Review: Switched by Amanda Hocking


11457525

I had a full volume edition of the Trylle trilogy sitting on my TBR shelf for years. A beautiful and thick volume, I really don’t know why it took me so long to dive in. When I finally got to reading the book, I devoured all three installments!

In the trilogy, we follow Wendy Everly. In the first book, Switched, she is seventeen and has a really hard time fitting in at school and with life in general. She’s always been different from other people, never made any friends, had trouble finding her place in the world—because it turns out she’s not from our world.

Wendy’s a Changeling, switched with a human child by the Trylle (a tribe of “trolls” who are more like faeries than trolls we think when we hear the word.) She’s not just any Changeling, though; she’s the daughter of the Trylle queen, Elora, and is one day going to inherit the kingdom.

When she is found by Finn, a tracker sent to bring back Changelings from the human world, she’s taken to the equivalent of a Trylle palace. She is now living a life of luxury, preparing to one day be queen—which means changing her behavior and how she sees the world.

She learns about Trylle history, society, tradition, even their powers. For example, Wendy has the power of persuasion; if she concentrates hard enough, she can make a human do what she wants without saying a word.

Although at times I found it hard to figure out the ages of the characters, I very much enjoyed the story. It had a light, faery-tale feel to it; the writing is not difficult to read, and its pace is ideal. These books are page-turners, but I think Switched was the best; in this book, we are getting to know Wendy and learning about this new world with her.

I found myself drawn to her personal conflict; her “host mother,” the one who was supposed to have raised her, tried to kill her as a child, thinking she was a monster. That woman, Kim, wound up in a mental institution for it, but she knew all along that Wendy wasn’t her child, because when she was pregnant the ultrasounds said her child would be a boy.

Later when Wendy meets her real mother, Elora, she finds a cold and stern woman who seems incapable of affection. Wendy feels alone and unwanted by the most important person in her life, who for most of the first book judges her, making her feel inadequate. She finds company with her new Trylle friends, but misses her “host brother” Matt and her aunt Maggie, the only two people who treated her like family.

I read Switched twice in order to review it properly. The second time I was moved by Wendy’s story just as much as the first. As a whole, the Trylle series will remain one of my favorites; it’s not a heavy read, and it’s one that touches our hearts. We want to see Wendy happy. We sympathize with her, rooting for her to the very end.

Though Switched was my favorite, all the books should be read in order so you can immerse yourself in the world of Forening. It was lovely to experience this faery tale, one vivid and thorough that made me want more the moment I finished.

If you like faery tales, read the Trylle series. It’s a must for anyone who’s interested in folklore, Changelings, trolls, and faeries!

Guest Post: A Little Bit of Everything Gets You Nowhere


nowhere

Jack of All Trades, master of none, that’s how it goes. Right? How do we know what our calling is when we have so many?

I studied Fine Art in college. I focused on painting. But I never find myself able to commit to any one idea.

When I moved to Germany, my new group of friends asked me about my art all the time because that’s how we had met, through art. I knew enough to never admit you’re an artist because that’s a really arrogant thing to do. But I meant it.  I’m not an artist.

Artists have passion for their work, and me? I’ll work if you threaten me, or give me really pretty male models to work with. I can still remember a time after picking my major where I sat and thought, what did I do? I have two artist friends who I consider close, no matter where they live. Both are artists at their very core. One of them, listened to me talk about just why I’m not an artist.

“I know how to come up with nice compositions, and I know color theory backwards and forwards, and I know how to get good grades in art school,” I told him “But I don’t have a passion for it, and if I have something to say, I’d rather use my writing to get the points across.” I felt oddly respected by my good pal after we had that conversation. He told me that’s fine, and that he appreciated that I could say that about myself. When I told my other friend the same, he just told me I didn’t work enough. I didn’t work on my art enough.

So what’s the story. Does passion inspire work or does work breed passion?

I thought I had passion because I wanted to see my characters on canvas. The Jack of All Trades in me half assed the work I could have been doing in university because the passion was displaced. I find myself doing things like this all the time. The next project for me is sculpting BJD Dolls and taking commissions for other writer’s characters. Let’s hope for the best.

But even now, my passions are slipping and sliding all over the place.  I’m finishing up a manuscript based on characters I’ve loved for years. My darlings. But I keep finding more and more projects to fulfill my time.

I’m curating a book of short stories called Crows on Heartstrings and am completely immersed with corralling the artists and writers, talking about the business behind marketing and selling a book, trying to find funding, talking about the layout and cover. Does that mean I am meant to be a curator rather than a writer? I’m not giving my book the attention it deserves and I feel like I’m not doing anything of any importance with it.

