• On Making Time to Read (And Why It Matters)

    Photo credit: TheGiantVermin on Flickr
    I have a confession. I’m terrified to share this with you all, but I want to nonetheless.

    I haven’t been reading. Well, that’s not quite true–I’m reading a lot at work, since I’m an editor, and I’ve been reading some essays and articles and things of that nature. I just haven’t been reading fiction–not anything that’s published, not outside of work.

    I know that as a writer, I have to read often. Stephen King, one of my writing idols, said in his book On Writing, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

    According to King, reading helps you recognize the shape of good and bad prose. It helps you appreciate language and hunger to put magic down on the page. You can’t be a good writer if you’re not a good reader. Reading is the best thing you can to to improve your writing prowess.

    And I wholeheartedly agree with him–reading is important. As much as life gets in the way, I’m well aware that I make a lot of excuses. I do have time to read. But I often fill that time with Netflix or iPhone games or just wasting time on the Internet. I don’t put it toward furthering my writing career. I don’t use my free time as productively as I could.

    It should come as no surprise that I want to make a living from my writing. I want it to be my career. In order for me to realize that dream, I’m going to make every effort to improve as a writer. That means I have to learn to make better use of my time–which in turn means I have to make myself read more.

    Recently, I read a post by the wonderful Lucy Flint in which she confessed a similar struggle. Like me, she wants to make it a point to read more, concentrating her efforts on reading more fiction in order to improve her writing. So I’m coming clean, too. I want to read more. And I need you all to help hold me accountable to that.

    Also, that means I need more book recommendations. Feel free to leave some in the comments below!

    What are your tips for reading more? What are some books that you couldn’t put down?

    Tweet tweet:

    .@brianawrites hasn’t been reading enough fiction, and she needs some advice. (Click to tweet)

  • Top 5 Must-Read Classics

    Photo credit: Angelskiss31 on Flickr
    Photo Credit: Flickr

    I cannot stress enough the importance of reading in the life of a writer.
    I’m not going to go on and on about it in this post, but yeah, you should be reading.

    I can hear you asking now, “What am I supposed to read?” The short answer is everything you can find. Any book you can get your hands on will only help you improve your craft. Of course, it’s also important to read books in your genre so you can avoid the tropes and cliches that come with the territory.

    You also need to read the classics.

    The classics are classic for very good reasons. They can teach you more about writing than most classes and professors can. If you’d like to start reading classic literature, I have a few suggestions for you.
    • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. If you haven’t read this book yet, what’s taking you so long? This novel has some of the most captivating description and imagery that I’ve ever read. I’m also a fan of Fitzgerald’s characters. Every one of them is clearly flawed yet still sympathetic. Read this book!
    • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Orwell’s world-building skills are spectacular. He takes a world we think we know and turns it on its head, to terrifying effect. This novel is one of the earliest examples of a dystopian society in literature, too. If you like The Hunger Games and Divergent, you have Orwell to thank. Plus, after reading this book, you can correct everyone who thinks Big Brother is watching him or her.
    • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. This novel is highly psychological and wonderful to read. It’s in the same vein as Jane Eyre though a little less intimidating because it’s more modern. I couldn’t put this book down, and the twist… well, let’s just say it will definitely keep you guessing. This novel is suspenseful, dramatic, and one of my all-time favorites.
    • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. In his only novel, Wilde seamlessly mixes wit and humor with serious drama. It illustrates concepts of morality without being preachy and is overall one of the best books I can think of. Check it out.
    • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Like The Great Gatsby, Jane Eyre is a novel you’ve probably read already. Still, I would encourage you to read it with new eyes. It presents the Gothic romance and the Byronic hero in ways that echo even in the present day. Read it.

    These are just a few classic books that I think you should read. Hopefully these novels will mark the beginning of your journey into classic literature.

    What do you think of these books? How has reading helped you become a better writer?

  • Book Review: The Successful Novelist by David Morrell

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    David Morrell is a genius.

    There’s no getting around that fact. After reading this book, I am more than convinced that this man has more writing talent in his pinky than I do in my whole body.

    I digress.

    When I mentioned on Twitter that Stephen King’s On Writing is one of the most influential books about writing that I have ever read, someone suggested that I look up David Morrell’s book The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing.

    I’m delighted I did.

    This book, like King’s, provides a veritable treasure trove of knowledge regarding the craft and the business of writing. However, Morrell takes a much more practical approach, giving out advice for you to use in your daily writing sessions. King’s book is largely memoir with some practical bits sprinkled in. On the whole, Morrell seems so much more approachable.

    The Successful Novelist is suitable for writers of all skill levels. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been writing for ages, this book is for you.

