Thursday, May 30, 2019

Poetry: To whom do you write?

"Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? 
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?" 

- Mary Oliver 

The oft-quoted Mary Oliver poem, "Summer Day" is usually reduced to the last two lines and seen as a call to action. What interests me is that the rest of the poem doesn't say "you" at all - it's about the speaker, "I", and then at the very end switches to the reader. It turns the meditation on us, and asks us to choose, because life is short. 

Sometimes poems reach out and grab you by the throat. They shake you awake; they run a soft hand over the goosebumps you are wearing. They, speak to you -- yes, you -- I'm talkin' ta YOU. 

But do the writers of these poems know us? Could they even imagine us? What if we didn't exist at the time of their writing? What if we are very small and they are very big and important? 

photo Nora Pace 2019 

I find that poems come more easily when I address them to someone. Recently, I've written to a future son, the graduating seniors I teach, a long-distance friend of mine who could be more than a friend, another future child but not necessarily a son, and a mystery, beloved "you." All of these poems have a special flavor based on their object, a certain language of feeling. At least they do to me. I wonder: will readers still relate to them if the "you" is too specific?

And why am I so drawn to this way in the first place? It probably would not be possible to write these poems with these specific colors without the element of "you," but I'm not sure why.

Sometimes poetry can be a way of saying what we cannot say to someone. Because he would hurt us, because she wouldn't listen, because they are not born yet. Or it can be a way of imagining conversations that are foreign to us, scary, uncertain, exciting.

If you've never written a poem to someone before, I recommend trying it. Here are some ways to start:

1) Write an Ode

The day we write odes in my high school poetry class is a fun one -- we read dreamy Harlem Renaissance odes like "To a Dark Girl" by Gwendolyn Bennett or strident ones like Countee Cullen's "Atlantic City Waiter." Then the kids and I have to write our own odes. We get to choose any object - a person, thing or idea, and write a poem praising it or describing it. I wrote to a dear teacher friend of mine, describing her crinkled curls and her too-loud laugh, which I love. My students chose a wide variety of beloved "you"s: her mom, her boyfriend's red sweatshirt that she always steals, the 4x4 at Wendy's late at night, his dog Blitz, and "an Ode-a to Yoda."

When you write your ode, think about starting each line with "you" or "your"; this jump starts your ability to describe the person as you extol their virtues.

2) Write a message in a bottle

This exercise yielded some interesting results when we tried it in class. Many students wrote as if they were stranded on an island and just wanted someone to know - not even to be rescued but to be remembered. And some, oddly, wrote to a person stranded on an island. "If you are lost, don't panic! Just send a message back in this bottle, and someone might find it and send help." I loved this hopeful vision.

I decided to go more abstract, writing to an unknown and far away "you" about whom something could still be known. So I will end this post with the poem I wrote that day, which is a tribute and a love song to the graduating seniors of my school.

A Message in a Bottle 

Oh greetings to you in your wide world

on your coastline laced with brambles
and sage grouse and sandbrush.
What does your wide world look like today?
Are the skies lined with orange and sea salt?
Are the hands you carry still free?

What will you give yourself to sail,
what craft will embark today with you at the helm?
In every possible light you are fated
to venture so far you follow the stars.
In every decade you'll sink in the sea
so far down the coral is sun.

But what does your wide world tell you today?
Does it whisper or shout or sing?
How will you answer
as you look at the waves?
Speak welcome -- then throw the bottle back.

Thank you for reading! I write about poetry and creative nonfiction here every fourth Thursday, and also occasionally at my blog, 

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Book Review of Part-time Zombie by Gerald Dean Rice

When Alice develops a hunger for human flesh she unwittingly unleashes an ancient evil only she can stop. As Detective Lazarus races to get to the bottom of these horrid crimes he discovers a sinister connection between the killer and himself.

