Making the Impossible Possible: Creating the Rules of Magical and Futuristic Worlds

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This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. I attended last year and had so much fun, but this year I was pleasantly surprised to see many panels for writers (comic/graphic novel panels, and fantasy/sci-fi panels) as well as a big turnout for literary guests. I was lucky enough to meet Patrick Rothfuss (The Kingkiller Chronicles), Kendare Blake (Three Dark Crowns series, Anna Dressed in Blood series), and Marko Kloos (Frontlines series) and get them to autograph their books for me. But while there, I attended the Making the Impossible Possible panel which focused on writing and worldbuilding for authors of fantasy and sci-fi.

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The following authors participated in the panel and gave great advice to aspiring fantasy and sci-fi authors: Charlie N. Holmberg (The Paper Magician series), Emily R. King (The Hundredth Queen series), Marko Kloos (Frontlines series), J.D. Horn (Witching Savannah series), and Jeff Wheeler (Legends of Muirwood series).

The format of the panel was the moderator, editor Jason Kirk, posed a total of six questions to the panel of authors. Keep reading to find out what was asked of these fantasy and sci-fi writers as well as to see what their responses were. I found their responses to offer great advice and writing techniques to better improve my own fantasy and sci-fi writing.

Question 1

Each author in this panel writes their own rules to govern the worlds they create. How does this work when the same rules don’t apply, even though you may be writing within a similar genre?

  • “You need to choose your main character as a one in a million type of person. You need to write your characters as the person who brings the magic to the world and not necessarily have been the chosen one.”
  • The general discussion around this question discussed how it’s important to have governing rules within your world, but to not let them overshadow your characters. Let your characters shine through in the world they surround themselves in.

Question 2

In Fantasy or Sci-fi we often find that the main character always tends to be exceptional. So, if no one is exceptional is there no story?

  • “In Sci-fi, you play within the confines of that structured society. Nobody is different from each other since they all have the same governing laws of physics and biology applying to them. So, the characters in this genre work within their existing system to prove their abilities or skills.”
  • The authors on the panel discussed how it would be even more interested to see more work of fiction in fantasy and sci-fi who fall out of the “exceptional” phase and are characters that work harder to prove themselves versus having everything be naturally gifted to them. It even makes the character more relatable to the reader, no more what fantastic setting the character may be placed in.

Question 3

Every author has their own writing process. Do you start with world-building or do you start with the character or the plot or themes?

  • “Start with the character, then the world becomes a crucible for them.”
  • “Your characters act depending on what the world is and the action or reaction they do becomes the plot.”
  • “Look for the tension, the drama. Ask yourself, why do we follow these characters? Why tell this story in the first place? First find the drama that the character will face.”
  • “If the world is complex enough, all these conflicts come up naturally and then the character, character’s motivation, etc. will follow.”

Question 4

Does your world need to be completely believable to make it work?

  • “As long as you don’t break the suspension of disbelief.”
  • “I can excuse sloppy physics [in Sci-fi] if the story, the plot, and the characters are absolutely believable.”
  • “It doesn’t have to be so much as believable as it has to be intoxicating enough to completely pull you in.”
  • “Don’t overdo the details to try to make it as ‘realistic’ and ‘believable’ as possible. Too much in the details can cause a big learning curve for your reader and can prevent them staying with your story.”
  • “Build the world and characters quickly so you hook the reader in. The strength of your story are your characters who provide the real emotions, real reactions the reader can connect to despite them being in an impossible world.”

Question 5

How do you solve your mistakes?

  • “Take a slice of humble pie from your critique partners.”
  • “Incomplete or sloppy world-building will lead to mistakes. If you ask, what does my character do now? Then you didn’t do enough world-building to throw enough cool things at your characters.”
  • The panel then gave examples from their own work where edits and proofreading provided great feedback for their novels in which they had to go back and rewrite certain parts to make the story turn out better.

Question 6

What tip do you have for aspiring writers?

  • “Think outside the box. It’s all about originality. Do something that’s less expected.”
  • “Don’t try to chase trends. Don’t write to market it. If the book is good, it’ll have its own market.”
  • “Just tell your story. Keep going.”
  • “The world around you can create something different. You don’t have to create something new, you just need to write it in a new way.”
  • “Read what you like to write. It keeps you immersed in your world. Steal little pieces of what you like and make them into your own.”

The panel was then opened to take questions from the audience. Here are a few of the questions that I found to have really good advice in their answers.

