Writing Class: dabbling in some new styles

It has been awhile since I have posted anything on the blog (I do feel ashamed of this), but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing! I have been doing quite a bit of old school, pen and paper writing thanks to the weekly writing class I have been attending. Sadly, tonight will be the last session of my writing class, but I have learned and written quite a bit, so I am very thankful for the past 5 weeks. This also means I will  be putting a little more focus back on the blog! First some pieces from writing class.

This class is focused on personal writing so it is a lot of “write whatever you feel in this moment” style of writing. The teacher has provided us with a variety of prompts and told us to go wherever our mood takes us. My writing has been mostly journaling and essays (though I have dabbled in a little fiction writing! However that is not ready for sharing quite yet). So without further ado, here is a little something I wrote last week.

My memory is like a vast expanse of land covered in varying degrees of fog. Nearest to where I currently stand it is simply a fine mist, easily seen through. The further away I travel, the denser the fog gets. And yet, sprinkled randomly throughout are large, glowing objects, visible no matter how thick the fog.

Some of these objects are dark, looming figures which give off an ominous aura the closer I creep. I don’t enjoy visiting these, though sometimes their pull is too strong to ignore. Other objects are bright, shining beacons which dispel all the fog nearest them. These are pure joy and I visit them frequently. However, they can be just as dangerous at the dark objects if they are visited too often.

That is the key to this fog laden land. Spend the right amount of time with both dark and light but never forget to return, through the fog and mist, back to where the sky is clear.

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A few of my favorite things: books edition

As I mentioned in an earlier post I am currently taking a writing class focusing on personal writing. One of the prompts for this week was to write about your five favorite things, books, movies, music, etc. I thought, wow this will be easy and perfect for the blog! Though I think I could write about my five favorite of any of those, I am choosing books because I believe there is a direct correlation between my desire to write and my love of reading. So why not write about the books I love to read! So here they are my five favorite books.

  1. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell. When someone asks me what my favorite book is this is the first title I throw out. My first copy of Gone with the Wind was a paperback I purchased at a library sale which cost me a whopping fifty cents. If I had heard of the book or the movie at that point it was only vaguely, so I am not sure what initially drew me to this book. Perhaps it was the dramatic cover featuring Rhett grasping Scarlett, while Atlanta burns in the foreground (after seeing the movie for the first time it is apparent the cover figures on this particular edition were modeled after Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, which only makes me love it more). I’m sure the back cover synopsis also played a role. A story that takes place during the Civil War with a strong headed heroine as the central figure. Sold! If I had to sum up why exactly I love Gone with the Wind I would say it’s that it is truly an epic. The span of this story is part of what contributes to this, it takes place over the course of more than a decade, but it’s also the story of the downfall of a society and the end of a way of life. Of course it was entirely necessary for this society to fall, it was based on  a morally corrupt and reprehensible system, but the story of this downfall and how the characters who lived within this society, the perpetrators of the crimes of this system, respond to it makes this story an epic. The fact that the heroine is flawed and mostly unlikable, only adds to the appeal for me. It isn’t an easy book and it certainly has its issues, for example that the author seems at times to be writing a troublesome love letter to the Old South, but I think you can use this romance about a young woman surviving the Civil War as a way to launch a discussion about the larger picture of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. If nothing else, it is a captivating story with memorable characters, and certainly a piece of American literary history.
  2. Anything by Jane Austen. Okay so this isn’t a specific title, but I felt this list had to include something by Austen and I couldn’t quite bring myself to choose just one. Pride and Prejudice is the first Jane Austen novel I ever read, and it is probably the novel I have reread the most times, but I truly love her entire body of work. The books are romances, yet they are also sharp critiques of the society in which Austen lived and women’s role in it. Plus, they are legitimately funny. Her heroines have a wide array of traits and personalities, but each of them is the hero of her own story and that is so refreshing.
  3. The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling. Again not a single book, but this story is a series and I think it is best discussed as such. I am a part of the generation which grew up with Harry Potter. I remember reading books one and two in 5th grade and I attended a midnight release for the 7th book the summer after I graduated from high school. It is because of this that these books will always hold a special place for me. It also happens to be one of the first series of books I ever read. The anticipation of waiting for the next book to come out, the sadness when the series that you have spent the past several years with has finally come to end, the first time I really experienced these feelings intensely was with Harry Potter. Of course it also helps that it is the story of regular boy who ends up saving his world, and that is a story that will always appeal to me.
  4. A Song of Ice and Fire Series, George RR Martin. I know, I know I keep counting multiple books as one entry on this list, but I feel this is legitimate when it comes to a series of books. They are generally one overarching story told over many installments. One story, one entry. I started reading this series the year the fifth book came out. I devoured all five of these monstrous tomes in about two months. To say I enjoyed them is an understatement. The thing I love the most about this series is the thing that everyone loves most, the characters. George RR Martin has created these vivid, flawed, realistic characters and everything from their histories down to the smallest bits of dialogue is captivating. Another great aspect of these books is a cultural one. You can sit and discuss and dissect these novels for hours (and believe me, I have). Anything that brings fellow readers together in such a way deserves a gold star in my book. (Note: Yes, yes the show is amazing too, however I strongly believe everyone who loves the show should check out the books. But don’t worry, not in a snobbish ‘the books are better’ way…though in this case I do think they are).
  5. This fifth slot is a tough one for me to fill. Not because I cannot think of another book which I love, but because there are so many other books that I love. The first four entries came to mind immediately when I was thinking about my list of favorite books. They are the ones that will always be at the top of my list. But when creating a list of merely five, the fifth slot seems more difficult to fill. It fluctuates depending on my mood and what I am reading at the time. Classics, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Modern fiction, Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. Contemporary Young Adult, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta. Fantasy Young Adult, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. Genre Fiction, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I read a lot of books and there have been many that have touched me in some way, many which have inspired me to read more and to write. So I am saving this slot for whatever book I fall in love with next.

