Smooth coffee and old pages
No care in the world
He passed her crossing a busy intersection on his way home. Her arms clasping her sides, shielding herself from the night’s air. Her dark eyes peered from under the sweater’s hood when he mumbled, “Hello.”
She looked away and walked faster. Rude, but he understood. She was probably like him, retreating to her sanctuary after a day of dealing with the world.
He saw her again on the balcony across from his. She was sweaterless, but the frigid cold didn’t seem to bother her. She was simply watching the snowfall. Vulnerable to the icy wind around her, yet beautiful.
Photo by: Filip Gielda
I’m always amazed when I read a good short story especially since I know that they’re not easy to write. Despite their difficulty, short stories aren’t talked about as much as novels (or maybe I’m wrong?). So, let’s talk about them!
Whether they had me crying or cringing in fear, I’m going to share with you four short stories that moved me this year.
In Arimah’s story, global warming crippled today’s political giants causing them to flee to Africa for safety. It’s here where our gifted main character, Nneoma, lives. She’s a rare mathematician that uses a special formula to extract emotional pain from her subjects—for a price! Like most in her profession, she’s wealthy and only caters to the highest bidder. But there’s an unforeseen price for taking in all those horrible emotions.
While the world building, overall story concept, and Nneoma’s unlikable personality were interesting, what moved me was the people Nneoma encountered. She wanted to avoid a young girl, for example, because she could see the child’s pain–and it was a doozy: her family died in a flood, she was abused in refugee camps, and was hated because she wasn’t a full African citizen.
Heartbreaking, right? Nneoma came to tears when she extracted the girl’s pain into herself and, honestly, I almost did too.
Since Earth is overpopulated, a young boy’s unborn sister must be aborted by government decree. He reaches out to an Antolouian assassin, an alien from a complex culture, to kill the man who signed the order. As the story moves on, an unforgettable friendship form between the desperate boy and lonely alien assassin.
Their relationship starts off professional, but, as we learn more about the alien’s culture and that it’s an exile, the two begin to respect each other.
What makes this relationship moving is that everyone is afraid of the alien and for good reason. It’s kinda creepy:
Closing his eyes, the boy could see the black synthetic skin the alien wore as protection against alien atmospheres. Under that suit ropes of muscles and tendons coiled and uncoiled, rippling even when the alien was still. In the doorway the long neck had not been extended, but he knew what it could do. When it telescoped forward—as it could instantly—the head tipped up in reflex and the jaws opened.
But the boy shocks the alien when he ignores his fears and treats it like a person. Turns out the alien only wanted to be…well, wanted and treated with decency.
Don’t we all?
We follow a not so happy couple on their anniversary: the wife is manipulative, the husband (Frank) is possessive, and both are emotionally withdrawn from each other. The wife decides to take a stroll in a local garden where she’s reunited with her long lost lover, Archie, who supposedly died in a war. Only he’s not the same because…well, he’s bat shit crazy. She runs home distraught and demands to be alone. Frank, however, has had enough of her disassociated behavior. The two argue and both walk away broken hearted.
The difference in how the couple communicated in the beginning (withholding their emotions) versus how they communicated in the end (explosive emotional argument!) is what grabbed my attention. Plus, Lawrence’s writing made me drool. His characters purposely try to hurt each other and the descriptions between their dialogue speaks volumes:
He shrank, and became white, impersonal. There was a long, paralysed silence. He seemed to have gone small.
“You never thought to tell me all this before I married you,” he said, with bitter irony, at last.
Susan Rawlings has a marriage that would make anyone green with envy (at least, that’s how her peers felt). Only it’s not so great. Her husband cheated on her and being a stay-at-home mom isn’t fulfilling. She decides to separate herself from her family by renting a motel room where, after discovering her husband cheated on her a second time, she commits suicide.
I thought it was sad how Susan felt so unsatisfied with her life. She couldn’t get the things she craved (like returning to her creative career at the advertising firm) because others depended on her for their happiness. To make matters worse, she was too prideful to express her inner troubles and this unwillingness to be vulnerable is what leads to her downfall.