  • How do you build a society in your stories? This was answered in 4 parts.
  1. “Ask yourself, what type of government do you want? The kind of government you create governs the rules and freedoms your characters are subject to.”
  2. “What weird customs or traditions do your characters partake in? Create a history for each tradition.”
  3. “Everything is a result of what has come before. Make sure your society has a history.”
  4. “Do real research of Earth’s own history, then tweak it and make it your own for your story.”
  • How do you organize everything when you are working on a current novel?
  1. “You need a story Bible! It’s just 1 document where everything is stored and you can do a quick search.”
  2. “Use Scrivener. This allows you to keep you draft, research, notes, and edits all in one document.”
  • How do you write mundane tasks to make them see fantastic?

“Write characters’ reactions to that task. Like in Harry Potter, Harry thinks the dishes washing themselves in the Weasley’s house is magical and fantastic, but Ron just thinks it’s completely normal.”

This was such an amazing panel to sit on and I hope you found their advice to be inspiring and helpful to your own work. Below you can find the Goodreads page for each author named here so you can check out their work and get hooked onto some fun new series.

Kendare Blake

Charlie N. Holmberg

J.D. Horn

Emily R. King

Marko Kloos

Patrick Rothfuss

Jeff Wheeler

Book of the Month: A Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

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February is known as the month of love since Valentine’s Day falls in it. And what better book to pick for this special month than an LGBTQ, historical-fiction The Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. This glamorous book manages to fit the first-love of a young gay boy set in Europe in the 1700’s into an action-adventure story.

As the book jacket explains, “Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.”

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Set in the 1700’s, this novel somehow explores many modern-day themes and issues. In fact, I like the comparison of Monty’s grand tour year as the equivalent of the modern-day gap year young adults take after high school before embarking on their studies in college. This book also uses the historical setting to present modern-day themes that today’s YA genre would want to read in a book. These include child abuse (Monty’s relationship to his father, Lord Montague), alcoholism and gambling (Monty’s prolific lifestyle), racism (demonstrated through Percy being high-born yet also being a black character), disabilities (as seen in Percy’s epilepsy and the stigma that comes with his illness), sexism (Monty’s sister Felicity faces sexism as her gender undermines her intelligence and skills in medicine), and LGBTQ (which is illustrated in Monty’s sexuality and his crush on Percy).

I think what impressed me most about this book was how modern it felt within the constraints of the historical narrative structure. I really enjoyed the setting, it gave a fresh take on the similes used in the novel. Sometimes, after reading page after page of YA, you can come across a lot of the same metaphors and similes, but due to this novel’s setting I felt like I was coming across new comparisons that showed off Lee’s writing skills yet perfectly tied into the world-building of this story. It adds this charming, glitzy, old-world glamour feel into it.

The other great thing about this book is how it feels like it’s a little bit of everything – romance, comedy, action, adventure, murder-mystery, historical-fiction, and gay/LGBTQ. And if you like books that travel to other countries, then I highly recommend getting the audio book version of this novel. I listened to this book as an audio book and the voice actor did such a fantastic job at creating these authentic accents for all the various characters ranging from British to French to Spanish accents was just amazing and delightful to hear.

If you are a fun of captivating characters, then Monty is the right guy for you. Lee created such a strong, unique voice in the character of Monty. She manages to capture this entitled, sassy teenage voice right from the beginning while simultaneously making you like it. But this only makes it so much more wonderful for the reader to see Monty’s transformation from the exploits and troubles he endures along the way.

If there is one thing I would critique, it happens to be something that also ends up working in favor for the novel’s plot. I thought the grand tour would be more of this glamorous trip but ended up being a fleeing escape since they are on the run and less of a tour. I felt disappointed because it wasn’t what I had expected, however it also worked in favor of the reader because there was no guessing where this story was going. I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next and I couldn’t ever guess the next thing that would happen. It felt truly unpredictable in the adventure/action portion of the plot, yet the romance side of it however was plenty predictable but in a good, happy-ending kind of way.

If you are in need of some good humor, some witty banter, and fun all-around then this book should definitely be on your To Be Read list.

The Perfect Book and the Perfect Night in on Valentine’s Day

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This Valentine’s Day, my husband and I will be taking a break from the hoopla that is Valentine’s Day. So, instead of putting pressure on each other with gifts and dinner reservations, we’ll be staying in and hanging out at home. And if you find yourself at home too, then I have the perfect book to keep you company, because who needs a Valentine when you have the perfect book.

