NaNoWriMo 2018: Prepping, Plantsing, & Pre-November Projects

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A comprehensive list of reasons to love fall:

  • Halloween

  • everything smells like cinnamon

  • everything tastes like apples & pumpkins

  • NaNoWriMo

As October raises sleepy eyelids, November lies in wait, and hundreds of thousands of writers around the world sharpen their pencils and prime their word processors for the thrill ride of the year. For the past ten years, I’ve tackled National Novel Month along with them, and you’re damn right I’m ready to dive back in.

Or at least…mostly ready. Which is like being ready, with a dash of apprehension and a pinch of uncertainty. What I mean by that is as I’ve started to pick through the plots I’ve been stashing away for the annual literary mad-dash, I’ve found that I can’t choose just one.

I’m a plantser, and always have been. Non-NaNoWriMo speakers probably think I just spelled “planter” wrong. I didn’t, I promise. A plantser, you see, is a mixture of a “planner”, or one who carefully plots out and plans their novel before November first, and a “pantser”, which is not a misspelling of “panther” (thanks for trying, autocorrect) but instead a novelist who chooses to forgo planning and fly by the seat of their pants for thirty wild days. Plantsers like myself sit somewhere in the middle. We don’t live by our outlines, but we’re going to do some molding of our ideas before we jump into the fray. For me, this normally means going in with what I call mystory skeleton. This is a set of ideas that outlines the basic structure of my plot. Once I have the bones set up, I can layer on top of them throughout November until I have my finished draft.

In the past, when I’ve had trouble choosing a plot, I try to make skeletons for all my ideas and pick a winner based on what skeleton feels the most solid or which one intrigues me the most. The problem this year? I have two skeletons, both anatomy-class-quality, and both equally interesting to me. So…I’m stuck. And I’ll be spending October trying to get un-stuck, or else going into November with a plan to write two stories - a NaNo first for me. (Well, kind of a second? In 2016 I wound up finishing my planned story early, and used the rest of the month to work on another, less developed plot. But this was a fluke occurrence, and I had no intention to write two stories. It just happened. This year, however, would be the first time I went in with a plan to work on two stories.)

That’s what my prep will consist of for 2018. I’ve got one plot that I’m leaning towards, so I’m using that for the plot-related prompts in the Preptober Instagram Challenge, but I’m truly confused about what story to actually write. Ah, indecision. A phenomenon I’ll never escape.

In the meantime, I’m also working on an excited project for Halloween!

THIRTEEN HAUNTS OF HALLOWEEN will be a 13-night short fiction event. Each day will find a new flash fiction story featuring a classic Halloween monster. I’m incredibly excited about this series! Halloween has long been my favorite holiday, and I’m a long-time fan of spooky stories and the creatures that inspire them - contributing my part to the lore of these incredible beings is something I’ve always wanted to do. So grab your wooden stakes and silver bullets and mark your calendars for October 19th! And keep an eye on my Twitter for updates on the series. I’ll be posting some hints soon!

If you would like to be a part of the series, you can become a story sponsor by donating on Patreon! My first thirteen Patreon supporters will be listed as sponsors in a special “brought to you by” section of the thirteen spooky shorts. Tiers are currently set up at $1, $2, and $3 levels. Join my Patreon family today to support Thirteen Haunts of Halloween and so many more stories to come!

Let's Talk (Again)

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I’ve been in the self publishing world for two years now.

In that time, I’ve put out a poetry collection unveiling my battle with depression, a short fiction collection not-so-subtly inspired by own anxiety, and a novella born from experiences with loss and the grief that always follows. I have also had the pleasure of being interviewed for wonderful blogs and lit magazines, had my work published in an anthology dedicated to mental health awareness, and been featured in an online journal. I’ve hosted two events at a local indie bookstore and have been able to raise funds for National Novel Writing Month, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and for a family affected by the rare genetic disorder SMARD.

I’m grateful. I’m elated. I’m blessed. Self publishing has gifted me the freedom and power to create on my own terms. It has helped to amplify my voice, build my confidence, and put me on a path I’ve dreamed of since I was a child.

However, I still live with the depression whose first assault inspired my first book. I still struggle with anxiety on a daily basis. I’m still mentally ill, and this year has done a great deal to remind me of that.

I’ve felt bogged down. I’ve felt pulled back. I’ve felt small, and weak, and frustrated because I know I am neither but the imbalance of my brain makes me doubt what I know. I’ve discussed this before, and I’ll likely discuss it again. It is part of the reason why Fictitious - my fourth book, my fourth venture, has yet to greet the world.

Another part is the changes being made to my current means of publication. Ever since November of 2016, I’ve published via Amazon’s independent publishing platform CreateSpace. As I was gearing up to finally (finally, finally, finally!) putting the finishing touches on my sophomore poetry collection, I got an email from the company. The email was lengthy, but the gist was this: Amazon is changing it’s self publishing . It is, for all intents and purposes, ditching CreateSpace in favor of its newer platform, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

I’m no stranger to KDP. My very first book, Ready Aim Fire, exists in Kindle edition through this service. I have not, however, used its print-on-demand services. In the early stages of my journey, I made a conscious choice not to publish with KDP given its lower royalties and higher printing costs when compared to CreateSpace. While Amazon is currently encouraging authors to move their titles and proceed with business as usual with Kindle Direct, I’m left anxious and unsure.

I’ve had a difficult time putting into words exactly what I’m feeling. As an author, that’s mildly embarrassing. As an anxiety sufferer, it’s commonplace. And so, I’ve been doing what years of therapy have taught me to do: I’m taking deep breaths, stepping back, and analyzing with some distance between myself and everyone’s favorite corporate giant. I’ve been taking some time to research KDP, as well as other avenues of self- and traditional publishing.

Does this mean I’ll stop self-publishing? No. It just means I’m weighing my options.

I’m doing my best to take in the whole picture and make the best decision for both myself and my work. Unfortunately, and frustratingly for myself, this does leave Fictitious and other works-in-progress in a state of limbo. I feel badly about posting yet another apology blog about yet another publication delay. I’m frustrated by it, anxious about it, and generally feeling down. But I’m not going to let these feelings stop me from putting my work into the world. I’m going to do my best to use them to get my work to you in the best way possible.

I want to thank you all for your continued patience and support. I’ve met such wonderful people in my two years of self-publishing, and I could not be more thankful for the kindness I’ve received from fellow authors and readers alike.

This has been a difficult year for me mental health-wise, and the ups and downs have left me exhausted. The Fictitious situation has fluctuated between a source of comfort (through working on the book) and a source of stress (through delays, delays, delays). While Amazon’s change feels like yet another wrench in my plans, I’m glad to say I feel ready to take it on.

I’m not quite sure what’s next for me and my books, but I’m so grateful to have you all along for the ride. I hope to share more with you soon. Until then, thank you - for your patience and understanding, for your love and support, for your kindness, for everything. Living with depression often makes me feel isolated and alone, but the swell of support I receive from this community is a pretty strong weapon against that. You’re all amazing, and I’m truly lucky to have you.

Everything I Read in July

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A brief stay-cation gave me an opportunity to dive into some fun reads last month! A week of beach going gave me ample time to finally get around the a spring edition of Poetry magazine (after months of shelf-sitting and dust-gathering), plus I got through two fascinating fiction reads and a timeless piece of non-fiction I've been hoping to read for a good year. I hope you enjoy my July reading round-up!

LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE BY CELESTE NG

This book is beautifully written, brilliantly constructed, and equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful.

The only draw I had was the slow nature of the pacing. It seems that something big would happen, and then things would settle for a long while before the second shoe dropped. This, however, I'll chalk up to personal preference. I'll admit that I like a heavier peppering of drama throughout a book and that I found myself getting a little restless with the downtime in this one. 

That being said, the characters are truly what kept me hooked. Celeste Ng writes with beautiful intimacy when it comes to her characters. She peels back their layers bit by bit, the way we ourselves often do when we meet new people. She gives us someone who fits in one dimension in our minds, then unfolds them so we can see their many sides. That kind of reality is striking and intriguing. She then uses her almost uncomfortably real cast to tackle equally real, layered, and complex issues including racial and ethnic identity, motherhood, and the impact of long-held secrets. The small town feel of the book puts each character under a microscope. We get the sense, right off the bat, that everyone is being watched and scrutinized, and it's interesting to see how each one of them reacts to this feeling. 

This definitely one of the most interesting books I've ever read. Ng has a beautiful narrative style and truly paints pictures with her words. As I said, the pacing is my only drawback, but that is entirely a "me problem". Otherwise, I truly can't recommend this book enough. It's interesting, thoughtful, and engaging and is sure to get your mind wrestling with some really tough questions.

WISHFUL DRINKING BY CARRIE FISHER

This book was born from Carrie Fisher's one-woman show of the same name, and it certainly reads like it. I definitely recommend the audiobook version over the print, because it gives you that live show feel the book was written to capture, and hearing the stories in Carrie's voice elevates them in a lot of ways - including hilarity! 

I had previously read "The Princess Diarist", and although some of the stories repeat between the books, they are told in a way that feels new. I feel like I could listen to Carrie Fisher spin the same anecdotes twenty times and still be riveted for the twenty-first. She was an incredibly gifted storyteller - funny, insightful, thoughtful. She was the kind of person who could be sentimental and sarcastic in the same breath. 

This is definitely a must-read for fans of Carrie's. It's so interesting to hear her stories in her own words. It's like getting a chance to sit down with her over coffee - a special, intimate experience.

POETRY MAGAZINE (APRIL 2018) EDITED BY DON SHARE

I picked up this issue when it was first released and finally had the chance to sit and read it. I have to say, off the bat, I love what seeing a magazine with such a long and and storied history dedicating its pages to deserving organizations. There were a lot of really special pieces in here that offered valuable perspectives. I think there are a lot of gems in this issue, but overall I felt something of a disconnect between the three sections that made each page seem jumpy and made it difficult for me to settle into a flow or rhythm with the volume as a whole. I definitely dog-eared some pages to flip back to, but overall I felt like there could have been more cohesion.

IF WE WERE VILLAINS BY M.L. RIO

There's no other way to describe my relationship with this book other than that I'm obsessed with it. 

If you're a fan of theater, Shakespeare, and murder mysteries than this is the story for you. It sprinkles in romance and drama in all the right intervals, never letting a single relationship take control of the narrative. I felt so enveloped in this world. I was on the stage with this characters, I was at their cast parties, I was traipsing through Oliver's past alongside him. The pacing was effortlessly flawless - just enough to keep the ending out of reach, but never reaching the point of slow. I found myself unwilling to put the book down. Each chapter called for me to jump to it, and I was in a constant of state of wonder: what happens next? what does this mean? who did it? 

I can tell that this is going to be book I re-read again and again. I feel like there's still a lot to pick up that I may have missed the first go around, and I'm excited to dig a little deeper into the story. My only complaint is that I wish there was more of it. I found myself almost sad at the end, flipping through the last few pages as if turning them faster might make more appear. It's a truly brilliant story, and perfectly crafted. I can see why this one blew up on the book club circuit - it's wonderful!

Turning 25 & A Pre-Order Sale

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I don't want to get sentimental, but reflection often gives that glow. 

The last year has been one of lessons. It has seen friends come and go, it has seen loss in ways I never wished to see it, it has seen hurricane waves and sunshine mornings and everything in between. I don't know what the point of it all was, or if there was one at all, but I do know one thing: I'm grateful to have been here for it. 

I talk about mental illness a lot on this blog because it is something I live with every day. It clings to my shoulders, looms behind me like a shadow, waits around every corner. It's something that made me think, once upon a time, that I wouldn't be around to see 23, or 24, or 25 - or, perhaps worse, that I shouldn't. And while I can't say that I've slain this metaphorical dragon quite yet, and while I can't guarantee that I ever will, I have grown in spite of it. I've chained it down and forced it to watch me bloom in the light it tried so hard to hide from me. 

My upcoming book, Fictitious, is linked to these struggles in a deep way. It talks about fiction - about characters, about stories, about adventures had in books or on the big screen.