There you have it: four moving short stories you should make time in your life to read.
Remember all the hype Cinder had when it first out? It was the book that book bloggers and bookworms on twitter gushed about (the ones I follow at least). I remember thinking, It’s probably not that good!
I was wrong.
With awesome characterizations, a gripping plot, and an authentic story world, Cinder always kept me up passed my bedtime.
Cyborg and mechanic Linh Cinder was just trying to survive her miserable life with her step mother when Prince Kai appeared at her shop with a malfunctioning android. Little does she know that the secrets locked within the android’s mainframe, her favorite sister’s sudden illness, and her developing affection for Kai will propel her into the center of an intergalactic conflict.
There’s something to love about all the characters in Cinder, but there’s only a handful that made an impression on me.
Cinder was my favorite. Whether it meant bashing in android heads or sassing bad guys, she never played the victim. She wasn’t passive and actively tried to solve her problems. And…well, she’s a cyborg!
Prince Kai wasn’t just the snarky, yet charming, love interest whose sole purpose was to sweep Cinder (and, let’s be honest, the reader) off her feet. He had his own story and faced his own conflicts.
Then there was Queen Levana. She’s a sadistic control freak that’ll make anyone do anything with just a thought (or she murdered them). Surely, a villain I loved to hate!
Marissa Meyer did an awesome job with the setting. The way she fused traditional China with sci-fi elements gave the story an authentic feel.
Some scholars believe that the earliest Cinderella tale came from 9th-century China. Additionally, some believe that the iconic glass slipper (which was gold in the Grimm version) came to us from China’s tradition of foot-binding and a culture in which women were praised for tiny feet. So having Cinder set in China was my way of paying homage to the story’s roots.
It also seemed more interesting than setting another book in America!
There was also a ton of nifty gadgets and androids! Cinder had an augment that could tell her when people were lying. Plus, she could download information to her brain from the Internet! Cool, right?
…Or would that be painful?
I like to think of myself as an open minded reader, but the one thing I just CANNOT tolerate in books is a love-struck protagonist who never stops gushing about the object of their affection. I’ve had to put down a couple of books because of this.
Romantic moments between Cinder and Prince Kai were gingerly sprinkled throughout the prose, making them more memorable.
I wouldn’t have finished Cinder if I thought it was horrible, but I have one problem with it: the ending.
(Spoiler Warning: There’s spoilers galore from here to the end of this post. Continue at your own risk.)
After getting thrown in jail, Dr. Erland convinces Cinder to escape and gives her the tools to do so. She commits to the idea and mentally accepts her new life as a fugitive, but that’s it! The story ends. I wanted to see her sneak out of prison Mission: Impossible style (or fight more androids!) at least.
I mean why? Why a cliffhanger?!
Stories can teach us things. They can give us a new perception of the world around us or even teach us something about ourselves. With that said, here’s two things Cinder taught me.
Prince Kai’s carefree life ends the moment his father dies. A ton of responsibilities are tossed on his shoulder before he has time to grieve: prepare for his coronation, conduct official meetings with Earth’s leaders, negotiate with an evil moon witch (and possibly marry her)–Kai had it rough!
He had to change the way he behaved just to fit the mold of Emperor. Sure, he fought to hold onto who he was, but he slowly gave into what other’s wanted him to be.
He chaffed under social pressure, but we don’t have to. Everyone will always have expectations for us or try to force us into cookie cutter molds, but we’re the ones who have to live with ourselves. It’s our lives and our decisions and we should stay true to who we are.
Whether it was Cinder’s decision to leave her verbally abusive family or Kai’s mission to find the heir, both characters sought solutions to their problems.
No matter how bad a situation is, there’s always a way to make things better if we’re willing to look.
Overall, I enjoyed this book and if it sounds like something you might like, consider following the links below to learn more about it.