Tucker Shaw’s Oh Yeah, Audrey! is a well-written easy read that pairs Audrey Hepburn’s most infamous character Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s with your inner fangirl in this sparky and delightful novel.

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Just as the book jacket states, 16-year-old Gemma Beasley runs away to New York City for 24 hours to meet up with other Holly/Audrey fans to see a special anniversary screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But best laid plans can and do go awry when Gemma gets swooned off her feet by a real-life Paul Varkjak. Gemma lives her New York minute life by following the mantra of “What would Audrey do?” but ends up in situations closely similar to Holly, where she ends up around suspicious people with questionable motives.

I absolutely loved Gemma and her reactions to the things going on around her. It felt completely authentic and very relatable. I was a little disappointed in the fact that it’s set in only 24 hours. This led to little character development, especially all of Gemma’s friends and Gemma’s love interest. Because of this, some characters felt like clichés, like the fabulous gay best friend and the entitled rich-boy who thinks he can buy a girl. Actually, that last character bothered me a lot because the novel shows him genuinely pursuing Gemma. I mean, why bother having him spend month after month having hour long phone calls if all he wanted was sex? This character just didn’t add up to me.

But, nonetheless, this novel successfully delivers a story about friendship and about Gemma finding herself while paying tribute to Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly.

Like I said before, this is a fast read and can easily be read in a day. So, I recommend watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s (available on Netflix) to better understand all the book’s references. For Valentine’s, all you need is a fabulous evening. Whether you inhibit your inner Holly Golightly by wearing a black dress, black opera gloves, pearls, with a coffee and croissant in your hand, or you stay home in pajamas cuddled up with a book on the couch with a glass of wine, just remember that this Valentine’s Day can still be fabulous darling.

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And if you stay in and find yourself reading this book, just remember Holly Golightly’s advice, “A girl doesn’t read this sort of thing without her lipstick.”

What the Valley Knows Book Review

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Everyone knows the old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but I hardly live by that rule. We’re all guilty of it. We see that beautiful book cover and maybe, probably, just buy it based on its aesthetic and not the actual content of it. And of course, we are guilty of doing this, the marketing team in publishing houses are banking on you to do this. But, another thing I judge a book on is its book jacket summary. This is the hook, the promise the author offers the reader. And to be honest, this book’s pitch didn’t entice me at first, which is seen below.

“When smart and pretty Molly Hanover moves to town and attracts the attention of the football team’s hero, Wade Thornton – a nice guy with a bad drinking habit – longtime friendships are threatened, and a popular cheerleader tries to turn the school against Molly.

“The young couple’s future is shattered when Wade, drunk, wrecks his truck and Molly is thrown through the windshield. She wakes from a coma to find her beauty marred and her memory full of holes. As she struggles to heal, she becomes sure that something terrible happened before the accident. And there is somebody in the valley who doesn’t want her to remember.”

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that plotline, but since I’ve lived in small towns and understand the dynamics of a community like that, I wasn’t too eager to revisit that. But as I do with all books, I read the first page to give it another chance and see if I like the voice and/or writing style. And man, oh man, is that first page one of the most gripping things I’ve ever read. It starts right in the middle of all the action, which in this case is the accident.

And as I kept reading, the overall pace felt natural and the plot kept moving in an interesting direction towards that dark secret mentioned in the summary. Heather Christie’s writing style was what kept me captivated the entire time – it’s elegant enough to feel like I’m reading adult fiction, yet it connects on a deep level to the actual mindset of a teenager. She also does a wonderful job of handling the superficial aspects of high school problems such as beauty and popularity while simultaneously diving into the underlying theme of healing in the form of substance abuse recovery, healing from a car accident, and healing from ‘something terrible [that] happened before the accident.”

I wish the later form of healing was more drawn out in the novel, but instead it was curtailed in favor of Molly and Wade’s relationship. This wasn’t necessarily a bad move, however, it left me wanting more about Molly’s recovery from that specific incident. I’m not mentioning this incident because I don’t want to give away any spoilers. In general, I think giving away spoilers are such a no-no because someone worked very hard to make sure it gives the element of surprise, and nothing’s worse when that surprise has already been ruined before the reader got a chance to read the book.

Overall, this book was way more in depth than what I had initially expected it to be. I’m so glad that first page hooked me in and I gave it a second chance because it has become one of my favorite YA reads this year.

