While the Writer Reads… Writer’s Block Is NOT A Thing

Hey guys, how was your holiday weekend? Hopefully it’s going good. I’d like to thank all the veterans and their families. Thank you for your bravery and your sacrifice. Thank you for facing the dangerous and protecting us all. You evoke admiration and inspiration. Thank you as well to all first responders for your bravery and sacrifice. We are all better because of the work that all of these people do. I hope your weekend was blessed and safe. Should you also need help I hope it is forthcoming.

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This post and others titled like it are going to document me sharing writerly thoughts with you. They’ll be inspired by or responses to reading and how it pertains to my writing life and vice versa. I plan to share things with you like how the writing in a particular story really works for me as a reader and how I use it as pointers for my own writing. Or why I think a certain character really stands out or doesn’t reach me at all. I’ll probably also tell you weird random things that cross my mind as a writer, whether it’s got to do with reading or not. I’ll also share writing exercises I make up and think are helpful (like today’s) or I discover and give credit to the person who shared.

NOTE: This is a long post aimed at other writers. After some ranting about writer’s block I get to my point, which is a writing exercise I’ve created. I’m certain it will show you there’s no such thing as writer’s block, we just gotta get to work.

For starters, I do not believe that writer’s block is really a thing. Yup, that’s right. But this wasn’t always so. Long ago I believed in writer’s block because well, that’s what I knew and heard. Writer’s block has just always been a thing because people tell you it’s a thing. But then a writer (sorry can’t remember who) and my partner independently said, I don’t believe in writer’s block, there’s no such thing. That’s a crap lie! My little brain said, ugh

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But let’s be honest, my little brain then said, what ever made this true? Why were these people denouncing this wretched curse? And have I ever actually experienced writer’s block? What makes writer’s block a thing versus just being a point at which you’re stuck?

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When I wrote mostly poetry I always said I didn’t force my hand, I let ideas come to me. So does that mean that when ideas weren’t coming I was blocked? Nope. I didn’t force my writing but I also didn’t sit idly. I’m always thinking about things through my writer’s brain. While running if I was hit with a strong emotion I would turn the experience of that emotion into a story. What was I thinking, how did it feel, what was happening around me and how did I respond to it or not, through the lens of this emotion? Hear something that moved me on the news? What’s the news, how did it effect me, how did that change my internal chemistry, where might it be leading me? What are the words that will add depth to this story or song and rhythm?

If I wasn’t outright inspired by something but I was craving a creative experience I would go outside, or think about the important, current and/or most dynamic things in my life. I might read. Almost always something would come to mind, whether or not I liked what came out isn’t relevant, I wrote. If I tried and nothing much was coming out I wasn’t blocked, I was hindered by my internal environment, namely focus-defeating-anxiety.

While I tell you about the past I’m also telling you about the present and the future. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. No really, that’s all a myth. Writer’s block is defined as a condition. According to dictionary.com, writer’s block is:

a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work.

But do you really have a condition? Or do you just not know how to move forward? Is believing in writer’s block hindering you because you believe it’s impossible to move forward? Yes. Is it really impossible that you can’t work? And is it writer’s block if you can’t move forward in that moment with a particular project but you CAN write something else? NO! NO! Write. Write! WRRIITTTEEE! Look you’re cured! You wrote.

This weekend my partner once again got all worked up about this subject. He said “You’re always writing. I’ve never seen you not be able to write. I’ve never heard you say you just can’t write.” I thought with pride about what he was saying.

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While I took that as a compliment it’s really just fact. I might not be able to write a poem on call but I can write something whenever, and so can you. This isn’t bragging, this is the nature of writing. If you’re struggling with a certain page or project, switch to something else. Why isn’t their photographer’s block? Because they can just go out and take a photo. That’s the point, not whether or not it’s the same project or the results are any good. You’re not blocked, your brain just needs a jump-start and that might start with a break.

Think about it like exercise. When you’re working some kind of a fitness or weight loss plan don’t they talk about reaching a plateau some weeks after you begin? Yes they do Elpy. Correct. Your body, your muscles get used to the work you’re doing and your progress often slows. So what should you do? Mix it up. Increase the weight you’re using (not too much, be careful) or do different exercises. In other words, don’t keep doing the same thing over and over and not expect some level of fatigue. Okay but how do you apply this to writing? How do you abolish that myth of writer’s block?

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Writing Tip!

Try a change of pace and ask questions. Let’s say you’re working on your plot. Stop and work specifically on one of your characters. What’s their background? What were they like at specific ages? Who do they idolize? What drives them crazy?

What’s that, you’ve done that already? And you still believe writer’s block is real because you’re experiencing it? Okay, don’t worry, I got you. Check this exercise out:

Writing exercise:

This weekend I finished The Book of Life, the third and final book in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness (my review is forthcoming). I really liked this series, despite its many flaws, it was creative, original, and so full of great characters and lots of information. I went for a walk after I finished the book and dictated my thoughts, mostly for a post such as this. It got me thinking about all the things that worked and why I thought it was so successful. But what I’m most excited to share is the writing exercise I came up with. It’s not a walk in the park (no pun intended) but I believe it’s guaranteed to break your “block”. AND it’s an ongoing exercise. At present, I’m working on mine.