I can easily get “lost” in a store with a book section (woe to the soul that accompanies me to a book store or, worst, library). There you’ll find me gazing at book covers, reading enticing blurbs, and sampling the first pages (okay, first CHAPTER) of an interesting novel.
The aisle where I found Joe Golem and the Drowning City, written by Christopher Golden and illustrated by Mike Mignola, looked like the aftermath of a Black Friday sale. Books were pulled from their proper places and thrown on shelves where they didn’t belong (I found Fifty Shades of Gray in the middle grade section). I unearthed Joe Golem and the Drowning City from a pile of books in the romance section and bought it.
I really intended to read it, but the spring semester started and…you know how that song and dance goes. I picked it up in June (or July) and finished it in three days!
It’s an amazing read filled with occultists, steampunk machinery, otherworldly gods, and dark illustrations to boot.
The inhabitants of the “Drowning City,” formally Lower Manhattan before the sea flooded the streets in 1925, do whatever they can to survive the city’s watery slums. Molly McHugh use to be just like them. She lived a life of fear and poverty until Orlov the Conjurer, a powerful magician hindered by age, pulled her from the streets and employed her as his assistant.
Things change when Orlov is abducted and his capturers try to kill Molly. She runs into the mysterious detective, Joe Golem, who promises to help save Orlov.
But neither are prepared for the world that lies ahead of them.
Blurb from Amazon:
In 1925, earthquakes and a rising sea level left Lower Manhattan submerged under more than thirty feet of water, so that its residents began to call it the Drowning City. Those unwilling to abandon their homes created a new life on streets turned to canals and in buildings whose first three stories were underwater. Fifty years have passed since then, and the Drowning City is full of scavengers and water rats, poor people trying to eke out an existence, and those too proud or stubborn to be defeated by circumstance.
Among them are fourteen-year-old Molly McHugh and her friend and employer, Felix Orlov. Once upon a time Orlov the Conjurer was a celebrated stage magician, but now he is an old man, a psychic medium, contacting the spirits of the departed for the grieving loved ones left behind. When a seance goes horribly wrong, Felix Orlov is abducted by strange men wearing gas masks and rubber suits, and Molly soon finds herself on the run.
Her flight will lead her into the company of a mysterious man, and his stalwart sidekick, Joe Golem, whose own past is a mystery to him, but who walks his own dreams as a man of stone and clay, brought to life for the sole purpose of hunting witches.
Since I respect those who haven’t read the book, spoiler text will be in GREEN from this point forward.
The bleak atmosphere of the Drowning City drew me in. Its inhabitants occupy the tops of skyscrapers and use makeshift bridges to get around. Beat-up boats transverse waterways that snake around abandoned buildings. To make matters worst, those who live in the city are essentially abandoned because no one is willing to help them rebuild.
There’s also a supernatural element with staeampunk undertones that makes the setting even more wild: Church (Joe’s partner) uses alchemy and a mechanical heart to prolong his life, Joe is an ancient stone golem meant to protect the world from witches, and Orlov is the son of an interdimensional god.
In my opinion, the interior format of the print book is amazing. It’s about the size of an adult coloring book with Mike Mignola’s shadow-heavy illustrations displayed in the margins. They aren’t prominent (there’s a few full page illustrations), but they’re detailed enough to pull you further into the story. You may be more familiar with Mignola’s work than you think, since he wrote and illustrated Hellboy (check out his work here).
The characters were also interesting; however, I didn’t like Molly very much. She wasn’t a bad character: she’s decisive and abrasive (definitely not a damsel in distress). The only problem is that she’s a normal character amongst extraordinary ones (Joe is an ancient golem, Orlov is a magician, and Church is basically a cyborg).
Even the antagonist was oddly charming. He has this jolly santa clause vibe…right up to the moment when he starts explaining his evil plan to open a up a parallel dimension that’ll throw the world into eternal damnation.
The illustrations! Beautiful.
Joe’s gruff, stoic, attitude.
The scene where Joe saved Molly from the possessed tree that tried to eat her.