What Every YA Author Needs to Read

These past few weeks has been quite a whirlwind since coming home from the Writer’s Digest Conference. I had the opportunity to meet and go out to a yummy dinner of meatballs (vegan meatballs, of course) with the author/speaker Gabriela Pereira. Gabriela has her own novel called DIY MFA, which really shines a light on the craft of writing as well as the business of being an author. So, it was a nice surprise to see that Gabriela had sent out her DIY MFA newsletter to us attendees that discussed an important, yet often overlooked, issue about being a writer. In this newsletter, she answers her question of the week, which is, “How many new release books should a writer read in their genre?”

I was so inspired by her answer that I thought I’d make a post of my own that combines her response, which is a simple outline that anybody can follow, with mine, which details the specific books to be on the lookout for in the YA contemporary genre. But to answer the original question, the answer is going to be different for everyone since each person has their own pacing. So, to best answer this question, Gabriela ignores the quantity you should aim for but rather focuses on the quality and types of books you should be reading. This consists of two lists – an essential list and then a customized list.

On the essential list, you need to cover your ABC’s.

A is for Anthology of Short Form Literature.

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I recommend the Norton’s Anthology of Children’s Literature for both YA and MG authors. This is a great way to get short bursts of inspiration in children’s books, middle grade and YA. I love the section that focuses on fairytale retellings in YA. It’s so fascinating and wonderfully detailed.

B is for Book of Prompts

I have yet to purchase a book of prompts, but Gabriela has great recommendations including the Now Write! series edited by Sherry Ellis. This series has specific genre-related books to help YA/MG authors too.

C is for Craft Reference

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A reference book will help you when you have questions about character development, or setting, or plot. For YA, I recommend Cheryl B. Klein’s The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults.

Now, for the customized list. This relates to what you want to write. You’ll have to follow Gabriella’s Four C’s to build up this list.

1. Competitive (Comp) Titles: These books are books that compare to your own work. It helps to know what books are already on the market that are similar to yours, since it’s useful to use comps in pitches/query letters to agents. It shows that you know the YA genre and how your book fits into it. So, for my comp title I use David Arnold’s Kids of Appetite meets Little Miss Sunshine. You only need 1-2 comps, so that’s the good thing. Just keep an eye on new books (no more than 2-3 years old) and see which book is most similar to yours.

YAReadingList42. Contextual Books: These books put your novel into context, including references and research materials. This is really important to have in mind if you are writing YA Historical Fiction, which is a booming sub-genre within YA. I currently  have these research books, for an idea I have for a MG I want to write.

3. Contemporary (Recent) Books: This reiterates the same idea with comps where you want to try to read a couple new releases in YA each year. For this though, I would try to aim for the last 18 months. That way you know who’s new in your genre as well as stay on top of trends. I really enjoyed the great depiction of mental illness and the process of recovery as a recent theme in YA in such books like Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella and The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati. But I also love the diversity and portrayal of immigrants in books like The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.

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4. Classics: These aren’t just “old” books, but rather leading books that helped create and/or shape the YA genre. For me, I believe J.D. Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye to be the first YA novel and I recommend it to those trying to master the art of tone and voice.

So, I hope I was able to narrow down Gabriella’s advice to the YA genre. I love this community of YA authors and I can’t wait to see it grow and develop as a genre. And more importantly, I can’t wait to see my writing evolve within this genre as well.

Back To School Reading List

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School is back in session. Here in Olympia, school starts on September 6th and with that, this time of year makes me long for good books with school themes. Maybe because I was a student for so long. Or, maybe, because as a teenager, school was a sanctuary from my home life. Either way, I love how schools in YA/children’s books seem mystical, as if it is its own character in the book. Hello, Hogwarts anybody? I mean, the room of requirement proves how alive and sentient the school is as a character. So, here is a list of my favorite books that make back to school sound like an awesome adventure awaiting you.

1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

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Most people hope to have an owl bring them their official Hogwarts letter inviting them to study witchcraft and wizardry. But, I had always wished to stumble upon the mirror of Erised. I was so fascinated by that as a child and I still hope to come across it someday.

2. Anna and The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

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An American boarding school in the city of Paris – check. A vicarious experience of living in dorms – check. French culture and French food – check. A cute, promising romance – check. Say no more, I’m in.

3. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

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In a world plagued by magically awesome heroes and world-building details seen in the likes of Fantasy and Sci-Fi, this novel focuses on characters that are usually seen in the background in these types of stories. You know, the ordinary kids – the non-heroes, who try to live ordinary teenager lives with ordinary teenage problems in a world where the biggest challenge of all is trying to attend prom when the school keeps getting blown up – again.

4. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

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This book does a great job at detailing what it feels like to be an outcast or misfit in your school, whether that’s because you are poor or it’s because you are a shy introvert. This story about first love perfectly showcases the dynamics of how teenagers’ homes impact their school life as well their relationships with friends and boy/girlfriends.

5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

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The story of Junior has such a special place in my heart since it parallels to my Native American grandfather’s up bringing about an Indian basketball player leaving the reservation to play for the all-white farm town high school. With a great narrative, fresh humor, and awesome cartoons, this book is bound to find a special place in your heart too.

 

Book Review: The Weight of Zero

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High school is an intense experience for anyone; whether that experience may be positive or negative. It’s a unique time for a person because scientifically speaking this period is the most chemical-inducing for the brain. As one’s body transforms from adolescence into adulthood, that first-time feeling mixes with this precarious chemical balance in the brain, making every emotion more stimulated and every experience more vivid. Karen Fortunati’s novel, The Weight of Zero, beautifully and delicately illustrates the idea of chemically balanced and imbalanced minds through the main character’s, Catherine Pulaski’s, experience living with bipolar disorder, also known as manic disorder. I decided to read and review this book in honor of Mental Health Month, but I ended up connecting to this book for so many reasons.

This book is not one I had heard of before I found and picked it up in my local library, which is a shame because it seriously deserves a spotlight for accurately portraying the mindset of a mental illness. I myself have experienced an eating disorder as a freshman in college and have had depression from the age of fifteen. The thing I loved about this book is how it explains that mental illnesses are not magically cured overnight but rather it takes a long process to overcome, or, in most cases, to live with your mental illness. It took me a year of extensive, twice a week out-patient therapy to finally grasp control of my eating disorder. And even though years have passed, I still have those dark-eating-disorder-consuming thoughts. And every now and then my depression does creep up and return to become a stagnant part of my life. But despite that, I have learned to live with those dark times and to live my life. And that’s why I hold this book in such high regard, because Fortunati carefully arcs the narrative around recovery and recovering after each and every downfall.

I wish this novel was more well-known in the YA community, because it can relate to many people even if they don’t have a mental illness. Because everyone experiences low and high moments in their life, and this book can easily connect with people who are experiencing those extremes of emotions too. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that perfectly captures the depth of depression and how numbing it can be as well as this novel does. Catherine says it best when she explains how one of the hardest things about depression is in trying to explain to others the feeling of depression’s numbness:

“I couldn’t tell her that I was submerged. Numbed. Unable to feel anything. My spectrum of emotions had been obliterated, my feelings, all of them, good and bad, had gone AWOL. And someone who has never felt it can understand what the absence of emotion feels like. It is a hopelessness of incomprehensible, unspeakable weight.” (5)

I won’t give any spoilers about this book’s ending, but what I really liked is how the beginning of this novel starts after Catherine experiences a manic episode which spirals into a suicide attempt due to the onset stressor of her grandmother’s death. Beginning the story in the aftermath brilliantly exemplifies the novel’s theme of recovery in that there will always be an after – a time to come where you can live your life.

I’m glad I discovered this book and I know it will hold a spot in my heart for years to come. So, if you’re looking for a book that dives into psychology or just need something uplifting during a difficult time in your life, then I recommend The Weight of Zero.

If you or anyone you know needs help or is expressing suicidal thoughts, please know that you are not alone and there are people here for you who want to help you. You can reach out for help or guidance at the following number below:

Call 1-800-273-8255
Available 24 hours everyday

Book Review: The Land of 10,000 Madonnas

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With Summer closely approaching many people will embark on vacation travels here in the US or abroad. But if you’re like me and you can’t scrounge up the money for an epic Eurotrip, then let me recommend experiencing a nice little vacation vicariously through reading. There are many great reads that include the journey aspect within the narrative. But my current pick at the moment is Kate Hattemer’s The Land of 10,000 Madonnas.

To best explain this novel’s premise, I’ll simply refer to the book jacket’s blurb:

“Jesse left behind five grieving friends – and five plane tickets abroad. As they backpack through Europe [Germany and Italy] with only their secrets for company, will they be able to fulfill Jesse’s dying wish?”

Now, the rest of this post will be a review so if you don’t want any spoilers, I suggest you come back to this post after you’ve read the book. However, if you’re still here let me tell you what I enjoyed and disliked about this book.