Goodreads   Amazon 

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

Part-Time Zombie is the story of Alice, who suddenly experiences some crazy cravings, and Lazarus, a cop investigating the incidences surrounding her and the rather creepy Dr. Price. It is an engaging story of grand plots, sinister alternate worlds beyond ours, and the scheming of a mad doctor/scientist who is hell-bent on bringing this sinister world to ours. Join Alice as she explores her origins and discovers who she is. Join Lazarus as he grapples with the recent loss of his wife and the strange experiences he has just stepped into. 

My only real complaint is that the pace is a bit off for me. I enjoyed it up until a certain part when the pace shifted such that I felt lost. It seemed like I was missing some information. I had been reading the whole story up to that point but still felt like I didn’t totally understand what was going on. There’s just a seemingly abrupt change in tone, at least in how I interpret it. I think this story would do well with some additional plot and character development unless I am missing some previous information or other books by him with these characters. 

I like the character, Lazarus. I think I also like Alice, as well, but her character wasn’t fleshed out enough for me to decide (no pun intended!). In general, I would have liked to have more length to the book in order to have the characters more well-developed. I wanted to know more and understand more about the work of the evil doctors and learn more about this “other” world. I think it might actually have helped me understand what was going on a little bit better.

I think it’s a really original idea, at least in my reading experience. It’s not your typical zombie story. It almost reminds me of the world of the TV show Supernatural, with its supernatural and paranormal horror. Or a little bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in there, as well. I think this book would appeal to fans of that genre. The author also noted it is a nod to the 80s body horror genre and I think he does a good job with that. I was actually pretty gripped by it as I read, hence me wanting to have more time with the characters and understand more about that other world.

I can definitely say I will read more of this author’s works! 

This review was done by Michelle Green. 

Gerald Dean Rice is hard at work on something right now. Whether it's vampires, zombies, or something you've never seen before, he's always dedicated to writing something unique. He's the author of numerous short stories, including the Halloween eBook "The Best Night of the Year", "30 Minute Plan" which is free on Amazon, the YA book "Vamp-Hire" and the upcoming anthology "Anything but Zombies". 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Sensitive: The Awkwardness of Writing Outside Your Lane

There’s an amazing push for diverse, authentic representation in the past few years. With it comes a rocky road, both for marginalized folks and the authors who want to help--and of course, the intersection between those two. Twitter blew up last week with the controversy around a white trans-woman who wrote a South Asian trans-woman character. I won’t detail it here, but it was messy and poorly handled by the author. After all: it wasn’t her story to tell. 

So in this complex world of hot takes, cancel culture, and 100% legitimate rage, where do we fall as authors who want to help represent the world in an authentic and respectful way? 

 There are several steps to writing an experience not your own, and each has its pitfalls. My first suggestion is to be honest with yourself--why are you telling that story? I strongly urge you, when it comes to POV characters, to stay in your lane. This doesn’t mean white/straight/able/cis wash your book, it just means your POV character shouldn’t be too far outside your own experience. 

Writing fantasy and science fiction is a gray area here--but not a Get-Out-Of-Bigot-Jail-Free card. Much of the controversy surrounding the aforementioned situation comes from the author using an existing, colonized culture to tell her story of transness. There are thousands of South Asian trans women who are better equipped to tell their stories, and many feel the author should rework the plot to center the experience she’s familiar with--white transness. When writing epic fantasy, we aren’t using actual cultures and existing landmarks, but there are still experiences we might not be familiar with. 

If you’ve decided to go ahead with your character, you have a lot of work to do. Listen to members of that marginalized community before you even start drafting. And I don’t mean badger them. Follow folks on Twitter, check out blogs, pick up some books written about those experiences. Just sit down and listen. Knowing how people navigate in our world will help you plan their experience in yours. 

If they’re disabled, work their disability into the plot as you write. Have them notice when the stairs are too steep for their pain, or the market is too loud and overwhelming. 

