a backdrop of red?

“I don’t consider this ‘seeking’ as you’re the one who wrote to me first,” I answered.

“It isn’t every day you hear of a vampire killing their own. And in such a meticulous manner. The stories I’ve been hearing are as alarming as they are impressive. I thought offering my services would only be the proper thing to do.” His was face blank as he spoke. He pressed a closed fist to his chin, pushing back some of his well-maintained, black curls.

“Mr. Giochi—”

“Please, call me Danny,”

“Danny.” The name sounded too informal on my tongue, but I continued anyway. “How much do you know about me?” And how did you find it out?

“People talk, Corson,” Danny said. “They talk about a young woman who rose from her family’s grave plots after a storm of first-generation vampires took out her whole town. Bit of a slip-up, don’t you think? To leave one behind to turn?”

I hid my hands in my lap to prevent them from shaking. As he spoke, I could smell the fire. Feel the warmth of my best friend’s hands as she pressed her claws into the skin of my neck and dug her fangs into me. I could taste the metallic of her blood mixed with mine.

“That’s the general idea,” I said. I cleared my throat. “People make mistakes, after all.”

He eyed me over, though what he was seeing I could only guess. 

“I see,” he said. His gaze flashed upward, and he straightened.

A man wearing a black apron slipped through the glass door with a wine bottle in his hands.

“Our house’s best, courtesy of your services, Mr. Giochi,” the waiter said. He poured Danny a glass and left the bottle on the table before disappearing from the room.

“Do you drink?” Danny asked, raising his wine glass.

“No,” I answered.

There was a clatter of dishes hitting the floor from behind the door, but we both ignored it. My ears were attentive though, and I could smell danger rising in the atmosphere like the beads of sweat on Danny’s brow and upper lip.

“Are you afraid of me?” I asked.

“I would be an idiot not to be afraid of you, Corson,” Danny answered. He still hadn’t taken a sip of the wine. Only swirled it around in a whirlpool of thoughtfulness. “It also isn’t every day I meet with a vampire. Period.”

“I’m not only a vampire,” I said. I wanted to see how far I could push him to see past the violet of my eyes. The translucency of my dark skin.

“True, and that’s why I agreed to meet.”

Another crashing noise came from behind us, and this time I stood up and turned towards the rest of the restaurant. Across the room, the weapon’s guard was holding our waiter in a headlock, his head bent in towards his neck.

I threw open the glass doors and sprinted towards the man.

“Hey!” I shouted.

Even as my feet flew across the room, I could see how everyone seemed to be frozen in time. The guests’ faces were twisted in slow-motion horror as they realized what was happening.

By the time I had made it to the big man, our waiter was looking pale and dazed. Before the vampire could even look up, I shoved my palm upward. His nose exploded with vibrant purple blood. The grip he had on the waiter released. The kid crashed to the floor in an unconscious heap. Unconscious. I could tell because I could still hear the thudding of his very alive heart.

Focus. Don’t smell. Focus.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I snarled. “I thought this was supposed to be a peaceful dining experience?”

The man wiped his face with the back of his hand and stood up to his full height, almost two heads taller than me. I took a step back but held my head up to face him.

“Well?” I demanded.

But I was beginning to see the tell-tale signs of a newbie who had been fighting back the change’s demands. His jaw was slack, and strings of blood and spit were dripping down his chin. The look in his eyes was vacant and veined. He had no idea who he even was.

“I—I,” he stammered.

As he staggered towards me like a falling tree, I pulled out a black rod, hidden against the folds of my tunic. With the press of a switch, two silver blades extended from either end. I plunged one end into his shoulder.

The vampire cried out in pain and fell to his knees. The stunning powers of silver working twice as hard against his human-blood-filled body.

Two people burst through the front door. Both of them wore matching black uniforms with sleek black trenchcoats that went to their ankles and squat black hats with a shiny silver emblem.

I took one look at them, pulled my blade out of the man, and took a step back. My hands raised in alarm.

Both pointed silver embossed guns at me.

“Step away from the man, now,” the woman officer said.

“Easy, officers,” Danny’s voice came behind me before he stepped in front of me. “He’s the one you want.”

He gestured down at the man who was clutching his injured shoulder and panting. A puddle of his blood mixed with the waiter’s told the officers all they needed to know.

After handcuffing the man and taking him through the entrance, Danny turned to me.

“Well that was quite the show,” he said. “I see I’ve found the right girl.”

“The right girl for what?” I asked, lip curling and revealing what I knew would be my fangs.

“The right girl to help me with my own vampire problems,” he said. “Follow me.”

Without looking back to see if I would follow, he walked out of the restaurant.

For More Writing Prompts…

Writing Tips: Overusing Figurative Language In Fantasy Writing

I’ve been trudging through the book The Crystilleries of Echoland by Dew Pellucid, a Fantasy children’s chapter book. So far it’s about a kid named Will who lives in a world where a lot of people, including his twin sister, are being kidnapped without explaination. It turns out that there’s this whole other world that Will has to enter and save in order to help both worlds. The world is a combination of futuristic science and woodland fantasy. So it’s got several interesting things going for it. What’s been driving me crazy about this book is the way the author uses figurative language.

This got me thinking, what are the dangers of overusing figurative language in writing, especially in fantasy?

Confusing Similes With the Fantasy World

I don’t want to poo-poo on the book too much, because I can tell that someone spent a lot of time trying to create something really nice. My personal opinions aside, let’s explore the opening paragraph and how it uses figurative language to build its world.

Will Cleary walked into his father’s dusty library. At the center, a huge book was spread open on a pedestal like a bird with papery wings; and like a bird, the book was trapped in a cage of glass that reflected Will’s face back at him. The twelve-year-old boy looked like a scarecrow with big sad eyes.

The Crystilleries of Echoland, pg. 1, Dew Pellucid

So several things about this passage stood out to me while I was reading it for the first time.

Using Overused Or Common Comparisons

The issue with using common comparisons like “birds in a cage” can be dangerous, as some readers will skip by this description without it really making an impact. It’s become such an idiom, a daily interaction with the reader, that it loses any true comparison power.

Confusing Figurative Language For Physical (In World)

The most confusing aspect of this paragraph is what we’re supposed to picture. I’m aware this is a fantasy book, so I’m expecting elements of magic or maybe objects that have magical properties.

Let’s explore a different passage for a moment.

The forest seemed to sprint toward them, trying to run them down as if the trees were bewitched.

The Crystilleries of Echoland, pg. 25, Dew Pellucid

In this scene, Will is running through the forest. However, because of the use of Personification, the trees are the ones running as if they were magical. The trees might actually be magical. This might explain why they seemed to move while Will was running.

However I don’t think that’s what the author was going for. I think the author was trying to describe the feeling of the trees moving by as Will runs through the forest.

Using too much figurative language in Fantasy can make your readers believe aspects of the world that aren’t true.

In Fantasy, there will be events and objects that don’t exist in our world. That’s why as writers, we have to walk a fine line between using words that help the readers picture and help the readers imagine.

All of these considerations are especially important in children’s literature where young readers might not be able to easily grasp the concept of figurative language and be able to separate it from what’s actually going on.

Distracting Readers From Real Messages

In my first example paragraph there’s four different figurative statements being made.

  • Book to bird
  • Book’s glass case to bird cage
  • Bird being trapped in cage
  • Will to scarecrow

Three of these are connected, but also confusingly arranged so that they aren’t linear. Then the last (Will to scarecrow) is completely separate from the main comparison of the paragraph. Which is that there’s a book with wing-like pages trapped behind a glass container that reminds Will of a caged bird.