The answer is no. I don’t think that by being a bit of a Jack of All Trades I’m sacrificing the integrity of one project over another.

Learn to distinguish between the excitement of a new project and true passion. It’s easy to get distracted with shiny new toys disguised as new projects. It’s okay to be passionate about more than one new idea. Please, keep those juices flowing and keep sharing your creativity in whichever means it chooses to manifest.

The only thing you need to remember is to finish what you started. If you find yourself drifting off as I am, remind yourself just why you loved your project in the first place. Don’t be afraid of scrapping everything and starting again. But, be wary of the infinite loop of perfectionism. Don’t settle for a little bit of everything. Don’t stop until you’ve completely indulged yourself in everything and reveled in the success of finishing all your projects as they come.

For me, I want to be a writer. I want to write stories and bring characters to life. I do that most comfortably with writing. But being a Jack of All Trades, if I can call myself that, has forced me to see the world in a more well rounded manner. If anything, it enhances my work.


aubreyAubrey Meeks is a writer, editor, and for lack of a better word, artist, from New York City. She is currently working on the (hopefully) final draft of her manuscript Archer and the Lust Boys for #NaNoWriMo2015 keep updated with her progress with her on twitter @aubreymeeksart.

Crows on Heartstrings, her next project, is a collection of short stories featuring 13 artists illustrating 13 doomed love stories. Keep posted with all her work on aubreymeeksart.com!

 

Learning to Love Your Writing


lovewriting

As creatives, we never seem to be finished with our projects. Most writers find it difficult to read their work after publication, because we are harsh critics. It doesn’t matter how many times people tell us they enjoyed the story–we always find something in our work to criticize.

I found that to be the case with Dissonance. For most of the summer after publishing, I was unable to look at the story. Five years of rewriting improved the book, but also had a negative effect: I failed to see its positive qualities. I had to be forced to quit editing and move on.

There’s good news, though: Time fixes that.

Yesterday I picked up my novel and read it one more time. I needed to refresh my memory to prepare for revising the sequel in December. I still found things I’d scrupulously change, but also saw improvement.

My writing has gotten better in the six months since releasing Dissonance. I spent my summer reading and writing, getting critique from peers, investing time and energy to grow in the craft.

Dissonance isn’t perfect, but today I can finally say I like it. I know book two, Serenade, will be better–because we’re always improving in our art. This was my first novel and I’m happy with the effort I put in it.

I look forward to one day reading the series and seeing my own progress.

That’s the great thing about art: We are constantly improving. We practice until someday we become a “favorite author,” or even make the New York Times. Those things might be fun, but I think what’s important is that we’re satisfied with our own effort.

We must find the ability to smile at our manuscript and show it off with pride.

Again: Time helps with this. I fell in love with my first book because I moved on and started a new one. I took my mind off Dissonance long enough for it to change from work-in-progress in my eyes and become a book. If I’d spent these months staring at Dissonance and not writing new stories, how could I see my progress?

It’s impossible not to be your own critic, but don’t dwell all the time on how you could be better. Instead, reward yourself for the things you’ve accomplished and go work on something else.

I learned this year that only through practice will I grow in confidence and start to really love my stories. Dissonance is only my first book, and in ten years I’ll be so much better! But I won’t dwell on that. Instead, I’ll enjoy the experience of writing, telling stories in a way only I can.

How do you handle moments when your writing feels awful, despite all the revisions? How do you value and embrace the process of improving in your art form?

Review: Blood and Water by Briana Morgan


Final-Front-Book-Cover

In this fast paced and appropriately sickening novel, London has been struck by a plague—people cough up blood to their deaths. Our main character, Jay, finds himself in a dreadful situation: He’s fallen ill but managed to keep it a secret to not worry his sister.

But his plans to keep what little peace that remains in their household are shattered when he finds out his sister’s sick, too. They have both fallen ill with this plague that took their parents, and no one knows a cure. There are only speculations that a doctor in France can help them.

Speculation is not much, but they have nothing else to cling to; along with two of their close friends, they make a journey to France on foot in search of the cure, leaving behind everything they’ve ever known. It’s all been tainted with bad memories, anyway.

It’s a heart-racing journey in which we see Jay struggle with his fear for Maia’s health, his dread for the future, but to make matters worse he has developed a crush on his best friend’s girlfriend. The fact she’s traveling with them adds a layer of awkwardness to their situation, awkwardness and more tension.

How do you speak to your best friend after you kissed his girlfriend?

