Unlock the Muse – February 28, 2018

February has come to an end. And along with the end of February, I’m hoping to see the end of winter. What little traces of snow we’ve seen where I live was hardly worth the effort of looking out the window. It was there and gone that fast.

But with a new season comes a new enthusiasm for pushing forward with my writing projects. I think it’s time for some “spring cleaning” around here. Time to dust off the cobwebs and get to work on my novel.

Inspire
To get the words started this week, here’s your writing exercise:

Write about today, beginning with: “Today is unique because…”

It’s all too easy to get into a rut. Every Wednesday is just like any other Wednesday. But that just isn’t so. Take a moment and consider what makes today different from any ordinary Wednesday. Did you wake up early? Sleep through the alarm? Maybe you missed the bus and now have to walk or drive to work/school. A new daffodil has budded in your (or your neighbor’s) front yard. Find the uniqueness in your day, however large or small it might be.

Encourage
I still haven’t started reading a new writing craft book yet. I have one on my list to begin reading, probably within the next week. If you’re curious or perhaps would like to read along, I’ll be reading Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading the 29th volume of The Writers of the Future anthology. Along with a collection of outstanding short stories, these books usually include an essay or two on the writing craft. In this anthology is the essay, “The Sport of Writing” by Nnedi Okorafor.

While I have to confess, I wasn’t especially impressed by the organization of this essay, Ms Okorafor has some valuable things to say about writing. She tells a story of her experience at the junior national tennis tournament. She and her opponent were evenly matched in skill level and as a result, their match took far longer than the average tennis match. They weren’t top seed players and no one was in the stands. All the other matches were long over, and the other players had gone. There was no wild cheering when the match finally ended in Ms Okorafor’s victory. Just the quiet satisfaction of having played hard for the love of the game.

Ms Okorafor relates this to writing in this way:

Nearly a decade passed before I realized the lesson in this experience. Just as in sports, when writing creatively, if you don’t love the craft and art of it, you’ll never experience this pure form of success. Yet when you do have this love, you realize that pure success does not come from fame or fortune, it grows from that love.

Equip

nnedi-okorafor-quote

Write what’s in your heart to write, not what you think is expected of you.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:

Sightwitch, by Susan Dennard: A Review

My choice for a book published in 2018 on the 2018 Reading Challenge list was among the easiest of all the categories. Two years ago, Truthwitch was released. I found that book via Twitter and knew I wanted to read it and it joined my 2016 reading list. In 2017, Windwitch was released and I read that one too. Therefore, knowing Sightwitch was due to be released in 2018, I knew I would read it anyway, list or no list.

Though Sightwitch wasn’t the Witchlands book I was hoping to read this year – super excited for Bloodwitch! – I didn’t hesitate to pick this one up as soon as I could.

Sightwitch is written as an illustrated journal that tells the story of Ryber Fortiza. In it she relays her story of how she became the last Sightwitch. Interspersed with Ryber’s journal entries are the writings of another Sightwitch who lived long before Ryber’s time. It includes drawings, maps and passages out of other books, all that help bring Ryber’s story to it’s conclusion.

This is a short, but powerful interlude in the Witchlands series. It gives more background into the magic that exists in the Witchlands, and my understanding is, it sets up at least part of what is to come in the next book.

I wasn’t sure how I’d like the unusual format. For the first part of the book, at least, it was a little difficult to follow what was happening. But it is woven together very well, and I was easily drawn into the narrative.

It was a quick read that I enjoyed very much. Though I am still anxiously waiting for Bloodwitch to be released.

Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo: A Review

I read Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo for #4 on the 2018 Reading Challenge list, a book involving a heist. I don’t remember exactly how or when I first heard about this book, but I was intrigued from the outset. When I learned it would fit this category I knew immediately I would read it this year.

This is the story of Kaz Brekker, a thief rising quickly up the ranks of a street gang. He is offered a job which could lead to wealth beyond imagining. If he can pull it off. But for such an impossible task, he will need an impossible crew. Himself included, Kaz pulls together six of the city’s deadliest outcasts.

Bardugo writes from multiple points of view, switching with each chapter. At first, the frequent jumping around between POV characters made it difficult to get a feel for any of the them. And it felt like it made the story a bit disjointed. As the story progressed, however, I came to appreciate this as a great plot device that enhanced the suspense.

The plot of the story was revealed in a surprising way because some characters knew part of the plan, and others knew other parts. These were then revealed by the appropriate character at the appropriate time, thus making sense of a convoluted plot. That, along with a few well-placed flashback or memory scenes, the story really came together in a great way.

While I never came to truly like Kaz, as a character he is very well written and believable. Bardugo has done an outstanding job with all her characters, and the world-building is exceptional. If you enjoy stories with magic, adventure, huge risk and great characters, then I think you would enjoy this book.

Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Boys, by Dr. Meg Meeker: A Review

This book was on my list to read last year as a book that will improve a specific area of your life. I ran out of time and didn’t get to it. It was perfect then, that the 2018 Reading Challenge list includes a book you you meant to read in 2017.

As the mom of three boys, ages 8, 7 and 5, I am always looking for ways to better relate to my sons and improve my parenting skills. This book came to me recommended by my sister who is also raising three boys. It isn’t easy raising boys, though I can’t imagine girls being any easier. Just a different kind of difficult.