While this entire comparison is very interesting, the tacked on scarecrow comparison detracts from the strength of the main Simile. Instead of focusing on the book comparison, the readers end the paragraph thinking of how Will can look like a sad scarecrow.

Likewise in the second example, several things are happening to describe one feeling. The trees are running towards Will, but they’re also bewitched. They’re also trying to run him down. I’m assuming that Will is dodging between trees in the forest. But because there are three different statements about one action, I lose the impact of the figure of speech.

Stick with one solid comparison or metaphor per paragraph (or less) to ensure readers don’t get focused on the wrong things.

Comparing Using Objects That Are Too Broad

While we all want to use unique metaphorical language in our writing, sometimes we run the risk of being to abstract and therefore confusing readers. This is especially the danger for Fantasy, where people can have animal-like features or special abilities.

The problem with comparing Will’s face to a scarecrow to show that he looks sad, is that there are many aspects of a scarecrow that don’t conjure up an image of a sad boy. We think of fields, crows, straw, scary faces. Then we apply these subconscious thoughts to the way Will looks. Maybe Will is actually a boy made out of straw in this world — who really knows? Nope. Nope, he’s not. And he’s not scary or doll-like either.

The point is, we must be original AND accurate.

Be considerate of what other readers might think of with your comparison. Make sure that the emotion or image you’re trying to conjure up in their minds will match the figurative language.

Final Thoughts

Whew, thanks for getting through that with me. I’m going to keep reading this book, because I’ve heard great things. Right now it’s not a recommended read, but we’re all works in progress.

Writing is difficult, especially for children. Let’s work hard to become stronger writers together.

If You Want More Writing Tips, Check Out

Scary Stories In LA (No. 1): What’s It Really Like to Live In Los Angeles?

Noises In the Night

Image by Thong Vo

We often sleep with our windows open to save money, and the noises of the city can actually be a nice white noise machine. Loud noises have become a familiar and almost comforting way for me to fall asleep.

Except when those noises become shouts in the night.

Only last week I woke up to hear someone shouting. In my half-sleep daze, I could have sworn I heard the man’s voice coming from within the halls of the apartment. I also could have sworn he was shouting, “The Jonas Brothers are here!” Repetitively.

In my efforts to hear what was going on, I could tell the voice was moving. Soon it sounded as if the voice was coming from outside. Then banging noises filled the air, and more voices joined his in argument.

Suddenly I could hear sirens start up and heard more voices join the chorus. I laid back down as the voices quieted. The night was silent once more.

Letter a Few Days After

Image by Pawel Czerwinski

I thought that maybe this night interruption was a part of my dreams, mixed with the noises of the night. But a few days after this event, we got a letter directly delivered to our apartment. Slipped under the door.

In the letter, we learned that someone had hopped the fence to the apartment complex and broken into one of the tenant’s apartments. Somehow no one was injured, and the situation was resolved quickly.

Their response? They were hiring a new security guard and installing barb wire to the top of our current fences.

A Story Shared With a Friend

Image by Erik Witsoe

As I explained this story to a friend, he told me of his own experiences with an empty apartment that he kept hearing noises come from. He had lived in that room previously, so he still had an extra key.

When he opened the door one day after getting tired of hearing noises and not knowing what was going on, he saw a large group of people. They had started to secretly use the room as a drug den.

Though these people were removed from the room, more people came. The landlord put bars on the windows and changed the locks. Nothing really worked. Eventually, his landlord just gave him a discount on his rent.

What I Learned

It’s easy to say that I learned that the area might not be as safe as it seems. Though it’s almost as if the night attracts more dangerous situations, because people can hide in a blanket of darkness.

The good news is, the police station is only a block away, and no one got hurt. But what did I personally learn?

Firstly, I’m glad I live on the third floor. But that doesn’t mean I’m safe necessarily. It’s good to stay alert and recognize when sounds aren’t the usual noises of the night.

It’s also a good idea to get to know your neighbors on the floor. It’s not helpful to anyone to be suspicious of people who are where they’re supposed to be. But it is helpful to be able to recognize when strangers are walking around.

Lastly, I think it’s safe to say that it’s okay to not feel super safe. I live right next to Downtown, and there are a lot of people out at night. Even though I live in a nice area with schools and nice families, crazy things can happen.

Has anything crazy happened to you in your neighborhood? Do you have any tips for living in the city? Leave a comment below to share your story.

For More Like This Check Out…

First Month In LA: Finding Jobs and Staying Alive

Recipe Review: Ceara’s Kitchen Vegan Banana Oat Bread

Because we had a billion bananas hanging out in our freezer, I decided that it would be a good time to try out one of the banana bread recipes pinned to my Pinterest board.

This is a review of Ceara’s Kitchen’s Vegan Banana Oat Bread. This has been a popular pin from my boards, and I thought it was time to check it out for myself!

Making the Recipe

The ingredients were fairly simple. Sugar, flour, oats, bananas (a lot of bananas, five to be exact). I had everything I needed already in stock in my kitchen. The oddest ingredient would probably be the ground flaxseed, but this is a common ingredient to find in stores.

I baked the bread in a square pan (similar to the one she has pictured on her site) for a total of 40 minutes. Though the edges, top, and bottom of the cake were solid, the middle of each piece remains a little mushy and sticky.

Recipe Results

As someone who likes underdone desserts, this softer texture isn’t too big of an issue. Though for some, it might not be appealing if you were going for a more “bready” texture. It reminds me more of a bread pudding to be honest.

There’s something about the taste that’s a little off, and it might be the flaxseed. I’ve found that sometimes in desserts, flaxseed can take over in the taste department. But despite this, it tastes subtly sweet and banana-y.

Review Rating: 3 Out of 5 Stars

All in all, I would rate this recipe 3 out of 5 stars. It satisfies a sweet tooth and uses up my bananas to make a nice treat. But the texture wasn’t the closed-texture of normal banana bread. It just didn’t seem to cook very well. Maybe next time I’ll cook it longer than the recipe suggests to see what happens.

As far as vegan bread recipes go, I’m kind of torn on this one. What’s your favorite banana bread recipes? Link them below and I’ll give them a try!

6 Amazing Hiking Spots in Los Angeles

If you’re anything like me, hiking would not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of LA. But there are actually some amazing spots that double as famous landmarks as well.

If you’re into seeing some gorgeous mountains and spending a few hours outside, these spots are for you.

1. Griffith Park (The Hollywood Sign)

Hiking the Hollywood Sign
Image by Roberto Nickson

You’ve probably seen the sign a thousand times, but did you know you had to hike to get there? There are several paths to take, each varying in different lengths and difficulty. The most common is about 4 miles total on a dusty path.

The one I’ve taken is about 8 miles and leads you through a smaller path up some serious inclines and through shrubbery. Was it even a path? Maybe.

Also don’t be too disappointed when you end up behind the Hollywood sign. There’s a spot to take fun pictures just about a mile before you reach the top of the hills.

You also get amazing views of downtown, not too far away. If you’d like to learn more about this hiking spot, visit their official website.