It talks about the things that saved me - or rather, the things that gave me the strength to save myself.

I've been thinking a lot about this, and about how I can use the book to do some good for mental health awareness and mental illness support. Earlier this year, I was grateful to be a part of the The Mind Poetry Project Please Hear What I'm Not Saying, an anthology compiled and published by Isabelle Kenyon to raise funds for the UK-based mental health charity Mind. Isabelle was kind enough then to allow me to use my piece in the anthology to raise some money for a similar organization in my own country: the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 

I'd like to do something like that again.

Each year, I like to offer a discount on my books during my birthday month. This year that discount will be on pre-orders of Fictitious. In addition, all funds from pre-orders will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in honor of their annual Out of the Darkness community walks

Please use the code AUG18 on your pre-order of Fictitious for 40% off your purchase! Your money will go straight to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to support their ongoing research, education programs, and survivor support. Each pre-ordered book will be signed and will come with a personalized thank-you note from me. 

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me

Thank you all so much for all of your love and support over the last year. I'm incredibly grateful, and cannot wait to see what 25 has in store. 

What's Next For Fictitious?

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I can hardly put into words how excited I am to make this post. 

This book has been such a long time coming. It has seen two release dates come and go. It has been delayed because of mental health and school and work and life. I have been hanging onto it, tweaking it, adding to it, editing it, rearranging it. 

Part of what makes me so apprehensive about releasing this book has been the content. All of my books are pieces of me - Ready Aim Fire is about my struggle with major depressive disorder, Basket Case delves into my experience with generalized anxiety disorder, and Exit Ghost deals with the loss of a family member and allowed me to verbalize my grief for my brother and grandfather. But Fictitious is different. Fictitious is about the one constant I have always had in my life: fiction. It's about the books I read as a child, the movies that inspired me, the plays and musicals and video games that opened my eyes to worlds real and imagined. It's about the characters that inspired me, the narratives that challenged me, the stories that shaped and changed and taught me. 

Where my other books are all about things that have happened to me, Fictitious is about the thing that I chose,  and continue to choose over and over again. 

This book is my soul. This book is all the pieces of me I've held close. The pieces I've been afraid to show other, but that are integral parts of me. When I started to struggle with my mental health while working on this book, I think I panicked. I started to hold all of these things - these paper people and pixelated worlds -a little bit harder. I wasn't in a place to share it yet, as excited as I was when I started. 

I'm back in a place where I'm ready to share this. As I said during the Power of Fiction blog series, I know that I'm not the only one who has found solace in make-believe. I'm not the only one who has curled into the pages of a book when the world gets too loud, too scary, too heartbreaking, too hard. I didn't realize this for a long time. For so many years, I thought I was odd for being this passionate about pretend stories and people and places.

But why? Why would I feel that way when these stories are made from someone who needed an escape themselves, or who needed to find a new way to look at the world around them? Why would I feel that way when the intention of so many artists is to connect with people? To transcend their mediums and reach audiences they've never met. As a writer, I know how important it is that my work influence not only me but other people. I know that it's not strange to find comfort in words and images. And so this book essentially says: Fiction is important, is powerful, is meaningful. Fiction is a part of my life, and it's a part of me, and it can be a part of you, too. 

I'm ready to make that statement.

I'm ready to share this book that bares my heart so openly.

And I'm going to do it on August 27, 2018.  

Everything I Read in June

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It's that time again - the end of one month and the start of a new. The LSAT has been conquered, summer is in full swing, and I've got eight new books to share with you! Last month I started to explore the audiobook world to hack away at a Stephen King classic (review of It is in May's round-up!). Since then, I've become an Audible addict. The app let me read four extra books this month from the comfort of my car, and my laundry room, and the beach. It's really amped up the amount of books I've been able to read, and while it will continue to help me reach my reading goals this summer, I'm most excited about the possibility of being able to actually read for pleasure when I start school again!

But enough about me. Let's talk about the books.

JURASSIC PARK BY MICHAEL CRICHTON

I'm a huge Jurassic Park fan (like, capital-h Huge) so this book was a natural selection for me. In honor of the movie's 25th anniversary, I used this one in my first From Book to Box Office post! You can catch that comprehensive review here, but for now I can tell you this: 

Jurassic Park is my favorite movie, and I grew up loving the film franchise, so it was only a matter of time until I finally picked up the book. I'm so, so glad I did! There are, expectedly, marked differences between page and screen - but those changes make each story uniquely its own. The way that each character is portrayed and how they each interact with one another, the way that the dinosaurs are introduced - both initially, and after the park-wide shutdown, the way that scientific and even mathematical concepts are talked about and dealt with each have slight variances in the worlds of the film and the book, and those differences make the stories each interesting, engaging, and fascinating in their own rights. 

As far as the book goes: the plot is incredibly well-structured, with tension rising and rising and rising and then releasing just slightly before rising yet again. The threats posed to the characters are equal parts horrifying and fascinating (don't tell me raptors tricking a human to attack another human isn't fascinating - dinos participating in strategic planning on par with human beings? that's! so! cool!), the conflict between the characters, the effects of stress on fear on each of them. It's so smart, and creates such an amazing and timeless narrative. It doesn't matter that the book was written almost thirty years ago - the scientific advances we've made since then doesn't make the fictional science of this novel any less scary, and doesn't make the story of John Hammond's ambitious park any less of a cautionary tale. If anything, maybe it's more relevant today. It's truly a wonderful story, and a wonderfully executed one at that. I definitely have a new favorite book going on my shelf!

THE LOST WORLD BY MICHAEL CRICHTON

I also featured this one in the From Book to Box Office series, but here's a briefer look:

I didn't think that Michael Crichton's dinosaurs would pull me in as much as they have, but wow. 

I downloaded this book immediately after finishing "Jurassic Park" and dove right in. It captured me in just the same way the first book did. The story is similar- island of dinosaurs, group of scientists trapped on it, there are kids involved, there's another group trying to ruin everything. But there's enough new information, enough new thoughts, to make this story unique. The characters are just as vivid as book one, with action just as heart-stopping and conflicts just as dire. 

The major different is that this book features a smaller cast of characters, and they are entirely on their own. There's no regular boat schedule to rely on, and no means of communication with the outside world. This isolation increases the intimacy between them; it strengthens bonds and makes conflicts and tensions more severe. It forces the characters to rely on each other, brings about leadership in each person in different ways, and makes for a compelling character-driven drama. This is exactly the type of action/adventure I love, so it's no surprise that this book quickly rocketed up my list of favorites. I hate to be "that person", but this book really does reach above and beyond the film. It feels more rooted to its source content, and a bit more grounded in reality. 

I'd definitely recommend this for any action-enthusiast, dinosaur fanatic, or Jurassic Park fan. It's a fun, insightful, thought-provoking, and all-around a wonderfully crafted story.

WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR BY PAUL KALANITHI

What a beautiful book. What a heartbreaking, breathtaking, wonderful, inspiring, beautiful book. 

In the epilogue Kalanithi's wife, Lucy, mentions that the manuscript was left unfinished at his death; in a way, this is apparent. The book ends a bit abruptly. Kalanithi's narration suddenly stops, and is instantly taken over by Lucy, who dives into his last days in greater detail. It all happens quickly, which to me seems fitting - isn't that how death is? Doesn't it sneak up on us like that, regardless of whether or not we're expecting it?

And while the ending punctuates Kalanithi's story between a period and an ellipsis, the whole of the book is a true gift. It is the last words of an honest and hard-working man who yearned to understand life and death. His soul sings through his words. He bares himself wholly and completely in this book, sharing his life without hiding the weak points or trying to write them off. He shows himself in health and in sickness, shares his thoughts and fears, resulting in an intimate and touching account of his life and of his- ultimately untimely -death. Kalantithi strove to help others in his life as a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist, and his memoir- his story, his words, his life -will surely go on to help many more.

THE GLASS MENAGERIE BY TENNESSEE WILLIAMS

I haven't touched this book since high school, and barely remembered the story when I decided to crack it open again. In a way, I'm glad for that - it was as close as I could get to revisiting a book with that same first-time feeling, which is a rare experience to get to relive.

I've always been a fan of Tennessee Williams, and this one-act is a prime example of why. His characters are so insanely vivid. They are layered and complex in ways that make them real. I believe this is due in part their basis in reality. Williams wrote his fiction in an autobiographical sense that tied his make-believe stories to his own everyday life. This draw on personal experience creates characters that are flawed, eclectic, varied, and emotional. They do not get stuck in the intricacies of their individual roles. As the play goes on, we peel back layers of each person and come to know them as we would our own friends, family, and neighbors. Amanda becomes much more than a forlorn former Southern belle wishing for her youth, Tom much more than an unhappy warehouse worker, and Laura far more than a timid young woman. And it's this pulling back of layers that tugs the action along and makes for a whole and complete story.

The language is beautiful, the pacing is perfect, and the story- though small and quick -resonates loudly.

SUNFISH BY SHELBY EILEEN

This book is so thoughtful and intimate. There's a rawness to it that struck me - I felt, in part, like I was reading words meant for another person. Like, somehow, I was intruding on somebody else's letter. But that kind of honesty is so pure. That kind of honesty, and openness, and realness resonates. This book paints a sometimes beautiful, sometimes difficult, sometimes heartbreaking picture of Shelby's family. I feel like I've come to know them through her words, and I feel so grateful to have been introduced. This is a really special little book.

JAWS BY PETER BENCHLEY

I genuinely enjoyed this book. Being a long-time fan of Spielberg's version, I'm glad I was finally able to sit down with the original. There's definitely more layers to the story in Benchley's original telling. The plight of the people of Amity is a greater concern, and there are many interpersonal relationships that don't quite make it to the film. The shark poses somewhat of a different threat in Benchley's version. The film is sensationalist. It milks the scare factor for all its worth, using the shark to showcase a mastery of special effects. In the book, there's more uncertainty surrounding the shark. It attacks in a more erratic pattern, making both characters and readers question the water's safety.

There is one subplot in the book that frustrated me. The affair between Brody's wife, Ellen, and Hooper distracted from the action for what felt like no reason. It seemed the intent was to deepen the tension between Brody and Hooper, but all it did was create soap opera level drama that fizzled out after Hooper met his fate. For me, the shark and the tensions it creates in the town brings more than enough to the table. All the affair gave nothing that wasn't already there, and could have been left out without hurting the story.

Honestly, that one problem is the only reason this isn't a four or five-star book for me. It was an exhaustive element that just didn't need to be there and that detracted from an overall excellent, frightening, and compelling thriller.

LOST GIRLS BY JOHN POLLONO

I was lucky enough to see this play during its run at the MCC Theater in New York and it was incredible, and received a digital copy to read after reaching out to John Pollono on Twitter (oh, the power of social media!). Being able to read the script gave me a while new appreciation for this story. It's subtle complexities come to life on stage, but are embedded into the language in such a way that's utterly unmissable on paper. 

One of the things that always drawn me to John's writing has been his dedication to authenticity. His characters feel like real people. They're average Joes and Janes just trying to make ends meet, performing balancing acts between work and friends and family that are all too familiar to readers and audiences. This kind of characterization is the heart of Lost Girls. We feel for these characters. More importantly, we feel with them. Through expert prose, heartstrings are pulled and readers easily find themselves rooting for these people. We want to see them happy at the end, because we know that they deserve to be happy. And why shouldn't they? They're just like us. And don't we all wish for and deserve a happy ending? 

This play is somewhat reminiscent of Tennessee Williams. It's a family story, much like The Glass Menagerie, with dynamic characters rooted firmly in real life. It's both simple and complex in characterization and story and truly reads like a modern classic. This play a true gem, and it's one that sticks with you for a long time after.