The part where Orlov finally becomes the freakish god he’s destined to be in the climax of the story. His metamorphoses causes tsunamis that ruin upper Manhattan (where the wealthy live) and a parallel dimension to bleed into our world. It’s a touching moment because Orlov is confused and doesn’t want to be this thing he’s becoming. At the same time, he has to leave to the parallel dimension or risk destroying the world Molly lives in. No matter which decision he chooses, Molly will be left alone (so sad).
I’m not kidding when I say this book was awesome. I also don’t finish books that I don’t like (and I finished this in three days!). With that said, there were a few places in the book that were a bit drawn out. The scene with Molly being chased by the gas man for example, could have been shorter.
The story’s climax was spectacular, but I was a bummed when Joe bailed at the end. When Molly asked where he was going, he simply told her he was going to hunt witches (keep in mind that Joe’s witch hunting days were over centuries ago…he just doesn’t remember). Molly didn’t want him to leave just as much as I didn’t, but he did anyway. Boo! I can’t say this is a bad thing, it’s actually good writing on Golden’s part. Makes me want to buy the sequel.
If you’re someone who likes steampunk, supernatural thrillers (bordering on occult), or you’re a fan of the Hellboy series, then you may just like this one.
Advertiser. Scriptwriter. Author.
Do you know what these three careers have in common? According to Steven Pressfield, storytelling.
If you’ve read last week’s post or follow me on Goodreads, you’ll know that I’ve recently picked up Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why that is and What You Can Do About It. I’m a big fan of Pressfield’s no-nonsense writing style and intended to buy his book the moment I heard about it. That was until Marie Forleo gifted a free version to her mailing list subscribers (woot!).
This book is so informative and inspiring that it should be on every writer’s TBR list. Lets talk about why that is.
Similar to On Writing by Stephen King, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t walks us through Pressfield’s career as a creative. Each career has taught him something about storytelling and he’s sharing those techniques/life lessons with us in short, vignette-like, chapters. He also discusses how writers can use these techniques in all forms of writing (novel, script, self-help, non-fiction, etc.).
When I first read the title, I thought “Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence.” Then I read the subheading and thought, “Okay. Now this makes sense.” It’s such a sneaky, yet brilliant way to get your attention!
The first three chapters set the stage for the entire book. But, well, as shameful as this is, I…uh…I skipped them. They weren’t bad! I just really really really wanted to get to the meat of the book.
Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t reads like a narrative with Pressfield being the main character. So you’re getting some sweet writing advice and learning about Pressfield’s struggles with the craft. These snippets enriched the book. I not only nodded my head in agreement to much his struggles, but I was also inspired by them.
Grit and determination can help anyone succeed.
Whenever he introduces a new storytelling technique, the narrative pauses so he can explain it. He explains some techniques/lessons better than others, but I think this is because the “less explained” ones are pretty self-explanatory. He also repeats the complicated techniques throughout the prose so you can’t forget them (at least, I can’t).
Overall, this book is packed with value. The underlining lesson is that us writers must take our readers into account. If we fail to do that, we’ll have one heck of a time getting them pass the first sentence.
After the first couple chapters, the book is sectioned into an additional eight parts. I liked “Book 3: Hollywood” and “Book 4: Fiction: The Second Time” the most.
“Book 3: Hollywood” is where Pressfield learns about story formula. He delves into my favorite topic, the Hero’s Journey, which is an ancient story structure that (believe or not) every story follows.
(Warning: This book isn’t technically a novel, but it reads like one. So if you don’t want me to spoil the effect for you, skip to the next heading.)
In “Book 4: Fiction: The Second Time” Pressfield uses his life experiences plus writing techniques he learned form his previous careers and applies them to writing his first novel.
This is an intense time in Pressfield’s life because novel writing has impacted his life in a negative way in the past: his manuscripts were never “good enough,” his marriage faltered, and he was jobless.
Despite all this, he still had a burning desire to be a creative and he fought for it even when resistance held him back. This struggle makes his triumph in book “Book 4” especially moving.
