Nano-Reads–Published NaNoWriMo Novels

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I had originally planned on participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but decided to sit it out. Instead I’m going to continue with the two other projects I’m already working on. I have enough unfinished projects. As an alternative I decided to read a couple of published novels that started as Nano-books.

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

Finally a YA book that does not take place in a dystopian futuristic world. Instead it’s set in a magical alternate past, during Philadelphia’s Worlds Fair. Just as Eleanor’s brother goes missing, the city’s dead begin to rise. When Eleanor receives a message from a corpse about her brother she goes to the Spirit-Hunters for help, but ends up in the middle of the investigation for the necromancer responsible.

Necromancers, spirit-hunters, and walking dead, make for a great story, but what really pulled you in was Eleanor. She seems very conflicted about her role in society. Eleanor is expected to dress and behave according to her role as a young woman of high society. It’s interesting to see how she navigates around (or simply breaks) these conventions to achieve her goals.

Art In Blood: A Sherlock Holmes Adventure by Bonnie MacBird

I’m not a big mystery reader and all I know about Sherlock Holmes is from TV and the movies. I have no idea how this compares to other Sherlock Holmes novels but I enjoyed reading it. The novel begins with a newly married Watson finding Holmes in an cocaine fueled spiral. He’s pulled out of the spiral by a intriguing message from French performer worried about her son and believes he may be in danger. The son lives with his father, an English lord, and their yearly visit has been canceled. Holmes in a frenzy sets off to Paris right way. His hurry isn’t simply concern for the boy. This particular English Lord has been suspected of art theft in the past and may be connected to a recent art theft of notoriety.

The story moves at a quick pace, new details introducing connections between the cases and darker mysteries. Not much I can say about the book, it was a quick, easy read and was pretty entertaining. 

Book vs Movie: Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief by Rick Rourdin

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In an effort to keep these interesting I wanted something a little out of my normal reading and viewing habits. I decided on the kids book Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief.  I’d seen parts of it on TV, it seemed okay and I was interested in how they combine the mythology with a modern day setting. I’ve always loved reading mythology, the Olympian Gods especially.

If this series came out when I was a kid, I would have been obsessed. A thirteen year old kid from New York finds out his father is Poseidon, god of the sea, then goes on a quest to save the world. I enjoyed reading the book, it’s a quick read for me but has a good story. I really liked the way the author wove in mythological aspects into the setting. Especially, how magical elements were hidden in plain sight. For example, Medusa’s victims as garden statues and DOA records as the entrance to Hades. The story was humorous, the characters likable and it really kept my interest.

The movie was okay. It keeps some elements from the book but the story ends up vastly different and not for the better. There were a lot changes to the story, big and small. The movie isn’t terrible but it could have been better if they had stuck closer to the story from the book. One major change to the story took a way a lot of the agency of the characters. In the book, the decisions they make lead to face monsters and various obstacles. However, the movie eliminates all of that with addition of a magical tool that guides them on their way. We know exactly when to expect a fight or action scene, there’s no suspense, no tension. While reading the book, I was always wondering what mess they would get into next and how it would change their path. The movie ended up seeing our protagonist and his friends go on a very different quest.

This time around, I have to say the book was definitely better. The movie was fun to watch, the characters and the humor hold up well. However, they should have stuck closer to the source material. The book just had a better story. Let me know what you think. Have you read the book, watched the movie? Share your thoughts below in the comments.

Book vs Movie: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

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So far I haven’t been too disappointed with the Valley of the Dollsmovie adaptations, of course that had to come to an end. I have issues with some of the movies but this one by far has to be the worse adaptation I’ve seen. Of course, a large part of that could be the novel’s length and two decade timeline. A movie just could not do it justice.

Valley of the Dolls is an excellent book and it’s easy to see why it was and has remained so popular. It provides an interesting story with genuine characters you care about. It starts as a fish out of water story centering on Anne Welles, a small town girl who moved to New York City. Her job puts her in the center of the city’s entertainment industry, which highlights her innocence and naivety. Central to the story are her friendships with Jennifer North and Neely O’Hara. Switching points of view we get a picture of each of their struggles in the limelight and eventual reliance on prescribed pills, other wise known as Dolls. By the end we can read it as a cautionary tale and social commentary of show business. It’s relevance is not relegated to it’s own time period, many of the themes are just applicable today.