Blood and Water was a fantastically thought-out debut novel. Short and powerful, I finished with a racing heart, hurting for the characters who’d lost hope and so much more. With these characters I felt hope rise and then fall, I recoiled with them and closed my eyes in regret.

The ending seemed fitting, though I did not see it coming. Poignant, that last scene will be burned into my memory as one of the best I’ve read. It leaves us asking many questions, but also instills in us a sense of doom.

This book was fast and painful, making me take a deep breath of clean air because I could. Because there was no plague. Because I suffocated with the characters as I read.

Blood and Water earns four stars for drawing me into a genre I don’t usually read. I look forward to more work from this promising young author with a talent for hurting readers’ feelings—a very good talent indeed.

Visit the author at her blog here!

Academy of Media Arts: An Introduction


12255223_728524753949152_1498916037_o

In the age of technology, art is no longer limited to what we can make with ink on paper. That sketch in your journal can be brought to life using the computer; however, we tend to define digital art as limited. Few people want to be trapped behind the screen of a monitor, learning complicated tools.

The Academy of Media Arts exists to challenge that stereotype, encouraging us to try a new form of creation, making the most of powers given to us by progress.

Watching the online workshop videos, I realized it was not a limiting process. No, they encourage you to go outside. It surprised me because, like many others, the words digital art made me think of hours glued to a laptop, combing through coding and cursing the wi-fi.

The Academy of Media Arts encourages you to take your imagination outside, letting it run through the woods. Later you capture what you find in a bold piece of 3D art.

You aren’t bound to your computer the whole time.

I asked educational and project coordinator Syd Wachs to describe their mission in a paragraph–and she replied with three words. It made me realize that the idea is simple and precise, but also full of magic we can all learn to use.


Q: In a paragraph, describe your mission.

A: To sum it up in 3 words: ARTISTS LEADING TECHNOLOGY.

To sum it up in a paragraph: We are a production-based media training school that harnesses visual design and emerging digital technologies. Think of us as a trade school for learning and developing skills and talents used in practically every industry today. This said, we take our craft seriously, regarding it not just as typical classroom learning, but integrating it with internationally renowned studios and clients for real-world projects. Creative exploration is what we LOVE to see!

Expanding on both: Going back to the ‘Artists leading technology’ motto, we are fully people-centered. We believe you are a working professional in the creative industry, whether you are right now or not. (Ponder this.) Our desire is to INSPIRE and EQUIP you personally to make international connections and grow your business and skill sets – as well as incorporate these skills and expanded knowledge into your classroom, whether you’re a student or teacher.

We empower creative entrepreneurs – that’s what creativity is: paving new paths! So many creatives settle for working under people their whole lives and put their own creativity on the back burner. Don’t get me wrong – that’s not all bad! We need people to work under people, and that’s where many people thrive. But we also encourage people to not conform themselves into the ‘employee’ image. ‘Inspiring creative entrepreneurs.’ We are propelling forward a creative hub that everyone will recognize.

Q: The videos were filmed at beautiful locations in New Zealand. Do you think nature the ideal place to create something “modern” like 3D art? Why?

A: Absolutely! A common misconception is that digital arts are supposed to stay digital. We have online Pinterest boards of inspiration when we all have the ability to walk outside and get inspired. We watch films and read books to take us places as close to physically as possible without moving. Then we get frustrated when we can’t get inspired and recreate the beauty that we see on screens and ads and described in books, etc. Technology is a great thing – but when it rules over the artists, it’s not being used as it was designed to be used. (Hence the ‘Artists leading Technology’ statement to which I keep returning.) 

I’m sitting here in Hong Kong right now, with both cityscapes and vast mountains in front of me. I just came from living outdoors in New Zealand for 5 months while conducting our workshops. I’m from a small town that has historic buildings, and a forest as my backyard. I’ve been both places, absorbed in the Pinterest world and playing touch-me-not with technology, physically immersing myself in real environments. There has to be a happy medium between the two for optimal creation.

12255225_728525293949098_713970240_o

A situation I use to illustrate this is: a 3D modeler is digitally sculpting a sword that will be used in a film. The sword is gorgeous and badass and ferocious and all the things people love to see. Yet when it’s incorporated with the character into the film, it looks great, but we viewers feel a tiny bit unsettled about it. Something isn’t quite right. We don’t know anything about swords, but we can tell something is off.

What should have been done: after the digital sculpting, the modeler then brings in a blacksmith who knows the feel of hammering the metal, the weight and balance of swords, the ergonomic shape of the handle. The swordmaker can take one look at the digital sculpt and advise the modeler how to adjust his design so the sword makes total sense in the film.