Start writing the name(s) of your main character(s) at the top of a page or document. Think about this as a chart so work horizontally or better yet use different pages for different characters but keep them handy so you can cross reference. Focus on your MAIN character or characters if you have more than one, main main not sort of main, they’ll be included don’t worry. You’re going to need a lot of space for this but for now just get it started.

Next, list every person (or thing) your main character interacts with. Now this doesn’t HAVE to be the girl in the restaurant who seats your MC and his father, but you can because you never know where your brain will take you. If you know each being’s name go ahead and write it, but you can just say mom, dad, sister, brother, neighbor, bus driver, Lyft driver, etc. If you already know their relationship to your MC then add that in parentheses. You can also put a star next to each person/thing you know to be an important piece of the story. This could be a simple act that ushers the story forward, it’s not the complexity that counts here, just the importance.

Writing Tip!

Let your creative brain lead you, not your inner critic. They’re not allowed here, at least not yet. If you’re making this list and something pops into your head, write it down. You might be trying to focus on important people, like family, friends, colleagues, and then your brain says the hostess at that new restaurant a town over. What? Yes go for it. I’ve learned it’s super important to allow yourself to follow ideas like clues and fresh leads.

While you put this together if a scene pops into your head, go after it. Of course put that on a separate piece of paper or document. Don’t fill up this list with scenes but don’t ignore them and say oh I’ll come back to that after I do this. No the point of this exercise is to lay the pieces of your puzzle out and run with what presents itself. Keep an extra notebook, pad of paper, notes app open and ready while you do this. Scene comes to mind? Write it down. New character? Add them to the list but more detailed information should go elsewhere. Trust these little clues that come your way. They might amount to nothing but I know without a shadow of a doubt that at least some of them will lead to something. You don’t know which will be which so record them all.

Don’t get discouraged if you’re thinking oh my gosh I don’t know anybody else in this story but my MC and her group of girlfriends. Awesome! That’s the point of this exercise, to explore, to follow, to build, to compile… Start with who you know your MC interacts with. Then think outward. Ask yourself questions. Do they have family? By default when you ask this question 10 more will sprout. Every question you answer should bring up more questions, if they don’t then you’re not asking the right questions. Either that or you’re resisting the process. And I dare say writer’s block might not be real, but a writer blocking themselves is real all day.

Example:

Do they have family?

Yes —> Mom? Dad? Siblings? Extended family? In-laws? What’s their relationship with these people? Do they have one? No? Why not? How’s that affect them?

No —> Are they an orphan? What’s that backstory? What about the people at the orphanage? Are they a foster child? What’s that backstory? Now you have foster families to account for. Who is like family to them?

As I said, some of the answers to these questions will go in your other notebooks or documents but you can see how they’ll branch out and out and out until they bear some kind of fruit. For the sake of the lists, you’ll use the basic answers, like if they were a foster child and you plan to include scenes from their childhood in the story you’d list their foster parents, foster “siblings”, case worker, maybe the judge.

If you have people who don’t interact with your character(s) in the story but they’re important to the story then put them off to the side or at the bottom with an asterisk/star. You might have a whole list of people or things like this, and they might only be there for your use or knowledge. That’s fine, do your thing, but this list is for interactive characters even if it was once a upon a time, short, a montage, whatever.

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If you feel overwhelmed at this point, don’t trip out. This is part of the job of a writer. Don’t let this scare you, at least not long enough to stop you. Move forward with the task at hand and know that all writer’s get overwhelmed from time to time, it’s the nature of the work. And like I said this is an ongoing exercise so you don’t have to complete it in one sitting. You don’t have to know squat but your main characters to start this. Heck you could use this exercise to START a brand new project! If you don’t like outlines but need some structure, here you go. This is also a great opportunity to iron out some more details about your MC(s) because you’ll want to know some basics like their gender, age, race, location, profession, etc. You might not need to know all of those now but they will help you build your list. For instance, age is a super important one because if they’re young they’re probably still in school, in which case you’ve got a healthy list to build of teachers, counselors, friends, bullies, principle, bus driver, janitor, etc. For an adult you know they need a job or maybe not, maybe they’re homeless. If the latter than you’ve got the local shelter, other homeless people, people they pass on the street, police and first responders, etc.

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Then, move down the list. Go to the next person under your main character, start a list for them that includes any of the other characters from the MC list that they interact with. Did I word that so it makes sense?

Example:

Main Character: Thomas

  • father
  • mother
  • sister
  • aunt
  • uncle
  • neighbor to the south
  • neighbor to the north
  • neighbor to the east
  • manager at work
  • girlfriend
  • ex-girlfriend

This list will go on as long as you need, and add to it or subtract as you work through your story. Oh I left out neighbor to the west because no one lives there. See, go with whatever. The second step is you’ll take “father” then list who below or above him he interacts with. If you have another main character you will also cross-reference Thomas’ father with that list. You could letter or number these characters if that would help you. Then list the letters after each person.

  • A. Father – B, C, E, H, I, K
  • B. Mother
  • C. Sister
  • D. Aunt
  • E. Uncle
  • F. Nbr to S
  • G. Nbr to N
  • H. Nbr to E
  • I. Mngr at work
  • J. Girlfriend
  • K. Ex

Father doesn’t interact with his wife’s sister, Thomas’ aunt, because of a falling out 12 years ago. While the neighbors are Thomas’, because he’s a grown man, his father has developed a friendly relationship with the neighbor to the east while visiting his son to help with tasks around the house, starting with the time he mowed his yard while he was out of town. He also meets his manager at work from visiting his son, calling his work, and picking him up from time to time. And last but not least, Father doesn’t know the new girlfriend but oh he remembers that crabby ex-girlfriend. He could really do without running into her around town.