Writing class!

I did it! I signed up for a Community Ed writing class. I did a lot of writing in college and more recently with this blog, but I think I could use some fine tuning. So I signed up for a class called: The Lost Art of Personal Writing. I attended the first class last Monday, and I have to say I am pretty excited about it. The class size was small, the teacher was exactly how I would picture a writing teacher (green corduroy blazer, glasses, white hair and beard), and we wrote with pens and notebooks (pens and notebooks!!!). We even shared what we wrote, which will be common throughout the course, and I actually wasn’t freaked out about it. This was incredibly surprising to me, in a good way. I enjoyed the writing of my fellow students and I think I will learn a lot from them as well as from the instructor. I think this will be very good for me and I am really looking forward to the next class.

We are going to be covering a lot of writing styles from journals to memoir, poetry to short stories. I am going to share some of my writings/progress here. One of the exercises the teacher had us do was write a list of one word descriptors for ourselves. We had three minutes. Here is what I came up with:

Reader

Feminist

Glasses

Friend

Introvert

Sister

Inquistive

Lazy

Pop culture obsessed (not one word, I know)

Quiet

Loud

Learner

Foodie

Lost

Woman

That’s all for now, more next week!

Hurt so good: television that makes me cry

I noticed something recently, the older I get the more I like crying during movies, television, books, etc. I don’t think I am alone in this, sad stories have been around forever. ‘Tearjerkers’ is arguably a genre, or at the very least a Netflix category and isn’t that more important anyway? So what’s the deal, why do so many of us like these stories that make reach for the tissues? For me at least, I think it can be a sort of catharsis. I don’t cry often in real life, especially compared to how much I used to when I was younger (hint: it was A LOT), so maybe I am filling that void by tearing up during the stories of fictional characters.

In an attempt to solve this mystery, I decided to take a look at the things that make me cry most frequently. I’m using examples from television specifically because two shows immediately popped to mind, but also because we often tend to get more attached to television. We spend several episodes, sometimes over the course of several years with a set of characters, so we, perhaps foolishly, get attached to them and feel invested in their stories. The two shows that get me nearly every time? Parenthood and Doctor Who. (Obvious note: no doubt there are a myriad of reasons why people enjoy the feel good cry. This is merely a study of one, me. Using purely anecdotal evidence, me openly crying on my couch).

NBC’s Parenthood is a known tearjerker. It commonly leaves people curled up next to a pile of used tissues by the end of each episode (evidence: a friend’s Facebook update after watching the series finale, which included a real pile of used tissues). It hits us in a place that can’t help but stir the emotions: family. Even the happiest of families have issues. These issues are further complicated by the fact that we didn’t choose to have these people in our lives, yet (in most cases) we love them and (again, in most cases) we feel the need to preserve the relationships, at least somewhat. Parenthood knows this and it uses it to give us all the feels. The show has dealt with teenage romance, health issues, absent fathers, abortion, separation, job loss, aging parents, and a whole mess of other high emotion topics. Even if we can’t relate with a specific storyline or character (we can’t all be wealthy Californians after all), we can relate to the character’s emotions and their relationships with each other. Above all else, many of us can agree with what is arguably the show’s main thesis, family is hard, but you love them anyway.