OUR WILD MAGIC BY AMANDA LINSMEIER

Instant classic. That's what kept coming to mind as I read this gorgeous collection of poetry. It's an instant classic. Drawing from stories we all know and love- the fairy tales and myths that have fascinated people for centuries -Linsmeier takes readers on a journey. She uses the whimsy of make-believe worlds, the magic we longed for as children, to show us how our own lives can read like a storybook. We go through trials. We fall down. We have hard times, we struggle, but we persist. We rise up, over and over again, even when it's hard to do. It's what makes us human. 

This collection feels like it's existed for a long time. It feels like it has a history, and that's why I kept this feeling that could easily become a modern classic. Amanda is a wonderful poet. She is honest and truthful. She expertly weaves tough-stuff material into language that sings. She has something incredible special with this book, and I truly cannot wait to see what she does next.

From Book to Box Office: The Lost World

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Following the huge success of his 1993 film Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg was ready for a sequel. Despite this, and despite fans' urges for a follow-up to the 1990 novel of the same name, author Michael Crichton remained wary. 

To Crichton, sequels present "a very difficult structural problem because it has to be the same but different; if it's really the same, then it's the same—and if it's really different, then it's not a sequel. So it's in some funny intermediate territory." He had never written one before, and remained on the edge. But with Spielberg's interest piqued, and the fans' continuous nudging, he eventually gave in. In 1995, The Lost World hit shelves. Two years later, Spielberg's version crashed into theaters.

As with Jurassic Park (and most other page-to-screen adaptations), questions about which version better pop up. And what better way to answer that question than with a little side-by-side comparison.

THE BOOK

Michael Crichton's sequel begins six years after the Isla Nublar incident of Jurassic Park.

Its first order of business is to resurrect mathematician (chaotician) Dr. Ian Malcolm, who was presumed dead at the end of the first novel. This decision, Crichton said, was because Malcolm was needed. Malcolm served as the "ironic commentator" of the first novel, and Crichton felt his realist insights remained necessary. Without Malcolm, the story is just about an island of dinosaurs. With him, it's a social, academic, and scientific commentary.    

The Lost World follows the same basic format as Jurassic Park, but with less security. The group is smaller and their isolation is more apparent and infinitely more threatening. 

The book finds Ian Malcolm reluctantly teamed up with Dr. Richard Levine, a young and eager paleontologist who is determined to find a "lost world" of dinosaurs. The InGen incident of the first book has been largely covered up by the Costa Rican government, leaving Malcolm secretive and elusive about his experience. Hints of his potential post-traumatic stress are littered throughout the book: he is mentioned to have listed dinosaur names while recovering from his injuries in a Costa Rican hospital; he freezes the first time he sees a Tyrannosaur again, and the others have trouble shaking him from his shock; he expresses a wish to give up and die when he is injured again in a T-rex tag-team assault on the group's trailer. 

Levine's determination leads to the discovery of Site B, located on Isla Sorna. Here, dinosaurs roam freely. No cages. No electric fences. No security measures. Just endless tropical terrain and prehistoric beasts. 

After Levine visits the island on his own, a frantic radio call brings Ian Malcolm, engineer Jack "Doc" Thorne, and Thorne's assistant and mechanics expert Eddie Carr to his rescue. When they arrive, they discover that two of Levine's middle school students, thirteen year old Kelly Curtis and eleven year old R.B. "Arby" Benton, have stowed away in their cargo. The group is later joined by Sarah Harding, a famed animal behaviorist (and Malcolm's former girlfriend) whose interest was piqued by Levine's lost world. 

The deaths of John Hammond and Henry Wu in the first book seal the fate of InGen, leaving Site B as the last remnant of the company and its bold ambitions. It is discovered that the island was used to house the dinosaurs as they were developed, tested, and raised before eventually being moved to Isla Nublar to become attractions at the disastrous theme park. With InGen out of the picture, BioSyn has become increasingly determined to capture and exploit the company's technology. Lewis Dodgson is quick to discover Site B, and arrives with geneticist Howard King and biologist George Baselton in tow, adding an extra layer of tension for our heroes. 

Each group face increasing obstacles as dinosaurs attack, people are injured and sometimes eaten, and the groups come head-to-head all while racing against the clock to meet their rides off the island. As with Jurassic ParkThe Lost World is a heart-stopping action thriller with a brilliantly paced plot, larger-than-life danger, and characters so vividly real they practically leap off the page.

It feels that Crichton found that intermediate territory he had been searching for in this first crack at a sequel. It follows the formula of the first book: group of professionals and two smart kids get trapped on an island full of dinosaurs while another group of people plots to steal the dinosaur's genetic codes for their own use. But it ups the ante in a lot of ways, isolating the characters by eliminating their contact with the outside world and shrinking the group to increase personal conflicts among its members. This keeps this anxiety level up for readers, as well as ensures the book's ability to stand on its own.

THE MOVIE

Spielberg's 1997 Jurassic Park: The Lost World is a bit different from its literary counterpart. 

The film finds Ian Malcolm summoned to John Hammond's estate to discuss Site B on Isla Sorna, no resurrections required. With Hammond and Wu both alive at the close of the first movie, InGen is still kicking, but has been taken over by Hammond's nephew, Peter Ludlow. Unlike in the book, the incident on Isla Nublar is common knowledge. Through various conversions, we learn that Malcolm has spoken publicly about the incident, and that Ludlow has tried to shut him up, discredit him, and cover up the tragedy. 

The central conflict of the movie lies in family drama inside InGen and the fate of the dinosaurs on Isla Sorna. Hammond wants Malcolm to head a research team with the intention of using their findings to discourage human interference on the island, allowing the dinosaurs to live in comfortable isolation. Ludlow, on the other hand, wants to collect the dinosaurs to use in a new theme park on San Diego (you know, because it worked out so well on an isolated island). 

Initially, Malcolm is reluctant to go, but upon learning that his girlfriend, paleontologist Sarah Harding, had accepted Hammond's invitation and had gone to the island already, he relents. He quickly meets his team, which consists of engineer Eddie Carr and documentarian Nick Van Owen, and sets off for Costa Rica. Similarly to the book, a stowaway is discovered once the group lands on Isla Sorna, but this time it's only Kelly Curtis, and this time Kelly Curtis is Ian Malcolm's teenage daughter. 

The action amps up when Ludlow's team arrives, creating conflict that boils into grudging solidarity as the dinosaurs begin to pick off members of each group. However, the height of tension isn't reached on the island. As Malcolm and co. (minus Eddie, who met his unfortunate fate while trying to save the rest of the group) board a helicopter home, they see the survivors of Ludlow's crew towing a Tyrannosaur onto the boat.Upon arriving back in San Diego, it is discovered that Ludlow's team was able to procure a baby Tyrannosaur and its mother for Jurassic Park 2.0. It is up to Malcolm and Sarah to reunite the little family and lure them back onto a boat to shipped safely back to Isla Sonar - but not before they eat Ludlow and wreak some havoc on the city. 

In the end, Malcolm, Harding, and Kelly cozy up at home to watch a public broadcast of the dinosaurs' return to Site B and a statement from John Hammond, who pleads with the public to simply let the dinosaurs be. 

The movie is packed with action and lots of teeth. The cast swells in comparison to the first film. While the close-knit feeling of the group in the first movie attempts to be echoed through Malcolm's team in the second - solidified especially by his familial tie to Kelly and romantic tie to Sarah Harding - the addition of dozens of others and the subsequent consolidation of the groups limits the time spent on interpersonal relationships. Instead, audiences are gripped by tension as dinosaurs lurk around each turn and each person's fate hangs uncertainly in the balance. As far as sequels go, it's not bad. It just could have done more.

THE DIFFERENCES

There are...a lot. 

Some are due to initial changes made when Jurassic Park made its big screen debut. The first film's choice to change Hammond into a warm grandfatherly figure and to keep him and Henry Wu alive changed the course for round two. In Jurassic Park: The Lost World, Peter Ludlow takes on many of the traits John Hammond had in the book - namely, corporate greed and careless exploitation of de-extinct animals.

The second film also draws some material from Crichton's Jurassic Park by using scenes omitted from the first film adaptation. The young girl being attacked my compies (procomsognathuses) on the beach, for instance, was an early scene in Crichton's book. 

But these are just a sampling of the changes made. Others include:

  • The omission and replacement of characters.
    • The film replaces Doc Thorne with Nick Van Owen. It boils Arby and Kelly down to one character. It also replaces the BioSyn team of Dodgson, King, and Baselton with Ludlow's InGen crew. 
  • The time gap between original and sequel.
    • In the book, it has been six years since the Isla Nublar incident. In the movie, only four years have passed. 
  • Ian Malcolm's post-Isla Nublar injuries.
    • In the original novel, Malcolm's injuries were so dire he was pronounced dead at the end of the action. In The Lost World, it is revealed that he survived, but that he had lasting effects from his injuries. He walks with a cane and refers to himself as crippled. He begins physical therapy when he realizes he may come face-to-face with dinosaurs again, but acknowledges his body's limitations. In the movie, his injuries were less severe, leaving him unaffected by them in the sequel.
  • Kelly Curtis's personality and role in the story
    •  In the book, Kelly and Arby are two hyper-intelligent kids from a middle school class taught by Dr. Richard Levine. Kelly is a thirteen year old aspiring mathematician who worships the ground Sarah Harding walks on, and Arby is a gifted eleven year old who is often bullied both for being a "brainer" and for being black. Levine tasks them with being his research assistants, though they don't understand that they're researching Site B until they meet Doc Thorne and Ian Malcolm. Upon discovering that Levine may be in trouble, and after being told repeatedly by both Thorne and Malcolm that they're absolutely not going to Isla Sorna, they stow away in the group's cargo. They're discovered when they pop out of the trailer to warn the others of an incoming dinosaur, and continue to be vital aids to the team. They help with everything from keeping watch to shooting raptors to hacking into the island's leftover computer system. In the book, however, Arby is dropped and Kelly becomes Ian Malcolm's daughter - a remnant from a failed relationship. As in the book, Kelly stows away after being forbidden to join the team. Unlike the book, Kelly doesn't understand what she's in for until she gets there. Her reveal on the island comes from her setting the trailer on fire while trying to cook, and she doesn't have any major role in the action until the climax of the escape, when she uses a gymnastics move to kick a velociraptor away from Malcolm. 
  • Sarah Harding's job, her relationship with Ian Malcolm, and her role in the story.
    • In the book, Sarah Harding is an animal behaviorist with a speciality in large predators. She started a romantic relationship with Malcolm while he was recovering from the Isla Nublar incident. They ultimately ended their relationship, but remained good friends. She is the story's token badass, surviving being thrown off the side of a boat in open water, riding a motorcycle through a pack of velociraptors, saving Malcolm's life during a Tyrannosaur attack, and sacrificing an antagonist to a T-rex. 
      In the movie, Sarah is a paleontologist, and she and Malcolm are in an established relationship. She's still pretty badass, but a lot of her scenes are sacrificed due to the larger cast and split screen time given so many characters. 
  • Ian Malcolm's injuries.
    • As discussed, Malcolm suffers lasting affects of injuries sustained in Jurassic Park. He is also severely injured in The Lost World, once again spending a great deal of time on morphine. In the movie, his body is shaken by the Tyrannosaur attack on the trailer and the attack on the camp, but after spending a few minutes sitting, he's back to running from raptors and helping the others.
  • The San Diego Incident.
    • The book has the action contained to Isla Sorna, with the story ending as the characters finally find a safe way off the island. The movie decides to take the action away from Site B and plants some enormous dinosaurs on the streets of San Diego for some extra scares. 

THE ANALYSIS

These two works are so different from each other it's almost hard to tell they were born from the same story. 

It should be taken into account that changes made from the original adaptation altered the film greatly. John Hammond being alive, and being a compassionate and likable figure, is a huge deal. Public awareness of living dinosaurs being public means that the characters are not alone in their knowledge of the animals. The increase cast size offers up more non-emotional death-fodder for the writers. One of the Ludlow's InGen team, for instance, is eaten by compies in a similar way to how John Hammond died in the first book. The audience didn't know him well, so the death was just a good use of visual effects and an easy way to unnerve viewers.