    It’s also short, succinct, and easy to read and understand. What more could you want?

    Go out and pick up your copy today. This book will change your life.

    Have you read this book? What did you think of it? What book would you like to see me review next?

    P.S. Book Review: Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown.

  • Author Spotlight: Haruki Murakami

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    This post is a feature I’ve been wanting to write for some time. I discovered Murakami and his work about a year and a half ago, via the Selected Shorts podcast, where I first heard his short story “The Iceman” read aloud. Shortly after, I plunged headfirst into the bizarre, engrossing world of 1Q84 and haven’t been the same since.

    Prevalent motifs throughout Murakami’s extensive body of work include cats, dreams and hallucinations, magical realism, androgyny, ears, aliens, fate, and coincidences (that are usually so much more than simple coincidences). Most if not all of these motifs can be seen in his longest work, 1Q84. The title clearly pays homage to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, but the story is not the same.

    As much as I’d like to write a review on 1Q84, that’s another post for another day. We’re here to talk about some of Murakami’s other work. He is considered one of the foremost authorities on modern literary fiction, having published several different short stories, novels, and nonfiction essays. Some of his most notable works include “The Iceman,” After Dark, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, and Norwegian Wood (the movie adaptation for which is currently on Netflix). His prose is captivating, magical, and sure to win you over from the very first page.

    If you’ve never read Murakami, check out “The Iceman.” And be sure to let me know what you think about it!

    Have you read Murakami? What do you think of him?

    P.S. Book Review: Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews, Book Review: Oleanders in Alaska by Matt Thompson, Book Review: Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown, and Book Review: Morning Glory by Allison Blanchard.

  • In Defense of Rereading

    Photo Credit: Pestpruf on Flickr
    Photo Credit: Pestpruf on Flickr

    Recently I spoke to someone who doesn’t believe in rereading books. “It won’t be any different from the first time I read it,” she said. “The material is the same. I don’t get the purpose.”

    This sentiment, though shocking, is one I’ve heard echoed in previous conversations by a variety of people. The general consensus seems to be that once you’ve read a book, you shouldn’t read it again.

    This idea is nonsense.

    When I think about the stories I’ve experienced in my life, it amazes me how some of them have changed with the passage of time. One of my favorite books, for example, is George Orwell’s dystopian classic Nineteen Eighty-Four. I shudder to think what might’ve happened had I only read it once.

    The first time I read the novel, I was thirteen. That’s too young to fully grasp most of what happens in the book, primarily the political overtones and the implications of the society Orwell has crafted. The sex scenes and manifesto went right over my head. What can I say? I was naive.

    Every time I read Nineteen Eighty-Four, I notice something new. I’ve read this book at least a dozen times and still I learn more with each reading. The material isn’t changing (that much is obvious), but I certainly am. As I continue to change I’m sure I’ll continue to get different things out of the novel.

    If you’ve read something once, there’s no reason you shouldn’t sit down and reread it. If it’s a book like Nineteen Eighty-Four, it should withstand the test of time. Whether it’s The Great Gatsby, Harry Potter, or Crime and Punishment, there’s something new to discover when you dip back into the pages.

    Don’t believe me? Well, there’s only one way to find out.

    How do you feel about rereading books? What books have you enjoyed rereading?

  • Book Review: Morning Glory by Allison Blanchard

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    Having read Allison Blanchard’s debut novel Forget Me Not, I was thrilled to have the chance to read and review the sequel. Morning Glory continues the story of Adeline, a high school girl whose ordinary life is turned upside down when she encounters a boy named Cole and his native traditions. Blanchard’s new novel is the perfect blend of depth, drama, and romance. Her stellar cast of characters, dedication to narrative, and attention to detail make Morning Glory an even greater success than Forget Me Not. This book is fantastic.

    Fans of the first novel’s protagonist Adeline will not be disappointed by her portrayal in this sequel. Blanchard stays true to Adeline’s character throughout this novel, and I had a difficult time finding anything that did not feel true to character. My other two favorites, Cole and Emma, are given an equally respectful treatment. The relationships established in the first novel are deepened and explored further in this sequel. Because fiction is about people, I loved Blanchard’s depth of characters and exploration of family, friendly, and romantic relationships throughout her new book.

    Another quality that makes this sequel worth reading is Blanchard’s dedication to the established narrative. Blanchard reminds the reader of the legend established in Forget Me Not while adding details that enhance the realism of the mythology. She also does an excellent job of keeping up with her characters’ histories and backstories (I’d like to know how she does it because I could use a few pointers).

