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!

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[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?

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