However, in growing its cast, the movie loses the intimacy created by the book. With a limited amount of characters, the book is able to explore each person and their relationships with one another on a deeper level. The smaller group also raises the stakes. As a reader, you don't want any of these people to die. You become afraid when they're in danger because you don't want to lose them. It would be heartbreaking to lose them. In the movie, there are so many people to keep track of. It can be hard to tell who was killed in any particular scene, and it gives you the security that the core cast (Malcolm's team) will get away with minimal casualties. 

The movie's decision to take the action to a metropolis also seemed an odd choice. Part of the appeal of the books is the secrecy surrounding the dinosaurs. They pop up on the mainland only to be destroyed. The Isla Nublar incident has been entirely hushed up. This leaves the characters isolated on a few different planes. Physically, of course, they're on an island of dinosaurs. But mentally and emotionally, after this incident, they will be the only ones who know. 

In the film, that's shot to hell within the first five minutes. A man on the train says he's seen one of Malcolm's talks and that he believes him. Dinosaurs are more central to the public sphere. Maybe you've got some skeptics, but ultimately, the public knows. And if they didn't know before San Diego, they sure learned. But it was very monster movie-ish, and doesn't quite fit the scientific commentary established in the first film and in the books. 

THE VERDICT: THE BOOK WINS

The movie isn't bad. It's really not. It's action-packed and outlandish. It can be fun. It isn't bad.

But the book is the clear winner here. It understands its characters and its world better, and through keeping things small, it studies them both on a deeper level. There are more layers to it. The intimacy of it makes it interesting. It creates an emotional connection that seems absent from the movie.

The movie seemed to try to drum up some kind of feeling by giving Malcolm a steady girlfriend and a daughter, but even those relationship didn't have time to be adequately explored given just how much was going on. While the performances were good - the actors were working with what they had, and they worked with it well - the writing just wasn't there. It wasn't strong enough to carry these relationships in the way Crichton succeeded with his isolationist sequel. 

So, ultimately, in this sequel versus sequel battle, the book comes out on top.

The Importance of Being Authentic

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A few years ago, I signed up for a college creative writing course.

I didn't know what to expect. I had been out of school for a year, having taken time off to manage my mental health. When I considered returning to the classroom it was my mom who suggested that I take something I was genuinely interested in- forget the gen eds, forget the major courses. Just dip a toe into something familiar. I browsed the course catalog and found a Sunday morning creative writing class. I registered. 

On the first day of class, the professor handed out a list of writing prompts.

These prompts weren't like any I'd been given before. They weren't first lines, or settings for stories, or a challenge to write a poem with five obscure words that should never fit together. These were deeper. They were more intimate. They were letters to people who hurt us and admissions of high school embarrassments; they were designed to dredge up the darkest things inside of us and make us splatter-paint them on the page.

Each week, the professor would assign one of the prompts, and we would spend an hour  responding to it. Then, it would be time to share.

Now, this professor didn't put anybody on the spot. All sharing was done voluntarily. If you didn't want to read aloud, you didn't have to. But he did want someone to read. And in that first class, no one seemed to want to. The personal nature of the topics didn't  help anyone's first-class, public speaking jitters. We sat in silence after the professor's invitation to share. Everyone stared at their desks, fidgeted with their pens. We all avoided the professor's gaze.

And that's when he said something that's stuck with me ever since. He folded his hands on his desk and he said, "What you write doesn't have to be great."

That got everyone's attention.

We looked up, wary of what would come next, and the professor went on to tell us that we weren't here to write the next great American classic. We weren't here to turn ourselves into NYT Bestsellers.

We were here to hone our craft. We were here to practice, and to learn, and to grow. He told us that he understood that we were nervous to share, and that those nerves were good. It meant that we had created something real. We had written something authentic, and if our writing should be anything, it should be authentic. Our writing should be our blood, our tears, our breath. It should be us.

I went home with those words ringing in my head. The next week, when I went to class, I volunteered to read. And I volunteered every week after that. My classmates did, too, to the point were class would run an extra ten minutes just to squeeze everyone in. We spilled our hearts to each other, reliving our best and worst moments with a room full of strangers. From the trans girl who wrote stand-up routines about coming out to her family, to the girl who grew up in foster care and the boy who was kicked out of his house at seventeen; the eighteen year old who hadn't picked their major yet, thirty year old who was still finding herself, the girl who was abused by her mother, and everyone in between. We talked about the crushes we had in second grade and the scariest moments of our lives. We weren't trying to impress each other. We didn't need to. We were being authentic, being ourselves, and it was incredible. It was liberating.

I've kept that thought in the back of my head. It fueled my first book, and then my second. 

This isn't to say that authenticity was ever missing from my writing. This has been my outlet for such a long time, my means of release, that it wouldn't be possible not to let my own thoughts and feelings spill through the cracks. But after that class, I broke those cracks wide open. I poured everything I am and everything that I had into them. I made art out of them.

Because I'm not here to impress anyone. I don't exist to wow other people. 

I exist to be myself. I exist to share myself. And ever since I embraced that - ever since this professor encouraged an entire room of young writers to embrace that - I've felt myself improve. Not in drastic leaps, but in small ways. In my manipulation of language and use of symbols. Everything has more meaning, because every last thing is rooted to something inside of me.

I have been trying to bring this into other areas of my life. Into my conversations. Into my actions. I am trying to break out of the shell I've crafted bit by bit. To be true to myself. To honor myself. Because authenticity is the most powerful thing I have to offer.

I am the most powerful thing I have to give.

From Book to Box Office: Jurassic Park

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25 years ago, a guy named Spielberg decided to toss some animatronic dinosaurs on the big screen, animated by then-groundbreaking CGI technology. The resulting film launched audiences into a kind of Cretaceous chaos (alright, yeah - the movie is called  jurassic, but historically, a lot of the animals featured thrived during the Cretaceous Period, so spare me); two sequels quickly followed, and after a fourteen year hiatus the series was revived with a reboot in 2015. Universal Studios has capitalized on the craze with dino-driven log flumes in their theme parks and stuffed Tyrannosaurs in their gift shops. The story has reached far and wide, and while Steven Spielberg can certainly be credited with turning Jurassic Park into a household name, it was author Michael Crichton who first brought prehistory to the twentieth century. 

As with most (read: ALL.) page-to-screen adaptations, this jump from book to box office sparks a controversial question: Which version is better? And to answer that, we've got to do a little analyzing. Let's dive in.

THE BOOK

Three years before robotic dinosaurs stomped into theaters, an American girl spotted a Procompsognathus on a Costa Rican beach. She suffered a bite that left doctors and biologists stumped, and so began Michael Crichton's 1990 novel, Jurassic Park

And here's one of the main differences between page and screen: the book's conflict is more complicated and extensive. Larger issues than prehistoric beasts roaming a self-contained island arise off the bat in Crichton's original work. Within the first ten pages, we already meet dinosaurs on the mainland, a problem that's not addressed in the film universe until 1997. 

The novel has four primary conflicts:

  1. Dinosaurs are loose on the mainland, biting kids and babies.
  2. Dinosaurs are loose in the park, making snacks out of...well, everyone. 
  3. The dinosaurs, which have all been been genetically engineered as females, are breeding.
  4. Competition between InGen, the company behind the park, and BioSyn, who wants to steal their dinosaur embryos and create some creatures of their own. 

Other conflicts piggyback onto these, including  everyone's favorite mathematician (chaotician, Ian Malcolm would correct) spending half the book in dire mortal peril, and constant debates over the implications of creating an island of dinosaurs. Through expert narration and the use of Ian Malcolm as a morphine-doped mouthpiece, this thriller becomes cautionary tale on the dangers of biological and genetic power as well as a commentary on the limitations of science and the lack of control human beings actually have over our own scientific advancements and perceived achievements. Plus, there's a lot of badass action sequences involving vicious predators from the past - you know, just in case the academic commentary doesn't strike your fancy. 

The book is expertly paced and balances its many conflicts without a single hiccup. The characters all feel intimately real, from the most deplorable (Dodgson and Nedry), to the amoral (John Hammond), to the desperate to survive (...everyone. literally everyone). Their motives, flaws, fears, and desires come alive through their actions and their interactions with one another. The dangers feel real and the action is near heart-stopping. This really is a gem of a book, and it's no question why anyone would want to bring it to the big screen. 

THE MOVIE

In the jump from book to big screen, the story of Jurassic Park got condensed. Fringe conflicts were dropped, including the issue of dinosaurs escaping the island, and the main source of tension becomes the problem of the dinosaurs running rampant through the park. The issues of InGen vs. BioSyn and the unauthorized breeding of the dinosaurs are kept, but are given less prominent roles overall.

The cast is condensed as well. Some characters are erased entirely, others have their personalities altered, and some are slightly tweaked in age and ability to better fit an on-screen narrative. In one case, the book characters of Ed Regis and Donald Gennaro are fused to create one man, who keeps the name Gennaro. 

While changes like this can sometimes be risky, in this case they do absolutely nothing to hinder the story. Jurassic Park is an action-adventure with a huge heart. It introduces the same scientific questions as the book and gives us iconic characters so vividly real they could hop off the screen and sit down beside us and we would barely bat an eye. It pulls tension at all the right places, evokes a feeling of uncertainty that makes audiences question their safety at every turn, and delivers a compelling narrative without sacrificing a single second of heart-pounding action. Add to that the groundbreaking fusion of animatronics and CGI used to bring the dinosaurs to life and you've got yourself a Grade-A Blockbuster Hit. 

THE DIFFERENCES

We've already discussed the condensation of the plot and characters, but here are some other things that changed between book and box office (warning for anyone who has not yet read the book or seen the movie - HERE THERE BE SPOILERS):

  • The book has more dinosaurs: 
    • Namely, it features two T-rexes (one adult and one juvenile) and an entire colony of Velociraptors, while the movie keeps one rex and cuts the raptor flock down to three. The book also has procompsognathus (deemed "compies"), stegosauruses, and pterodactyls - all species that are absent from the film.
  • John Hammond's personality:
    • In the book, he borders on vile, motivated by greed and innovation for innovation's sake. When he discovers his grandchildren are lost in the park, he treats the issue as an annoyance, and he never once yields on his insistence that Jurassic Park is a good idea. In the movie, he's a warm and charming grandfatherly figure filled with hope and a childish eagerness to bring his vision life. He actually cares about other people, and is so affected by the incident on the island that he eventually comes to agree with Malcolm, who had told him the park was a bad idea from the start. 
  • Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler's relationship:
    • In the movie, it is heavily implied that Grant and Sattler are romantically involved. In the book, however, Sattler is twenty years younger than Grant and is a graduate student studying under him. She is also engaged to an unnamed physicist. 
  • Ian Malcolm's injuries: 
    • In the book, Ian is bitten and thrown by a juvenile Tyrannasaur, resulting in severe injuries to his back and lower extremities that leave him bedridden and near-death, slipping in and out of consciousness. At the end of the book, he is presumed dead. In the movie, he is not bitten, but does get shoved into a building and badly breaks his leg, leaving him unable to walk but conscious and alert for the majority of the film.
  • Lex and Tim's ages, and Lex's role in the story:
    • In the book, Tim is the older sibling, and he is both a dinosaur and computer expert, while Lex's main contributions are playing with a baseball glove, declaring that she is hungry, and generally being an accurate portrayal of an eight-year-old child. The movie swaps their ages, making Lex the older sibling, and splits their interests down the middle- Tim keeps his obsession with dinosaurs, while Lex is a computer wiz. 
  • Character deaths: 
    • In the book, John Hammond and Henry Wu are both killed, while Donald Gennaro and Robert Muldoon survive to the end. In the movie, Hammond and Wu both survive, Gennaro is given the death of Ed Regis (a book character cut by the film), and Muldoon is eaten by a Velociraptor. 

There are other mild changes, such as Alan Grant having a beard and a penchant for Hawaiian shirts in the novel, but the aforementioned are the most glaring differences between the two stories. And with of these laid out, one major question springs forth: Do the changes matter?

In short, the answer is no.