    With a whole mythology to look after, it’s impressive that Blanchard does not slack off when it comes to her attention to detail. As with the backstories, Blanchard makes certain that every part of the legend exists for a reason–that is, every seemingly-insignificant detail coincides with something that happens in the story. Nothing happens unless it needs to. This level of attention is something that I have the utmost respect for.

    My only complaint about the novel? At times, it seemed that there was too much convenience. Certain events felt contrived rather than inevitable. Without giving too much away, I had a hard time believing the identity of the man who pulled Adeline from the river. Even then, Blanchard did her very best to convince me, which is why I am reluctant to list this single grievance.

    This sequel is as good as, if not better than, its predecessor. I enjoyed every second of the book and found it difficult to put down. If you loved Forget Me Not, or if you’re in the market for a new kind of paranormal romance, you need to check out Blanchard’s work.

    You can purchase Blanchard’s debut novel on Amazon. She also has a blog that you can view here.

    Want me to review your book? Comment or send me an email! I’d love to get in touch with you.

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  • Lovely Links 12.29.13 – 01.04.14

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    The first post of every month is going to be dedicated to extraordinary links I’ve gathered from various places on the Internet. Most of the links will have but one thing in common: they will be related to reading or writing. Other than that, who knows? Here’s what we’ve got this week:

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  • Guest Post by Matt Thompson: Hacks Are Immortal

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    A few weeks ago I was asked by the esteemed owner of this blog if I’d like to do an interview to help promote my new book. As an independent author it was an opportunity I readily accepted. It’s not the first interview I’ve done, but I realized that I felt differently about this one. I was excited about it because I knew I had something to say, something that I felt (and feel) strongly about. I found myself hoping to be asked a specific question. I was not disappointed.

    What I wanted to be asked about was e-books. *Audible groan. E-books are a point of contention in the writing world, and I find myself uncomfortably straddling the chasm between the two sides. What I said in the interview is essentially this: e-books get an unfair rap. It is often assumed that all e-books are amateurish vampire romance or s&m stories with terrible covers and worse grammar. A basic interview isn’t the time to go into extensive detail (although I was perhaps a bit wordy) but now that I have a more appropriate forum I’d like to more clearly explain where I stand.

    More than fifty years ago Gore Vidal wrote an essay entitled “The Hacks of Academe” which I read for the first time almost exactly one year ago. As I reread the essay in preparation for this post I noticed something I didn’t before, something quite relevant to the e-book controversy. On top of airing out his grievances with John Barth, Vidal bemoans the state of fiction in America. He is concerned that the serious American novel is dying, and it is because of its most ardent supporters: academics. What I never caught in my first reading is that Vidal is not as concerned with the quality of the serious American novel, (he had some reasonable qualms with Barth’s willfully obtuse writing) but with the exclusivity of it. He fears that serious novels are only being written by academics, for academics in a vicious cycle that ends with the pool of serious readers and writers painfully dwindling down to zero.

    Vidal is spot on, and it persists today. But even worse, it has spread to e-book enthusiasts as well. This cliquishness cannot continue in the best interest of the novel. Academics are as unwilling to accept as ever. Wander onto any college campus in  America and attempt to speak to an English professor about a great novel you read, a kindle exclusive. Stonewall. Universities continue to perpetuate an increasingly narrow view of what is worth reading. The arrival of the e-book has only made them close ranks more than ever before. This is nothing new, but there has been another adverse reaction.

    The e-book enthusiasts have responded to rejection by academics by closing their own ranks. They’ve created their own cult of exclusivity, but instead of literary novels, it is genre and proud. Literary novels published in e-book form are routinely ignored by e-book blogs. Most e-book blogs (believe me I’ve checked) don’t even have “literary” listed as an option. Some will gladly review paranormal vampire futuristic dystopian books, but not any considered literary. My point is not to disparage paranormal vampire futuristic dystopian books, but only to point out that literary books are being specifically left out.

    Both sides of the debate are entrenched and have no desire to change their position. Exclusivity reigns. It is absurd that the “death” of the serious American novel has occurred simultaneously with the meteoric rise of the e-book. While literary critics continue to rant about the lack of serious readers, more people than ever have access to books. E-books and the serious novel could be a match made in heaven. They could be the power couple that restores serious fiction to relevance in contemporary culture. And yet…it hasn’t happened.

    It is especially frustrating for someone like myself. I am seeking my second university degree in English and I write literary fiction. I am also an independent author who publishes via the Kindle format. I am in both camps. So I stand here, straddling the chasm, beset on all sides by yelling and disagreement, begging for quiet, asking: why can’t we be friends?