Again, by default you’re building your story and your characters by building this list and asking yourself how and why, when and where with each instance. You don’t have to know all the answers now, but record them if you get them. I can’t stress this enough; do NOT WORRY if you don’t know, make stuff up, try characters out. Write some of these experiences on a side sheet. Having trouble? Ask more questions.

Let’s say you don’t know where your adult character works yet you know they work. Okay, write boss, manager, colleague, ex-colleague, customer/client on the list as place savers and something to look at and think about as you work.

Then you’ll move to mom:

Mother: A, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K

Of course mom talks to everybody in Thomas’ neighborhood, drives him crazy. And I wasn’t going to add I. because mom doesn’t like him but I have to because there are at least a few instances she has to talk to him. Or maybe no, maybe mom really never interacts with the manager or you don’t add them to her list because she’s not a main character and their interaction took place in the past but won’t in the story. With these secondary characters you don’t have to be as detailed but by all means if you’re driven to then do it. And mom hasn’t met the new girlfriend either. Remember this list is for interactions that happen in the story, create a list for other types of characters. Later you might not include some of these interactions after all but each detail you work through or delete will help you shape this thing.

But wait Elpy! You said add everyone who these people interact with, so just because mom and dad haven’t met the new girlfriend doesn’t mean they won’t before the story’s over. Gotcha Elpy! Well sure that’s what I was just saying to myself and then I thought, nope, Thomas dies and his parents never meet the new girlfriend because she leaves town. The story backtracks his life. BAM!

So you will keep working down this list and across to the list of your other main character(s). This exercise is a big one that could go on and on. You might find it’s easier than you thought or it’s more difficult. For my novel I wouldn’t say this is difficult per se but it’s not as easy because I need to go back over what I’ve written so far to list characters my two main characters interact with. But this is great for me, and will be for you, because it means I have to look at my story as a big picture, then hone in and work out the details. It’s also showing me where there are some holes in my story and cast of characters. One of my main characters is an angel, another is a woman who is an artist of sorts (I’m still working out just what her art is). As I build my lists I recognize that I don’t have much going on with her work and who she interacts with. Also how much if any time do we spend with the angel before he dies? So do we ever see him with friends? If so I better add them.

Exercise Accessories

If you have more than one main character circle the people in their lists that also interact with the other main characters.

Create other lists for elements, things, creatures, the environment and environmental factors like the weather. If such interactions aren’t relevant to your story, fine, but at least give it a thought because such a list will help you fill in character and plot details. For example, maybe your 46 year old male MC played football in his youth and injured his knee. Now when it’s cold and/or rainy his knee hurts, which means any such scenes might find him less physically able or at least distracted by the pain. Or maybe your story involves a lot of animals. Maybe your story is like I Am Legend and all these other movies that follow one MC and basically no one else. In that case your list of interactions will be composed entirely of environmental factors and creatures among whatever else you can think of. Suit your list to suit your story and characters. Add things like ship’s bathroom, ship’s kitchen, volley ball, robot, trees, the sun, the engine, dog, office orchid… NEVER be afraid to edit the list. NEVER be afraid to add some random thing or person or being that popped into your head.

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That’s it for now but I have plenty more ideas I’m trying myself. If you give this a shot or share it with others please give me proper credit and link back here. I really want to know how this works out for you. Tell me your tale of breaking the writer’s block myth.

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My Review of Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2) by Deborah Harkness

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Info from Goodreads

Picking up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending, Shadow of Night takes Diana and Matthew on a trip through time to Elizabethan London, where they are plunged into a world of spies, magic, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the School of Night. As the search for Ashmole 782 deepens and Diana seeks out a witch to tutor her in magic, the net of Matthew’s past tightens around them, and they embark on a very different—and vastly more dangerous—journey.

Hardcover, 584 pages – Published July 10th 2012 by Viking Adult

4/5 stars

This book deserves a Wow as well. Forgive me as I stumble over reviewing this because I’m not so sure how to do so without spoiling some of the first book. It’s like seeing a preview to a movie sequel before you’ve seen the first one, now you definitely know that one lady lives because she’s in the second trailer. So then I say to you dear reader, if you haven’t read the first book, A Discovery of Witches, and you think you will, don’t read this yet. I recommend you just go right to reading it or you can read My Review of A Discovery of Witches. I have no doubt if you enjoy the first one at all you’ll have to read the second. By all means if you’ve read the first and are still unsure, then read on! Or please if you’ve read them both or the whole trilogy and want to discuss your thoughts and feelings read on and let’s chat. I’d love to hear how you thought it worked or what didn’t. However, PLEASE do not spoil book three for me!