ANALYSIS

One important point to consider is that author Michael Crichton had a hand in drumming up the script for the film, alongside screenwriter David Koepp (Mission: Impossible [1996], Carlito's Way [1993]). And while early drafts credited to Crichton bear a greater resemblance to the novel, the final version produced by Koepp is careful to keep the core aspects of the story intact. You have a remote island off of Costa Rica, you have a whole bunch dinosaurs on that island, you have corporate espionage and scientific debate, and - of course - you've got prehistoric beasts hunting down our unsuspecting (or, in Ian Malcolm's case, very much suspecting) cast. 

This story, much like the genetically engineered dinosaurs it touts, is adaptable. It moves easily from page to screen without much lost. Both novel and film are each able to stand strongly on their own. 

Ultimately, which version of the story is "better" is entirely subject to your personal preference. 

Do you want a more in-depth look at science and society and the dangers of genetic manipulation? You'll want the book, chock full of Ian Malcolm's morphine-riddled rants on science, chaos, and the dangers inherent in bringing extinct species back to life. Want your dinosaurs with a little less cynicism? You'll be at home with the movie. 

THE VERDICT: IT'S A TIE

Life finds a way. 

In the case of Jurassic Park, both book and big screen adaptations are exceptional triumphs of their respective mediums. While there are some things that one might handle a bit better (the portrayal of female characters in the film, or the social and scientific commentary of the book), these two versions tell their own stories, and tell those stories incredibly well.

When all is said and done, this debate between page and screen ends in a draw.

Everything I Read in May

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There's only one week left until the LSAT! Which is both terrifying and exciting. Terrifying because, well, there's only one week left to prepare. Exciting because the end of my marathon study-sessions can soon be replaced with books. Lots and lots of books. Which will, hopefully, get me back on my original goal of reading four books per month. For May, though, I remained buried by analytical reasoning problems and riddling through sufficient and necessary assumptions. I still managed to get some reading done. Here's everything I read in May!

DROPKICKromance BY CYRUS PARKER

This book has so much heart. It lives and breathes with its author, it draws in with emotion and a story that is all-too-familiar for so many of us. I especially love Cyrus's wordplay and use of shapes and spacing in many of his pieces. Something as simple as moving one single word to the opposite side of the page carries so much weight in these poems. His style is concise and poignant, and his voice holds a tone that will surely resonate with so many readers. You can flip through the pages and go "yes, I know what that feels like" and instantly feel just a little bit less alone. This is a beautiful debut collection from a wonderful poet - can't wait to see more from such an honest and open mind.

STAN LEE: THE MAN BEHIND MARVEL BY BOB BATCHELOR

As a long-time fan of Marvel, this book was such a fun and insightful read. I grew up delighted by Stan Lee's many cameos in Marvel superhero flicks, and while I knew that he was the creator (and cocreator) of many characters and that he was essentially the face the Marvel Comics, I don't think I fully grasped his long history with the company or the struggles he went through to create such iconic characters and stories. Batchelor's extensive research delves into Lee's life from his upbringing during the Great Depression, through his army days, the inception of his first hero team in the Fantastic Four, all the way to his MCU cameos and geek culture stardom. It's an all-encompassing account of the life one of the most prolific figures in popular culture over the past six some-odd decades. I came away from this book feeling both inspired and awed - inspired to create, and awed at the tenacity and persistency of one man as he stormed American and worldwide popular culture. Stan Lee is a remarkable figure. He's a hardworking, creative, tireless talent who is notorious for taking ideas and running with them. This book gave me a much deeper appreciation for him as a creator and as a writer. It's definitely a must-read for Lee aficionados!

IT BY STEPHEN KING

I've been meaning to read this book for ages, and I'm so glad I finally did! I will admit that if I didn't listen to this as an audiobook I don't think I ever would have finished, so shout-out to Audible for the helping hand. It's not the story isn't fascinating - because it truly is - but there is just so much to this book, and while each little detail is important to the overall story, it can be tough to get into the first few chapters. About a third of the way through the book, though, I was hooked! The omnipotent narration gives an incredible cinematic quality to the story. I loved the way the book was broken up; the splits between past and present were perfectly balanced, and the interludes aided them brilliantly. The relationships between the characters are so authentic, and King's mastery of capturing their personalities both in childhood and adulthood is wonderfully real, charming, heartbreaking, and about a million other adjectives. This is a layered story, with many different twists and turns, that is thoroughly engaging, will tug at your heartstrings, and despite being a true brick of a book, will somehow leave you desperate for me even after you turn the past page. Stephen King has a wonderful way of writing horror with heart, and this book proves that about ten times over.

What Happened to Fictitious?

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Fictitious was set for April 24th. And then it was pushed to May 15th. And now it's up in the air.

This is not to say that I'm giving up on my second poetry collection and fourth self-published title. On the contrary, this is to say that I'm still plugging away at it. Still adding. Still editing. Still working. In an Instagram Live video last night, I discussed a little bit about what was going on: the renovations to my house, the preparations for law school, the mental health struggles I've touched on before. All of this has culminated in a great big, overwhelming mass. And here I am, with a book still unfinished and two publishing dates passed. 

I don't want to dwell on this. I want to work through it. So, that's what I'm doing.

This book, it's subject matter and what it stands for, is important to me. In a lot of ways, this book is me - a piece of me, at the very least. It deserves to be showcased in its best possible format, and getting to that best possible place is taking time. It's taking more time that I anticipated, especially with all else that's going on. I don't say this as an excuse. I say it as an explanation. I want you to be able to read this book and feel everything that it has made me feel. I want you to connect with it, and with me. I want to let it breathe. I want to let it shine. 

I'm not going to give a new release date, partly because I'm afraid to miss another and partly because I don't want to add additional stress to my shoulders. This book will be finished. This book will be published. This book will be in your hands. And all of this will happen soon.

In the meantime, I will continue to shout-out the amazing guest bloggers who have participated in the Power of Fiction series in conjunction with Fictitious's intended release. These people and their stories are the heart of the reason why I wanted to write this book. The way that we connect with fictitious places and people is so incredibly powerful, and so incredibly important. This is the conversation I wanted to start, and the conversation I want to continue having with all of you. 

I will also continue to post previews along the way. I will still be sending out advanced digital copies to those I've promised, though at this point I can't guarantee when they'll be sent. Once they were, I will set a proper release date, and host proper release events, and have a proper release celebration.

For now, I just want to thank you.

Thank you for sticking with me. Thank you for not giving up on me. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you, thank you, thank you - from the bottom of my heart - for being here with me. 

Everything I Read in March & April

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I'm back at it again with the read round-ups! After a difficult couple of months, I'm here with four books that I read over March and April. True to form, I've got a non-fiction pick in the form of a memoir; a classic pick from the realm of the epic; a poetry pick from a modernist favorite; and a fiction pick straight off the big screen. Let's dive in, shall we?

THE HEROIN DIARIES BY NIKKI SIXX

I've been a big Cruehead ever since I was a kid; my dad raised me on all the 80's metal he grew up with, and for some reason that was the band that sucked me in. I loved their sound and their over-the-top, theatrical vibe. They were different, and a great deal of that was thanks to Nikki Sixx's vision from the get-go. He's an artist in the full sense of the word, and I believe this book proves that. The strength that it takes to bear one's soul so openly and so vulnerably is incredible. He takes his weakest moments, something most people would stuff into a corner and hope to forget, and lays it out for the whole world to see. He's done it through music for years, increased the intimacy by opening up his diaries in front of the world, and has gone on to help others show what makes them different and beautiful through his photography. He has an incredible mind, an incredible sight, and it's so interesting and awe-inspiring to get a glimpse inside his head.

I knew most of his history growing up simply because my dad was something of a rock 'n roll encyclopedia and would spew out fun facts while we listened to his playlists in the car, and I was excited when he told me that he heard that Nikki Sixx was publishing a new book. We listened to The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack together when it first came out, and discussed 1987 Nikki/Crue at length - this was also around the time that he took me to my first Motley Crue concert. I first read the book in spurts whenever I would visit Borders (which was often, until it broke my heart by closing), and returning to it ten years later - and seeing where Nikki is ten years later - was both nostalgic and uplifting. I adore this book, admire all that Nikki has been able to do, and admire his spirit and voracity for life and art and new experiences. There's a lot to be learned from him, and this book is a true testament to the power of second chances.

BEOWULF TRANSLATED BY SEAMUS HEANEY

This was a third-over re-read for me, after having visited this book in both high school and college. It was an upper level literature class in undergrad that first allowed me to appreciate this story and all it did for Western literature. Before that, either the mood of the class soured my mood of the book, or I was just too young and too involved in more modern fantasies to be bothered. I'm grateful for the professor who shed some much-needed light on the epic, and even more grateful to have stumbled upon a new copy at Barnes & Noble when I was looking for Gilgamesh (a re-read that will still be done, of course).

You can get everything you need out of this single poem: action, adventure, horrors, sorrow and loss, triumphs. Reading through it, you can see how Beowulf's story was shaped by its time - and also how it helped to lay the groundwork for many a modern masterpiece. The fact that these characters and their stories still resonate with readers centuries after its writing speaks volumes of its quality. The tale is truly timeless.

THE WITCH DOESN'T BURN IN THIS ONE BY AMANDA LOVELACE

Amanda Lovelace has a powerful voice, and is truly a force to be reckoned with. Her debut collection was full of fire and passion; reading it felt like being trusting with Lovelace's innermost thoughts. But where Princess burned, Witch seemed to sizzle - for me, anyway. 

Lovelace's signature style still shined through this book, and her simplicity hammered home the many valuable lessons scattered throughout. There were many a page where I felt empowered and ready to take on the world, and for that feeling I'm grateful. Not all poetry can inspire that, and it's a testament to Lovelace's talent that this book can rile emotion and spark confidence. There was just something about it that left me wanting more; something about it that felt flat. I didn't feel Amanda's personality in this book the way I did in Princess. She felt lost in statements rather than at the forefront of her work. 

This is still a book I would recommend to others. There's no doubt there's a power in it, and the potential to raise up many. This book offers a hand to hold for many women struggling to have their voices heard, and I feel that there's a lot to garner from these pages. But it isn't my favorite of Lovelace's work. I don't want to say that I feel cheated, because Lovelace still delivered some really powerful poems, but I do feel like as a whole the collection left something to be desired.

THE SHAPE OF WATER BY GUILLERMO DEL TORO & DANIEL KRAUS

This world - weaved by two minds, nurtured in two mediums, set forth in the world to conquer - is exquisite. It pulls you in like no other and leaves in a dream. For all the fantastical elements included, the story and its characters feel fully grounded in reality. It's pure magic.

I will say that I do feel the concept lends itself more easily to film. The visual elements incorporated in del Toro's award-winning feature are what drew me into The Shape of Water in the first place, and what kept me so firmly rooted in it. However, I appreciate the insights into the minds and lives of each character that the book offers. The book added so much depth to characters who were mere background pieces in the film, and I found myself having a greater understanding of and appreciation for each one as I read. 

All in all, this is a beautiful book, and a beautiful companion to the movie. Each stands alone well, but together, they create a world so awe-inspiring you'll never want to leave.

The Power of Fiction: Samantha Stinehart on Harry Potter

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We've made it, friends. We're at the very last guest post for The Power of Fiction. We have heard some truly inspiring, empowering, and heartwarming stories from some truly incredible people. This last guest blog of the series is one that reached straight into my heart and squeezed. It comes from blogger Samantha Stinehart, and the first time I read it I found myself with tears in my eyes and a longing to reach through the computer screen and hug her - to tell her that I understand, that I've been there, too. Without further ado - here is Samantha Stinehart on J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.


On Harry Potter
by Samantha Stinehart

During the months before the summer of 2005, I was twelve years old, wishing for summer to be out of school, and I was waiting for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to be published.

I was also planning my suicide.

Now, more than ten years later, I couldn’t tell you when or how, all I remember was I was
waiting for the sixth book in my favorite series to come out. One last thing to look forward to.