    Matt Thompson is the author of two novels and numerous short stories. His work has been featured in apt. magazine.
    www.amazon.com/author/shutupcabbage
    mthompsonwriting@gmail.com

  • Book Review: Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews

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    I’ll be the first one to tell you that I love scary things. Whether it be books, movies, or video games, I love any story that gives me the creeps. Blame my weird fascination with horror on R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series and the television show Are You Afraid of the Dark?. Whatever the cause, I love anything that frightens me. And Flowers in the Attic is no exception. Note: this review contains some spoilers.

    I feel like I’m the last person in the world to have heard about this book. V. C. Andrews wrote it in 1979, so it has certainly been around for a while. The book achieved widespread popularity after its release, selling over forty million copies worldwide. In 1987, it was adapted into a movie. Somehow, though, I still hadn’t encountered it until discovering it on a list of contemporary classics. I’m so happy that I found it.

    The narrator of the novel is Catherine Dollanganger, a young girl who wants to grow up to become a ballerina. After Catherine’s father dies in an automobile accident, Catherine’s family loses all of their money and possessions. Corinne, Catherine’s mother, moves her four children (Christopher, Catherine, Cory, and Carrie) out of their family home and into the house where she’d lived as a child. Corinne’s wealthy parents have written her out of their will, and she hopes to win back her father’s approval and secure a stable future for herself and for her children.

    Upon arriving at Foxworth Hall, the house of Corinne’s parents, the children discover that the grandfather has no idea that they exist. Apparently, he and the grandmother would view them as an abomination because they are the product of incest. Corinne goes along with the grandmother’s plan to hide her children in the attic. The mother assures the children that they will only have to stay in the attic for one night. The next morning, she says, they can come out into the open.

    Needless to say, the children spend a great deal more time in the attic than they anticipate. Without giving too much away, days turn into weeks and months and even years. As the children grow older, they also grow weaker. Could it be that their mother has no intention of ever letting them out of the attic?

    Flowers in the Attic is a chilling story that reveals the dark side of human nature and the capacity for imagination and innovation in children. This book is certainly not a light read, but it’s hard to put down. If you’re looking for something haunting, psychological, and intense, be sure to pick up V. C. Andrews’ bestselling novel.

    Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

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  • Books to Get You in the Spooky Spirit

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    I love Halloween. You should know that about me. I also love reading.

    Why not combine the two?

    There are several books that I love to reread around this time of year. These books are full of thrills, chills, suspense, scares, horror, and mayhem – every spooky sensation that you can imagine. That’s what makes them perfect for an All Hallows Eve read. If you’re looking to curl up with a creepy classic or a contemporary chiller, check out one from this list:
    • Dracula by Bram Stoker – Whether or not you’ve read the book, the story of Dracula is certainly familiar to almost anyone. Read about the vampire that inspired them all. The cool thing about this book is that it is told in the form of letters from several different characters.
    • The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux – Another haunting read whose story is pervasive in modern culture. This novel tells the story of the ghost of the Paris Opera House and his obsessive attraction toward a young chorus girl. Fear, violence, love triangles – what’s not to love? And yes, this is the book that inspired one of the longest-running shows in theatre history.
    • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – Released in 1938 and made into a movie by none other than Alfred Hitchcock, Rebecca has been dazzling audiences since its initial release. Hands down one of the best books I’ve ever read. I couldn’t put it down. Without spoiling anything, this book is about a young woman who marries a widower with a mysterious past. It. Is. Good.
    • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – One of the most famous examples of the gothic romance. Jane Eyre is a young woman who falls in love with her employer… and finds that he has a skeleton in his closet (or perhaps in his attic, but I’ll say no more). If you read it in school, it’s worth a second look.
    • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – This is the novel that birthed science fiction. And it was written by a woman. Need I go on? If you read this book, you’ll understand why some people cringe when you refer to the monster as “Frankenstein.”
    • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – Okay, okay. This book is not necessarily scary, but parts of it are unnerving. Hester Prynne has an affair and is forced to wear a scarlet “A” on her chest so that everyone will know her crime. This novel is haunting, and I can’t explain why.
    • The Shining by Stephen King – The King of Horror writes the King of all horror novels. Just read it, mmkay?
    • Misery by Stephen King – Another masterpiece from the master himself. Man, do I love Stephen King. Even if you’ve seen the movie, you should probably read the book.
    • Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews – This book creeped me the eff out. A mother keeps her children locked up in an attic for over two years. Terrifying because it reveals the dark side of human nature. I couldn’t put this one down, either.
    Of course, these are just some of my favorite scary reads for the scariest time of the year. I’m interested to see which of these books you’ve read and enjoyed. 
    What do you like to read around Halloween? What books did I miss?
    Helene in Between