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Okay, some basic spoilers to follow…

This book got saucy with the romance, which we knew it had to but not being a regular romance reader it made me blush. While the author went there with the intimacy I don’t think she overdid it. The scenes weren’t long and drawn out and many times they concluded or started with other bits of useful information. I really appreciate that about a writer, when they don’t box a scene up to serve one purpose. If you don’t like romance or reading about intimacy AT ALL, you’ll probably get more than a little annoyed. That being said, Diana and Matthew’s relationship is central to this story so, pick your battles. Oh and for those of you that might be triggered, there are a couple aggressively passionate love scenes between Matthew & Diana. They’re not abusive or unwanted, they’re just…intense to say the least. If you ask me, regardless how you feel about love scenes, the overall story is worth it. The scenes are at least PG-13 – R-rated, but don’t quote me on that.

Traveling back in time as we did was really interesting. I wondered how it would work out and if it would. Harkness did not disappoint with her research and ability to make it work in a natural way even though time travel is so unfortunately unnatural. Spoiler: she did not force the concept of hiding it from everyone. Lesser or less experienced (pardon me) authors might try and make you believe no one noticed Diana was out of place. You don’t just slip back into the 16th century unnoticed. Nope, not Harkness, she works with and through that. The other characters’ responses to such details are great.

Now, do I think this book had to be 584 pages? No. It would not have suffered from leaving some more pages on the cutting room floor. At least halfway through the book you might be feeling like you’re more than ready to move on from time traveling. There were at least a few places where they mentioned going back to the…future/present and I got excited for a change of pace. Alas it did not yet come. But that’s not to say the time spent in the past was full of the same monotonous routine. Not at all. A lot happens in 1590-1, interesting twists and turns full of creepy people. Nonetheless, there’s still a lot we could have skipped.

That’s probably my biggest critique besides Deborah Harkness’ love for lots of setting and time period details, not my favorite. If I liked this amount of detail than she deserves a high five. 😉

This book is full of emotion. There’s so much going on what with Matthew returning to a past he once knew, people he once knew and loved. We get to dive into his vulnerability and watch him fight to unfold, unfold and then come back together again. The relationship with his father Phillipe is very special, never mind that Phillipe himself is a well-written, nuanced character. I do hope they personify him well in the TV series because he’s so iconic. It would be an enormous shame should they miss the mark. We meet a lot of other great characters, including Matthew’s nephew Gallowglass. The characters alone are a great reason to read this book.

This book really gives us a chance to get to know Matthew better. Plus I really enjoyed getting a better look at the history of witches, vampires, and daemons. The traditions and ceremonies were fun, sometimes drawn out, but still interesting.

Lastly…

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I want to address something I saw people complaining about in the first book: Matthew’s dominant, aggressive personality and behaviors. It seemed his character got the feminists all riled up. Don’t forget that Diana is more than attracted to Matthew, she’s wildly in love with him, all of him. She’s more than capable of handling herself and is in no way an unwilling participant or victim here. I am not implying that whatever he does is made okay because she loves him. Nor am I saying that love somehow makes abuse okay. I’m also not saying that a woman who can handle herself can’t be abused. All I’m saying is keep it in the context of the story. Diana is not abused or taken advantage of by Matthew. But there are OTHER people who abuse and physically harm Diana, as we saw in the first book.

It’s not okay to hurt or (try to) control another person, whether you’re a man, woman or child. It’s also important to be able to distinguish an abusive person from a personality you just don’t care for. Masculinity is not toxic, but not unlike femininity, it can be.

Deborah Harkness didn’t create a chauvinistic prick in Matthew. No, she created a 1,500+ year old alpha male vampire with heavy emphasis on the fact that he is a predator, and I mean predator as in the animal kingdom, not a sexual predator. Matthew is very cognizant of his domineering behavior and worries about the parts of him that make him dangerous. In the first book you discover that he is avoiding being intimate with her. He’s worried about the possessive nature of a vampire once they take a mate. I get it if the aggression triggers you and any trauma you may have experienced, and for that I’m sorry if you have those experiences. I’m very sorry if you or anyone you care for has been affected by abuse and/or violence of any kind. It’s never acceptable for anyone to be taken or used in any way against their will. I do not condone violent masculinity and I’m not supporting it here. But there’s a difference between highly masculine men and abusive masculinity. However that is NOT what is happening in this story with Diana and Matthew. His over-protectiveness is not the abusive kind; he has EVERY right to be worried about and for her. His behavior cannot be taken out of context. And lest you forget, Diana more than handles herself when she thinks people MIGHT being pushing her around.

Diana and Matthew’s relationship is not an abusive one. While there are elements that might trigger you, kept in the context of the story, you will see that there is a real relationship of love and compassion. And let me tell you, Diana does more than what she wants. There are more than plenty of instances where Diana will annoy you because she doesn’t listen and just goes and does what she wants. Trust that Diana very much her own woman no matter.

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I welcome your thoughts and comments, but not your book three spoilers. 😉 If you read this based on my referral please give me a shout out on your blog and link back to me here. I will start reading Book 3, The Book of Life, immediately following so stay tuned for my review of that in the next couple weeks. Then I’ll give watching the AMC TV series a try, although I’ll tell you right now, I don’t like their pick for Matthew.

Thank you! If you want to read more of my reviews, CLICK HERE.

