Thursday, September 26, 2019

Breaking the Rules

My favorite thing about poetry is that it's always there when you need it. In times of trouble, when your emotions need relief or outlet or empowerment, poetry is there. You can always go back to your favorite Mary Oliver poem; you can always go back to read Maggie Smith's "Good Bones" when you're worried about our country or Idra Novey's "Still Life with Invisible Canoe" when you miss your childhood or your children. You can always depend on poetry. 

My second favorite thing about poetry is that it encourages us to break rules. We don't have to write in sentences or in order. Grammar is more flexible. Metaphors can run wild. 

When I teach poetry, this is something my students struggle with. Much as we think of teenagers as rebellious, they are actually pretty settled into the limitations that have been drawn for them. Think about yourself. Isn't it comforting to know what the rules and procedures are? Even as you scoff at English teachers and "grammar Nazis" (that loathsome term), don't you find yourself with those voices in the back of your head? 

But I can't start a sentence with a conjunction! 

One should never use first person in one's writing; it makes one sound silly. 

Or maybe the idea of writing as a collection of rules is so embedded in your consciousness that it paralyzes you, keeps you from writing at all? 

In that case, my friend, poetry can help you practice being unafraid to break rules. 

Not that there are no rules at all in poetry, but they're looser. You can bend what you know about writing into the shape of what you actually want to write.  Interesting things often happen not way across the line but right at the edges, at the corners. You're likely to enjoy playing in the street more than the sidewalk, even if you never go too far from home. 

This also means that I need to practice breaking my own rules: the patterns I tend to fall into when writing poetry. I experience the most excitement about my poetry when I push myself to try new things or switch up my usual forms. Of course, this means that I have to look critically at my own poetry to identify my usual ways of doing things, and then experiment.

My Rule: Always write a poem that fits within the confines of a notebook page.  

How I broke it: Try writing poetic forms that dictate length in different ways. Haiku and tanka are great motivators for brevity. Another fun one is the 59-word poem, inspired by Jeffrey McDaniel's poem "The Quiet World." It's also important to try different line lengths. Write sideways on the page. Decide to take up two pages. Let lines flow together and break up lines later. Remember that humans don't speak or think in the shape of a page. 

My Rule: Don't be repetitive. 

How I broke it: Repetition is an essential tool for poetry. Using repetition in interesting ways can add emphasis, show a shift in meaning, or demonstrate a speaker's thought process. 

Here's part of a recent poem draft of mine: 

       You invite me to your nephew's birthday party
       even though I am not a balloon.
       your mother says I am prettier than I am
       in my pictures; in the pictures you
       take of me to show her.

That's a doubly repetitive passage ("I am" and "in pictures") and I find it interesting because I think maybe it sounds like someone actually talking. When we talk to our friends and lovers, don't we often stop ourselves to clarify? We repeat ourselves when we're thinking through something or making a decision. I'm leaving in this repetition for now, even if I end up changing it up in the final draft. 

My Rule: Use punctuation to make it clear how the reader should be reading. 

How I broke it: This one's easy. Write poems with no punctuation. I practice making my meaning known with just my words, phrasing, and line breaks. Then I also have to be brave enough to notice where this fails, where there is ambiguity in the poem. Maybe that uncertainty is good and I should keep bouncing the beach ball in the air. Or maybe that's the one place where my poem really does need punctuation. Some of my favorite recent poems have been completely punctuation-free. 

Do any of these "rules" ring a bell for your own poetry? If not, identify your own boring patterns and find a way to break them up. For extra credit, tweet your rule-breaking at me! @MsPaceWrites

Good luck writing, see you next month! 

Monday, September 16, 2019

Book Review of Blaize and the Maven by Ellen Bard

Blaize is a powerful but inexperienced energetic. Having only just passed her first Chakra Trial, Manipura, fire, she is sent to Canada to an expert Maven to be trained in her second energy: Ajna, or the mind.

Her Maven is the mysterious and reluctant Cuinn, who has problems of his own - disturbing dreams that appear to show him standing against the destruction of the energetics race. When he discovers that Blaize is part of the prophecy, he knows her training needs accelerating - but he’s not prepared for the heat she brings to his normally calm and ordered world.

But both Cuinn and Blaize have secrets of their own, secrets that could destroy their partnership before it’s begun - a partnership that has a far greater importance than they realize.

Will they trust each other before it's too late?

The first in a captivating new series of romance and magic, family and loyalty, love and power.

Goodreads   Amazon

*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for our honest review.*

I freaking loved this story! I was pleasantly surprised with just how much I enjoyed this story and the creativity of the world Ellen Bard has created. As someone who is into energy and chakras and the like this was like a novel written just for me. 