Features of the Hike

  • Take pictures with the Hollywood sign
  • Visit the Observatory
  • Uphill climb and downhill on the way back
  • Option to do more or less miles
View from Hollywood sign
Image by Richard James

2. Angeles National Forest

View from Angeles National Forest
View from Angeles National Forest

For gorgeous mountain views, this is the place for you. The path up the mountain was very straight forward (8 miles). There are many paths you can take, and some great sights along the way,

Angeles National Forest covers over 700,000 acres of land. The elevations range from 1,000-10,000 feet! You can hike part of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), or you can just enjoy trekking over their 557 trail miles.

Be warned, the elevation can affect some people’s breathing. To learn more about the hiking spot, check out their official website.

Features of the Hike

  • High elevation views
  • Hike Part of the PCT
  • Interesting wildlife
  • Easy-hard hikes available.
View from Angeles National Forest
Hike view from Angeles National Forest

3. Elysian Park (The Secret Swing)

Hiking trail for Elysian Park

There’s a couple trails to choose from at this park, all of which are varying degrees of elevation and difficulty. You also get to see plenty of palm tree-filled parks and the city skyline.

There’s also the secret swing at the top of the hill. Swing right over the freeway and take cute pictures. Be careful if you take the hike up, because it’s super sandy and slippery. Make sure you wear good traction shoes or you’ll end up on your butt like me! If you want more information about this park, check out their official website.

View from Elysian Park

Features of the Hike

  • Plenty of different sights and landscapes
  • Several different types of hikes for all levels
  • The swing!
The secret swing featuring Mitchell

4. Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park

View at Vasquez Rocks

Vasquez rocks is a great desert hike for people who don’t mind getting lost. The trails are not very well marked, but there are tons of fun rocks to climb. Just be sure to keep track of where you are.

An extra fun feature about this location is that many movies and films have been filmed here. Check out their film showcase board at the entrance to see how many you know! If you’d like to know more about this park, check out their official website.

The boys climbing to the top of the rocks

Features of the Hike

  • Great rocks to climb
  • An open space to explore
  • Sight seeing where many movies and shows were filmed!

6. Vista Hermosa Natural Park

This park is a nice walking spot for the inner-city dwellers. For those not into rock climbing or not wanting to leave the city, this would be the hike for you.

Explore the pathways, take pictures of the fountain area, or have a picnic with Downtown as your backdrop!

Features of the Hike

  • Easy trails to walk
  • Great for people in the city to get away
  • Relaxing area to spend the afternoon

Final Thoughts

What are some of your favorite hiking spots in your area? If you have any more hiking recommendations to hit up in LA, let me know so I can check them out!

Fiction Friday #2: Flash Fiction Writing Prompt

The Prompt

The prompt this week comes from author Tomi Adeyemi, who wrote Children of Blood and Bone. Fantastic book by the way. Definitely check it out if you haven’t.

Part of the fun is writing a piece for yourself too! Challenge yourself to spend 30 minutes writing a story from the prompt below.

The Writing

The Forrest // Johannes Plenio

I sucked in my breath as he passed me. It was the third time he had completed a full pace of the length of the room. Each time my nose was assaulted with his stench. I glanced down at my hands. They were bandaged completely. The pain radiated off them like they had tiny burning heartbeats in each finger.

Can’t be happening. Too soon.

“And lastly, we’ll need you to do the night shift,” he said. He ran a hand over the top of his undercut hair. Mine probably matched his. “We’ll give you the rundown when you come tomorrow night. Is that understood, Key?”

All of the words he had spoken before these last two orders were completely lost on me. My mind shuddered with fear. 

I wasn’t supposed to be here.

“Yes,” I answered automatically. The sound of confidence in my voice surprised me. But I had said it a hundred times before. This time was no different.

“Good,” he said. “Report here tomorrow night at dusk. Captain Zah will show you to the training area tonight.”

The girl leaning against the wall with her arms crossed painfully tight against her chest perked to attention. “Sir, are you sure it’s wise to start training today? Key just start—”

The man’s expression was hidden from me as he turned to look at Zah, but I could tell it was something severe.

“Right away, sir,” Zah said.

I followed her lead as we headed out into the woods. The sky was dark, but even through the dim lanterns on the trees, I could sense the life moving in the city nearby. I could hear the horse carriages clomping over the cobblestone. Smell the fresh bread for tomorrow’s sales. Somewhere in there was my home. A sense of dread filled my lungs as I breathed in shakily. Flashes of memories crossed in front of my eyes, and I paused in our walk. Hunched over, I started to dry heave. Then full-on vomit.

“You must be nervous,” Zah said without looking back at me. She stopped walking and put her hands on her hips. “Memory deletion can do that. Don’t worry. The artificial memories will start to kick in soon.”

Artificial? I thought. Was that what I’m seeing? 

No. This was something else. Artificial memories weren’t meant to be this detailed. Not when they were trying to prepare me to be a hunter. Something had gone wrong. Something—

“Quiet, eh?” Zah said. “That won’t last long. Once they train you to be a hunter you tend not to shut up. It’s been our biggest problem with new recruits.”

My body quaked as I straightened. My clothes weren’t familiar. Leather and stiff, probably new. The first new clothes I’d ever worn.

“Do you…have any water?” I asked.

Zah cocked her head sympathetically at me. “Sorry. No water for the first twenty-four hours. Don’t want to jeopardize everything we’ve worked on.”

Dear gods, I thought and nearly threw up again. What have I become?

“Come along now, Key. We don’t want you to miss your first night of training.”

I hurried to catch up with Zah as she started walking again. Her long black ponytail swung at her waist as she moved like a reed in the wind. I stumbled along behind her. Each step in the new boots was filled with a combination of fear and dread.

We came to a clearing in the woods where twenty other people were already at work. They were all barefoot, exposing the sharp unnatural claws on their feet. Their hands had matching, dagger-like nails. Their eyes were ringed with black around the pupils. Signifying them for what they were. For what I was now. The hunters. Protectors of the city.

“This is where I leave you, Key. I will see you at dusk tomorrow night,” Zah said blankly and turned to leave.

Not Key, I thought. My name is Kericho. But I wasn’t supposed to remember my name. Or my family. Or anything other than a life of duty and war. But I remembered. I remembered everything.

Final Thoughts

If you liked this post, be sure to check out my post Fiction Friday #1.

Where did your imagination take you? Comment below!

Writing Tips: Why You Should Write Down Your Dreams

After a night of crazy dreams, I wrote them in my journal and thought, Wow, this would be a really great story. This isn’t the first time I’ve had this thought, and it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve used my dreams and nightmares to make stories.

Dreams can be incredibly helpful for writers. They expose us to strange scenarios. They take us on wild rides. But how they can they help our writing?

Dreams Are Great Sources of Writing Inspiration

Image by Ava Sol

You may have heard the story that J.K. Rowling first dreamt about the orphan boy with a lightning scar while she was on a train. A lot of other famous writers have dreamt about their books.

  • Charlotte Bronte
  • Stephen King
  • Mary Shelly
  • Stephanie Meyer

Inspiration can come from real life, but our dreams have the ability to take us to places we’ve never been before. Our dreams are an extension of our imagination. Sometimes they reach ideas we might never have gotten to during our waking hours. Why not use this to your advantage and use dreams as inspiration for your writing?

Dreams Help You Understand Your Life

Image by Robert Ruggiero

I’ve heard it said before that everything we dream is pieces of things we’ve seen or done before. According to the scientific research gathered by Caifang Zhu, “dreams are most often reasonable simulations of waking life that contain occasional unusual features in terms of settings, characters, or activities.”