Doctor Who may not make me cry during every episode like Parenthood, but it has me in tears quite a bit, and far more often than I would have thought. Unlike with Parenthood, it isn’t the close to home effect that gets me with Doctor Who, the best way I can describe it is as the ‘the universe is incredible, wide eyed with the possibilities’ effect. The Doctor is this powerful being who gets to travel throughout time and space meeting incredible people and seeing remarkable places, but he’s still lonely. The companions get to tag along for a short while, but in the end they are still human, with all the virtues and flaws that come along with that, and must return to their normal lives. But the fact that they get to experience it at all, even if for just a short while, is amazing. Life, the universe, the places you can go and the things you can do, in Doctor Who it is all so amazing and beautiful, and that beauty is what often brings me to tears.

What does this say about the elusive, feel good cry which I have come to adore? Well for me, it is either something which moves me on the closest, most intimate level or on the widest, big picture level. I want it to hit me close to home or make me in awe of the world. The dramas of familial relationships or the beauty of existence itself, throw either of those into the picture and you’ll likely get a tear or two from me.

Book Review: The Kingdom of the Gods by N.K. Jemisin

The final book in a series always seems to be the most difficult to review.  They tend to be a mixed bag of emotions. Happiness because the ending truly does the series justice, combined with the touch of sadness because it has come to end. Or disappointment, combined with a dash of anger if the less than stellar final book has tarnished the memory of earlier, better books. Kingdom of the Gods falls somewhere near the middle of this spectrum for me, but leans more towards the former. It has many of the same qualities I loved in the first two of the series, great writing and compelling characters, but it lacks some of the magic, especially when compared to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

In Kingdom of the Gods we get a story from the perspective of the oldest godling Sieh, god of childhood and mischief. Without giving too much away, I can say that the plot revolves around Sieh befriending two mortal children. Two Arameri mortal children, descendants of those who kept him enslaved for centuries. This friendship ends up of having a ripple effect across both the god’s realm and the mortal world, as well as irrevocably changing Sieh.

Sieh was a favorite character of mine from the first book, so it was fun reading a story told from his perspective. Shahar and Deka, the aforementioned children, are interesting as the strong willed sister who vows to be a good ruler and the quiet, kind hearted brother who must learn to protect himself. Though they could have been developed a little further, especially Deka. These three provide the sexy undertones that we’ve come to expect after the first two novels of the series. The best part of this novel however, is the way it brings the series full circle. The mythology of the world is explored more deeply, and there is a recreation of several elements from the first two novels, which is a joy to see played out.

The plot does drag a bit more than the previous installments of the series and there are some bits towards the end that are slightly convoluted, but N.K. Jemisin’s writing is so lovely, and the world she has created so magnificent, that these faults can be easily overlooked. All in all, the final installment of The Inheritance Trilogy left me feeling quite satisfied. And I would certainly recommend the series as a whole to fantasy fans, lovers of great writing, and anyone who likes their stories a tad sexy.

Reading rut

Every avid reader has been there. You think about the books you’ve read most recently, you glance over your to-read list. A pattern emerges, the same authors, the same genre, similar themes, similar stories. You’re in a reading rut.

I found myself in such a rut a little over a year ago. The genre: Young Adult (side note: I could write an entire treatise in defense of this genre. Granted, it has already been tackled on both sides in The Guardian, Slate, the New York Times, and countless other places. I may still write my own piece one day, but in sum: No, it does not begin and end with Twilight. No, it is not about people wanting relive their youth. It is about deep and meaningful stories, which allow the reader to relate much more than many other genres because the themes of finding yourself and discovering your place in the world are things we continue to grapple with throughout our lives).

Now, I don’t think there is anything wrong with having certain genres that you love. Ones that you come back to over and over again. Even within the most well trodden of genres, you can find someone who is subverting old themes or doing something new altogether. But I also think it is important to broaden your horizons a bit every now and then and read something outside of your comfort zone. To get exposure to new ideas and different writing styles, but also to keep your reading skills in tip top shape. So what can be done once you’ve realized you’re in a reading rut? I set some reading goals for myself.