I enjoyed the fact the story was told from both Blaize and Cuinn's perspectives. This helped me become attached to them both and made me invested in the story right away.  We also see bits and pieces of the antagonist point of view and this as well added to the drama and conflict. 

Anyone who is a fan of modern fantasy, steamy romance, or just a plain good read will thoroughly enjoy this book. 

British born psychologist, management consultant and nomad Ellen Bard loves travel, coffee, productivity, personal growth and romance novels - not necessarily in that order. She currently lives in an apartment nest with her Fox in Thailand where she (almost!) never has to feel the cold. 

Website   Twitter 

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Associative Thinking in Poetry

I start writing this as I am about to make dinner for the first time for my new boyfriend. Baked salmon, mushroom fettucine, asparagus with lemon pepper and dill, fresh Italian bread. I suppose I wouldn't be a woman of my generation if this evening's act didn't make me think about being a woman, about whether I am too eager to fill this role, about whether being in a position of service changes something about our relationship in a way I don't want. Am I happy and excited because I am the girl cooking for her boyfriend, or because I am a person who loves doing nice things for others? Is domesticity a fair extension of my femininity, or is it an expression of something different and more sinister? 

So I set myself to think about femininity and how I express it when I go to get a massage today. The room smells like eucalyptus and lavender, and it is warm with neutral, earthy colors. This is a gentle place and I feel relaxed. I muse on last night's dinner, which was wonderful, and how my boyfriend thanked me, careful to show me that he didn't expect me to do this domestic work for him, but that he appreciated it. I think he was careful because he understands the history of women cooking for men, and I wonder if he thanks his mom when she makes dinner. 

My massage begins. I ask myself if femininity is what allows me to take care of my body, as so many other things I do-- brushing my hair, shaving my legs, moisturizing my skin -- seem gendered and connected both to beauty and to feeling confident. But men take care of their bodies, too, or should, in this Queer Eye era, and I wonder if masculinity is what allows men to take care of their bodies, not toxic masculinity but the good and true kind-- the pride and striving that makes men feel they are achieving their purpose. 

I start to muse on touch - if receiving touch is part of this file folder of feminist traits I am amassing, is giving touch then masculine? (I think callously while my female masseuse works on my back.) Is femininity receptive? Are men grasping? Is there strength in resisting its grasp? 

Look, I'm not sure that I have any of the answers to gender and what it means to me, but this episode of looking into my head is to show you how associative thinking works for poets. Does your mind more closely resemble an ice cube tray or a spiderweb covered in dew? As far as I know, most poets' brains are the latter. Thoughts like droplets are all connected by threads, and what a poem does is tap the web gently so all the droplets slide toward the middle or the bottom. You've got to make them intersect. 

When I'm writing poetry, I'm fascinated by the ways images surface by surprise. Sometimes I can articulate the exact train of thought that brought me from the beginning of the poem to the end,  and sometimes I'm not sure how stuff got there, but I'm sure it fits. I start with asteroids and end with snowdrops. In a poem I just wrote the other day, my first line sets up a comparison between scars and live animals, then between myself and the trash cans through which the animals are rummaging. I think this means that my scars are causing some unrest; they're not really in the past. But if I am like a trash can, then I must be full of both trash and treasure. I'm not really sure I'm comfortable calling my actual self a trash can, but I'm intrigued by a character looking at her scars to attempt to decipher how good or bad she is. So I allow the speaker of the poem to diverge more from myself, and then thinking about scars leads me to tattoos and what marks us. I think it's a really interesting poem, and it just took curiosity. 

This is to say: I don't think that associative thinking is a blessing from on high; I think it's something that can be practiced. 

One practice that helped me a lot with this type of generative, idea-rich thinking is yoga. Meditation and yoga practices encourage a non-judgemental way of looking at the self and its experiences. Gradually, I've been learning to welcome whatever thoughts come to me, and if they're negative or doubtful or sad about my body hurting, I can see them and send them on their way. But if they're intriguing, I just stick them up on the rocks on the riverbank and let things swirl around them to see where they connect. 

I wonder if you've done this kind of thing when you're in the shower, maybe washing the dishes, waiting in line, even driving? I think these daily, low-risk, semi-automatic activities allow for free associative thought, like walking does. Once you get in the habit, a blank page in a notebook sets that same motion going,  

It takes some practice to turn these wanderings into interesting, poignant, or powerful poems. Sometimes I wander through a poem only to look back and think the connections are too obvious, or the images too random, not aesthetically harmonic. But if you're wondering why your poetry seems basic, or stays at the same emotional pitch throughout, or lacks surprise, you might want to try letting your mind wander a little farther than you think it's supposed to. 