Writing can complicate our lives and push our minds to the limits. And life is just kind of crazy! Dreams are a great way to sort out what we’re really worried about. By writing down your dreams, you’re dumping all of the scrambled events of your waking life down for you to examine.

While there might also be some great writing material, you’ll also be opening yourself up for writing beyond your own life. This is especially helpful for writers who create entire worlds and extensive characters.

Dreams Are Wild and Unpredictable — Perfect For Writer’s Block

Image by Rodion Kutsaev

It happens to us all. A certain plot point just won’t connect to the rest of the story. One of the best things you can do is let the text rest and go to sleep. Dreams have a way of unraveling complicated events in our life. If your writing consumes your thoughts, chances are you’ll end up dreaming something about it.

You can also look back on dreams you’ve written down. Sometimes they may spark an idea or even contain exactly what you’ve been looking for. Dreams are unpredictable and not linear. They leave room for you to plug in whatever your writing already contains, while also providing unexpected twists!

By starting to write your dreams out now, you’ll gain a larger collection of ideas to choose from.

What if I don’t dream much? you might ask.

Everyone dreams, but not everyone remembers what they dream about. The best thing you can do to help encourage your dream memory is to try to remember them right when you wake up and to write them down.

Dreams Can Open Up New Writing Doors

Image by Jan Tinneberg

As a fantasy writer, I’m constantly looking for new ideas to put into my books. I’m not naturally a horror writer, but I do have a lot of wild nightmares. Dreams are the inspiration for many scenes from my books, as well as my current project of stories based entirely on nightmares.

Dreams can also be a helpful nudge to try out a new genre. Even if you use them as writing prompts, you might be surprised where they take you.

If You’re Interested In Learning More About My Dream Stories

My stories based off dreams are available on Amazon Kindle for anyone to enjoy. Or you can check out the articles below to find out more about them.

“Bottlenecked” By Kristen Kois

“Red” By Kristen Kois

Final Thoughts

What about you? Do you use your dreams as inspiration? Have you ever considered writing them down? Share below!

Reviewing Restaurants In LA: Brasil Kiss Coffeebar

In the never-ending quest to find our favorite coffee shop in LA, we decided Brasil Kiss Coffeebar would be next on our list. Located at the west outskirts of Downtown, we took a short walk to our latest coffee adventure.

History of Brasil Kiss Coffeebar

Outside of Brasil Kiss Coffeebar

Brasil Kiss Coffeebar was first established in 2012 by Luciano of Sao Paulo as a mobile coffee shop. His shop revolves around the word “Ginga” which means absolutely bliss and happiness. To take life not too seriously. In DTLA they have a stationary store (where we went) which features tons of Brazilian coffees, teas, snacks, and desserts.

Experiencing Brasil Kiss Coffeebar

Sitting area at Brasil Kiss
The sitting area at Brasil Kiss

Brasil Kiss was full of poppy colors and fun pictures (as you can see with the pictures of dogs on the pillar). The high windows also let in a lot of nice natural light. The music playing was a little loud, but it was also ambient. Perfectly conducive for a work environment. We were greeted with friendly baristas, and our coffee came out in less than three minutes.

View of the cafe at Brasil Kiss
View of the cafe at Brasil Kiss

Evaluation of Brasil Kiss Coffeebar

I got a Latte with oat milk, and Mitchell got an Americano with almond milk. If you’re a frequent coffee getter, you might know that Americanos are made with espresso and water, leaving a little room for cream/milk at the top. Lattes are espresso and milk, making the color of the coffee much lighter as the ratio of milk to espresso is greater.

But as you can see in the pictures below, my latte was almost the same color as the Americano. It definitely tasted smoother, but I added more milk to it when we left. Still, it was delicious and pungent. I’ve never had Brazilian coffee before, so this was definitely a treat!

Prices weren’t too bad either. Plant milks are usually an upgrade. And though we got smalls, these would be larger than Grandes at Starbucks. All in all, it cost just over $10 for both of us.

Americano and Lattee
Latte (left) and Americano (right)
  • Design 5 out of 5
  • Ambience 4 out of 5
  • Tidiness 4 out of 5
  • Value for Money 4 out of 5
  • Service 5 out of 5
  • Variety 5 out of 5
  • Quality 3 out of 5

Though I’m being a bit picky on the coffee, I did enjoy my experience here. They have ton of fun treats and aren’t too expensive. I will definitely be back for an afternoon to work!

Final Thoughts

If You’d Like to Learn About More Food In LA, Check Out…

More Brasil Kiss Coffeebar Information

Mural at Brasil Kiss Coffeebar

You can check out their menu website here.

Store Location

1010 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90017

Store Hours

Mon-Fri: 7 am – 7 pm

Sat/Sun: 8 am – 5 pm

Writing Tips: 5 Tips For Writing a First Draft

1. Keep Moving Forward (Don’t Edit Prematurely)

The number one reason I hear when people talk about why they can’t write is, “I just can’t finish because I keep going back to edit what I’ve written.”

Editing your book before finishing a full draft is the worst idea for your writing process. Even if you have an outline, it’s unlikely you know everything that’s going to happen in the story. When you edit your first draft, it’s not a first draft anymore. But anything you write after the revision WILL be a first draft. It won’t seem to stand up to what you’ve revised. You’re trying to put fancy clothes on a skeleton and thinking you can pass it off as a person!

Over-editing is discouraging. It’s distracting. And it ruins most people’s writing processes.

At the beginning stage of your writing, you must KEEP WRITING. Don’t look back except to remember names and keep track of the plot.

Think Of Your First Draft As a Skeleton

Model of a skeleton
Image by Nhia Moua

Your first draft is the skeleton of your writing. Bare bones of plot, basic characters, bland action scenes. But they’re all there, written down.

Draft two will be your flesh and blood. You’ll add details, you’ll fix plot holes. You’ll bloat your writing until it’s fat and beautiful. Then draft three can be your trimming, grammar revisions, etc. You might have many more drafts than this. But draft one should always be your skeleton. Even if it has a ton of details, it will end up looking a lot different in the final draft.

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Just keep writing!

2. Write By Hand

Writing things down in a notebook
Image by Alejandro Escamilla

I know. I know. This one will be hard for some people. The first reason I encourage people to write their first draft out by hand is so it’s harder to go back and edit.

The second reason is that for most people, your brain thinks faster than you can hand write, but it thinks slower than you can type. While this may seem like a reason to type instead, typing your first draft can lead to some serious writer’s block.

If you feel like typing your first draft has been difficult, try writing by hand. Taking time to mull your words over can actually lead to some pretty decent writing.

3. Work On Characters On the Side

In my first draft, I let my characters run wild. They say and do things they would never actually say and do if I knew them better. But I’m just starting to get to know them. Instead of fighting over every word they say, I just keep writing everything that comes to mind.

Remember, corrections are for the next draft.

On the other hand, I don’t want to start the second draft without getting to know my characters on a deeper level. Sure, by the end of my first draft I’ve gotten to know them within the realm of the story. But what about their past? Their likes and dislikes?

Here is a starting list for character building. You can find details on this list by checking out the article “Writing Tips: 23 Questions For Character Building.”

23 Questions For Character Building

You can write each character’s miniature biography in a separate notebook or a word document. It’s great to work on this on the side of your actual writing (especially when you need a break), because it helps you get to know your characters as they’re developing on the page.

Also retconning is totally acceptable in your second draft.