The swordmaker can’t digitally sculpt, and the modeler can’t physically make a sword. They have to collaborate so the best job possible can be done!

It’s the same way with nature and the digital world. Think about it, visual effects are effective when it recreates reality so it’s believable. Telling a visual story. We’re not impressed with fake stuff – we want to believe something. It’s all based on reality. So how can one recreate reality without understanding it? The way shadows bounce off leaves, or the shape of a nose, or the way an old person hobbles around, it’s all a recreation of what we see all around us, but rarely notice. And that’s something that we are very, very passionate about explaining to people. Our workshops aren’t always inside in studios. We often go outdoors to shoot. To understand nature and lights and shapes and motion in the purest sense.

We recently filmed the second video series, where I’m modeling on the forest floor. The project will be to wrap roots around me like they’re sucking me into the ground. Obviously that wasn’t actually happening, but in order to make the roots believable, we have to match the shadows at that time of day, and the texture of the real and fake roots, and the colours, and see how the roots wrap around other objects in the forest to see how they will wrap around my arms and legs as they drag me down the hill.

12250438_728525437282417_630131108_o

Q: Explain what a newcomer would find upon leaving their comfort zone and picking up this new medium. Beyond the videos and computer editing, how will it change the world we see?

A: Based on feedback from our workshops in New Zealand and in Asia, a lot of creators (most of them visual DIY people: painters, dancers, architects, seamstresses, etc) were in creative ruts before our workshops, and came out of that during and afterwards. There was one girl at our 4-week workshop in Gisborne, New Zealand. She’s a musician and sews little pillow creatures and paints and does arts and crafts…that general type thing. This was the first time she ever touched 3D software, and she was terrified in an adrenaline-filled way at first, but at the end realized she was ‘touching’ reality differently. 3D sculpting made her really draw on the knowledge of how things really felt – or how easily one little thing missing, or the slightly-too-narrow curve of the back of her character’s head, made the whole person feel awkward. Instead of confining herself to physically making things, she expanded her creativity to the tangibility of both.

As a painter and writer and someone who grew up without any advanced technology, getting involved with this world of 3D and emerging technologies has expanded myself as well. Because my brain early on wasn’t trained to think in this way, teaching old dogs new tricks has been quite the experience! So my perspective on getting out of my fine-arts comfort zone is similar to the girl I just mentioned – not only does it really make me pay attention to the dimension of objects around me, but makes me watch films, or read books, or look at ads, or even imagine things differently. I see things in a clearer way, a more thorough way. I really understand them as they fully are, and I thought I did before. But 3D work forces me (in the best way) to absorb and pay 100% attention to everything. As a result, I’ve grown to appreciate things and people around me in a difference sense.

12248585_728525710615723_665506379_o

I know a girl who is a champion 3D sculptor, having worked for 3D printing companies here in Hong Kong and even at Hasbro. She’s also a fine artist originally, and she did this 3D sculpt series of her (late) dog that were so real (in her trademark stylized way) I could almost touch them. The texture of the hair, the crumpling of the dog’s lips smooshed against the pillow – it was all captured so beautifully. And whereas looking at the sculpt from all angles, I could tell she had done them because of their slightly cartoony style – but even still, the reality of the sculpts made me believe I was actually looking at the real dog. If something digital has that kind of power to make one believe that what they’re looking at is real…that’s incredible.

As I said before, the goal with 3D work is to tell a story visually. The whole foundation of it all is to tell a story. Everything should have a back-story, just like writing a book. Every film has a story; everything in the film is there because of a story. And 3D artists can’t work alone – they need people who are fine artists, or craftsmen (like the sword example), or writers – because the whole purpose is storytelling. And the key to creative expansion is collaboration.

12236481_728525457282415_1693902536_o

Visit the Academy of Media Arts by checking out their website, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Guest Post: Maximize Your Writing Muses


musegraphic

The word “muse” may often call forth images of Renaissance Italy, tortured poets and gifted painters with women to whom all their works were dedicated. Next to God, love is the second greatest inspiration visible in classic art, and even more so evident in the modern pieces of today. However, where does the inspiration come from? Maybe you’ve never been in love. Maybe you have, but you don’t find that something strong enough to bring forth new story ideas and carry you through a project. The truth is that inspiration comes in the form of all sorts of different muses, and I’m going to share some of my own today. Perhaps these revelations will help you tap into your own.

Dreams

I can’t lucid dream, but I do have a knack for remembering things I’ve dreamt of in strong detail. In fact, my current project, Within, is the story that happens between two dreams I actually experienced a year apart from one another. The first was actually the end of the novel. I tried to write with it, starting at that point, but it didn’t stick. I didn’t know who my characters were, who they were up against or fighting for, or why they said the things that they did in the dream.