Here are some tricks I use to practice associative thinking: 

1. Write a list of 10 objects, images, and actions that you associate with a certain age. Cross of the 2 or 3 most obvious ones. Now, use the remaining images to write a poem about someone that age without saying directly what age it is. For an added challenge, write about the person doing something that people of that age don't normally do. 

2. Look around you and choose a color you can see (it helps to visualize if you can currently see the color). Then make lists of things that relate to that color. There are a lot of types of connection you can find other than objects that are literally that color. What kind of feelings come up as you make this list? Go explore those. 

3. Try association through opposites. Begin a poem with this line: "Because I can't _____, I ______." Fill in the blanks with verbs. For the next line, keep the phrase in front of the comma the same, but change the ending. You might keep it this way for a few lines, then try a different word in the first blank and see how that changes your options for the second. This is best done fast so you can see what conclusions your mind jumps to. 

Thanks for reading! You can read more of my writing at my blog,
Exercises 2 and 3 are adapted from prompts I received from my teacher Christopher Citro at the Kettle Pond Writers' Workshop. You should check out his work and his teaching: 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Book Review of The Girl of All My Memes by C. S. Johnson

He didn't "meme" to do it ...  

Tenth grader Tommy Baher has always lived in the shadow of his older brother Johnathan, and he has always hated it. Determined to set himself apart from his brother, Tommy puts all his efforts into securing the highest grades in his class. There's just one problem standing in his way: Kara Metaxas, his longtime academic rival, who has always made his life at school difficult. 

When Tommy and Kara are invited to participate in the Junior Science and Technology Symposium, an academic competition hosted by a prestigious college, Tommy sees it as a chance to prove himself to his parents and his peers. Tommy feels even more sure of himself as he begins to make funny memes using a picture of Kara. Everything is coming together for him. 

But when Tommy starts to change his mind about Kara - and subsequently, nearly everything else about his life - his memes go viral, and threatens to destroy everything Tommy has worked for. 

Can he find a way to make things right with Kara before he loses everything?

Amazon   Goodreads 

*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

There is much to love about this book. For one, I loved how it was told from the male romantic lead vs the girl. So often in teen romance stories, the main character is the female. I found this to be refreshing to read this type of story from a new perspective. 

There were a few things I wish could have been more developed. I felt like the characters overall had a simplicity to them and were overly wholesome. With that said, this was a G rated type story. This story also had religious elements it as well. 

If you are a fan of teen romance or just young adult in general and are looking for a good clean read that will give you the warm fuzzies than this is the book for you! 

C. S. Johnson is the award-winning, genre-hopping author of several novels, including young adult sci-fi and fantasy adventures such as the Starlight Chronicles series, the Once Upon a Princess saga, and the Divine Space Pirates trilogy. With a gift for sarcasm and an apologetic heart, she currently lives in Atlanta with her family. Find out more at


Friday, August 23, 2019

Interview with Author Tabi Slick

TABI SLICK is an award-winning author of paranormal and historical fantasy. Her works include: "Tompkin's School: For The Extraordinarily Talented""Tompkin's School: For the Dearly Departed", the novella "Unforgivables", and "Timur's Escape". When she's not writing, she's often found either researching or with her nose stuck in a book.

Let’s Connect!

1. What drew you to write a story set during this time period?

I’ve always been fascinated by the mystery around the Ottomans. In school we only spent a few paragraphs on the subject in history class and I found this odd since this was one of the largest empires in human history. So after a lot of research, I finally got the courage to write this story. It is a happy marriage between history and folklore and I hope that readers won’t just enjoy the
fictional story of Timur’s Escape, but also learn what it would’ve been like to be a Turk in a 17th century Ottoman Empire.

2. What was the most fun aspect of writing Timur's Escape?

The most fun aspect of writing Timur’s Escape would have to be actually writing the story and seeing my research come to life. After years of reading about the architecture, the food, and the customs of the era it was a very exciting thing to put the story together.

3. Do you have a favorite character? Was one character easier to write than another?

Although she’s the antagonist, I really did enjoy writing the character of Queen Naz. She was one of those characters that was tremendously easy to write. There were only a few positions of power available to women in the early centuries of the Ottoman Empire, many of which were obtained by less than ideal circumstances. The valide sultan (mother of the sultan) was the most powerful position a woman could obtain. One could even argue it was one of the more influential positions of political power, even greater than the grand vizier depending on who was the sultan at the time. Creating her story, her frustrations, and her motivations were all too easy after researching the journeys the real women of history had to go through in order to achieve
this title.