As you think about your plot, imagine how the story would look if you swapped out your character’s gender, ability, race, or sexuality. If the story barely changes, you’ve got a problem. What we’ve experienced is intrinsic to how we navigate the world--even if the world has magic and dragons and entirely different continents than Earth. Once your draft is polished, now is the time to look for a sensitivity reader. I cannot stress enough that this is someone you should pay. Many authors confuse sensitivity reading with beta reading, but they’re quite different. Sensitivity reading is analogous to content editing, simply more focused. If you’re not sure your work needs it, ask around in your author community, specifically in groups that welcome whatever marginalization you’re writing. When in doubt, err on the side of caution! 

I’ve never had a hard time finding sensitivity readers--I post on social media with appropriate hashtags, like #disability or #deafcommunity with a few words about my project, including genre, age, and word count. Be sure to include that you’re looking to hire someone, so they know you’re not expecting them to work for free. Know someone who’s written a book with a similar character, #ownvoices or otherwise? Ask them who their reader was, or offer to hire them if they’re available. 

When writing Rih’s POV in Madness and Gods and Blood and Mercy, I sought out a reader to check Rih’s experience as a deaf woman who can lip-read and sign. It was the most valuable investment I made! Another key point: most sensitivity readers prefer if you keep their names private, as far as your readership goes. Since people often experience the same disability (or race, or gender, etc.) differently from one another, calling out your reader doesn’t always mean you’ve created a one-size-fits-all character. Using their name as a stamp of approval--even if you never took a word of their advice--comes across as virtue signaling and tacky. 

Many of us work under tight deadlines, so be sure you allow enough time to do a thorough re-write after receiving your sensitivity reader’s feedback. I re-wrote and added several lines in most of Rih’s scenes, and changed the dialogue punctuation to traditional quotes for her signed conversations, which took a few weeks. 

You might disagree with their feedback or feel attacked by what they say. Please, for the love of Dog, remember: they understand their experience best, your intention doesn’t matter, they are your colleague. That being said, if you truly feel something is being misunderstood, ask how you might reframe it so it’s more clear, or hire another reader to see if it is something subjective. If you ultimately choose not to change anything (I highly recommend that you listen to their suggestions), be prepared for backlash. 

Though it can be a messy and uncomfortable experience, as humans, we need to perfect our skills at apologizing and moving on to do better. 

I work as a sensitivity reader for queer-femme experiences, f/f, anxiety, connective-tissue disorders, depression, and PTSD. I'll also consult to make sure your archaeology is accurate! 

Do you offer sensitivity reading? Let us know in the comments!

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

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Book Review of Once Upon a Fallen Time by Samreen Ahsan

All her life, Myra Farrow has been obsessed with medieval castle-and the kings and princes who once inhabited them. When Steve Bernard, a wealthy videogame designer offers her to model for a princess character in his new game, Myra can't resist his offer to enter the mysterious, colorless, and cursed Hue Castle. But unknown to Myra, her soul is bound to it by blood and sorcery. When she enters the castle's doors, she awakens dark powers, time traveling through a cursed mirror, torturing her present, and rewriting her future, leaving Steve Bernard with millions of questions. 

Edward Hue, the last of the Hue royal bloodline, has never stood in the sunshine, nor felt the rain, or held a living flower. Cursed from birth to live in darkness and bring death to all he touches, he is at the mercy of his cruel, tyrannical father King Stefan, who will not rest until he shatters Edward's soul and makes his son into a diabolical copy of himself. Edward's one hope is the mysterious woman, who walks into his life through a cursed mirror, out of his dreams, and introduces him: love. 

Will Myra break Edward's curse and bring him out of the darkness, or destroy him utterly? Will Steve ever be able to finish his game without Myra? Past and future collide in a tale of love, obsession, betrayal, and the hope for redemption.

This is book 2 of [STOLEN] SERIES

Amazon   Goodreads

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

I really enjoyed reading book one a few years ago, so when the opportunity came up to read book two of the Stolen series I was so excited! I am happy to report that this book was just as enjoyable as book one!

It was so easy to fall back into this story. Even with chapters from different characters prespectives the story moves quickly and keeps the reader engaged. I liked that Ahsan allows the reader to see what is happening on both sides of the mirror. 