A year later I got my answer, and now I’m writing that story and think it’s some of my best work. Dreams, although they may be wild and incomprehensible at times, still come from within us. They can reveal hopes, fears and everything in between and even give us characters or settings our conscious brains would never slow down enough to tap into.

If you never remember your dreams, start keeping a notepad and pen by your bed at night. When you wake up from one, jot down everything you remember. It doesn’t have to be in fluid sentences. Just get the major parts and over time, you’ll begin to remember more and more when you wake.

Dreams are interwoven in my stories and play in an integral role in almost every novel I write, and the reason why they’re such great muses is that they’re simply you.

Music

I love music. I listen to it all the time. I work to it. I look up songs I hear on TV shows. I find the songs playing overhead in stores using an app on my phone. Music makes us feel understood. We feel empowered and comforted by the lyrics artists sing, often times capturing the emotions and thoughts we can’t verbalize or deal with on our own.

When you write, listen to music you love first. Envision your book like a movie or a show. Watch the scenes play out in your head. As a writing exercise, pick one song, put it on repeat and keep it going while you write a specific moment in your book to the music.

Learn to dissect the parts of a song and figure out which resonate with you the most and why. Does the quivering violin in a orchestral piece remind you of the fragility of a character? Do lyrics in an indie track capture exactly what your protagonist is going through? Make Spotify or iTunes playlists for each character in your book and the project itself. Don’t be afraid to mix it up and explore other songs in addition to what’s currently in your library.

By exploring your characters’ minds and developing their musical tastes, you’ll discover a lot about them that you will be able to insert into your writing.

Books

The last muse I’ll list today is probably at the top of all of your lists. Reading the writing of others really inspires me to get into my own. I know sometimes it can have the counter effect; you read something incredible and think, I could never write something anyone would love the way I love this. But that isn’t true. In fact, you can’t say that unless you actually write something to begin with. Of course no one will love what you’ve written if all you’ve got is a blank page and a load of self-apathy. Put that to good use! Start writing and keep reading.

Also, don’t feel pressured to read books just because they’re done by great writers. You may not like to read Keats or Hemingway. While I do think that everyone should indulge in these works due to the fact they’ve have had such a profound impact on society, I don’t think everyone is obligated to fall in love with the classics. Expose yourself. Sample chapters, essays and more. Those high school English textbooks actually have some pretty good stuff inside.

Flavorwire.com published a great article called “A College Curriculum on Your Bookshelf: 50 Books for 50 Classes” that is bound to have something that appeals to you and will get you thinking. Whether its science fiction, religious books, post-apocalyptic or YA thrillers, dabble in a bit of everything to culture yourself and bring a larger worldview to your own writing. I’ve had things as seemingly insignificant as tumblr text posts strike a chord and influence lines in my work.  It isn’t so much about what you read so much as how you read it.

To Sum Things Up

Your muse might not be books. It may not be music. Whatever it is, it’s art in some form or another. If you get the most inspiration while walking through nature, you’re witnessing one of the greatest works of all by the greatest artist of all time. God made the world and everything in it. He made us capable of doing incredible things. Our minds and personalities are as diverse as the land itself, meaning we can draw inspiration individually from all sorts of different aspects of life and use them to inspire our writing.

These works may go on to be inspiration to others, either because they share the same interests or because you awoke their minds to an entirely different perspective. The best way to utilize your muse when writing is to create things that inspire you.


 

Jessica Wynn is a 22-year-old NYC expat living in the Eternal City. She’s currently studying web development and design while working on her third novel, Within, and frequently blogs about the process, offers writing advice and shares other musings about comics, music and life over on her site, Little Siberia.

Follow her on Twitter, and read her novel Within on Jukepop.

Tips on Overcoming Self-Doubt in Creativity


selfdoubt

We waste so much potential every day when we listen to self-doubt.

This week I talked to other creatives about the things keeping them from progress in their work. By the end of the discussion, I realized we had one common enemy: Doubt.

It’s natural to fear nobody will like our work. Fear makes us question whether our projects are worth pursuing. We struggle with doubt throughout our lives, but I’ve noticed many people succumb to doubt instead of soldiering on…they quit altogether.

As a writer, I can best explain this with experiences in the writing process. However, this isn’t just a writer problem. Anyone with a dream will find this block on their road because we have been trained to think small and reasonably.

This feeds the doubt, making it a constant struggle, but not impossible to overcome! If you feel self-conscious about your work, it’s easy to think you’ve failed. This is not true! We all experience self-doubt, but what matters is how we deal with it.