4. What was it like writing a cross-genre book?

It was completely terrifying! When I started my research I never thought I’d actually write a book set in Turkey. Who was I to write something like that? Until my friend plopped a giant book on my lap that she’d brought back from Istanbul titled An Album of the Wardrobe of the Ottomans by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. She told me I should definitely write the story and that it should totally be in Turkey. She said that I would see why after reading the book. So I did and the rest is history.

5. What advice do you have for writers who want to incorporate more than one genre in their story?

Be friends with research. People who primarily read Romance will be expecting one thing while readers of Historical Fiction will be wanting something else. While you can’t please everyone, if you try to take the most crucial aspects of two genres and blend them together you’re more likely to keep readers of these various genres happy. For the most part, anyway.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

5 Tips for World Building in Historical Fiction by Tabi Slick

5 Tips for World Building In Historical Fiction

By Tabi Slick

Why would world building be necessary when writing historical fiction? Isn’t the world already built in this genre? The short answer is yes, of course, but there are plenty of examples where books set in a historical setting are, for lack of a better word, less immersive than they could be. Here I will share my three tips for building a fully immersive world in a historical setting.

Let’s think of world-building as a pie where the whole circle equals the entire world. What makes up the ingredients for this delicious dessert? What fundamentals need to be in place to form the basic structure? What flavors can be added to excite the taste buds? If you can answer these questions, then you’re already one step closer to creating an immersive world in your writing.

1) Establish The Timeline

This is your pie’s dish. Everything in your story will be built on this foundation. Without understanding the timeline in which your story’s told, it’ll be prone to inaccuracies leading to dissatisfied readers. When approaching a historical piece, my rule of thumb is to first research the main events during the time period I want to write about. Then I research 100 years before and after in order to get the historical context of the period I’m writing in. I collect all of the information into a Google doc so that I can reference it throughout my writing process.

It’s important not only to know about the exact era you’re writing in but to also know the historical information prior to understanding why things were the way they were during the time period you're writing in. It’s also a good idea to know what happens to the country or location in the future so you can iron out the motivations of your characters, particularly if your characters are in any governmental position.

2) Understand The Politics & Economics

The political and economic structures of a society play an important role in your story’s world. It’s what’ll guide your characters’ in their careers (or lack thereof), their lifestyles, and even their hopes and dreams. It’s the crust to the world building pie and goes hand in hand with the timeline. Politics and economics work together with the historical timeline like a pie dish and crust work together to hold the ingredients of a pie together.

3) Remember The Customs & Culture

The customs and culture of the era you’re writing in is as important as the ingredients to your pie filling. If you don’t have the ingredients, you can’t make the pie filling and would just have the crust. If you don’t understand the customs and culture of the people you’re writing about your story will likely be empty. But be sure to approach this research as an explorer. Let your curiosity push you to reach out to others who may know more about this than you do and to read until there’s no more to read.

I would urge all writers to be sure to carefully research the customs and culture thoroughly before diving into writing. If done right, the story will read as a tribute to the group of people you’re writing about. If shortcuts are taken or assumptions are made it can very easily read as a slap in the face to the people you’re writing about. Just like you shouldn’t guess how much salt is required for a recipe, you also shouldn’t make any guesses about the customs and culture of
the time period you’re writing about.

4) Know The Importance of Food

If food is important to you, chances are it’s important to your readers and also to your characters. Knowing the types of ingredients commonly available in the time and place you’re writing can make all the difference in creating an immersive reading experience.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help incorporate food into your research and ultimately your story:

-Was food sold on the streets during this time period?
-What food would your character smell while walking through the market?
-Does your character cook? What is their favorite food?
-What ingredients were used most during this time and place?

Adding food into your story is like adding cinnamon and nutmeg to your apple pie. Though it’s not necessary, it adds a flavor that makes the experience of eating the pie so much more delightful.

5) Research The Agriculture & Architecture

Just because a certain type of tree exists in the area you’re writing about now, doesn’t mean this was always the case. If you’re writing a historical piece set in somewhere in Europe in the 17th century and suddenly your character’s admiring the Persian Silk trees from their window, chances are you’re going to upset a few readers because Persian Silks didn’t exist in Europe until a century later.

I would consider the agriculture and architecture of your story as the topping for your pie. It may seem like such a small detail, but if done wrong can make a reader think twice about reading more.

There are probably many other tips for building a fully immersive world in writing and I’d love to hear what you think. What world building tips do you live by?

TABI SLICK is an award-winning author of paranormal and historical fantasy. Her works include: "Tompkin's School: For The Extraordinarily Talented", "Tompkin's School: For the Dearly Departed", the novella "Unforgivables", and "Timur's Escape". When she's not writing, she's often found either researching or with her nose stuck in a book.