The characters in this story are very human, having both good and bad traits. It can make it hard to decide who you want to see get together, but so enjoyable. Edward does portray a beastly prince, but Myra is both full of compassion and spark. 

If you are a fan of fantasy, romance or even mystery you need to add this series to your list! 

History, art, and literature are my passions. I love digging out information about prophecies, divine miracles and paranormal events that are mentioned in history and holy books, that doesn't sound possible in today's modern world.

Since childhood, I have been into reading and writing--and yes, it can't happen without imagination, which luckily has no boundaries. Dance and music are also pastimes I enjoy, as well as reading romance fiction. I love to travel and explore historical cities. I live in Toronto, Canada.

A Silent Prayer and A Prayer Heeded (A Prayer Series) is my first story about paranormal events based on Islamic concepts.

Once Upon A [Stolen] Time is my second story, a romantic fantasy fairy tale. It is the first book of [Stolen] Series.

Website   Twitter 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Popular Idioms from Invaluable

As writers, we use figurative language throughout our work often. These phrases and idioms that are so ingrained in our English language that we often use them without even realizing what the words mean or where they came from. Many of our most used figurative phrases have curious origins whether it be from an influential book of the time, a cultural custom, or historical event. For example, did you know that the phrase, “the pot calling the kettle black,” derives from Miguel de Cervantes’ Spanish novel, Don Quixote?

Invaluable created a neat visual that explores some of the most prevalent English language idioms, and how they live on today in a modern context. Check it out, and think about the literal meaning behind the phrases next time you go to use them in written or spoken language.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Change Up

Picking the point of view (POV) for any novel is a big decision. Whether it’s the immediacy of a first-person narrative (think Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie & Gennaro books); or the third-person limited view that most mysteries use (including my own); the point of view you choose will drive the way you develop characters and your plot.
Because every Clementine Toledano book is told from the third-person limited, with Q as the sole focus of the narrator’s attention, I’ve sometimes found this style, well, limiting – especially when there’s something important I want the reader to know about a character that’s not Q, that she can’t know yet. This constraint of this particular style automatically transforms any author into a student of human nature. For example, if you need the reader to know that a character is hiding something, how can you describe that in a way that maybe your main character might not notice? Does the character look away? Do they shuffle their feet? Do they abruptly change the subject?
First-person point of view has the same challenges plus one more. The person telling the story has to notice something for the reader to notice it too. So, if you want to hide something from the reader, it has to be hidden from your narrator, too.
Despite their challenges, the third-person limited and first-person narratives continue to be the most common points of view in commercial fiction for good reason. We experience our lives through our own lens. If someone was narrating our life, they’d hear our thoughts (which can be useful in telling our story), see things that we might not notice (useful information for people to understand our story), but be limited to seeing and hearing only that which we see and hear (useful for experiencing the world the way we experience it).
So, how does one escape the limits of these most popular of fictional narratives?
The reason this is on my mind is because I’ve recently read two of the most devilishly clever mysteries; devilishly clever because of their handling and mishandling of the third-person limited point of view.
The Investigation by J.M. Lee, beyond being ethereally beautiful writing, tells its mystery by switching between the point of view of the detective using first-person and the point of view of the victim (prior to his demise) using third-person limited. By doing so, the reader not only uncovers the mystery, but the humanity and motivation that led the victim to his demise and the detective to follow him along the same path.
I’ve used this technique myself twice. In Devil Take Me Down, I wanted the readers to get to know our killer a little better, so that they knew the object of his obsession and how long it had been going on. The reader only gets to live inside the killer’s head twice in the book, but it let me do some creepy stuff I wouldn’t otherwise have been allowed to do.
In Until the Devil Weeps, I switch to the first-person midway through to finally give our staid Detective Sanger a platform to speak his mind. I needed to do this for two reasons: first, to add more tension about the whereabouts of the main character, but also to cue the reader in on a mystery that was set up way back in Devil Take Me Down. This mystery has continued through Chasing Those Devil Bones and all the way through The Devil’s Luck and it was time to put it to rest once and for all. Also, if I’m being honest here, I just love the way Aaron Sanger speaks and getting to write his words for a chapter was a lot of fun.
Tami Hoag takes this technique of switching points of view to a whole other level, however. I’ve just finished reading The Bitter Season and quite frankly, I'm still not sure how she pulled this off without me – a pretty savvy reader if I do say so myself – figuring the mystery out. Hoag tells the story from the third-person limited point of view, but from the perspective of every character in the story. This means the detective interviews the suspect and the narrator tells the scene from his perspective, then the scene continues from the suspect’s perspective, still in the third-person limited. We experience the murder of the victim from his perspective and the reaction to his death from the perspective of the killer. The result? The reader comes away with a holistic understanding of the crime from beginning to end.
Both of these novels inspired me for different reasons, but what I came away with is a better understanding of why perspective matters so much to your narrative. Sometimes, as writers, especially series genre writers like myself, we get locked into our own voice and our own style. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But like every rule in writing, even the point of view is not set in stone. And in a mystery, if you change it up just right, it can take your story to a whole other level.