One reason the book works so well is because the reader becomes invested in the characters. We get to know them as they form their friendships and are just starting out in their careers. The movie does a poor job portraying this. None of the women seem to struggle at all, in fact they seem to become famous and wealthy overnight. And the friendships seem to form out of nowhere, we barely even see how they know each other besides being loosely associated through familiar social circles. The character’s in the movie end up coming off unsympathetic, especially Anne and Neely. Almost from the beginning they seem entitled and self absorbed. It’s easy to blame some of the issues on the time constraints of a film, but there are lots of other changes that simply do not add to the story. And the most horrific change of all, the ending. It was completely butchered.

I waited until after writing this to read reviews, or anything else about the film, and apparently many people love it because it’s so bad. I can understand that and yeah I got a few laughs out it. But it was just sooooo disappointing after the book. I was going to say don’t waste your time with the movie, but on second thought go ahead, just remember you’ve been warned. If you do give it a try I’d say watch the movie, then read the book.

Thoughts, opinions, questions? Comment below.

 

Praise Does Not Make a Writer Better

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Over the years I’ve taken many writing and English classes. I enjoyed most and did learn some stuff. But only one has ever had a major impact on me and drastically improved my writing. It was a creative writing workshop I took once I returned to school. For the first half of the semester I dreaded it. Once I befriended a classmate we commiserated regularly about how much of a hard ass the instructor was.  The first piece I handed in, he gave back to me refusing to grade it until it was properly proofread and edited. He once told her to completely scrap a piece she shared in class. Essentially he had high standards and was brutally honest when we fell short. It took a while to sink in but we eventually realized he wasn’t tough on us for the hell of it or because we were bad writers. Actually, quite the opposite was more likely.

He was hard on us because he knew we could do better. I eventually came to appreciate it and realized that it was exactly what I needed. Throughout school I always had basic grammar issues and struggled proofreading and editing my work. It was often filled with typos, missing words, and grammatical errors. I don’t remember a time I didn’t get something back filled with red marks. However, my grades were usually pretty good, teachers praised my writing and encouraged me. My first college writing class was a reality check, it was the first time those minor errors had a major affect on my grade. However, I was able to hand in revised papers for a better grade. Unfortunately, my proofreading skills did not improve, instead I relied on the professor to point out the issues in my writing. Despite many of the problems being basic grammar issues I didn’t understand, ie run-on and fragment sentences, she also encouraged me and complimented my writing skills.

The instructor for the workshop, was the first person that ever pushed me to improve. All the praise I had received over the years made me a lazy writer. I had a false sense of confidence and couldn’t see where or how to improve. He did not sugar coat things, he cared more about the writing than hurting my feelings. The last assignment of the semester was a one act play. That’s the one area of writing I never had any interest in so my I didn’t put much effort into it. I don’t remember the exactly what I said but it was some excuse for it not being better. He said, “No, it’s because you gave up.” It was the absolute truth and was better than any amount of praise I could ever get.

Have you ever received feedback that hurt your feelings but helped your writing?  I’d love to hear from other writers about who or what helped you improve your writing. Tell me about the teacher, mentor, etc. that helped you along the way in the comments below.

Celebrate National Poetry Month

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OctPoWriMo Day 30 – Celebrate

Come join the gathering party

Cares thrown to the wind

Caused by strong libations

Caressing intimate places

Consumed by the spirits

Careless and uninhibited reveler

Cautions bring nobody joy

Visit my poetry blog to read more.

Writing Trouble

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The past couple of weeks, I’ve felt pretty good about my progress writing. I have several blog drafts I worked on and other projects offline I’ve been working on. I really started feeling like I could do this, you know get ahead and just basically get somewhere. There are so many things I want to do. Things I’ve been trying to do. Goals I’d like to accomplish. Stories I’d like to write. Just in general moving forward. I thought I’d gotten past the excuses and bullshit that I let get in my way.

Then today I sat down, very motivated to finish writing and editing some of the drafts. Before starting I ended up going onto Youtube, big mistake. I wasted an hour watching a video. Okay that’s fine I can recover, it’s early I still have all day. So I finish up the video, move over to WordPress and try to work on something. I ended up trashing the whole draft. The topic, the approach, everything seemed right. It seemed like exactly the kind of thing I should be writing and posting about. Nothing I typed seemed right though. I thought maybe I’ll switch over to something else. Just looked at them and felt absolutely no inclination to work on them. Again a great idea until I actually start to execute. I feel stuck. Now I just don’t want to do anything.

Thought maybe writing this might make me feel better. It hasn’t. But hey I’m posting something. (That is if I actually go through with posting this.)