Let’s Connect!

YouTube | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

[1] Seval. 10 Beautiful Trees of Istanbul. Turkey Tour Organizer. March 2, 2016.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Book Review of Timur's Escape by Tabi Slick

In the height of Sultan Mustafa’s reign, a war between Ubir factions has begun leaving the fate of the Ottoman Empire in the hands of one vampire.

Abandoned as a child, Timur never knew his parents or a life outside of the Janissary Corp. The only thing he’s ever known is that he belongs to the Ubir underworld, a group of vampires led by the valide sultan, Queen Naz.

Despising himself for everything this life has made him do, Timur’s world changes one fateful day when he finds a cure. His bloodlust vanishes in her mere presence, his heart yearning to be near her.

Will their love conquer all? Or will he lose himself to the darkness?

Goodreads   Amazon

*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for our honest review*

It has been a while since I have read a book with vampires in it, and to be honest I was a little apprehensive about picking one up again. I'm so glad I did though! Timur's Escape is a fun quick read that anyone who loves an endearing love story can appreciate. 

What drew me into this story was the characters. The plot was fairly basic, but the characters were well rounded. Slick changes between Timur and Emel, the two main characters, letting the reader see the world through both of their eyes. I really enjoyed this as it was also a way for Slick to show her readers life as a woman during this time period and life as a man. Both are caught up in their outer worlds as much as they are with each other. 

If you enjoy reading historical fiction and paranormal romance stories than Timur's Escape should be on your list. 

TABI SLICK is an award-winning author of paranormal and historical fantasy. Her works include: "Tompkin's School: For The Extraordinarily Talented""Tompkin's School: For the Dearly Departed", the novella "Unforgivables", and "Timur's Escape". When she's not writing, she's often found either researching or with her nose stuck in a book.

YouTube | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


Thursday, August 8, 2019

Book Review of Fingerprinted Hearts by Amy Spitzfaden

Sisters Fawn and Penny Anderson each have their own reason for loving More Please Bakery. It's the place that helped Fawn heal after earth-shattering betrayal, and an escape from Penny's stalling relationship. But Fawn can't forget her bittersweet history with the bakery's handsome owner, Penny has a growing interest in the delivery boy, and the shop's bank account is getting low.

When Penny lands them a celebrity client, reality TV star Delaney Roosevelt, Fawn dives in headfirst trying to come up with the perfect design. However, pleasing the starlet isn't easy and soon heartbreak and scandal descend on the shop.

As the sisters face their romantic and professional demons they are forced to decide what is worth holding onto, and what they need to let go.

Goodreads    Amazon 

*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for our honest review.*

Boston. Bakery. I mean if you know anything about me (and you probably don't) you'll know that I not only live and work in Boston but I used to be a baker! I was drawn to this book. I was especially interested in seeing how an author would describe things I know so well. Well, first and foremost, I think this story is the story of family and sisterhood. Amy does a great job of presenting a sister dynamic. There is the older more put together sister and the younger one in college, and they are both relatable. There are also the men in their lives: the dad, the boss, the delivery boy, the boyfriend.  

I liked that there is no one just unlikeable for the sake of being unlikeable; everyone seems like a real person, whether they struggled with inner demons or were pursuing their goals. The characters had real struggles and things to overcome; read victories and defeats; real moments of epiphany, and lived real everyday snippets of life.

My favorite part of any story is the characters, and Amy did a great job of establishing characters that were not only intriguing but realistic and had everyday smarts. It was great to escape into this book and re-live my time as a baker... not to mention a college student. It was charming and completely engulfed me.

This review was done by MJ. You can follow MJ on Twitter and Instagram.

Amy Spitzfaden graduated with a literature and writing degree from Maharishi University of Management in 2012 and now lives in Temple, New Hampshire with her husband, Ravi. She works as an editor and social media manager at PSCS Consulting in Peterborough.

Website   Twitter   

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Diagnostics: I Don't Have Time for Writer's Block

5 am. It rained last night. I know, not because of the drops on the window, or the softness in the air, but the creaks and pops as I slip out of bed. Mornings like this I'm doubly happy we live in a studio apartment. I move about the kitchen, quiet in my slowness. Coffee. Milk. Saucepan. I raise the dimmer lights, check that they're not shining in my spouse's eyes across the house, and settle into my chair. 

"I can't get up that early." That's what most folks say, and I don't blame them. I miss lazy mornings in bed with my dog. I don't remember what sunrise looks like crossing the ceiling above our bed. Instead, I'm here, on this barstool, surrounded by the fruits of my hobby--avocadoes, ivy, aloe, pansies, and so forth--and stare at Scrivener. 