One thing is certain: Giving up won’t solve your problems or satisfy you as a creative. It’ll only douse your dreams like water puts out fire; if you don’t make an effort to protect that flame, you’re letting doubt kill the fire!

What should you do when faced with doubt and lack of confidence? Here are some things that have worked for me in the years I’ve found I could write with confidence:

Get critique partners. The creative path isn’t meant to be traveled alone. We may prefer to write in silence, but without peers to cheer us on it becomes a chore. Find a few like-minded people who share your passion and talk to them when things get rough. If you have friends with you, the creative path becomes an adventure.

Know your limitations without limiting yourself. If you don’t think you’ll be able to write a book in two weeks, don’t expect yourself to. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aspire to achieve more than your average. Add five minutes to your daily writing time; read a few more pages before putting the book away. Don’t discourage yourself by climbing in a box or setting goals too high.

Take a break. Don’t know how your book is going to end? Set it aside for a couple of weeks and work on another project. The more thought you put into your project, the better it will be; sometimes it’s good for you to take time off. However, remember to resume your project! Leave a sticky note on the wall telling you when to get to work again.

Doubt and fear aren’t going anywhere, and they’re hard to ignore. Just remember you have a story to tell; no one else will say it like you can.

On the other side of fear there’s fulfillment; keep going and there’ll be a beautiful moment when you’ll hold a finished book in your hands. You can do it…you can tell that story and make this moment happen.

How do you overcome self-doubt? What do you tell yourself when it feels the Muse has abandoned you? I’d love to know how you face this challenge!

Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver


9780061726835_custom-30b8a4666ac2dc87c90c01730435ea25fd42f0eb-s6-c30

In Lena’s world, love is a disease—one she won’t have to worry about for long. Soon she’ll receive the treatment that’ll prevent her from being infected.

Delirium starts with a tone of urgency. It’s Lena’s desperation to be given the cure against love; we are given reasons to make it seem rational. Who wants to be so enchanted by someone else that they lose self-control and reason?

Then she meets Alex, and her viewpoint changes because she’s been infected and no longer wants the cure to love.

I think everyone has had moments where they wondered what could be so pleasant about needing someone else that much. This book is like a slap; it portrays a world where we don’t have a choice, and then we see.

A world where love is forbidden would be bleak, fearful, shallow, empty, stiff. This is the world of Delirium. We realize the beauty of love–not just romantic love, but love.

In moments of bitterness we decide we’d rather stay this way than lose ourselves for someone else, but we have the choice. At the end of the book, it sinks in: Sacrifices made for love make life worth living; love is a pain worth dying for, every form of it, whether it be love for family or for a significant other.

If we were all cured from ever feeling love, there would be no beauty. For beauty to come forth, a heart needs to be full and break often.

In Delirium, poetry is forbidden. When Lena first finds a book of poetry, she asks Alex what the word means. This scene, one of the most powerful, made me catch a breath. A world without love, poetry, beauty.

Delirium is a book that will make you question society, perhaps even make you braver. Also, it has a heart-wrenching cliffhanger! It will make you angry, anxious, it’ll make you scream at the book (or eReader) in your hands—and itch to keep reading.

Don’t take love for granted, and don’t take poetry for granted. Stop your busy day to read some! I’ll admit I’m the first to hesitate about grabbing a poetry book, but when you’ve contemplated a world devoid of it, you realize that poetry is the human spirit; poetry represents humanity, free, wild, without restraints.

The Autumn Prince Novel: Cover & Excerpt


How are your NaNo novels doing?

I am pleased to say that I have reached 32k and have an end in mind, which is more than I can say for other NaNo projects–indeed, more than I can say for any writing projects at all. Also, my friend Kristia made a beautiful cover that I could finally display on the website!

12248574_1092543830755763_1503324236_o

I thought I would share an unedited excerpt from the novel. You guys, I am extremely proud of how it’s turning out–proud that I could turn a short story into something more complex, expanding on beloved characters and adding detail to the environment. Thank you for all the support when it was still a serial; it was that support that encouraged me to make it a novel.

Here’s the excerpt. I can’t wait until you can read the whole thing!

Her eyelids fluttered, but she did not yet wake fully. Dreams pulled her back in; she was running in the leaves with a boy her age, his face glowing as he called her name, “Ginny! Ginny, you’ve got to be faster!”

Her eyelids fluttered again and she thought, I know who that is. “Caspar,” she breathed, not a question but a certainty. Dreams tugged at her once more.