You can also see what I’m reading at 2019 TBR

Or what I plan to read soon Spring 2019 TBR

My Review of A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1) by Deborah Harkness

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Info from Goodreads:

(My review from Oct 2018 follows)

Book one of the New York Times–bestselling All Souls trilogy—”a wonderfully imaginative grown-up fantasy with all the magic of Harry Potter and Twilight” (People)

Deborah Harkness’s sparkling debut, A Discovery of Witches, has brought her into the spotlight and galvanized fans around the world. In this tale of passion and obsession, Diana Bishop, a young scholar and a descendant of witches, discovers a long-lost and enchanted alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, deep in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Its reappearance summons a fantastical underworld, which she navigates with her leading man, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont.

Harkness has created a universe to rival those of Anne Rice, Diana Gabaldon, and Elizabeth Kostova, and she adds a scholar’s depth to this riveting tale of magic and suspense. The story continues in book two, Shadow of Night, and concludes with The Book of Life, coming from Viking in July 2014.

Paperback, 579 pages – Published December 27th 2011 by Penguin Books (first published February 8th 2011)

My Review (Oct 2018)

4.5/5 stars

I’ll start off by saying Wow and then I’ll say my biggest issue with this book was it’s very long, which isn’t wholly bad but I don’t love lots of description of place and setting and there’s a lot of science and history (I don’t necessarily dislike but…) that doesn’t drive the story forward. For a lot of people the science and history is doing to be a distracting, dragging deal breaker. If you can push past it, do. That said I’m also often an impatient reader; I think I just want to hurry up and get to the active parts! 

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This really is an amazing story, whether you’re a romance fan or not (I’m not). There are typical tropes of course, which may also be deal breakers for you (I for one tend to roll my eyes at them to say the least, however…) The romance is just one element that happens to be central to the plot. There’s so much going on beyond their relationship it doesn’t overwhelm the story. It’s thrilling, mysterious, and very well written. Deborah Harkness does an excellent job throwing curve balls. She also excels at character development. Even thinking about the characters now (there are many) they all stand out and carry their roles in the story well. I love when an author fleshes out their characters and they really do become their own thing, person, being. She does all of that. I will add that if you can’t stand extra masculine characters who happen to be VERY OLD (think immortal vampire) thus they’ve got some traditional “I’m the man” behaviors then you might not be able to stand this. But if you can get over that and see passed that for what it is, Matthew’s overall character as an alpha vampire, you might come to respect it especially given his sensitivities.

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The plot is compelling, especially the main characters Diana and Matthew. Their attraction to each other and resultant behaviors is exciting to say the least. Through their relationship (emotional and physical) we learn a lot about vampires. It’s a really neat way to present that information. I find this presentation to be unique (disclaimer: I do not read a lot of vampire/witch etc stories). I like her consistent reference to them being predators and their behaviors as such, instead of them just being these magical scary beings. The underlying system of magic is great, there are clear definitions of beings and yet we’re reaching for this mystery that connects us all throughout the story. Of course we’re learning about witches all along as well.

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Sure there were times when the story was slow, but all in all it was worth it. There’s some more cliches near the end that are kind of corny and hard to swallow but I ran with it; I think the story is strong enough to survive them. And there may have been some minor discrepancies here and there (little bits that read like huh?) but when the STORY CHARACTERS are this good things like that roll off the duck’s back and you forget all about them. I didn’t know what to expect when I discovered this book but I was impressed early on, declaring I would no doubt be reading the whole trilogy (waiting to receive the other two now). For me this was a story that had I had to review (check-in) throughout the book I wouldn’t have given it 4.5 stars but when viewed as a whole I’m happy giving it 4.5 stars. If you like Fantasy, especially witches and vampires, I recommend this book. It’s not all mushy love – though there’s plenty of desire & I appreciate that it never goes overboard – rather it takes us through the complexities of life as witches, vampires and daemons (not as much of the latter, which is fine). We see their behaviors, their needs, their history, it’s fascinating. Humans aren’t the only ones with prejudices and the life of these others creatures is rife with them. So what happens if a vampire and a witch fall in love? Why doesn’t Diana use her magic and what does it mean if she does? Why is Matthew so powerful? Can he reconcile his primal behaviors and needs? We get these answers in this book, even if not all of them and there’s clearly more to learn in the next two, the answers here are fully satisfying. The power these characters exude is fantastic. Let me say it’s palpable. So check it out. Happy reading!

I’ll amend this with what might be a little bit of a spoiler and say

I read someone else describe this as a kind of mash up of Da Vinci Code & Twilight. I like the Da Vinci Code; I’m not a Twilight fan. In an effort to remain honest, I agree for the most part. So if you hate both of those proceed to this book with caution. 😀

Have you read this and/or the trilogy? What did you think? As I post this (after the fact) I’m reading book #3, The Book of Life so don’t spoil it for me! 😉 But I’d love to know what you all think. Will you read it now? Let’s chat, I love to chat!

If you’re interested in knowing what else I’ve read, am reading or plan to read let me provide you some links!

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My Review of The Deepest Blue by Sarah Beth Durst

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Info from Goodreads:

(My review follows)

The natural magic of the classic The Island of the Blue Dolphins meets the danger and courage of The Hunger Games in this dazzling, intricate stand-alone fantasy novel set in award-winning author Sarah Beth Durst’s beloved world of Renthia.

Life is precious and precarious on the islands of Belene. Besieged by a capricious ocean full of malicious spirits, the people of the islands seek joy where they can. Mayara, one of the island’s fearless oyster divers, has found happiness in love. But on the day of her wedding to the artist Kelo, a spirit-driven storm hits the island with deadly force.