4. Keep a Special Notepad Or Document For Ideas

Write your extra ideas down separately
Image by AbsolutVision

During the process of writing your first draft, you’ll have many ideas come to you. Ideas for this book. For possible other books. For the next scene. I have a tendency to write them in the margins of my notebook, but these get easily lost.

The best thing to do is to start a Word document, or you can use your character notebook. Make a special section for ideas, people, and places in your story. This way you’ll have an easy reference guide if you forget something. Or you won’t forget what the next chapter is about!

5. Share Ideas Not Writing

Talking about ideas with a group of people
Image by Priscilla Du Preez

Your first draft is going to be one of your most vulnerable pieces of writing. That’s why it’s important to share ideas not the actual writing. The ideas are the most important aspect during the first draft. The actual written words are not. Talk with friends, share it with a family member, teacher, or mentor. Collaborate with other writers online. Ask questions. But keep writing too!

Research After You Write

Don’t worry too much about doing research for draft one. At this point you’re just trying to drag characters along for a wild ride. Sharing ideas with people you trust can help work out basic kinks. Plus they might know about some topics you’re unsure about.

Collaborating ideas can get you more excited to write. If you find the right people, it can be an amazing experience to gain new insight into your writing. I’ve come up with some crazy ideas by talking about my books with writers and readers I trust.

Final Thoughts

What are your struggles when writing a first draft? What habits have you formed to get a first draft complete? Comment below!

For More Writing Articles Check Out…

Writing Tips: 23 Questions For Character Building

Character building is more than just appearances. Here are a list of 23 questions to ask for every character you’re writing — for any genre. As well as some examples to help get your thought process flowing.

1. What Is Their Earliest Memory?

  • with family
  • with friends
  • with pets
  • with favorite toys

2. What Are Their Greatest Fears?

  • dying
  • failure
  • losing loved ones
  • spiders
  • helicopters

3. What Nervous Ticks Do They Have?

  • runs hand through hair
  • picks skin around nails
  • stutters
  • blinks too much

4. What Was Their Homelife Like?

  • divorced parents
  • no parents
  • parents were good
  • lived with someone else
  • lived with friends
  • good homelife or bad homelife

5. What Do They Smell Like?

  • perfume/cologne
  • outdoors
  • stinky
  • baked goods
  • campfire
  • spices

6. What Do They Keep In Their Pocket/Bags And Why?

  • family heirlooms
  • trinket
  • trash
  • receipts
  • writing utensil
  • small pet

7. What Kind Of Clothes Do They Wear?

  • latest fashion
  • rugged, torn, worn
  • second hand from family member
  • hipster
  • minimalist
  • color palette (earth tones, black, rainbow)
  • Patterns (stripes, plain, plaid, polka dots)

8. What Was Their Childhood Like?

  • good/bad in school
  • friends/friendless
  • explorer/homebody
  • deaths in family
  • always getting into trouble

9. What Sleeping Habits Do They Have?

  • never sleeps
  • sleeps in every day
  • has to sleep in a nice bed
  • can’t sleep with pillows
  • snores

10. What Biases Do They Hold Against People/Animals/Government?

  • traumatic experiences
  • prejudices
  • racial thoughts
  • painful memories
  • hateful feelings

11. What Is Their Myers Briggs Acronym?

  • Pretend you’re the character and take the test at this site
  • introvert/extrovert (focusing attention)
  • sensing/intuition (taking in information)
  • thinking/feeling (making decisions)
  • judging/perceiving (dealing with the world)

12. How Do They Feel About Money?

  • giver
  • saver
  • spender
  • stingy

13. What Is Their Biggest Flaw?

  • racist
  • hurtful
  • aggressive
  • aloof
  • forgetful
  • bitter

14. What Are Their Greatest Strengths?

  • courageous
  • helpful
  • dependable
  • special skills (SEE NUMBER 22)

15. What Does Their Body Look Like?

  • hair color, length, texture
  • face shape
  • eye shape, color
  • skin color, texture, ailments
  • height
  • weight
  • build (athletic, scrawny, chubby)

16. What Makes Them Angry?

  • injustice
  • cruelty
  • money
  • love

17. What Makes Them Sad?

  • past relationships
  • death
  • life
  • family
  • weather

18. What Do They Eat?

  • only meat
  • vegetarian
  • omnivore
  • vegan
  • only things from nature
  • only one food group

19. What Are They Worried About?

  • the future
  • the past
  • the present
  • their family
  • their lover
  • their money

20. What Is Their Spirit Animal?

  • birds (hawks, owls, eagles, flamingos, hummingbirds)
  • reptiles (geckos, snakes, turtles, alligators, chameleons)
  • fish (clownfish, bass, catfish, stingrays)
  • mammals (wolves, horses, cows, pigs, dolphins, cats, dogs, platypuses)
  • insects (ladybugs, bees, butterflies, ants)

21. How Do They Feel About Love?

  • distrustful
  • slow to develop feelings
  • quick to fall in love
  • love everyone they see
  • unable to love
  • burned by love

22. What Special Skills Do They Have?

  • painting
  • singing
  • dancing
  • photography
  • skiing
  • running
  • writing poetry
  • playing an instrument
  • gymnastics
  • superpowers

23. What Is Their Greatest Failure?

  • financial
  • family
  • friends
  • work
  • hobbies
  • flunking out of school
  • giving up on someone/something

What are some questions you use to develop characters in your writing? Comment below!

Bonus: If You Liked This Article Check Out…

Reviewing Restaurants In LA: Krimsey’s Cajun Kitchen

Krimsey’s Logo

Back in Indiana, there’s a restaurant called Chicory Cafe, which served New-Orleans style eats. Not only did Mitchell and I miss their fun food but also the little things like their cucumber water and atmosphere of hanging out and playing games.

Little did we know that we would visit the Los Angeles equivalent when we took a visit to Krimsey’s Cajun Kitchen.

History of Krimsey’s

Krimsey’s motto is “Cajun tradition and explosive flavor.” Serving up options for folks who are vegan, gluten-free, or sensitive to onions, this might be one of the only Cajun restaurants in the world that puts aside expectations to better suit the community around them.

From Louisiana to Los Angeles, Krimsey’s brings the power of Cajun cooking to the west coast. This completely woman-owned business prides itself on having strong values from supporting animal rights to supporting foundations such as The Trevor Project.

Experiencing Krimsey’s

Located in North Hollywood, Krimsey’s surprised me with its rustic, cozy interior. I loved the mismatched, wooden tables and knick-knacks hanging from the walls. Easy listening 60s and 70s music radiates from the speakers.

In the corner is a stack of board games a table can borrow to enhance the dining experience. At the bar, where you order your food, they offer a phone babysitting service. So you could hang out phone-free with your party. The atmosphere is thoroughly thought out and organized. The servers are very kind and helpful, joking with you as you ordered your food and tried to pronounce “jambalaya” the right way. Even their menu has some sass.

A snip-it from their menu.

Evaluation of Krimsey’s

We started our meal with some Southern Hushpuppies, which are balls of corn and onion bread. They came with a side of Cajun Ranch dipping sauce, which was tangy and complimented the moist but dense texture of the bread balls.

For our first entree we had the Trinity Red Beans & Rice + Sausage. With a combination of slow-cooked red beans, onion, celery, and green peppers, all surrounding a pile of fluffy rice, this dish was a beauty to see served. The veggie sausage had great, realistic texture. But the rice and beans were a bit bland for my taste. You could certainly spice it up with some hot sauce, but I wasn’t really getting much actual spice from the dish. Presentation was gorgeous though.