Friday, May 10, 2019

World Travel Through Literature in 402 Books

Dating back to the 5th century B.C., literature has inspired the masses to travel. It was then that the Greek writer and historian, Herodotus, detailed magical accounts of ancient Egypt in his work The Histories. It was so popular during its time that his words inspired thousands of wealthy Greeks to visit the shores of the Nile in search of great wonders and cultural diversity. 

Yet, fascination with literary travel didn’t start and stop with the Greeks. The 19th-century produced literary works from the likes of iconic authors like John Keats, Lord Byron, and Percy Shelley — captivating English-speaking audiences everywhere and attracting them to a romanticized Italy. 

More commonly recognized in modern literature is the master storyteller Ernest Hemingway. His glamorized expatriate lifestyle continues (to this day) to inspire people to travel to far-flung places and experience life elsewhere. In fact, remnants of his past are still alive and well in destinations like Cuba — a pivotal setting for much of his writing, including his novel The Old Man and the Sea, one of the last major works written during his lifetime. The story was inspired by fisherman Gregorio Fuentes, who met Hemingway in 1928 while the author was living in Cuba. 

A fascination with cultures around the world is captured in the hundreds of thousands of books detailing life outside of “home.” From travel guides and travelogues to historical fiction and inspired memories, travel has been and continues to be a popular genre. Through books, authors are able to capture cultural differences, landscapes, and experiences that can’t be portrayed in a blog post or Instagram post. Books transport us to another place and time. Books are a way to armchair travel. 

Whether you’re looking for modern travel stories or tales of travel from the Middle Ages, there’s a book out there to capture everyone’s intrigue. When you’re ready to travel by book, this interactive literary map created by CarRentals is an exciting and inspiring place to scope out travel reads from around the world. Pick a world location on the map and you’ll have a few recommendations pop up for you. You can even save them for later or share with a friend by simply downloading the list of books. Of course, world literature dates back thousands of years and spans multiple genres, but this is a great place to start. 

Enjoy interacting with this literary interactive and let the words of travelers and authors past permeate your life and adventures.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Guest Post by Author Leah Penn with GIVEAWAY!

Staying true to your writing as you take the road to self-publishing

I never know what to say in a guest post that hasn’t been said already to inspire the indie-writer. I find myself swamped by great minds saying it better so I tend to write what I’m feeling at the time. So here goes.

This writing business is a minefield. You self-publish thinking your book is going to blow people’s minds then find the true work is just beginning. After creating your ‘masterpiece’, you’re hoping every avid reader will be looking for that fresh revealing read wanting to be blown away by your book. But it doesn’t happen.

Once your book hits the digital stores, you’re left wandering a scorching landscape to find your audience (because your book won’t be for everyone), and discover along the way, others of the same ilk while soaking up everything publishing-bibles have to offer.