She was chasing the little boy because he’d stolen her button doll. “You’ve got better toys!” he taunted her, but she screamed and threw rocks at him until a tall man in a black coat broke them up.

“Your Highness, Lady Genevieve, that’s no way to behave! You’re supposed to be friends.”

“He took my doll!” she screamed.

The man pried her button doll out of young Caspar’s hand and promptly returned it to her. “Your mother will have to talk to you about stealing things, Prince Caspar,” he’d said, to which the boy scowled.

In the waking world, she felt someone touch her hand. “Lady Kelsea,” said a familiar voice, soft as if he feared she would flee like a spooked horse.

But she wouldn’t. Kelsea finally broke away from those dreams, opening her eyes to blink away more tears. She was still on that armchair, and he sat on his knees before her, eyes shiny with grief.

It felt as though the ground were falling beneath her. She couldn’t question that the memories were real; that very button doll now sat on her bedside table at home.

Caspar knelt before her and waited, almost as if expecting her to strike him. Instead she said in a weak voice, almost a croak, “I knew you were familiar.”

Guest Post: An Author’s Thoughts on Labels in Literature


unnamed

People often ask me why I became a writer, and the answer is actually quite simple: I’ve been in love with stories all my life.

And that love began with reading.

I became enthralled by stories at a very young age. Ballerina Bess and Dr. Suess were my first loves. I’d listen with rapt attention as my mom read each story to me at bedtime. Before long I began reading them for myself, and soon my interests developed from picture books to Nancy Drew to everything Lois Lowry and Margaret Peterson Haddix. But as I began to learn about literature in middle school, a switch seemed to flip.

Suddenly, I was all about the classics.

Jane Austen was gateway drug into this arena. I read Pride and Prejudice through with voracious fingers, bewitched by Elizabeth’s spirit and Darcy’s noble heart. A few other renowned novels followed, including The Great Gatsby, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Lord of the Rings.

But as I headed into high school, I began to despise the classics. In fact, it seemed like the more I read, the more I began to resent reading them. For a while I wondered what had gone wrong. Had I simply been lucky with the first handful I’d picked up? Were all those research papers for English class ruining the fun of reading? Was I allowing my classmates’ disdain for such books to cloud my own judgment?

I never did figure out the answer, but I did begin reading modern fiction again and it didn’t take very long for me to fall in love. But believe it or not, I actually felt a bit guilty every time I picked up The Hunger Games or Harry Potter. My English teachers had primed me to think of such works as lesser than their classic counterparts, and somewhere along the way I had clearly drunk the Kool-Aid.

This warped belief reared its ugly head like never before when I dreamed up the idea for my current work-in-progress, a medieval fantasy novel called The Dark Between.

I’d always been interested in writing, but I didn’t consider it a serious passion for many years because I knew I couldn’t write the exquisite prose demanded of the Great American Novel. And I figured that if I couldn’t write a classic, I couldn’t write at all.

But my passion for this new story idea was intense, so much so that I no longer cared if I wrote a novel that my English teachers would use for coasters. Regardless of its label, I was determined to bring this story to the world.

And that determination, oddly enough, changed my life forever. I willingly fell down the rabbit hole to the wonderful world of writing, and I’m now well on my way to having that very same fantasy idea published.

While I’ve faced many obstacles in my writing journey, I firmly believe that my warped understanding of critically-acclaimed fiction slowed me down though most. That may be a rather dramatic statement to make, but I often wonder what my life would have looked like if I had been encouraged to explore all avenues of fiction instead of just the one written largely by men long dead.

The truth of the matter is that every type of fiction requires a great deal of skill to write well, and that means that every type of fiction is deserving of respect, no matter its label. After all, every style contains works of varied success. Some novels are critically acclaimed while others are harshly criticized, and others still are overhyped or underappreciated. And this occurs across the board.

As both a reader and a writer, this tells me that I should never feel ashamed of preferring one type of novel over another. And you shouldn’t either.

I often tell my blog readers not to worry about choosing their novel’s genre or title before they’ve begun to write. Instead, I encourage them to focus on bravely exploring the beautiful story that dances just beneath their fingertips. That’s the only way they’ll ever write a novel worth reading.

Why? Because what I’ve painstakingly learned from years of experience is that labels don’t matter at the end of the day. Simple as that.

As an author, your capability to create a unique landscape in the writing industry is incredible. YOU hold the power to create the story you want to write. YOU hold the power to market that story to interested readers. And because of that, YOU hold the power to shape the face of the industry forever.