I don't have time for writers' block. I've gotten it before, surely. I spent the last three weeks wholly disinterested in the project I'm currently drafting. But I've come to realize it's the literary Lupus--often a catchall for a collection of symptoms they don't have the desire to explore further. If you've watched the show House you know where this drawn-out metaphor is going. 

I don't have Lupus. Rather, we don't know what I have and it hasn't "popped" into whatever clearer set of symptoms is necessary to say it is or isn't any number of autoimmune inconveniences. It took me almost two decades and six books to realize writer's block is autoimmune--I'm attacking my own work because I don't recognize it. Maybe I don't recognize it yet, or perhaps it's anymore. Hard to say when you're entrenched in a project. Forest through the trees and all that. But that's not the cliche I'm running with today.

5:14 am. I roll my shoulders and wrists while the French press steeps. It's an average day. Mediocre. Pain at a constant, nagging 6. Whatever that means. Those numbers are for other people to quantify. Not for me. Some days I can be on my feet for 8 hours. Some days I can dig 17 holes with my pit partner. Some days I hobble to the kitchen twice and spend the rest of the day weeping in pain. Those days come more frequently now. I don't have time to not recognize my voice, or forget it. Or be disinterested in this project. I'm the only one who can write this book. That's not hubris, that's honesty. You can't write my book just like I can't write yours. I've stopped calling it writer's block, because like most catchall things, whether it's diagnoses or drawers full of fasteners and tin foil, once designated, it's never examined further.

[Image description: a black laptop on a counter beside headphones and a potted avocado. The screen displays Scrivener.] This is my morning writing spot.

Now, when I notice the beginnings of what I might have once called writer's block, I look into what I'm resistant to and go from there. It might be the scene doesn't fit. It might be the character experiences something with which I'm not familiar. Or am too familiar. Burnout, exhaustion, depression, distraction, those are all causes too, but I usually pick up on those quickly. Most recently, I'd forgotten my voice for this series. I started it in 2003, so small wonder. Teasing out the cause for writer's block is no different than worrying a plot knot until it untangles. That means hunching over my computer between 5 and 8:30 and staring at the screen until I either write or the disease is diagnosed and I can move on.

Perhaps it's the human drive for immortality or the echos of capitalist values. Perhaps I've just listened to Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," so much it's in my blood. When folks say they can't get up in the morning, I do envy them. I envy their extra days, I envy that they have the luxury of saying "maybe tomorrow," and it not being a gamble. Surely, the grass looks greener from here, but that's not my point.

5:27 am. Dog out, coffee poured. I'm not interested in writing an action scene. My joints hurt too much for that. But writing this blog has me inspired to Rage. To rebel. The scene where Rih takes up the mantle of general, then. I put fingers to keyboard, and write.

Thanks for reading! What has been your experience with writer's block?

Tune in on the fourth Sunday of every month for more on disability in fantasy and sci-fi. Learn more.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Book Review of The Arasmith Certainty Principle by Russ Colson

A geology grad student with a spiritual bent and a mystic from the Pleistocene find a modern skeleton in ancient rock and must risk their friendship to save the world from an unexpected danger lurking within the laws of physics. 

Jen Hewitt, a quiet geology graduate student, doesn't actually believe in time travel. Were it possible, rocks from the age of dinosaurs should already be cluttered with artifacts from future time-tourists. Nevertheless, she proves with fellow geologist Jonathan Renner that a human skeleton encased in Pleistocene rock came from their own time. Their work, coupled with fundamental research by physicist Susan Arasmith, reveals an unexpected character to the universe that carries them from the safe world of science into a struggle with powers and possibilities they hadn't imagined. The three friends, along with Kar-Tur, a frightening mystic from the ancient past, learn that discovery is sometimes as much about faith as knowledge, and that friendship and love are often found where least expected.

Amazon   Goodreads

*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for our honest review*

As a huge fan of all things science fiction, I was super excited to read this book, and it did not disappoint! For me, this book had all the goodies a sci-fi fan would want. Right out of the gate I loved the premise of the book. A geologist finds a modern human skeleton in 40,000-year-old rock?! Sign me up!

Not only does this book have a superb premise, but the characters are fleshed out as well. I loved how the chapters jump from person to person, giving the reader insights into their lives and thoughts. 

This story moves quickly as well, which is always something I enjoy. I may not have understood all of the science terms or language, but Colson explains the experients and concepts in a way that an average Joe could understand and appreciate. 

Fans of sci-fi, speculative and just plain adventure will love this book. Time travel, government conspiracies, and romance are just the tip of the iceberg with this book. 