Let’s start with why I enjoyed reading this book. The story’s concept of Jesse sending his friends to find his birth mother, who had left Jesse when he was a baby, after his death is fascinating and engaging. It had my eyes glued to the page, reading to see if this gang of friends would find this mystical mother. As the group discovers clues about the mother’s whereabouts in Europe, the pacing of the novel subtly picks up and before you know it you’ve already read 50 – 100 – 150 pages. And what I loved about its realistic, life-like climax, (*SPOILER ALERT*) is that they didn’t find the mother! Because, that’s not what’s central to this story – the story is about Jesse and how his life and death impacted those that loved and cared for him. Jesse is beautifully woven into his friends’ lives and Hattemer’s writing only highlights the themes of life, death, and friendship. And I also liked how the characters initially butted heads and disliked each other at the beginning, understandable given the circumstances they’re thrown into. But as the group travel, they grow to trust each other and grow up a little, which illustrated great character development that I was fond of.

Now for the nitpicking. My biggest complaint is that the story is told in close 3rd-person for the five friends and 1st-person for Jesse’s narrative. Except for Jesse’s chapters, it was sometimes difficult to initially establish who was speaking and/or who’s point of view it was from. And I think the reason this was difficult was because the narrative style (diction, tone, grammar) didn’t change from character to character. They all had the same vernacular and tone of voice, which didn’t work for me because the characters varied greatly in education, social background, and age that this singular tone and style of voice could’ve been more varied. And my next complaint wasn’t really a deterrent from reading, but I kept wondering if maybe there were too many characters/friends in the story overall. It just felt very crowded to have six people’s point of view compete for my attention. I’m not sure what I would recommend: have only two POV’s (Jesse’s and one of his friends), have an omnipotent 3rd-person narrator, or just eliminate two characters/friends entirely. At the moment, I’m leaning towards the latter choice and eliminating two characters since I felt that at certain parts of the novel some of the characters weren’t really that different from each other. In the novel, the five friends are made up of three of Jesse’s cousins (two boys and one girl), Jesse’s girlfriend, and Jesse’s best friend (boy). But the girl-cousin and the girlfriend felt oddly the same character split into two. And three cousins on the trip? Really? It just felt excessive.

But despite my nit-picking I still recommend this book and I think it’s a fresh read. Just to foreworn you though, there is a lot of references to obscure Medieval and Renaissance art (like enough to be sitting through a lecture in an Art History class at a University) and the teenage characters tend to all speak with a very collegiate vernacular (like enough extra SAT prep words to help you accidently study for your test). Even though this wasn’t a deal breaker for me, I thought I’d warn you about this style of writing in case it’s not your taste.

So, I hope you’ll give this book a chance and enjoy reading it (hopefully by the side of a pool on a nice, sunny day) to kickstart your summer reading.

The Magic of Reading

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Every writer is confronted with the daring goal to create a wonderful story worth telling, but before you were a writer (or considered yourself a poet, novelist, or artist), you started with a simple practice. You read. You read your favorite books, whether they were Dr. Seuss or Shakespeare. You read anywhere you could; on the bus to school or under your sheets late at night with a light. You read no matter what, and sometimes you read as if your life depended on it.

So, when daunted with the challenge of trying to write, trying to create, it’s easy to be swept up with the focus that most teachers place on you when you first study literature. You try to find meaning in the author’s intention. You analyze every little detail to try to explain some bigger meaning or overall theme. And then after all that studying, you attempt to mimic these favored styles in your own writing. But after all that hard work, sometimes you still find yourself daunted by the task of writing.

Well, don’t fret. The solution is simple. Read.

In the medieval ages, to read silently to one’s self was considered like an act of magic or witchcraft. The common belief was, what use could these words possibly have if they are not read aloud? During this time, reading was meant to be read aloud for an audience like a performance piece. Imagine, living in a time where reading silently was regarded as magical. But there is something magical in that, even in today’s times. As John Connolly wrote in The Book of Lost Things, “stories wanted to be read … They needed it. It was the reason they forced themselves from their worlds into ours. They wanted us to give them life” (3).

As you can see, without the power of you as a reader, those words are just lines and font on a page. You, as a reader, put meaning into those words – no matter what the author intended for the story to mean. You create the images by simply looking at words – no images could possibly reproduce what you create in your head. That, in itself, is pure magic. Being a great writer is synonymous with being an avid reader. You can’t be a great writer without reading.  And that’s the simple truth. So, to create a novel worth writing you better start reading. Read stories that inspire you. Read works by authors you admire. Read genres you typically enjoy and find pleasure in.

So, to be a great writer, you must first be a reader. And being a reader, simply means that you’re a magical being. So, go forth, be magical, and read.