And then July 5, 2005 came. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released and I was
able to delve into the book, to return to Hogwarts and reunite with my best friends Harry, Ron, and Hermione for what I had thought was one last time.

Then I finished the book, closed it, and let it sit on my lap for a moment. I discovered who the
Half-Blood Prince was, I learned about horcruxes, I witnessed Dumbledore's death. I knew what was next for Harry, Ron, and Hermione. It was what I wanted. To finish the book so I could end my life. I thought about what I was going to do next, when I was going to do it, how I wasn't going to do it.

But... I needed to know what happened in the final book. I couldn’t die then, I needed to know.

In that moment, I found the strength that I needed to just hold on a little bit longer. For the next book, for the end of the series. I think in the back of my mind, I had been looking for something to change my mind about taking my own life and this series gave me what I needed.

It might seem silly to a lot of people, a fictional world of magic keeping me alive - sometimes it
even seems silly to me, but the magical word that J.K. Rowling came up with gave me the strength that I so desperately needed but couldn’t find on my own. Since then, I've been able to find my strength in other books and other forms of fiction – tv shows, movies, etc. But it all started with Hogwarts.


Samantha Stinehart is a blogger and writer based in the United States. She can be found on Instagram at @hartfully, or on Tumblr at hartsbeating.tumblr.com. I cannot thank Samantha enough for sharing such a deeply personal and intimate story for this series. It truly means the world to have her contribution, and to know that fictional worlds have touched others in such incredibly meaningful, powerful ways.


The Power of Fiction is a guest blog series running alongside promotions for Fictitious, Lexi Vranick's fourth self-published title and second collection of poetry. Views of guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect Lexi Vranick's views. 

Each post will conclude with new information about Fictitious. This week, I would like to let you know that I will be hosting a virtual reading for Fictitious on its new release date, May 15, 2018! I will be reading some selections from the book and sharing a couple of my own personal experiences with the influence of fiction on Instagram Live. Time to be announced.

Please feel free to add Fictitious to your to-read shelf on Goodreads. If you are interested in becoming an early reviewer for Fictitious, please fill out this application. Please note that the Advanced Reviewer Application currently reflects the original release date. 

National Poetry Month

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It feels like April has barely begun, but just like that National Poetry Month 2018 is over.

The month did not turn out exactly the way I expected. Between mental health and home renovations, I've hardly found a place to plant my feet on the ground. I feel like all I've been doing is going through the motions - constantly, endlessly, in looping repetition. And while the month didn't go quite as I had hoped, it was still a great one. Exciting things happened, and mundane things happened, and inspiring things happened. All in all, while I might not have written as much poetry throughout the month as I had wanted to, I feel like I'm walking away from this celebratory month refreshed and truly ready to take on whatever might come next.

To touch on the exciting things that happened this month: on April 5, I was interviewed by the always lovely Amber of YA Indulgences as part of her month-long Poetic Justice series and on April 15, my poem "White Knuckles and Broken Cars" was published in Issue 2 of Cagibi Lit. This marks both my first interview, and my first piece published in a literary journal!

Moving forward, I've mapped out a plan to catch up on and continue the Year in Poetry series. You will be seeing frequent poetry posts over the next couple of weeks until we find ourselves all caught up and back in the groove. I'm very excited to get back on this particular horse, as the project is something I'm very determined to completed and absolutely thrilled to share with you.

I've also pushed back the release date of Fictitious to allow more time to work out a few technical kinks and to ensure that this little book is the absolutely best in can be. I touched on this in a bit more depth in the latest Power of Fiction guest post, so be sure to check that out! The new release date for Fictitious will be May 15, 2018.

Over the past month, I have reached from a deep emotional low into something of a creative revival. Seeing other poets posting content throughout the month, being able to read and absorbed their words, has invigorated me. I have a lot of plans for the rest of this year, and some exciting announcements to throw at you over the next couple of weeks. 

One last thing: Ready Aim Fire is currently on sale in honor of National Poetry Month, and today is the LAST DAY to get it at this special reduced price!

I hope this month and the poetry it birthed as sparked in you hope, and courage, and empowerment - I hope that it has shown you the world through a new lens, and that you walk away from it feeling greater, and bigger, and stronger. Wishing you all the best on this last day of National Poetry Month 2018! I'm so very grateful to be on this ride with you.

The Power of Fiction: Melissa Jennings on Six of Crows

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At long last, we are back with The Power of Fiction! I want to apology for my sudden hiatus from blogging. If you would like to know more about where I've been, I invite you to look at this post. I don't want to discuss too much about here as I don't want to detract from Melissa's beautiful, and beautifully thoughtful, guest post. The most I will say here is that due to my hiatus and due to some technical difficulties, the release of Fictitious will be slightly delayed. More info on that will be after Melissa's piece, so if you would like to know more on the new release date, please stick around to the end!

We've explored a lot of different worlds in this series, from Neverland to Hogwarts to post-apocalyptic Georgia, and today we'll be delving into the fantastical sphere of Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows as independent poet Melissa Jennings explores their special and powerful connection with the character Nina Zenik.


On Nina Zenik
by Melissa Jennings

I only recently finished Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology and having read quite a few books, the duology is the first series to present a character that represents me, Nina Zenik. Over the years of reading numerous genres and watching tv series and films, I hadn’t found a character worth rooting for as much as I have done for Nina. But the thing is, I’m 22 years old, and it’s taken me a long time to find such a character; personally, I find this to be a major issue as not everyone is represented in books, on TV/film. Thankfully, the book industry is changing gradually through some publishers pushing for diverse books, such as Angie Thomas’ The Hate You Give, which is another favourite of mine. I only wish Six of Crows and other books were present during my childhood. I wish I had met Nina Zenik sooner.

Bardugo’s book was recommended to me by the book community. It is classified as a young adult fantasy novel; fantasy is not normally my preferred genre. However, I delved into the ‘Grishaverse’ created by Bardugo and goodness, was I captivated. Without spoiling the duology, the reader meets Nina Zenik promptly in Six of Crows (the first novel in the duology), as a charming, mysterious, magic-wielding woman in a suspect establishment. As Six of Crows trudges on, Nina’s past is revealed to the reader and again without spoiling the novel, I never felt more understood by a fictional character. From a young age, Nina had been trained in The Second Army to use her Grisha abilities, specifically as a Heartrender (a type of Grisha who can control bodies/life), to overcome any potential threat to Ravka, in particular, the Fjerdan Drüskelle who deem Grishas to be “unnatural”. In the same way, I was integrated into a Catholic background from a young age and was indoctrined into Catholic sacraments. Throughout the duology, Nina is proud of her heritage and country, but through her growing relationship with a Drüskelle, Matthias Helvar, Nina changes her opinion on the Fjerdans. Around the same age as Nina, at 17, I denounced my Catholic faith as I no longer agreed with the Catholic Church’s teachings, and become agnostic and much more open to the world. Nonetheless, I still feel guilty to this day, but I am better for it. After reading this, I felt Nina’s guilt as my own. We both have this faith in the universe, however, that things will change, but we will always be reborn in some way or other.

Moving on to something more encouraging, for me, Nina Zenik represents body-positivity. In the novel, Nina is described as “voluptuous” and if I had to describe myself, that would be me. As a teenager, I was bullied for my weight; I was normally chosen last for anything as apparently being “fat” meant that I wasn’t capable of anything. Moreover, I never found myself attractive because of my weight, as in that I would feel uncomfortable if I wore a dress, a short shirt, or a low-cut top. Nina Zenik throws all of that out of the window and tells me that being fat is beautiful. For me, Nina’s character arc informed me that I can take up space, that “I am large, I contain multitudes” as Walter Whitman once said.

In Crooked Kingdom, Nina also struggles with addiction. Yet again, I’ve struggled with addiction in my past. In the second part of the Six of Crows duology, Nina contends with a powerful addiction as she wishes to be much more important to the Dregs. In a similar way, I have fought with an alcohol addiction as I’ve relied on alcohol to surpass my anxiety and depression to become much more sociable. Having experienced addiction, I know how difficult it is to let it go. However, reading Nina’s arc in Crooked Kingdom was not an easy read for me. Although I understood Nina’s addiction, I wish that I hadn’t. Connecting to a character in a book, TV series, or film can be good but also bad. It can trigger memories and awful emotions and feelings. Readers should be wary of recommending representations, for example, anxiety representation. No experience is a monolith. However, for me, Nina Zenik is a hero; with her fictional presence, I feel less alone.


Melissa Jennings in an independent poet based in Scotland. Their self-published works include the full-length poetry collection Afterlife and a poetry chapbook, Dear Judas. Their second chapbook, The Body Remembers, is available for pre-order on Kindle and is set for release on April 30, 2018. You can find Melissa on Twitter at @thebookishpoet and Instagram at @thebookishpoet, or visit Melissa's website at melissajennings.co. I truly cannot thank Melissa enough for sharing their story and being a part of this series.


The Power of Fiction is a guest blog series running alongside promotions for Fictitious, Lexi Vranick's fourth self-published title and second collection of poetry. Views of guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect Lexi Vranick's views. 

Each post will conclude with new information about Fictitious. This week, I would like to announce the delay of the release. Due to technical difficulties, Fictitious will now be available on Amazon on May 15, 2018. I apologize for the delay! However, this change will allow me ensure that the finished book will be the absolute best that it can be.

Please feel free to add Fictitious to your to-read shelf on Goodreads. If you are interested in becoming an early reviewer for Fictitious, please fill out this application. Please note that the Advanced Reviewer Application currently reflects the original release date. 

Let's Talk

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I've been absent lately. Absent from this blog, from social media; absent from this whole writer's networking game. And while I have touched on the reason why in a recent Twitter thread, I wanted to talk a moment to talk about it here as well. 

From previous posts, many of you may already know that I've struggled with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder since 2011. I was formally diagnosed in 2014, when I was prescribed medication and began talk therapy. I have continued to manage my symptoms through these means, and began to feel stable around 2016. In 2017, I cut my therapy sessions down to every other week, then as-needed, then stopped all together. I was doing well. Really, really well. And then...I wasn't.

We often expect mental illness recovery to be linear. We want it to be linear. And why wouldn't we? A straight shot from the worst feeling you can imagine to being happier than you've ever felt is ideal, no matter how long it takes to draw that line. When you start to feel like yourself again, when you have the energy to do the things you love again after months or years in a fog, you think you're in the clear. You should be out of the woods, right? You feel better, so you should be better.

Mental illness doesn't work like that. Recovery looks more like rolling hills than one straight line. You hit some peaks, and you slide down into some valleys. And over the last couple of months, I've been deep in one of those valleys. 

What started as a couple of bad days turned into a few bad weeks, and now it's been over a month and I feel like I'm stuck on a plateau. Nothing in front. Nothing behind. Just flat, and empty, and endless. I've had to force myself to do the most basic of tasks. I've felt overwhelmed by things that usually excite me. I've been irritable and exhausted. It's frustrating on a lot of levels. I was so proud of myself, and I felt like people around me were proud, for doing well for such a long time. I graduated college in December, I'm preparing for the LSAT in June, I've published three books with a forth on the way. Everything is going well! So why am I suddenly so unhappy again? Why do I suddenly feel something so akin to what was my lowest low? It makes me want to burrow into the ground and never come back out. But I won't. 

Recovery may not be linear, but the rolling hills it makes get smaller as you go. That's something I've learned over the five years I've been in treatment. It doesn't get easier, per say, but it does get more manageable. You learn coping mechanisms, and you figure out what to do. I've taken steps to get out of this rut that would have been impossible for me to take or even think about five years ago, or four years ago, or even just two years ago. 

I've pushed myself out of my comfort zone and started going volunteer work. I tried out a new gym. I've started going to more formal yoga classes, and I scheduled an appointment with a brand new therapist. These things aren't easy to do by any means, and I've had more anxiety attacks than I can count over each and every one, but I know that they'll be worth it in the long haul. They'll help get me where I need to be. They'll help get me up to the next peak, and when I get there I'll have even more experience and skills to tackle the next valley with, too. 