Russ Colson is a scientist, teacher, author, gardener, and grandfather living in northwest Minnesota, far enough from city lights to see the Milky Way and the Aurora Borealis. During the dark northern winters, he teaches planetary science, meteorology, and geology at Minnesota State University Moorhead. In summers, he writes, gardens, and collaborates with undergraduate students on research projects in experimental planetary geochemistry. In 2010, he was selected by the Carnegie Foundation and CASE as US Professor of the Year.

Before coming to Minnesota, he worked at the Johnson Space Center in Texas and at Washington University in St. Louis where, among other things, he studied how a lunar colony might mine oxygen from the local rock. In addition to science fiction books and books on Earth Science and gardening, he has published a variety of technical papers, science fiction short stories, and essays on earth science education.

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Sunday, June 30, 2019

Just Like Magic: Why You Must Avoid the Magical Cure Trope

Whether it’s the misuse, the lack, or the excess of it, magic usually holds sway over our fantasy worlds. If you’re more a sci-fi person, you know that technology takes the place of magic here. With this, however, comes a problematic road: everything is an easy fix.
Many fantasy authors argue that magic must have a cost. While I don’t necessarily agree, I do think the relationship between magic and people must be carefully constructed. It needs laws, or limits, whether those are because the wielder must draw their own blood to cast a spell, or because they did not survive the Water of Life, like in Dune. 
Magic healing, for example, becomes even more complex when characters have disabilities--even ones caused by magic itself.
I don’t disagree at all with portraying magic that causes a character to become disabled, depending on the context. But battling through an entire book by a character's side should never be cheapened by a magical cure. 
Often the cure is rewarded for being Good or Brave or Selfless and Doing the Thing. Suddenly they’re no longer blind or their limb is restored, or the voices of anxiety and depression stop their incessant yammering.
But that’s not how things work.  At the end of the day, magic is as real a cure as a parent’s kiss on a scraped knees. It paints a dark picture that if we’re not Good, if we’re in fact Bad, or Fearful, or Confident, then we will remain or become disabled. Follow that thought through to the next step:
Disabled people are Bad, because surely if we were Good, we would have been cured by now.
That’s not very inspiring or helpful to anyone, now is it? Plus, it’s way more interesting to read and write a book where the easy route isn’t an option. Sure, fantasy and science fiction are supposed to push the boundaries of our understanding of society, but I’ve always felt they also serve as examples of how people can live and what they face, regardless of the source. 
Another issue with the magical cure trope is it perpetuates the idea that all disabled people want a cure. Many, do. But often, like in the case of Autism Speaks, seeking a cure is actually driven by abled people’s need to be free of the “effort” of accommodating disabled people. What’s so wonderful about fantasy and science fiction, though, is you can build entirely different reasons why your character doesn’t feel they need or want a cure. Cures are unnecessary with magical and advanced accessibility. Example: they don’t need to be magically able to walk without pain, because their hover chair can go anywhere on and off the electro-mag grid.
I’m in pain most days. Obviously, I wish I wasn’t, but I can’t change it. What I can change is how I navigate the world and how others interact with me in regards to my disability. Perhaps your character doesn’t want to be able to hear, they just want to communicate and connect with people more easily. Besides, if you’re going for wow factor: changing a society’s perception is a way bigger miracle than just changing one pesky human body!
All this to say: magical wounds and madness are fantastic ways to explore disability and metaphor in alternate realities. Just be sure you’re exploring all the nuances of life as a disabled person, and giving us real rewards to aim for. You’ll find our wants are like most people’s: peace, friendship, and food!
Are you near Denver, CO? I’m teaching a workshop at the Siren’s Conference this October titled Navigating New Waters: Understanding the Nuances of Creating Disabled and Mentally Ill Characters. Let me know if you’re in the area!

Tune in on the fourth Sunday of every month for more on disability in fantasy and sci-fi. Learn more.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

A Bowl of Peanuts: What to Write About

My dad just told me a story in which he, returned from a late-night gig, wanted to wind down with a snack before bed. He took a bowl of peanuts and a glass of wine to the recliner and started to watch TV, only to wake four hours later, the bowl of peanuts on his chest, the TV blaring. 

I laugh at this, because my dad loves portraying himself as a silly old coot and telling me the goofy things he forgets. My favorite was the story about thinking a guy forgot his bag on the bus and readying himself to leap off the bus and heroically restore it to its rightful owner, only to see it claimed by... a totally different guy. 