To save her loved ones, Mayara reveals a dangerous secret: she has the power to control the spirits. When the storm ends, she is taken into custody by the queen’s soldiers and imprisoned with other women like her.

They vary in age and social status, but to many they are heroes who will aide the country or witches that will sacrifice themselves trying. No matter who they are, the women are sent to a terrifying place—an island filled with bloodthirsty nature spirits, and left without food, water, shelter, or any tools except their own instincts and magic. Whoever survives the Island of Testing will be declared heirs to the queen. But no matter if she wins or loses, Mayara knows that the life she dreamed of is gone.

368 pages – Published March 19th 2019 by Harper Voyager

My Review of The Deepest Blue

3/5 stars

It was very difficult for me to rate this book. In part because I’m a fan of this author and her Queens of Renthia trilogy as well as her book Lost (unrelated to this world or series). I think reviewing a book is made even more troublesome when you’ve been anticipating its release and it doesn’t live up to your expectations. That’s what happened here.

While I enjoyed the story, and I already enjoy spending time in Renthia, there are a number of things that felt superficial and missed their mark. I liked the main character Mayara. She’s tenacious and brave, and full of love for the people she cares about. The book opens beautifully on Mayara and Kelo’s wedding day. Right off the bat we get a taste of why Mayara’s family sometimes calls her reckless. We know this protagonist is going to take us on an adventure. For the most part the opening to this story was spot on. There is some spoiling that goes on in the rest of this review, not in detail but enough detail to spoil the story some or a lot.

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But then there were things that started to get to me. For instance, mentioning repeatedly how Mayara gets ready for a deep dive, how she compares so much to getting ready for a deep dive and every time she takes deep breaths we have to remember that that’s what she does when she’s getting ready for a deep dive. *Sigh.*

A major pet peeve of mine when it comes to reading in general, and something I’m trying to remember as I write my own book, is opportunistic writing, as I like to call it. I don’t like when characters are just made to fit because you need them to. Or turns in the story just go that way because the author needs them to, not because they flow naturally. In the case of this story, Mayara’s new found friend Roe has apparently been studying in secret and yet she seems to be no better at controlling the spirits than Mayara? How and why? In this case, if you’re going to make your character be awesome, more awesome than they should be, then build that case for us please. Don’t just say yup there you go, that’s how it is, Mayara is just a natural. Break some scenes down for me. Don’t just tell me oh yeah she’s not so good but then, she’s still got this. What does she figure out that helps her that she didn’t know before? How does she break through what she doesn’t know? Don’t just keep reminding me she’s not practiced but then showing me she’s plenty capable. Show me something in Mayara’s character that makes her special with regard to the scene. Other than her ability to swim and dive. Expand on these things.

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Again, these are notes to myself as I write and to all of us writers in addition to critique of this story. Remember show-don’t-tell is a relevant, worthwhile piece of advice. Even if it’s just a little scene or a little tidbit or even something that isn’t obvious, put it in there to show us this character has an edge. Show me, don’t just tell me they do. And don’t keep telling me about the same quality, that’s not enough to carry me through believing and rooting for her. Yes she’s brave and fearful and that’s real, but go deeper please. Show me how it comes to be that she navigates through these murky waters (pun intended) instead of expecting me to roll with it because she’s the main character, and ya know, that’s how it goes.

The author constantly tells us that Mayara likens every challenge to a deep dive and here’s the ritual that precedes it (please no more). Give us more of her inner character and how she breaks things down to get through them, but please know that once you’ve told us a couple times you don’t have to spell the same thing out every time thereafter. (Have I done it enough with regard to this detail? That’s how it felt reading.) It was things like that by the way that made me wonder if Mrs. Durst wasn’t getting confused with her art of writing middle grade. I’m probably reading into that since I know she writes in different age groups, nevertheless, that’s how I felt, that she at times forgot she was writing for adults.

Back to what I was saying: she tells us about getting ready for deep dives. (OMG, this again, really eLPy?) Tell us more about what’s happening that makes her capable of handling the spirits when, in this part of the world, girls hide their affinity for fear of being found out and sent to the island for testing. They don’t get to explore their affinities on their own or often. And maybe expand on this especially for those of us who have read the other series. What did Mayara miss by not being able to study her affinity? What does everyone miss? Don’t spend so much time on the same elements of love and Kelo and her family. Now she’s face to face with this affinity that she’s had to hide, how does she face it? What does that feel like for her to confront this?

It’s fair to say that we know from the start that this girl is going to be our hero, she’s going to go to the island. But what happens once we get there and even the immediate lead up to their departure feels so forced! She just so happens to be the last girl and now they’re off? So everyone else got to train for some undisclosed amount of time and she’s just shit out of luck? I know I’ve already given some spoilers here but I don’t think they’re too consequential however I won’t go into much detail in terms of other incidences that bothered me once they got to the island. All said and done for me it felt like the author tried too hard by not being creative enough to make Mayara the heroine. How? Why? How? There’s a lot that was opportunistic. Put her in a desperate situation because that’s what these stories do. Right? NO, don’t do that! I mean do it but show us readers how and why, not just because that’s what you think the story needs. Build us a sand castle but show us the tools, the methods, the failed attempts, the learning curves, the successes. Show us that the “it-just-so-happened-that” moments are realistic in your story, they don’t just happen. They happened. Don’t remind me I’m reading a made-up story.