That's the reality of recovery. Absolutely none of it is easy. Absolutely none of it is simple. It's hard work, and it's every day, and it's draining and frustrating and full of twists and turns you never asked to take. But each time you push through something hard, you're equipped to handle the next step. The valleys get shorter, and the peaks last longer. You get stronger. It may not feel like it - I certainly don't feel strong right now - but it happens with time, and with patience, and with perseverance. 

As part of it all, I'm working to get back on track with this blog and with my social media. Networking with the writing and reading community is something I genuinely enjoy, and something I'm eager to take back after spending this time feeling bogged down and scared. I want to thank you all for your patience with me. I'm eager and excited to create some fresh new content for you. 

If you have any questions about my experience with mental illness and recovery, please feel free to reach out at lexivranick.com/contact. I'm happy to chat with you. Please note that I am not a mental health professional and can only speak from my personal experiences. If you are struggling with mental illness, please know that you are not alone. If you do not feel that you can speak to someone close to you, know that there are hotlines available by phone, text, and online. 

The Power of Fiction: Sabine Mathiebe on Jonathan Stroud

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Welcome back! We've already been on quite a journey together, and it's wild to me to think that there are only a few guest posts left before the end of this series and the subsequent release of Fictitious, a poetry collection dedicated to the fiction that impacted me, influenced me, and even shaped me. It's been remarkable to hear from so many people from so many different backgrounds- authors and artists, actors, and students -about how important fiction has been in their lives. Today, we'll be hearing from blogger and book lover Sabine Mathiebe on the series that both sparked her imagination as a child and became a cornerstone of comfort throughout her life.


Made by: Fiction
by Sabine Mathiebe

I read a lot of books before and after Bartimaeus – more after than before, but it’s not the series that started my love for literature. No, it did something way more significant – though I have only realised it now, years after I first read it. I say "first" because I read these four books again and again. They are some of my go to books when I feel drained, when I feel hopeless, when I want to feel like myself again… I read these books.

But that is also not the reason I love them. This is not the only way they influence me. This story is home to me, because it makes so much of who I am. Or basically helped make me in the first place.

For anyone who has never heard of The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud – it has been described as some kind of steampunk/fantasy novel series. There is the main trilogy and an extra book that works as a prequel to the others. The protagonist gives the series its title – Bartimaeus, a djinni. The story is told from sometimes two, sometimes three perspectives.

All in all, what the characters, the plot, all the witty, gritty pages told me was a lot but maybe the most important thing that these books sparked in me, before any other book or tv show or quote or anything else… that was the idea of unity in diversity. Unity in diversity. Yes, that's a mouthful, but what do I mean with it?

I have found this idea in other stories afterwards, for example in the tv show Sense8, but probably without Bartimaeus I wouldn’t have been able to understand. It makes so much of what I see in the world and in myself. The power of helping each other despite differences in times of need, that‘s what the conflict of Bartimaeus is about often enough. The story is shaped by the paths of people (or beings) who couldn’t be more different and it told me so much about what working together, getting to know others lives and opinions can change (and what doesn’t if you don‘t).

It also kind of sparked my interest in history. For any of you who haven’t read it yet, of course I’m not going to spoil the plot but the story is a steampunk alternate-reality with demons and power-hungry magicians. Most of the action happens in London which is still a colonial power in the narrative of the series and oppresses not only other countries but also their own people who don’t have control over magic. Well, and magical beings who they use as slaves. Doesn’t seem that unconventional or original? Well, magic in the sense of The Bartimaeus Sequence is just knowledge. And the lower-class people are being oppressed by the ones with the power (of knowledge) over magical beings. Minus the part with the djinni there is a pretty good connection to reality, right? Themes of oppression, corruption, slavery and rebellion are at the core of the story. It’s not your stereotypical dystopia – it is, though it is full of fantasy elements, one of the most realistic portrayals of world politics and shitty decisions of people in power I have ever read.

But that doesn’t make reading it hard or depressing – because it is just so, so, so funny! Just imagine, a tired snarky immortal correcting history books plus a sarcastic kick-ass teenage girl and a morally-grey overachieving boy with shitty life choices. You can imagine the conversations. I had my first huge experiences of sarcasm and ironic humor with reading these books and to say it bluntly I laughed my ass off.

But the heart of my love for these books probably is that I find myself in all of the protagonists, at different stages of my life. Wherever I am emotionally, I can find a connection. I can find myself.

In Bartimaeus, a djinni and a slave, who hopes and gives his all, though he doesn’t have to, who doesn’t give up on humanity though he wants to most of the time, who cracks so many jokes at the world’s end because there is always hope – or at least a last laugh.

In a "too powerful, too young" magician that started my love for anti-heroes. If I think of him, I think of redemption, of doing wrong things and right things, and at the end just trying my best. I think of the fight I put up against myself, the fight of not feeling loved and the feeling of always having to prove yourself, not only to others. In Kitty, a young member of the resistance movement who taught me to fight and to not give up even if I’m up against something I can not beat because you just have to try no matter what the chances are because the fight is necessary, even if it may get bloody.

In all the other characters losing their morality in their revenge, getting betrayed by their loyalty, trusting and using compassion as a weapon, or another one of thousand things, being nothing I taught they were at first.

This story taught me so many things. About failing myself and others, about losing and winning and sometimes not being able to say which is which. About the courage of kindness and compassion, love in unlikely places and how it is worth it despite the grief. About rebellion and that it is timeless and always on the way, and the power of ordinary people. About jokes and laughing, and how it can save you or at least make your day. About anger and that it is a weapon. About injustice, power and corruption and recognizing it in everyday life. About a thing that defines my all-the-time knowledge of other people – that bad things happening to someone may not excuse doing something shitty but that they can explain it. About helping each other, because only together we can save the world or at least the next day or the next person. About not being perfect but being good enough to change the world for the better, always.

I still tear up whenever I read the last page of Ptolemy’s Gate, the third and last book in the original Bartimaeus trilogy. Every emotion I had when I read it the first time, everything I feel now regarding the characters and the whole world Jonathan Stroud created… it’s too much and not enough at the same time. This is another thing Bartimaeus taught me – to love a bittersweet story. To love a story not for the candy-sweet happy ending, but for the tears I cried through the bittersweet last sentences. Because, at the end, that is what we have to love life for too. Not for the end of the road, but for the road. For the fight we put up. It is worth it. These books taught me to believe it. To find meaning in everything – in other stories as well as in the life outside of fiction.

There are so many stories I love with all of my heart, but this one opened my heart up and made me write and think and laugh and cry. I think what I really want to say is: thank you. Thank you to all the stories, especially this one, for keeping me alive and keeping me company, for helping me shape myself and giving me the anger and the heart to look at the world with courage. Thanks for giving me somewhere to land when I’m stranded, Jonathan Stroud – in your books I’m always able to find a home and a next you.


Sabine Mathiebe is a German book blogger and writer who posts reviews of books from fantasy to romance to new adult at fantastikworldofbooks.blogspot.de. Feel free to follow Sabine on Twitter at @s_mathiebe. I cannot thank Sabine enough for being a part of this series, and sharing a beautiful perspective on such a unique story!


The Power of Fiction is a guest blog series running alongside promotions for Fictitious, Lexi Vranick's fourth self-published title and second collection of poetry. Views of guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect Lexi Vranick's views. 

Each post will conclude with new information about Fictitious, which will be available on Amazon on April 24, 2018. This week, I'm pleased to share another selection from the book. I hope you enjoy ice dance., a poem inspired the 1990 film Edward Scissorhands. And please feel free to add Fictitious to your to-read shelf on Goodreads. If you are interested in becoming an early reviewer for Fictitious, please fill out this application.


ice dance.

 

The Power of Fiction: Jasmine Edwards on Harry Potter

We have flown over Neverland, fought alongside the Avengers, and survived the walking dead. We've shaken hands with Harold Fry, and we've even discovered the power of narration through verse. This week, author and actress Jasmine Edwards shares the impact a particular set of magical twins had on her life and her own experiences as a twin. Welcome back to The Power of Fiction! 


Double Trouble
by Jasmine Edwards

Born to a book lover and professor, my twin sister and I were bound to become voracious readers at an early age. And we did, listening to children’s books read by our mom every night and flipping through those same pages on our own in the daytime. Amid all the fantastic fairytales and anthropomorphic animals, however, there was always something missing. I couldn’t figure it out, but I knew I felt my unhappiness ease when there was at least a dynamic sibling duo or trio featured. It wasn’t until I read J.K. Rowling’s The Sorcerer’s Stone that I realized what I had been missing in my life: the sibling relationship I was living. Not only did Fred and George Weasley change books for me—they changed how I thought about myself in the world. This piece attempts to convey the immense gratitude I feel toward Rowling for creating perhaps the most famous literary twins of all time, and for letting me and my twin share in the magic she gave them.

I was eight years old when I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1998). By then, the first few films had been released, though I had not seem them yet. There was an unspoken ‘book first’ rule in our house—and besides, my mother was afraid the movies might scare me. Thus I journeyed first through printed pages with Harry from Privet Drive to Diagon Alley to King’s Cross Station. There, in chapter 6, I was amazed at what I read:

“I’m not Fred, I’m George,” said the boy. “Honestly, woman, you call yourself our                mother? Can’t you tell I’m George?”
“Sorry, George, dear.”
“I’m only joking, I am Fred,” said the boy, and off he went.” His twin called after him to          hurry up… (p. 92)

I burst out laughing and looked for my sister. Cody was reading a different book at the time, but I jumped up and shared the passage with her immediately. There we finally are, I wanted to say. The mysteries of twinhood had long since alluded my friends and even family members, so a mainstream pair was an obvious bridge to that gap.

It was a joke I’d played on my mother many times at their age. Although we look wildly different now, my twin and I were the same height and build when we were eleven, with the same shade of blonde hair and blue eyes. Being twins was vital to our identity, which had us dressing in the exact same clothes for years, though this trend was also encouraged by our grandmother, who was under the impression that that was what all twins ‘should do.’  People stared when we went out. There weren’t enough identical twins in our small town to stop the questions or out-loud recognition of our eerily similar appearance. No one actually understood.

I do not write this lightly, considering how representation often falls into a land of caricatures or vilification. Rowling never fell into this trap. Sure, her twins were funny, because a lot of people find near-clones funny. That’s not all they were, though. Lovable rogues, fiery redheads, bickering brothers; they were dynamic, inspiring, and real. She wrote a twin bond in the way I don’t think any other authors have so perfectly been able to capture, because so often they refer to some ‘unbreakable intimacy’ or ‘magical bond’ or wax poetic about never leaving each other’s side, missing the point entirely. Fred and George were never insulted like that.

Fred and George Weasley are the Harry Potter books’ pranksters. As mentioned before, their introduction uses an adorable joke. Their dialogue neatly introduced their relationship and personalities (the plural is significant here, considering the alleged truth that identical twins are basically the same person). Older than Harry’s best friend and their brother, Ron Weasley, they become mentors when they reveal Hogwarts’ secrets in books two and three: secret passages that let our golden trio roam the castle unseen. Not the best role models, Fred and George enjoy the sneakier joys in life and don’t mind roping Ron, Harry, Hermione, and other underclassmen into insubordinate actions. School bores them. They are never written as slackers, however; their brilliance is simply channeled into other fields of magic. The street-smart bunch, Fred and George excel most at showy spells such as fireworks, trick candies, and marauding maps.

As background characters, the Weasley twins’ careful treatment by Rowling may have gone unnoticed to you. Rowling accomplished an amazing task, though. She showed us twin love rather than plopping generic words about them onto the page and expecting the reader to fill in the rest. If you thought it was quirky to hear them speak in unison (I tried to count how many times Rowling wrote “said together” for them and I lost count), it’s not! That actually happens frequently with me and my sister and, I’m sure, countless other twins. We’ll answer a question with the same words and inflection, completely unplanned. My particular favorite moment of this is in book seven, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows (2007). Harry’s friends all take the polyjuice potion, which turns them all into exact replicas of Harry Potter, an experience that causes the twins to exclaim, “‘Wow- we’re identical!’” (p. 51). Rowling wrote this so organically that it still warms my heart today, even after reading the books about thirteen times each.