When my dad tells my these stories, I can see him playing out the action in my mind. I can summon a vision of him in his fluffy maroon bathrobe, an updated version of the original "Big Red" I was comforted by as a kid. His slippered feet are kicked up in the recliner, and a dumb old cowboy movie is playing on the TV. I can see him drifting to sleep while the bowl of peanuts is perched precariously in that little divet between his chest and belly, which he jokingly calls a built-in cupholder. I can craft the time passing in my head, shape it into a story where something changes when he wakes up, drawing a picture of his character as he realizes his folly and immediately begins to laugh at himself. 

I used to think that to write creative nonfiction or memoir, I had to tell my whole story each time. Or that I would have to deliver pieces of my childhood trauma or the problems of my family. I do write about those things, but usually for myself, not to be shared. Often, the things I write bear some truth of my life or reveal something about who I am. But no one thing I write is going to perfectly represent my entire identity. Throwing out that pressure has been helpful- it has freed me from the unfair expectation that everything I write must be significant in a grave way. 

But I still need things to write about. Especially if I am writing every day (which I actually live up to for about a month at a time). I draw from memory, things I notice about people, things I see on walks through my neighborhood. Things happen - ordinary things - and if I can draw a conclusion or make a connection to something else, this might be fruit for writing. 

One of the people who encouraged me to do this was Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, which remains one of my favorite books about writing. She emphasizes that in order to be a writer, you have to write. What should you write about? Anything you can write about. One of the exercises she suggests is: tell me everything you know about school lunches. So I'll try that now, in my notebook, and share whatever comes out as (Lamott's term) a "shitty first draft." 

I never bought school lunch in elementary school. Our school didn't have it except one Friday a month when there was HOT LUNCH, which was to delineate freshly prepared food rather than bags that had been sitting in lockers all day, but which to me always seemed literally piping HOT! LUNCH! 
Usually it was pizza. 
So we were all brown bag kids on all the other days, but when your parents forgot to pay for HOT! LUNCH! you were especially noticeable on that day. That was me. I was also especially noticeable for the amount of mustard I put on things. The Catholics were suspicious of mustard; it had too much flavor to be virgin-Mary approved. I was dark German (baked potatoes and brown mustard among my favorite foods) and they were almost all Irish with a few Italians thrown in for excitement. I don't know why this was so significant but at some point it dawned on me that this might be the reason I was so very different from all of them.  
You were also especially noticeable if your Dad made your lunch instead of your Mom. I thought at the time I was the only one in this situation, but now I think I should have looked for the signs. It was immediately detectable from the handwriting on the brown bag, which also told if you were an only child (no name written). Most kids with siblings had full names written out in Mom handwriting. I had my first initial in black sharpie. And if I'd had a particularly bad day with the Catholics the day before, a funky angular heart went with it. <3 Moms also write cute little notes on napkins. Dads did not. No Dad would cut crust off of bread, but Moms did it all the time.  
But I never would have stopped dumping three or four packets of deli mustard on my ham and cheese when HOT! LUNCH! was sandwiches. And I never asked my dad to write out my full name or put a note on my napkin. I liked that he knew what kind of sandwich I wanted and wrote N to show me my lunch was distinguishable from my sisters. I loved that he absorbed the habit of initials in black sharpie and signed everything from then on: <3, D. 

See? You can write about anything. I know, I know. Now it seems I've taken this problem and whipped it around to the opposite side. If I don't have to write about everything that's ever happened to me, but I also can write about anything at all that ever happens, what the heck do I write about? 

I face this problem every time I write, it seems, which right now (thankfully) is every day. What's interesting to me varies, so I might write about how there is so much pollen around Providence right now, which would probably lead me to compare it to the pollen in Williamsburg, Virginia, home of the most aggressive Spring ever. Sometimes I write about a topic just long enough to know I don't want to write about it. This just happened for me with an essay about yoga and learning. I might write about my houseplants, or a little kid's funny comment on the street, or about ice cream shops or block parties. 

If you've read this whole post, you probably think I need to write about my Dad. Maybe. I certainly want him to know how important he is to me (if you're reading this, Dad, ahoy!). But right now I'm more interested in investigating news stories about how trees around the White House are dying (I know of at least two). The thing is, once you open your eyes and start noticing, like writers do, there is no end to the things you can write about.

Your assignments this week are all inspired by Anne Lamott. (You really should read her book).  

1. Write about your school lunches. 

2. Choose a topic to examine through a 1-inch picture frame. How can you describe that moment, that memory, that sight? 

3. Practice remembering. Choose a holiday or birthday party from when you were a kid and write everything you can see, smell, and hear. 

A final word of advice: sometimes (maybe most of the time!) the value is in doing the writing, not in what comes out. Translating my memories and the view from my little frame of reference into words gives me hope that I'll keep finding things to write about for the rest of my life.