Trinity Red Beans & Rice +Sausage
Trinity Red Beans & Rice + Sausage

We also shared the Rainbow Pride Poboy, which was a combination of golden fried pieces of heart of palm, rich house sauce, spinach, carrots, mayo, and tomato all (barely) stuffed inside a white toasted roll. You might be wondering, where is the sandwich? It took us several minutes to get a hold on this baby, but no complaints for having too much filling! The best part of this dish is that they donate 10% of the proceeds to The Trevor Project, which supports LGBTQ+ teenagers.

The heart of palm bits were crispy, rich delicacies, and the house-made chips were perfectly seasoned. Not much could have made this sandwich better. The tastes and textures were right on.

Rainbow Pride Poboy
Rainbow Pride Poboy

For dessert we had their popular French Quarter Beignets, which are basically airy pillows of fried dough topped with a dusting of powdered sugar. Let’s just say they were gone too fast too take a picture. Below is what they look like. Imagine a square elephant ear that explodes powdered sugar all around your mouth.

They were deliciously warm, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and not too sweet.

We weren’t brave enough this time to try their brownie-stuffed beignet, but boy that looked like a wild ride.

French Quarter Beignets
French Quarter Beignets // Image from Kimseys.com
  • Design 4 out of 5
  • Ambience 5 out of 5
  • Tidiness 4 out of 5
  • Value for Money 5 out of 5
  • Service 5 out of 5
  • Variety 4 out of 5
  • Quality 4 out of 5

The only disappointing aspect of this experience was that brunch is only served on the weekends. We’ll have to go back sometime and try it out!

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More Krimsey’s Information

You can visit their website here.

Store Location

12900 Victory Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91606

Store Hours

Monday – Thursday: 11:00 am – 10:00 pm

Friday: 11:00 am – 10:30 pm

Saturday: 8:30 am – 10:30 pm (brunch 8:30 am – 2:00 pm)

Sunday: 8:30 am – 10:00 pm (brunch 8:30 am – 2:00 pm)

Fiction Friday #1: Flash Fantasy Writing Prompt

I thought it would be interesting to start doing a “fiction” Friday, where I freewrite from a creative prompt for 30 minutes. I’ve posted the prompt below. If you’d like to write one too, by all means do!

Comment below where your imagination took you!

Image by Hasan Almasi

The Prompt

Not a single gun was fired during that battle. Not a single knife was pulled. And yet, it left hundreds dead. (From the writersencyclopedia.com)

The Writing

Josiah knew that once he set one bare foot on the battleground, it would all be over. He glanced at the woman holding out his leather armor.

“Is all that really necessary?” he asked.

She nodded, face blank. “You don’t know what will happen to you before they’re taken out. Someone could let loose an arrow. Do you really want to be in cotton when that happens?”

Josiah pinched his shirt and shook his head. “It doesn’t really matter, does it? When it’s over, they’re going to get rid of me.”

The woman, Kellana, placed his armor on the chair with care. The only thing missing was the boots. She sighed.

“I won’t let that happen Sir Josiah. You know that. We keep each other alive.” Her arm touched the long sleeve of her dress as she said this.

Not forever, Josiah thought. Instead, he walked to the chair and picked up the leather chest piece.

“Looks a bit big,” he said. He ran his hand along the front. It was worn and chipped. Also stained with something dark. He didn’t need an active imagination to guess what it could be.

Kellana frowned. “They said it was the smallest one they had. I can go back and ask — ”

Josiah was already slipping it over his head and fumbling with the strings to tighten it. The straps tangled with his fingers when the armor was halfway over his shoulders.

“Is this what it feels like to wear one of your corsets?” he said with a jagged grin over the top of the head hole.

Kellana’s eyes went colder, but her lips formed a thin smile. “It’s been a while. I hardly remember.”

She reached forward to help him and watched him flinch when her skin made contact with his. It had been seven years, but he still wasn’t used to the feeling of another person’s skin.

Kellana pretended she hadn’t noticed the jerk and twist of his face as she pulled the armor down over his head. Within just a few minutes she had him buckled up. The armor barely looked too big anymore.

“You’re good at this,” he said. There was resignation in his voice mixed with a drop of fear. His curls had been mused from the excitement and sweat beaded against his thick, untamed eyebrows.

Kellana smiled and put a hand against his armored chest. “It was mandatory in my court for any member of the royal family to secure the guards’ armor before battle. Good luck, they said.”

“Who said?” Josiah whispered.

She patted him lightly twice before moving back to the flap of the tent.

“The horn will sound soon,” Josiah sound. Her words and proximity had left him breathless only for a moment. “You should leave.”

She inhaled in a movement to speak. But then she turned and stumbled out of the tent as if she was tripping over her own unspoken words.

Josiah managed the rest of his armor by himself, a much easier process when he could see the straps he was tightening. His heart was beating violently against the skin of his chest. The armor wouldn’t protect him if his body turned against him now.

Just as he slipped off his shoes, a horn sounded in the distance. Did the captain really manage to put holes in all of the soldiers’ boots in the night? Or was he just too impatient to wait another day?

You’ll die one way or another after this. It was a strangely comforting thought. After years of damage, to finally be free…

Josiah pushed the tent flap aside, feeling the earth crinkle under his toes. He eyed the forest behind his tent. The trees were filled with soldiers. All of them were probably staring right back at him through the shelter of their leafy camouflage.

He turned his back on them and started jogging away. The armor weighed his body down, but years of traveling on his own in the wilderness gave him the physical edge needed to keep up a consistent pace.

Far in the distance, he could already see a long line of bodies, marching forwards. Towards him. He twisted his head around, the helmet obscuring part of his vision. Already the ground was rotting where he had stepped. Already the ground ahead of him was starting to yellow. But how far ahead would it travel? How fast?

An arrow shot into the ground next to him. Close enough that he could feel the fwip as it plunged into the earth.

Then he could hear the screaming. He squinted at the lines of soldiers as they crumpled to the ground in pain. As their hands touched the earth, their skin broke out into vicious red hives. They yanked off their helmets and threw them to the ground. Some started tearing off their armor.

It was a natural instinct. One that would quicken the process even more. Several more arrows hit the ground next to Josiah. He had stopped in his tracks, even though he knew he should continue forward. His breath came out in white, opaque puffs. Thick droplets of sweat fell off his chin.

An arrow came down in his blind spot and struck his shoulder. It pierced through the armor. He could feel the point dig into his skin.

Josiah bent to his knee and pulled the wooden stake out with a single yank. The wood rotted in his grasp before he could toss it aside. His vision was started to distort. The colors of the field became saturated with unnatural colors.

Too much. Too many.

There came the sound of a second horn from behind him, but he barely heard it. He only heard the continuous thudding of the enemy’s bodies crumple to the ground like overripe fruit falling from their branches.

Writing Tips: Why You Should Use Ugly Character Descriptions

I recently read the lines, “she bit her cinnamon raisin toast with her large front teeth” from The Magicians by Lev Grossman. How visual! How simple! And yet I could picture the scene as both repulsive and annoying.

This got me thinking. What if more people used ugly, aggressive adjectives in their writing? Is there a reason why we should?

To Get People’s Attention

Dictionary focusing on the word focus

So often I find myself skimming pages in books if the writing is generic. It’s easy to write familiar adjectives. Here are just a few that I came up with.

Her face was red with anger.

He eyed her suspiciously.

The small girl was crying as she held her melted ice cream.