The Road So Far 2018

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It’s been way too long since a new post, and like forever since any updates to The Road So Far series. By now I have been living in Pennsylvania for over two years. Even after that it still seems so unreal to me. I attempted to dive right in and actually found a job just a month after moving, at a local department store for the holidays. Well it didn’t even last until Thanksgiving. Luckily I had savings and some extra cash due to a retroactive pay raise from my time at the college. So I managed to survive, financially at least. I may have lost my mind somewhere in the house during the winter though.

That’s the hardest part about getting used to living here, there is nothing to do. Even with working full-time now I can go absolutely mad of boredom sitting in the house, and until I start driving I wont have anywhere to go. Even then, it’s not what I’m used to.

Eventually, that first winter passed and I got my butt out of the house and moving. I started going on long walks and passed a temp agency with a posting about a clerical job. I ended up picking up a couple of hours a work in the temp agency office. Due to my impeccable my timing, just as the hours dwindled down, I started working at the local public library. I worked part-time until the end of the year when a fulltime slot opened up.

Things are good at the library, although there is a lot of down time and it’s easy to get bored. I also was disappointed in the lack of writing programs since before I started the job. So of course killing two birds with one stone I proposed holding a writing workshop. This past June I held my first one and have continued  monthly since. I can’t believe I get to lead my own workshop. Which I has gone a long way to help improve my motivation and mood in regards to writing. It’s only once a month and it’s rocky some meetings but it’s something I needed pretty badly.

I’ve been really struggling to get into a regular writing routine and finish up some old projects. I had a little success despite my lack of motivation, for last year’s OctPoWriMo I completed more poems than previous years. So far this year I missed a couple of days but am still doing pretty well. Last year’s attempt at NaNoWriMo, on the other hand was plain sad. I guess the time I would and should have spent writing was filled up instead with reading and–more than I care to admit–Netflix binging.

I think sometimes it’s what needed. A little bit of time, especially after a major change, to be easy on ourselves and figure out a new plan. I’ve been really thinking about my situation, my writing, the future and where the hell I go from here. Plus all the reading has made me so much smarter and well informed. (lol maybe) Anyway I think I might just be starting to pull it all together. In addition to my writing workshop, I will be hosting a program for NaNoWriMo. That should give me just that extra bit of motivation I need. I am really hoping to meet the 50,000 word goal and I think I can do it this year.

Generally, things seem to have turned around the past couple of months. I feel more motivated and have been working at ways to squeeze in small burst of writing on my downtime at work, lunch breaks and whenever possible. I scaled back the newsletter from monthly to quarterly; with the small amount of subscribers the amount of time and effort needed monthly just wasn’t worth it. I have ideas of how to build my list, speaking of that you can sign up here to receive the newsletters if you haven’t already.

I’ve been posting this years OctPoWriMo poems to Lex Poetry. Since I’m spending time on poetry, I’m working again on a collection I’d like to publish. Hoping to have a manuscript, at least in rough draft form by the end of the year. I know that’ll be here sooner than I think, but I’m working at it.

 

 

Creative Poetry Books

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I find it really sad that poetry isn’t more widely read. It was never really that popular among the general public, but it’s gotten worse over the years. Now I feel like the only people that read poetry are other poets. There are a number of reasons, but mainly I think it’s because poetry and poets are often is associated with a high level of pretentiousness. However, there are ways that poetry can be written and published in ways that are creative, fun and accessible. The following are a few examples I’ve found that I think might appeal to a wider audience.

Horror Film Poems

Words by Christoph Paul, Art by Joel Amat Güell

I discovered this gem at last years Brooklyn Poetry Festival. The title really just says it all. A book of poems inspired by the horror film genre. It includes a wide variety of films including some of my favorites. As with the movies themselves some are humorous, dark, and thought provoking. It includes along side the poems illustrations. I have to admit I’m not familiar with all of the titles. But that’s a bonus since now I have a bunch of new movies I’ll have to see. I really think this is the perfect book for anybody that’s a fan of both horror movies and poetry, but could be quite a fun read for horror fans.

Poetry Comics From the Book of Hours by Bianca Stone

I’m not even sure where or how I ended up reading about Bianca Stone, the article was about an upcoming book. Always interesting in new poetry I thought it’d be a good idea to check out her previous work before investing in the new one. Curious about the idea of a poetry comic, I figured I’d give it a try. One of the things I love about poetry is the imagery that it creates so why not combine it with actual images.

The artwork is very simple and raw. In fact the whole book has a draft like quality to it.  Both the poetry and the comics are strange. The illustrations don’t always seem to be related to the accompanying text. In general the whole process of reading the book is very disorienting. But I guess that’s the beauty of it.