Things like: so and so got injured so ya know, it’s all up to Mayara. Really? I mean, really? How perfect that our heroine has to do it on her own instead of someone more qualified with the spirits. Really? The whole scene on the island was tied up like a bow and way too neat. And I’m sorry but I was really hoping for the diversity of spirits that we saw in the previous trilogy. It’s really an inconsequential thing but I got sort of bored with the spirits seeming to be of the same five or so forms.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a fan of Sarah Beth Durst and I will continue to read her work. I do hope she continues in this world, in fact, I hope she explores the entire world, that whole darn map she drew for us! But please don’t sew them all up so nicely. I love happy endings, I’m not saying leave us with some sour bitter ends, but don’t make the bow so damn perfect!

There were some nice twists in this story, some conclusions that were satisfying but the end result as a whole was very disappointing because it was SO similar to another book she wrote. How did Mayara with her supreme lack of experience and training with spirits wind up in THAT position? I was left shaking my head going “REALLY! HOW?!” At least in one of the Queens of Renthia books the character built up, and worked up to her position. It didn’t “just-so-happen”. There are what should be deep emotional conversations that fall flat and/or feel like they’re written for a younger group. Then these violent scenes that are like whoa, was that for shock and awe, oh yes this is for young adult/adults. All in all, perhaps this book was rushed. It missed its mark for me. I don’t dislike Mayara or the other characters but I’m not connected to her. Do I want to see her again? Meh…sure? But give her some more meat please, more emotion, more depth.

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While you may think I’m a jerk and mean and all that fun stuff at this point – that’s fine – I will say I very much enjoyed the sociopath we met in previous books, Lady Garnah. She is a well-developed character who is both loathsome and likable in the strangest way. I dare say I had to root for her a few times. This character has had time to marinate and she works. She exhibits the difference between rushing a character and/or forcing their story to your will and allowing them to be who they are in the story. She was a welcome surprise and an A+ for me.

At the end of the book Durst explains that she wanted to write a book about someone growing and strengthening from love, not just pain. In her personal experience she grew a lot from her love for her husband and her family. I respect and admire her making this attempt to approach this from a different angle. That said while she didn’t completely miss the mark she kind of did because for me she tried so hard to stay on the love page that it felt like she may have deliberately avoided character and story development that leaned too much towards pain and hardship. I hope if we see Mayara again we get a full pallet of the colors of her personality and a deeper look inside.

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And it is with a heavy heart I give this book 3/5 stars. I have to be review with integrity so there it is. Sarah Beth Durst keep going, I can’t wait to read more, but this one I think IMHO needed more time in the oven especially given the deep philosophy behind what you were attempting.

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Note to myself and all authors, not every main character should be a queen.

May Reading & Writing Updates

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So it has been a while, again, since I’ve posted but I’m getting it together. 🙂 Of course come on this is fun! Getting behind and running to catch up, not so much.

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But that’s fine. Let’s start off with what I’m reading, well what I’m still reading. I’m still reading My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel and Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2) by Deborah Harkness. You might recall that I went ahead and DNF’d Everfair by Nisi Shawl, a decision I did not take lightly but it had to happen. April and these first two weeks of May… Holy cow it’s been two weeks since May started? Good lawd! I was saying, reading has been slow going largely because I’ve allowed myself to be distracted with other things at the end of the day. I’m correcting that now. I’ve updated my site (what do you think?) and I’m getting back to reading. My Great Aunt is still waiting for me to finish Shadow of Night so I better, and will, hurry that up.

I owe you my review for The Deepest Blue by Sarah Beth Durst. You’ll find that this week, hopefully tomorrow. Next up I’ll be reading The Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan, #3 in The Memoirs of Lady Trent series. I’ll also be putting up some posts in the next few weeks about my writing experiences. As well I’ll share posts by fellow writers that I find to be especially helpful.

For This Post…

Above I’ve told you things you’ve probably already read if you’ve been here before so what’s new? Besides another episode of Game of Thrones (whoa, this last one was EPIC, at least as much if not more than episode #3, wow) and the Chi and Barry? Well
I got some new books at great prices, of course that meant I had to jump on them while I could. I’ll also share new additions to my TBR as well as my May/June TBR. Let’s get started.

Just today I received my latest book haul from Book Outlet. I’ve mentioned this site before but if you don’t already know about it let me tell you it’s a great resource for cheap books. They sell bargain books and scratch & dent copies. Also with each order you receive points you can redeem in a later order. In fact if you want to FOLLOW THIS LINK to Book Outlet you’ll help me earn points for referring a friend. I’m not just trying to sell you for points, I really think you’ll find their prices are sweet. They don’t have every book imaginable but they’ve got a lot. I figure I’ll get what books I can through them and then buy local or elsewhere.