Or imagine that Lev Grossman had actually written, “She ate her toast.”

That wouldn’t have gotten my attention. I would have barely noticed it at all. Sometimes we want details to fade into the background. Other times, we want to create stand-out descriptions that make people think.

If you want people to actually digest what you’re writing, to be engaged with what you’re writing, surprise them. SURPRISE THEM!Give them the opposite of what the expect.

This isn’t to say you have to make characters do what they wouldn’t do. You’re only using more vibrant words to describe what’s happening.

To Describe Personality Better

Image by Houcine Ncib

In Lev Grossman’s simple example, you learn a lot more about the mother than if he had written “she ate her toast.” What are some things we learn?

  • She likes cinnamon raisin toast
  • She has big front teeth
  • She might look like a beaver?
  • The main character finds her eating repulsive
  • The main characters thinks her teeth are too big

Some of these might be a stretch, but they’re also what came to my mind when I was reading. Writing stronger, braver descriptions gives your reader more to think about beyond what you’ve written on the page. They start asking questions. They start wondering about relationships and the reliability of the narrator. All of this is unconscious for the most part, unless you have really curious readers. But pushing the interest of characters pushes the story to the next level.

To Ground Your Writing In the Real World

Person holding nature
Image by Ravi Roshan

I love creating beautiful, nearly perfect characters. It’s just so alluring and captivating. And in YA, it’s almost a must. But after a while, it becomes a little creepy or bland. It also makes these characters so far removed from our world that it becomes hard to relate or empathize with them. A subtle trick that can help is writing descriptions that make the characters’ flaws show.

Nervous ticks, anxious movements, clumsy actions. These all help to ground your characters as real people. Even if they are darn near perfect, or at least perceived as perfect, readers should still see through the cracks once in a while.

For example:

a) He placed the breakfast plate in front of her and grinned with perfect teeth. —>

As he placed the breakfast plate in front of her, his hands trembled. His easy smile of white teeth contrasted against the wild panic in his eyes.

b) She brushed her hair behind her ear and smiled. — >

She brushed her hair behind her ear but several strands stuck up in an odd angle.

It’s endearing when characters you’ve fallen in love with do quirky or embarrassing things. It also gives your other characters something to react to. Will they ask why he’s so nervous? Will they tell her that her hair is sticking up?

To Make Your Writing Stronger

Image by Daniel Schludi

Challenge yourself to be creative, especially in otherwise dull moments in your writing. Eating toast doesn’t have to be like riding a roller coaster, but maybe it feels like that to one of your characters.

Let’s look at those examples from above again.

Her face was red with anger. — >

Her cheeks puffed out while flames of purple blush spread across her skin.

He eyed her suspiciously. — >

He cocked his head as his eyes scanned her like she was a rotting piece of meat.

The small girl was crying as she held her melted ice cream. — >

The smallest girl in the room choked on her hysteric laughter when the ice cream melted over her hands.

Are you more interested? Do you want to know their stories more?

The goal for every writer is to keep their readers reading their work. Let’s push ourselves to create more dynamic — even scary or ugly —descriptions. Life is weird and quirky. Our writing can be too.

I would love to see your own examples of the sentences above. Comment with your creative ideas!

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Writing Tips: 3 Reasons You Should End Your Book Series

10 Things That Will Surprise You About Los Angeles

What do you expect Los Angeles to be like? Seeing stars on every corner? The streets to be like a film set? I know that my first impression of LA was nothing like I expected. There are small things like how fruit vendors are to LA like hot dog vendors are to New York. But there’s much more to LA than most people realize.

1. Hiking Opportunities Are Abundant

Angeles National Forest mountains
Angeles National Forest

Hiking might not be the first thing you think of in LA, but there are tons of parks and forests where you can explore the desert and mountain areas. It’s also a great break from the inner-city life. From hiking to the Hollywood Sign at Griffith Park to mountain climbing at Angeles National Forest to rock scaling at Vasquez Rocks, there are endless trails to trek.

2. Each District Is an Entire New World

Alleyway in DTLA
Snapshot view in Downtown LA

Exploring the different parts of the city has also been exciting. What I didn’t realize was that there are actual Districts such as Jewelry District, Arts District, Fashion District. Not to mention the sections such as Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Little Mexico, and more. There are so many little worlds to explore that it will take years before I see it all.

3. There Are Some Really Nice People

Mural of two people in DTLA
Mural Downtown LA

Coming from the Midwest, people often told me that other states are rude and unkind. That hasn’t been my experience here. I’ve had great customer service wherever I go, and strangers have also been pretty nice on public transportation and walking Downtown. Sure, some people are just doing their own thing. But it’s nothing like I expected. Maybe it’s the weather?

4. The Main Tourist Sites Are Not That Great

The Last Bookstore DTLA
The Last Bookstore, Downtown LA

My first time at Hollywood Boulevard was a nightmare of crowds and pricey gimmicks. Though it was fun to see familiar names of stars on the ground, it was not fun to see all the trash and get attacked by vicious smells. Instead, I’ve enjoyed less congested tourist areas like The Last Bookstore and Donut Friend.

5. Making Eye Contact Is Unusual

Image by Alexandru Zdrobau

It’s pretty common to look people in the eyes and smile as you pass them in Indiana. In LA, I’ve found that this can attract some pretty interesting and unwarranted attention from people. While averting eye contact could be considered rude in Indiana, it seems like just a part of life in LA. Rather than an unkind gesture, it’s more like giving people their space.

6. Public Transportation Is Easy and Reliable

Image by Fabrizio Verrecchia

People complain about public transportation all the time, but LA has been pretty consistent. I’ve only had one bus break down so far, and they’re almost always on time. The Metro also has killer promotional videos, which you can check out here or see the video below. Trust me, it’s worth the watch.

7. It’s Not Really That Expensive (Besides Rent)

View from our apartment, Downtown LA

People were warning me that the cost of living was terrible out here. Really, it’s terrible everywhere. The rent is expensive, yes, but the groceries cost about the same — sometimes even cheaper if you go to local markets. Gas is expensive, but if you use public transportation and walk, you’ll save a ton of money. If you’re smart about your expenses, you can manage.

8. People Wear Heavy Clothes In Mild Weather

Image by Karen Cantu Q

Compared to Indiana, the weather here is more consistent and less humid. But as soon as it gets below 75 degrees, you’ll see people in scarves and heavy coats. It took me about a week to realize I was one of around 10 people wearing shorts out in public. The rest were probably tourists.

9. Not Everyone Is Super Fit and Airbrushed

Image by Sandra Gabriel

I was intimidated by the thought of the beautiful people in LA. But really, they’re all just people. Especially in the Downtown area, there’s a mixture of blue collars, tourists, and city-dwellers. Everyone wears what they wear. Not many people look like they came straight off the set of a movie. No movie star sightings yet (fingers cross)!

10. It Was Easy to Find a Community

Snapshot of my community at Majority Denim

In just a month, I’ve found a community of people to collaborate and work with. People who care about the arts and helping people in the area. Not only do I work in this building, but I also go to church and random events there as well. It’s quickly become my second home. There’s also ways to join like-minded groups of people on a website called Meetup.com

Final Thoughts

What are some interesting things you’ve learned about your town over the years? Leave a comment below!