 

Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein

By Lita Judge

The minute I saw this book I was intrigued. Not only do I think she is well deserving of the recognition and should be more widely celebrated, but also the concept is interesting. It’s an illustrated novel in verse about Mary Shelley’s life.  It starts with narration from the monster itself, stating the idea that some people didn’t believe a teenage girl could write the book. (It’s accepted that he edited and assisted in it’s writing but some theorize she was not the actual author at all.) Switching to the voice of Mary Shelley it begins with her father sending her away to live with friends in Scotland. While I knew of her relationship with Percy Shelly and the mythos of the creation of Frankenstein, I learned a lot more specific details. One thing I thought was interesting was the idea that it took as much time to write the book as a woman carries a child, nine months. Though coincidental it related to the central theme of the novel, creating life. Continuing through to the end of her life the book concludes with the monster speaking again, taking us full circle.

My Latest Obsession: The Verse Novel

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Obviously I’m familiar with the concept of narrative poetry.  Just like many others I was forced to study Homer’s epics in various literature classes over the years. I’ve also attempted and failed several times to tackle Dante’s Divine Comedy. However, the modern verse novel doesn’t seem to have the same notoriety. In fact it wasn’t until recently that I even knew they existed, much less read any. Now I can’t seem to get enough of them.

The most interesting thing I found looking into the genre is that it appears to be a growing trend in young adult literature. In fact, that’s where my obsession began. I happened to pick up a used copy of Ellen Hopkins Crank. When I bought the book I had no idea that it was actually targeted towards teens. I was a bit surprised because of the very adult topics and it’s graphic depictions. It tells the story of a young girl’s addiction to crystal meth. However, being written from a teenagers point of view and the simplistic style of the poetry, I can see how it appeals to younger readers. Hopkins has published several more verse novels including sequels to Crank. All targeted at teens, they take on difficult subjects such as sex trafficking, drug addiction and mental illness. Her simplistic poetry style makes it a pretty easy read.

The next book I enjoyed was Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. Another YA book highlighting a difficult issue that can face teens The main character Will is dealing with the grief of his brother’s violent death. The narrative takes place as he descends the elevator of his apartment building on his way to get revenge. On each floor he meets somebody that was part of the cycle of violence that led to his brothers death. The story is incredibly gripping, and I’m fairly certain I finished it in one day.

I promise this is the last YA book. Sister Slam and The Poetic Motormouth Road Trip by Linda Oatman-High was actually my least favorite so far. It definitely felt more like a book intended for a younger audience. It’s a lot lighter in tone and theme. At first I wasn’t sure I would like it at all. It seemed very juvenile, in style and content. It’s a bit silly but that ended up making it a pretty fun read. In it we meet two recent high school graduates who dream of becoming famous slam poets. Their road trip begins with a poetry slam contest in New Jersey and the adventure continues to New York City. The story itself is ridiculous but the rhythm and rhymes really pulled me in.

My latest read was one of the few adult verse novels I could find available at the my library, The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth. Just looking at the first page I realized this was going to be very different. The YA authors played around with form and style. And for the most part, excluding Sister Slam, were written in free verse. Golden Gate on the other hand is written in a consistent form of sonnets in iambic tetrameter with a set rhyme scheme. It makes it no less enjoyable to read, but due to it’s style and much longer length it definitely not a quick read.  I’ve rather been enjoying the slower pace of action. The novel mainly revolves around John and Liz, a couple who met through a personal ad. The narrative then follows a eclectic group of characters connected to the couple.

I’d love to hear back about your opinions on verse novels. I will be on the lookout for new reads in the genre. Actually I already have my next one picked out Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow. It’s about a pack of werewolves in LA, a supernatural horror verse novel. Now that sounds interesting. Leave a comment with your thoughts or any recommendations.

 

Words As Weapons

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I know Seether has a lot of critics, mainly because of their unoriginality. And even I have to admit when I first heard this song I thought it was a remake because it sounded very familiar. But I’m still a fan. Maybe they do borrow some elements from older songs but they usually are pretty original with their lyrics. This song in particular includes a part that I think most writers can seriously relate to.

“All I really want is something beautiful to say
To never fade away
I wanna live forever”

In fact that’s likely the exact ambition and motivation for many writers, past and present included.

In case you are wondering, “Mad World” would the the song that it’s eerily similar to. They aren’t exactly identical, identical but they are close enough that I really did think it was a cover.

But that wasn’t really my point here it was simply an observation about he lyrics themselves. Please feel free to comment with any thoughts, I’d love to hear what you think.