The title promises to reveal “7 secrets to raising healthy boys.” As such, I expected to find practical advice I could apply immediately to my parenting. In this respect, I found the book lacking. Instead, Dr. Meeker expounds on the physical and psychological needs of boys and the many pitfalls that exist in today’s culture.

Dr. Meeker makes many excellent points on the psychology of boys, much of which I agree with. She includes at least one anecdote from her own experience in each chapter that illustrates what she is trying to convey. She also includes the results of various studies that demonstrate the negative impacts today’s culture can and does have on boys. There is much to learn here, and her unique perspective as a physician lends a degree of authority to her words.

Overall, I appreciated what this book had to say. I would have liked a little more practical advice to go along with all the wisdom Dr. Meeker shared. Still, I would recommend this book to parents of boys. There are definitely some valuable insights to be found.

Unlock the Muse – February 21, 2018

We’re nearing the end of February, and winter has finally made an appearance where I live. We’ve had our first snowfalls of the season over the last few days, and there’s nothing to show for it but wet and cold. I’m not expecting to see much accumulation, if any. That’s a bit like the word count on my current novel in progress – little visible accumulation.

Inspire
To get the words started this week, here’s your writing exercise:

You’ve been asked to write the biography of an ancestor. While researching your family history, you discover disturbing news. What did you find out? How will you explain it to the family?

This could go in any number of directions. Maybe you have done this sort of research and uncovered something unexpected in your family’s past. Or maybe you know very little about your ancestry. That’s okay. Shake your main character’s family tree instead. You might be surprised by what falls out!

Encourage
I am currently between writing craft books, so how about a question, or two, instead. What do you look for in a book on writing craft? Do you have a favorite one?

Equip
Our word of the month is: Passion.

pas·sion
ˈpaSHən/
noun

1. A strong, barely controllable emotion; a state or outburst of emotion; intense sexual love; an intense desire or enthusiasm for something. A thing arousing enthusiasm.

2. The suffering and death of Jesus. The narrative of such from any of the Gospels, or a musical or theatrical depiction of such.

The word passion is derived from the Latin word pati, meaning “to endure, undergo, experience.” The earliest use for the word refers to the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus. This was later extended to the suffering of martyrs and then to suffering in general.

By the 13th century, the word came to be associated with strong emotion and desire. It didn’t come to refer to sexual love until the late 1500s, and still later to mean a strong liking or enthusiasm.
(from etymonline.com)

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:

Cinder, by Marissa Meyer: A Review

I read Cinder, by Marissa Meyer, for the 2018 Reading Challenge #42, a cyberpunk book. I’m not entirely sure if this book is “punk” enough to fit the category, but I don’t really care. I’ve been excited to read it for quite some time, and I was really glad to find a place for it on my reading list this year.

From the title, it’s not hard to figure out this is a Cinderella retelling. Cinder is a human/cyborg hybrid, adopted into a family with two other young girls. The father has already died before the book opens, leaving Cinder at the mercies of a stepmother and stepsisters who don’t really want her around. But Cinder just might have the key to finding a cure to a plague decimating the people of Earth. And maybe she can help prevent the people of Earth from being enslaved by those of Luna.

I loved this book beginning to end. Cinder is wonderful. Despite all the obstacles before her, she knows what she wants out of life, she’s realistic in her goals, and isn’t afraid to do what’s necessary to achieve them, even if it means running away. Cinder moves this story forward. Yes, there are things that happen that are outside her control, but she responds to them in her own way. She decides which direction to turn when life interferes.

This isn’t to say it’s a perfect book without a single flaw. I does have flaws. The most glaring one for me was Prince Kai’s somewhat naive tendency to trust others rather quickly, and his emotions run a little too close to the surface. Though he is young, he is still the heir to one of Earth’s greatest empire. One would think he’d have been better trained from birth to have greater control over himself, especially when his actions could have significant political ramifications.

Cinder was a lot of fun to read. I will definitely be seeking out the rest of this series as well as other books by Marissa Meyer. I’m delighted that I’ve found a new favorite author.

Starcrossed, by Josephine Angelini: A Review

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini joined my 2018 Reading Challenge list as #28, a book with song lyrics in the title. I had to do a bit of digging to find this one. This book has been on my shelf for a little while and I thought surely, the word star-crossed appears in song lyrics somewhere. It might be a bit of a stretch, but I managed to find a way to work a book into the list that I already had on my bookshelf waiting to be read.

This is the story of a girl and a boy, destined to be together, or rip each other apart. Maybe both. Based on Greek mythology in general, and more specifically on the story of Helen of Troy, it is a story doomed to be repeated again and again.

It’s the story of Helen Hamilton, a high school student who lives with her father on the isolated island of Nantucket. And yes, she’s connected to that Helen – the face that launched a thousand ships. Helen knows she is different and works hard to hide it. But when a new boy and his family arrive on the island, things only get stranger.

Though it may be little more than a hasty teenage romance written over the backdrop of myth and fated tragedy, I nevertheless found myself enjoying this book. It written in such a way that I was compelled forward. It’s a quick read and fun. I liked the characters, especially Helen’s best friend Claire.

I think I knew going into this book that it is part of a larger series. Still, I was unprepared for the ending. Or lack of an ending, really. I had hoped that more might be resolved by the end, but I think I’ve come away from this book with more questions than at the beginning. Will I read more? Probably. I’d like to know how the story plays out.