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Why Marianne Should Be Your Post Stranger Things, Spooky Season Binge on Netflix

(NO SPOILERS)

Marianne is an 8-episode show on Netflix about author Emma Larsimon confronting the terrors and trauma of her childhood by returning to her hometown. Only to discover that her evil character might actually be real. During this time, she is reunited with her group of friends and faced with pure evil. With similarities to Stranger Things and It, Marianne is full of jump scares and humor.

What? Yes. Humor too.

Oh, and it’s all in French. But don’t worry. There’s subtitles and an English dub (if you’re into that).

If you’re looking for something to get your Spooky Season started, Marianne is the perfect show to watch.

It’s Quirky and Bold

Firstly, the format of the show is unlike any other in the genre. Throughout the show, you’ll see cut scenes to Emma’s book, which is actually corresponding to what she is going through now. Each episode starts with a quote from books and poems.

The humor is also on point. With a combination of goofy music and over-the-top dramatic actions, you can’t help but let a laugh out. But don’t let these moments fool you. Putting your guard down is exactly what they want you to do. For as often as things get a little silly, there’s twice as many things going terribly wrong.

The makers of this show were not afraid to try new things with camera angles and cuts. It’s refreshing to see horror not take itself too seriously. And the absurdity of some situations only compounds on the horror later.

It’s Full of Interesting Characters

I never expected to start watching this show and feel like I’m watching Friends by the end, but I grew so attached to the characters. Even angsty Emma herself.

Each friend has a unique story and personality that makes them interact with Emma differently. But they also care about each other.

And if you love Stranger Things, Episode 5 will probably be your favorite.

Besides the friends, there’s also Emma’s parents, her assistant Cammie, the inspector, and a friend’s mom. You might think this is a bit wild for a small town adventure. But really, each piece connects so well. Each character has a conclusive or terrifying ending to their story.

It’s Well Written

It’s horror. You think you know when something is going to jump out because you’ve seen it all before? Think again. Whenever we thought we knew what was coming, we were instantly proven wrong. Again and again, the show takes you on a journey you never expected. And yet it all makes sense.

The story becomes larger than just a small town horror. But it also stays practical…in a quirky horror-fantasy way. The Baddie was motivated and powerful, but our heroes were also smart and quick on their feet.

It’s Actually Terrifying

Combining dream sequences with prolonged tension, Marianne produces scares unlike a majority of the scary movies out there today. For instance, several of the scariest scenes in the show are in bright and shiny daylight. Knowing full well that things aren’t hiding in the dark, the show still manages major jump scares.

You also care about the characters, unlike most scary shows and movies. Even if they are flawed people, you still don’t want anything to happen to them. With that in mind, you’re constantly on the edge of your seat when your favorite character is face to face with the bad guy (or girl).

Final Thoughts

As someone who loves the horror/fantasy genre, I was pleasantly surprised with this show. Shout out to Stephen King’s Twitter for the recommendation.

What are some of your favorite scary movies? Post some below, and I’ll be sure to check them out!

Do You Have the Right to Follow Your Dreams: Contemplating You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero

I recently finished the book, You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness by Jen Sincero, in which she motivates people to overcome the mindset of “can’t” to manifest the greatness of “I did.” As someone who desperately has been trying to figure out her financial situation, this book offers what seems like an outrageous solution: we can change our reality when we change our mindset.

You might live in a different country where following your dreams and passions isn’t a priority. Even in America, where we’re known for being people like that, to me it’s always been a fight between my dreams and reality. I don’t know how I feel about manifestation and the law of attraction. But I do know that I work hard and believe that stranger things have happened than a young girl from Indiana making it in the whole new world of Los Angeles.

Do we really have the right to follow our dreams?

Can we really overcome our obstacles by changing our thoughts?

Loans, Debt, and Fear

Image by Sharon McCutcheon

College presents problems for many people pursing their dream jobs. I have over 17,000 dollars in student loan debt from going to a private college that didn’t really give me the tools I needed to do my job. But what I haven’t been taught, I’ve been learning on my own.

The class of 2018 (my class) graduated with an average of 29,800 dollars in student loan debt. How can we follow any kind of dream when we are under the crippling weight of paying of loans and we can’t even find jobs? I can already feel the fear bubbling up inside of me.

Our greatest fears are the greatest waste of time.

Jen Sincero, You Are a Badass

Sometimes doubt tells me that it would be selfish to do what I’m passionate about for a career. Who am I to follow my dreams? But I was born with the passion to help people through my writing and art.

This is the starting point. Choosing to believe your talents are worth sharing with the world.

Making Money Over Following Passions

Image by Thought Catalog

When I told people I was an English and Art major, they looked at me sideways and kind of muttered under their breath, “Good luck living on the streets.”

I always found this kind of odd. There were plenty of authors and illustrators who were doing just fine. Although I know there were probably just as many who were not doing fine at all. What was the difference between these people? Talent? Mindset? Determination?

We are drawn to things we’re naturally good at (which counts more than having a graduate degree in the subject, BTW)

Jen Sincero, You Are a Badass

All my life, I’ve rejected the idea that we can’t make money doing what we love. I’ve watched so many people give up what they consider hobbies to pursue a career in a field they don’t really care about.

I’ve also heard incredible stories about people dropping out of college or not being accepted in their desired field, just to become prolific in the area within a few years. Are these flukes?

We choose to continue following our passions, even when it’s hard.

Jobs and Salaries

Image by Kate Sade

Motivated by fear of losing a place to live, I applied to more and more jobs that were further from what I actually want to be doing.

There was a small voice in my head saying, “You’ve already applied for the job you’re going to get.” But it was easier and safer to just keep applying. Turns out that little voice was right.

The job I now have is still in the preliminary internship stage. Even though it’s something I love to do (graphic design and writing), I’m not getting enough money to live.

What do we do in tough situations like this? I could easily quit and find another job that pays, but the promise of this job that both pays and is what I want to do… Is that worth struggling for two months? With the weight of my debt hanging over my shoulders, it becomes easier to hide away from opportunities that could change my life.

Look for some opportunity or person to make an appearance that’s not in your usual path of income. You are leaping into a new reality here — it’s not your job to know the how; it’s your job to ask for what you want and wait to discover the how, then take action.

Jen Sincero, You Are a Badass

Pursuing our dreams often becomes overshadowed by our situation and fears.

Privilege and Cycles of Wealth

Image by Wei Ding

My family was privileged to have a house in a nice neighborhood and enough money to go out to eat once a week. There are many people who have more money, and a lot more people have less.

Is it possible to overcome our situations by just being the last one standing? Sincero makes the point that people from wealthy families have fallen into poverty, and people from poverty have risen up into wealth. How many people just stay where they are?

If you’re serious about changing your life, you’ll find a way. If you’re not, you’ll find an excuse.

Jen Sincero, You Are a Badass

Money talk can be difficult for people. We have deep-seeded feelings about wealth that I believe can impact how we treat people and use our money.

But really, money is a tool, and just like any other tool, money can be used for evil or for great things.

Making the World a Better Place

Image by Sasha Freemind

I want to change the world for the better. I know a lot of other people do too. What if we lived in a world where people could do what they were always meant to do — and they got paid for it too?

You are the only you there is and ever will be. Do not deny the world its one and only chance to bask in your brilliance.

Jen Sincero, You Are a Badass

If anything, this book has helped me change my mindset about myself. I do believe that I was created with a unique purpose. And I believe you were too.

Do you have dreams you want to follow? Do you think it’s possible to achieve greatness in this world?

Bonus: For More On Jen Sincero…

Check out my book review of You Are a Badass At Making Money.