Goal One: read more modern, literary fiction. The reason behind this is twofold. By reading works that are more modern I can be part of the discussions which always surround new books. Book clubs, book reviews, online communities, the forums for discussing books are plentiful, and everyone seems to want to discuss the ‘hot new book’. Second, by focusing on the literary end of the spectrum, I can give myself a bit more of a challenge, and who doesn’t need that?

Goal Two: read more graphic novels. Graphic novels are EVERYWHERE. They are infiltrating every aspect of pop culture. And with topics ranging from World War II told through mice, to a young girl’s experience in post revolution Iran, to (of course) Superheroes, there seems to be something for everyone.

Goal Three: revisit my love of the ‘classics’. I found Jane Austen in high school, and thus began my love affair with the classics. Dickens, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, the Bronte sisters, I devoured many of the authors whose works are typically deemed classics. But there are still many more sitting on my to-read list. Plus much of what I have read is very euro-centric, and it is far past time that was corrected.

The realization of my reading rut was over a year ago, so how have I done on these goals? Goal One has been a minor success. Marisha Pessl, Gillian Flynn, and Sarah Waters have all been added to my read pile and my list of to-read in this category is ever growing. Goal Two has been a bit slower. I did finally find a graphic novel series that really clicked with me and which proved to me that there are stories which are best told as graphic novels (The Sandman Series by Neil Gaiman, in case you were wondering). Plus, through the help of some friends and the Internet, I have many more which I am eager to read. Now Goal Three, honestly I have not been successful with this one, but I did start re-reading an old Austen favorite the other night, just to get a taste of the old favorites. All in all, two out of three isn’t bad.

Setting a few reading goals was good for me. I discovered new authors and genres, and read things I may not have picked up before. I now find myself adding new goals in my head (read some Science Fiction and adult Fantasy, try short stories, crack open that copy of selected poems by Lord Byron). Will I accomplish all of these? Probably not, but having them has made me a better, more rounded reader (and hopefully it will ultimately lead to me becoming a better writer). So c’mon, let’s all set some goals. Happy reading!

Book Review: The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The Broken Kingdoms, book two in the Inheritance Trilogy, resumes the story ten years after the events in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. This time our protagonist is Oree Shoth, a young blind woman living in the Shadow, a city filled with godlings and priests, heretics and pilgrims. Oree may not have the power of sight, but she does have the ability to see magic and create a bit of her own. When she lets an odd, quiet man with strange magic into her life she becomes embroiled in a plot involving the murder of godlings. Along the way she learns the secrets of her own magic, and finds that she may be the only one to stop these murders before all of Shadow pays the price.

Now the big question regarding any sequel, is it as good as the first? Not quite. But I still immensely enjoyed this novel. The writing style is similar to the The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and still lovely, but it’s slightly more contained. It’s first person again, with the same mix of plot narrative and stories of Oree’s past, but it has a little less of the ‘stream of consciousness’ style of the first novel. I still love N.K. Jemisin’s writing, but I think I preferred the more wild, uncontained style of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

Now when it comes to characters, The Broken Kingdoms does well in matching its predecessor. Oree is an interesting and unique protagonist. She may have a disability, but she is just as capable as any other heroine. She fights for for her independence and freedom throughout the novel. Plus, she is comfortable with her sexuality and her body, which is so refreshing to see in any work of fiction. Anyone who read the previous novel will immediately know the true identity of ‘Shiny’, Oree’s mysterious new companion. He is not that likeable and certainly not a hero, but he sees immense growth throughout the novel. By the end of the story he has changed, while still holding on to the core aspects of himself, or perhaps by returning to what he once was. There is a fun new set of secondary characters, mostly godlings with a wide array of powers and traits, as well as appearances by characters from the first novel.

With the shift to a new heroine we get to see the events from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms from an outsider’s perspective, and with the jump forward in time we get to see the effect those events had on this world. Where the first novel is dark and sexy, this novel is more of a slow burn. The tone of each novel is truly an embodiment of the god at the core of each story. If you liked the world and writing style of the first novel, I think you will enjoy The Broken Kingdoms. In fact, anyone who had problems with the writing style of the The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms will most likely enjoy this novel more. In the end, The Broken Kingdoms solidified my new found fandom of N.K. Jemisin, and I cannot wait to read the conclusion of this epic fantasy.