Marketing your work beside finding reviewers and networking on social-media (never mind your niche which can be dark, popular, or controversial), self-publishing is a ‘24 hour 7 day week’. Phew! So when I come across authors with spouses, children, pets, and full-time employment, I’m aghast where they find time to write. With our lives a constant 24/7 and being told to consume each step we take, I decided to ‘take a step back’ and see what I really wanted from my remaining years on this fantastic planet.

And it wasn’t much either; stay in good health, love my mum and sis, and write. Just write the stuff I enjoy reading; realistic, honest, and uncompromising storytelling.

We all want to share our stories and have many discussing our work because we want to know what people think so that we’ll grow and learn from the experience. The joy of knowing someone laughed or cried due to your words is uplifting, and a bonus if they find it different.

We writers who self-publish are foolishly brave to share our tales with the world. Opening our hearts outside of the family is a scary prospect but we won’t listen to inner-demons telling us so - no, we allow the outer-ones who enjoy seeing us take the knocks and scrapes, win every time. Therefore we write and keep on writing, and researching and marketing, and spring back up when we get knocked down.

Be you an introvert or extrovert, reach out and connect with anything to do with publishing. Keep going, believe in yourself, believe the story you tell and build those writing-bridges along the way.

A final word; let’s connect, support indie works, shout about it, get others shouting too, and be joyed someone’s words touched your soul. But mostly, keep writing, because it’s a lovable hard slog. 

I live in London, UK, though I’m a northern-born gal and my mum and sister are my loves. I’m putting the finishing touches to a third book soon to self-publish, then will rework my first novel to clean it up a touch (be humbled knowing you can improve that first publication) as I’m only really starting to learn this business.

Writing stories that stray from mainstream populism and challenge long-held views, my characters break tradition and hoping too, their narrative is like no other.

Whilst myself an introvert yet I love to write, my third book - a piece autobiographical - will reveal more about me than perhaps I should share. 

Website:  Love and tragedy 
Twitter:   Leah Penn (@leahpenn7) | Twitter 


First 6 email requests to receive digital copies of Missing Him by L Penn 
Please state preferred format: pdf, epub, mobi. Thanks.
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Monday, May 6, 2019

Book Review of Missing Him by Leah Penn

The much maligned and misjudged, Emery Pearson, sits facing prison therapist, Dr. Susan James, in order to make a last-ditch attempt to win her freedom after the chance of happiness with the only man she ever loved is cruelly cut short, in this roller-coaster tale of passion told through revealing flashbacks. Contains adult themes.

Goodreads   Amazon 

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

This book comes in hot right away, diving the reader into the drama and world of Emery. Each chapter is a mix of flashbacks to the steamy, volatile romance between Emery and Jack and her sessions with prison therapist Dr. Susan James. It took me a bit to get used to this back and forth but after a bit, it becomes expected. 

This story can be very graphic, so if that bothers you, you may want to stay away from this one. If you like raw, realistic, graphic romance or drama then this book is perfect for you! 

Emery is a very interesting character to follow. As the reader, we get to know what she is thinking while in her sessions with Dr. Susan James. This gives insight into her personality, which doesn't come across as overly friendly or nice. This story has some dark elements but captures that raw ecstasy of emotions love can bring. 

If you enjoy graphic romances, erotica, or an intense drama than you really need to read this book. 

I live in London, UK, though I’m a northern-born gal and my mum and sister are my loves. I’m putting the finishing touches to a third book soon to self-publish, then will rework my first novel to clean it up a touch (be humbled knowing you can improve that first publication) as I’m only really starting to learn this business.

Writing stories that stray from mainstream populism and challenge long-held views, my characters break tradition and hoping too, their narrative is like no other.

Whilst myself an introvert yet I love to write, my third book - a piece autobiographical - will reveal more about me than perhaps I should share. 

Website:  Love and tragedy 

Twitter:   Leah Penn (@leahpenn7) | Twitter 

Author Leah Penn has agreed to give away six copies to the first six people to sign up! Just fill out the info below and we'll get your copy to you! Once the six have claimed their digital copies the giveaway will be over.