So if you want to write a feel-good romance that captivates wistful dreamers worldwide, don’t waste another minute. If you want to write a heart-wrenching epic that comments on humanity’s darkest predilections, pick up the pen today. And if you to write a novel that is so far beyond the scope of normal that you fear it will never sell a single copy, pour yourself a cup of coffee and go bravely unto the blank page.

Commercial or literary, upmarket or downright insane…these labels don’t matter in the end. What makes your novel unique is what makes it valuable to the world. And if you write with your soul open to the page, you will enthrall readers with your work. Guaranteed.

So don’t ever feel ashamed of the stories you long to tell, dear writer. The world needs them more than you can know.


HeadshotKristen Kieffer is the creative-writing coach behind She’s Novel, where she helps writers craft novels that will endear readers, excite publishers, and launch their writing careers. Her latest creation, The Pre-Write Project, is an epic workbook designed to help writers prep their next novel in just five days flat. Kristen loves coffee, geeking out over Tolkien, and editing her upcoming medieval fantasy novel, The Dark Between. Want to learn more? Click here!

Review: Alice in Zombieland


9780373210589_SHC_SMP

I had never pictured Alice—the Alice we know and love—as a really tough girl. She was brave, certainly, but not tough. In Alice in Zombieland, Gena Showalter takes a beloved classic, making it intense and disturbing.

Alice Bell’s father lives in a state of paranoia. For years she’s tolerated his claim that monsters exist. He stays up all night, keeping watch for threats she has never seen. Her mother also knows, but prefers to hide the frightening details from her daughters.

The result is a life barely lived, one Alice has little patience for—until one fateful night on Alice’s birthday. She pushes and pushes until her parents agree to attend her sister’s recital. It’s a birthday gift that’ll end in disaster; on the way home, their car flips over near a cemetery and zombies kill her family.

Alice is the sole survivor. Alone in the world, she suddenly shares many of her father’s traits, including his paranoia. Scarred, she feels as though Alice died with the rest of her family, instead going by the name of Ali.

Set on revenge, Ali takes up her father’s obsession with finding zombies and killing them.

What I enjoyed most about Alice in Zombieland was how different Ali was from classic Alice. She’s a strong girl with dark haunts that live in her head, taunt her memory, keep her awake at night.

Ali Bell faces monsters much darker than Alice in the classic book. She fights with knives and swords, her heart loaded with anger and hatred. This Wonderland is dark and unsettling—and intriguing.

Alice in Zombieland is an exciting thriller. Ali’s a strong main character with drive and plenty of heartbreak.  I recommend this book to anyone who wants an adventure with the right balance of horror and intrigue.

3 Affordable Ways to Create a Dynamic Home Library


3 Affordable Ways to Create a Dynamic Home Library
By Miriam Bornstein

There’s nothing quite like reading a page-turning novel, wearing a pair of your coziest socks and sipping tea from your favorite mug on a Sunday afternoon. No matter how large or small your living space is, creating the perfect reading environment is attainable without having to pay a fortune.

Here are three ways to create a dynamic home library.

Image Source: Matt White on Zillow Digs®
Image Source: Matt White on Zillow Digs®

1) Customize Existing Items

If you want to get the most bang for your buck, use household items. If you’re bored with your current bookshelves, paint them a bold color or apply an ombre finish to the inside of your shelves. Polish the look by placing items on display, such as frames, funky artwork or memorabilia. Another crafty way to utilize vertical space is by repurposing an old ladder. Spray paint a metal ladder a jewel-tone color like sapphire or emerald green or stain a wooden ladder dark burgundy to add a colorful accent to your diverse book selection.

2) Create a Library Table and Seating

Access your book collection in a stylish and functional manner. Set aside a weekend to repurpose an old cable spool into a library table with minimal tools and materials. Head to your local home improvement store to pick up the all of your building necessities. Once you’ve created your table, top it with succulents for an eye-catching display without having to worry about water residue near your book collection. For an even cozier ambiance, add a reclining chair or love seat to encourage guests and family members to relax and stay a while.

3) Divide a Room to Add a Library

Short on space to incorporate a library? Break up living spaces by using a stand-alone shelf as a room divider. A wall barrier is especially useful for studio dwellers who desire separate places to sleep, socialize and maximize storage space. Place bins on the bottom shelves to store bookmarks, reading glasses and other household items. If you want extra privacy, hang a curtain against one side of the book cubby. Peel the curtains back during the day or close the curtains for a cozy book nook. Either way, you’ll be reading in style.

If your books are currently collecting dust or sitting in a cardboard box in your garage, now is the time to put them on display. You don’t need an elaborate study or pricey built-ins to create a novel-worthy reading environment. Get your fill of library design inspiration before tackling your space.