This most recent haul includes:

This last one, the box set, I got three books for about $15, which I think is fantastic. I’ve heard loads of good things about V.E. Schwab, this series as well as Vicious and basically all her writing. I see on Goodreads the first book in this series is rated 5 stars by Deborah Harkness (author of All Souls Trilogy) of all people! I’ve also listened to some interviews with her on podcasts like Tim Clare’s Death of A Thousand Cuts. This probably bumps this up my TBR for me. These 9 books cost me under $50 with free shipping. Hey, that’s real good. I should be set for reading for a while…

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New Additions to My TBR

The following is a list of books I’ve added to my Goodreads TBR since April 1st until today May 13th. If applicable I give credit to the blogger or person who brought the book to my attention.

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Hex Life: Wicked New Tales of Witchery by Kelley Armstrong – Thanks Destiny @ Howling Libraries! – This book isn’t out until October of this year. It’s a collection of tales about witches and witchcraft by popular female fantasy authors. Not only does this sound interesting it could also be a great way to find new authors to read (as if I need anymore).

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Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker – Thanks Sofi @ A Book. A Thought. – The premise of this book, after seeing it on Sofi’s page, reached my interest. Two sister’s go missing and one comes back? Hmmm…

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Planetfall (Planetfall, #1) by Emma Newman – Thanks Tim Clare @ Death of 1,000 Cuts podcast – I was intrigued by his interview with her. She talked about her personal struggles with mental illness and her use of it in her books. As well, when it comes to writing she mentioned that sometimes she hates it but keeps going because she works through things and ideas by writing. This is something I think I also try to do. Point being the author interested me as much as this book about “one secret withheld to protect humanity’s future might be its undoing…”

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Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip – Goodreads recommended this to me and I added it because I read Riddle Master trilogy by this author and I really enjoyed it. Her writing is creative and poetic, original and dynamic. This book won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature in 2017. I’m interested in this idea of ancient magic on the rise and a boy learning from his sorceress mother facts she’s kept from him until now.

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Middlegame by Seanan McGuire – So I’m pretty sure I heard about this book through Destiny @ Howling Libraries first and then again from Sofi @ A Book. A Thought, who highly recommends it. And I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m forgetting where else I’ve heard about it. This book has some high praises, even as it was just released a week ago (not including early review copies of course). On Goodreads it has 4.25 star rating out of 361 ratings. Roger’s skilled with Words. His sister Dodger’s skilled with numbers. They’re not human but they’re not exactly Gods either. Reed created them. Not their father, but not not their father. Hm…curious? I am.

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The Ice House by Tim Clare – This is the newly released sequel to The Honours which I read in April (here’s my review). You know by now I follow his podcast and am a fan. He’s a very talented writer and I look forward to reading this book probably this month to see whatever became of Delphine now that she’s an old lady.

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Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor – First I read The Book of Phoenix. Then I read Binti forgetting I’d read The Book of Phoenix. Naturally I need to read more of this author and this is book two, Akata Witch being #1. I just added these because I thought I already had, and I just got this and Lagoon below. This is (not Lagoon) a YA series the first released in 2011. In the first book the protagonist, a 12 year old girl, albino thus incredibly sensitive to the sun, befriends some other kids and is plunged into the world of the Leopard people where your worst defect becomes you best asset. They set out to track down a man responsible for kidnapping and maiming children. I was hooked at “your worst defect becomes your greatest asset”, cool! Might be a good one for my niece and nephews.

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Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor – Besides what I’ve already shared, I added this book because well read the blurb:

” It’s up to a famous rapper, a biologist, and a rogue soldier to handle humanity’s first contact with an alien ambassador—and prevent mass extinction—in this novel that blends magical realism with high-stakes action.

After word gets out on the Internet that aliens have landed in the waters outside of the world’s fifth most populous city, chaos ensues. Soon the military, religious leaders, thieves, and crackpots are trying to control the message on YouTube and on the streets. Meanwhile, the earth’s political superpowers are considering a preemptive nuclear launch to eradicate the intruders. All that stands between 17 million anarchic residents and death is an alien ambassador, a biologist, a rapper, a soldier, and a myth that may be the size of a giant spider, or a god revealed.”

Yup, you know it, that sounds cool. Have you read any of these? Will you add them to your lists now? Let me know, give me a shout out and link back here if you do please. And let me know what you think if you read or have read these authors. I’d love to hear from you.

May/June TBR

Last but not least here’s what I hope to read from now until the end of June (not necessarily in this order):

  • Finish Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
  • Finish My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel
  • Start & Finish The Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan
  • Start & Finish Women Wartime Spies
  • Start & Finish The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman
  • Start A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
  • Start & Finish Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (I’m bumping this so I can share with the young folks)
  • Start The Book of Life (All Souls, #3) by Deborah Harkness
  • Start & Finish The Ice House by Tim Clare – because I just finished The Honours and why not?
  • Start & Finish Home (Binti, #2) & The Night Masquerade (Binti, #3) by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Start & Finish Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
  • Start The Greek Poets – Homer to the Present

And I almost forgot because I haven’t got it yet but Catching Teller Crow by Ambellin & Ezekiel Kwaymullina, published in Australia, is now in a paperback edition you can get through Amazon. Yeah!

That’s a great big list for me what with everything else going on, including of course my novel, gosh! Stay tuned there’s lots of fun to come. I’ll probably even tell you about my experiences helping out at my Aunt & Uncle’s sheep farm during their lambing season (AWESOME & inspiring). Maybe you’ll get to see some cute ass lambs. 😉 Thanks for reading my May Reading & Writing Updates.

Okay so whatcha got? Whatcha thinking?

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