These characters are rarely seen apart? Not a trope. If I read a page with only Fred but not George, I’d wonder where he went and how Fred was holding up. Twins understand one another better than anyone else can. We’re like hand-made best friends. Any distance between Fred and George would have been unnatural. Also not a trope is the ‘mind-reading’ conversations. I know what Cody is saying from across the room by just meeting her eyes; Fred and George have whole conversations, not pre-planned, where they follow each other’s train of thought without hesitation. They know what the other brother wants or needs because the feelings are mutual. Rowling put those connected minds to great use in developing their ‘ditch-school-and-get-rich’ plan. Inventors and innovators, Fred and George Weasley created the prank shop Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes right before the series’ darkest, saddest storyline unfolded. It could only run with the two of them there. That illustrates an unwavering love for each other as well as the author’s attention to abilities they share.

I only have one qualm with Rowling’s Weasley twin plot, but she’s apologized for it, and I understand why she did it. Killing Fred was far too much for me. I cried for days after. I actually had to sit The Deathly Hallows and come back to it in a few hours before I could move past it. The death of one twin while the other survives is so unfathomably cruel that I think most authors find it necessary in their books. To me, it comes across as more shock value for shock’s sake. It hurts actual twins so much, yet authors use it for a pathos grab. Rowling didn’t. She had to impact every single character with a death, and she had to push her child readers into the same fast adulthood into which Harry himself was forced. Do I believe Fred’s murder could have been avoided in her storyline? No. Still, that doesn’t break my heart any less.

When I finally watched the movies and saw James and Oliver Phelps in the frame together, so brilliantly identical, I had the same bubbling, overjoyed feeling that I did reading their introduction. Fred and George are part of me today; cinematic or literary versions, I adore them. Rowling practically gift-wrapped their whole storyline (minus Fred’s ending) for twins everywhere.

In 2016, I had the privilege of meeting James and Oliver Phelps with my twin. We gushed over how much their portrayal meant to us, but of course they already knew. A year later, Cody and I got our first and only tattoo—a matching one, of course. On my right shoulder, in the movie’s chosen font, I have Mischief and the map footprints, which run over to her left shoulder, reading Managed. J.K. Rowling’s story had such an indelible impact on me and my twin that we wanted their famous quote permanently inked onto our skin. Fred and George’s legacy lives on in those small decisions, in every kid’s laughter, in my heart, on my bookshelf, and on the days when Cody and I dress alike to confuse our friends.

Mischief managed, indeed.

 Jasmine and her twin sister, Cody, show off their  Mischief Managed  tattoos.

Jasmine and her twin sister, Cody, show off their Mischief Managed tattoos.


Jasmine Edwards is an author, actress, and figure skater based in Newark, Delaware. Her work has been published in the University of Delaware Arak Journal. She is currently studying English and Women's Studies at the University of Delaware. You can connect with Jasmine on LinkedIn. I truly cannot thank Jasmine enough for sharing such a personal and beautiful story with us on this blog. I'm so, so grateful to have her involved in this project!


The Power of Fiction is a guest blog series running alongside promotions for Fictitious, Lexi Vranick's fourth self-published title and second collection of poetry. Views of guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect Lexi Vranick's views. 

Each post will conclude with new information about Fictitious, which will be available on Amazon on April 24, 2018. This week, I'm so excited to share that you can now pre-order signed copies of Fictitious via my online shop! Please note that at this time I can only ship books within the United States. All pre-ordered books will be shipped within the book's release week. 

The Power of Fiction: Jasmine M. Sarmiento on The Walking Dead

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Can you believe we're already half-way through this series? We've talked about Peter Pan, we've talked about The Avengers - we discussed the influence of writers like Ellen Hopkins and characters like Harold Fry. This week, we'll be hearing from writer Jasmine M. Sarmiento, who has been influenced from works like A Series of Unfortunate Events all the way to AMC's The Walking Dead. Like me, and like many of us, Jasmine has had a long-term relationship with fiction throughout her life. Today, we'll hear about how that relationship has shaped her, changed her, and affected her. 


Fiction
by Jasmine M. Sarmiento

Fiction is a strange thing – ranging from movies, television, to a made-up story spewed forth by a second-grade girl on a playground in some Midwest town – it's everywhere, but somehow, it's fantastical glow has fizzled out into background noise for most people. I've always been drawn to fiction and even now, I am a hopeless passenger to every word in a novel and every scene of a movie – being dragged forward by a desire to continue the creation of a new world that I otherwise would not know. This keeps me stumbling far past the pages and the end credits because a story is never really over for me until I've exhausted ever means of keeping that flame alive is consumed and this has brought me so much more enjoyment than just settling for what's given - it's the theories of what could have been (or in most cases, what should have been), it's the fan art that breathes new life into characters that have been tragically forgotten or underdeveloped for the sake of moving a plot forward, it's the re-runs and re-reads trying to discover more. Although there are thousands of people who engage with fiction like this, it's looked down on by most people who see it as a waste of time or more often, who see it as childish. I've always taken more than what's been given with most media since fourth grade – The Series of Unfortunate Events pushed me to make an elaborate system of pulleys and baskets to get my stuffed animals from up bed to the shelf of dollhouses above it because Violet Baudelaire was an inventor and I wanted to do what she did – and that never really stopped. It's become less hands-on over the years, but there's always a spark of inspiration when I finish something that I don't think will ever fade.  

Growing up, the idea of the first work of fiction that had a significant impact on my life was The Walking Dead, which is fitting considering that it was the show that first introduced me to Lexi. Anyone that knows me personally, knows that The Walking Dead held a significant place in my heart from when I was in 6th grade to my sophomore year in high school. Just about five years of my life, it was the only thing that I cared about; those characters and their stories became an odd little safe haven for me. W I'm not going to sugar coat or lie it, I used to write fan fiction for The Walking Dead when I was in 6th grade, but those stories are deleted from public view under an alias I don't remember, most likely nestled in some server permanently and hopefully re-purposed as some kind of paper product because I hand-wrote them in a series of about seven composition books before I started posting it online. It's was a weird time for me because I've never really had friends, I would talk to people but I've never had anyone outside my family to talk about the show with, and suddenly people were there. For the first time, I was a part of a community and I had friends, which is something I never really thought would come from just indulging my own little stories. After each episode, people would message me with their thoughts and theories and I would do the same, it was the first time that I had people to talk to about something that I actually was interested in on the same level of excitement that I had. It's hard to put into words the sudden relief that I felt when I was able to talk to other people about The Walking Dead and my own feeling about the show without the look of "You're a freak" that I would get in school. Not only did it help me make friends, who I still talk to today even after I stopped watching the show, I was honestly inspired to write because of the show. The whole fan fiction aspect died quite quickly, but I found myself writing more personal pieces – from short stories to attempts at full-length novels, and small collections of words that never fit into other pieces but I could never give up. The show inspired me to do something that I never really thought that I would love as much as I do. Writing has always something that I would try on and off throughout my childhood, but I would always stop because I was too embarrassed to continue it, let alone publish it for other people to read, which is why I owe a lot of my own confidence in writing to the show. Without the show, I would have never published any work of mine and I would have never gotten the encouragement from others to continue growing and expand as a writer.

Delving a little deeper into the reason that The Walking Dead is such an important work of fiction is the characters really inspired me. The words "My favorite Character" come out of my mouth frequently, an ever-changing and mood-based preference from every fandom I've been in since I was little, but The Walking Dead has the most important characters in my life. Merle Dixon, while he was sexist, racist and a bit hotheaded, is the most important fictional character in my life. If I had to pick one single character out of all my fandoms as my favorite, I will say Merle Dixon without hesitation because it was his character that inspired the most to write. His character was hated, both in the show and in real life, he was unlikable and he was complicated and I absolutely love him. I want to make characters with that much depth and I want to be able to make people see a character for their worst and in their dying moments make them rethink everything about them. It was that complexity that makes Merle Dixon my 'staple character' when I write, I want characters like him in my work; deeply flawed, emotional, ambitious, and human. Merle was really only in the show for a season, not even a full season at that, yet his entire arc is something that really pushed me to write.

Putting it into words - the impact of fiction on my life is something I never really thought about in terms of "this show helped me make friends" and especially not, "this show is the reason I found out writing is a huge part of my life." Yet, here I am, writing about a piece of fiction that still means the world to me despite the fact that haven't watched it in about two years. The characters and story gave me such a push out of my comfort zone and helped me find a place in a community. Fiction to me will always be more than just what I can observe, but it's what I take from it that really makes it such a special media.  


Jasmine M. Sarmiento is a student and writer based in the United States. I want to extend so much love and gratitude for Jasmine for taking the time to take part in this series and share her story. It's always touching to hear people speak so passionately about works of fiction that they love, and I'm so thankful that Jasmine shared her passion here.


The Power of Fiction is a guest blog series running alongside promotions for Fictitious, Lexi Vranick's fourth self-published title and second collection of poetry. Views of guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect Lexi Vranick's views. 

Each post will conclude with new information about Fictitious, which will be available on Amazon on April 24, 2018. This week, I would like to share the official Spotify playlist for Fictitious. Have a listen, and let me know what you think!

The Power of Fiction: Isabelle Kenyon on Harold Fry

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Once again, welcome back to The Power of Fiction! Over the last three weeks we have heard from Sinead Atkinson about her lifelong connection to Peter Pan, Fox told us about she found strength and comfort in superheroes, and Fida Islaih talked about how she found her narrative voice through verse thanks to Ellen Hopkins. This week, in the fourth guest post of the series, we'll be hearing from poet and editor Isabelle Kenyon on how we can learn from fictional characters and carry their lessons into our own lives.


On The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
by Isabelle Kenyon

When Harold Fry learns of his childhood friend, Queenie, falling terminally ill, he sets off to find his old friend. Harold is very elderly himself and frail, but he walks across the whole of the UK to get to her – he sees it as his pilgrimage to his friend. This is the most courageous thing Harold has ever done, living a sheltered life, but he takes the month or so long plunge for someone who he believes to be worth the risk – and sends post cards along the way! He even becomes something of an internet sensation with people tracking and following him along his ‘pilgrimage’. Harold is an inspiring character because he shows that it is never too late to change your lifestyle and that no mountain is too large to climb for a friend.


Isabelle Kenyon is a UK-based poet and editor. She is author of the chapbook This Is Not A Spectacle and compiled and edited the Mind Poetry Project anthology Please Hear What I'm Not Saying. Her books can be purchased here. Isabelle can be found in Twitter at @kenyon_isabelle, on Facebook at Fly on the Wall Poetry, or on Instagram at @flyonthewall_poetry. Her blog can be found at flyonthewallpoetry.co.uk. I truly cannot thank Isabelle enough for taking part in this project and sharing a character that is so close to her heart!


The Power of Fiction is a guest blog series running alongside promotions for Fictitious, Lexi Vranick's fourth self-published title and second collection of poetry. Views of guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect Lexi Vranick's views. 

Each post will conclude with new information about Fictitious, which will be available on Amazon on April 24, 2018. This week, I would like to share an exclusive preview poem from the collection. I hope you enjoy potter and the paper girl.;  And please feel free to add Fictitious to your to-read shelf on Goodreads. If you are interested in becoming an early reviewer for Fictitious, please fill out this application.


potter and the paper girl.

Can I paint myself in parenthesis
and hide inside a book –

crack the spine wide enough
to fit myself inside, let the ink
stain my skin and let my heart
melt into the dog-eared pages
of a well-worn copy of a well-
loved book,

older now, but can I still wander
that castle, sit in potions class,
learn a charm – a curse – a spell

and, maybe, when the time comes,
defend it – save them – maybe –

know what it feels like for paper people
to love me back.