When Pressfield says “nobody wants you read your sh*t,” he means:
When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, you develop empathy. You acquire the skill that is indispensable to all artists and entrepreneurs—the ability to switch back and forth in your imagination from your own point of view as writer/painter/seller to the point of view of your reader/gallery-goer/customer. You learn to ask yourself with every sentence and every phrase: Is this interesting? Is it fun or challenging or inventive? Am I giving the reader enough? Is she bored? Is she following where I want to lead her?
The struggles of writing a novel:
As artists, you and I are struggling each day to dominate our material, to shape it into a cohesive whole with a beginning, middle, and an end. But at the same time, the raw entity defies us. It’s a living thing, with its own power and its own destiny. It ‘wants’ to be something. Our job is to discover what that something is—and to help it become that.
On structuring a story:
The ending dictates the beginning. I’m a huge fan of this back-to-front method. It works for anything—novels, plays, new business pitches, music albums, choreography. First figure out where you want to finish. Then work backward to set up everything you need to get you there.
This book could be helpful for those who are struggling with their writing careers or are in need of some inspiration. It’s also a good read for those who love to learn new things (*wave*).
If you’re going to read this book, please do so with pen and paper. Don’t just read it, try to apply the techniques to your W.I.P. You wont be disappointed!
Since we’re talking about books, how about we be reading buddies on Goodreads?! I’m starting to post updates about the books that I’m reading (snippets of the reading material and my reactions to them) because, gosh, books are awesome.
If this sounds like something you’d be interested in (or you just need a friend), send me a request and we’ll be book nerds together! 🙂
Nirvana tagged me in a book tag!
And not just any tag. But a Harry Potter Book Tag. Ooh!
What’s the difference? …It’s Harry Potter-ish…don’t question me darn it!
Here we go:
1. Expecto Patronum! (A childhood book connected to good memories.)
DeathNote by Tsugumi Ohba. Yeah, I know, it’s a graphic novel! But this is the book that started my unhealthy manga crave.
2. Expelliarmus! (A book that took you by surprise.)
The Weight of Blood by David Dalglish. I went on Amazon searching for a specific book (I can’t remember which) and happened across Daglish’s novel. I fell in love with it after reading the summary and sample. I ended up finding a new favorite author!
3. Prior Incantato! (The last book you read.)
4. Alohomora! (A book that introduced you to a genre you would’t have considered before.)
The Cleaner by Mark Dawson. At one time I only frequented fantasy and science fiction. Dawson taught there’s a wealth of stories in other genres too.
5. Riddikulus! (A funny book you read.)
The only funny book that I can remember is Captain Underpants. It never gets old!
6. Sonorus! (A Book that you think everyone should know about.)
The Crown Tower by Michael J Sullivan. If you haven’t read into his series yet—you’re so missing out.
7. Obliviate! (A book you wish you never read)
There’s never been a book that I wish I never read. Simply because I don’t finish the ones that I don’t like.
8. Imperio! (A book you had to read for school.)
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. What’s there to say? Hinton’s book has a way with connecting to kids. This was the first book that my classmates and I didn’t fall asleep on.
9. Crucio! (A book that was painful to read.)
Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. It was just sad to read about a priest divided by faith and fatherly duty.
10. Avada Kedavra! (A book that could kill.)
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
I respect classics…but…I can never get pass that sentence.
Tag YOU are it!
‘Who will the forfeit be?’ She asked slowly.
I shook my head. They always wanted to know although they knew they wouldn’t be told. She had known the conditions when she accepted the return of her life for a period of time.”
In K.W. McCabe’s Choices, a dark lord gives souls the opportunity to come back to life. However, he will come and collect payment. After a period of time, his messenger, Thomas, will appear and give them one doozy of a choice:
Return to the world of the dead OR have someone else take their place.
The narrative doesn’t say outright, but it seems as if Thomas has been doing this for a long time. Though he appears to just be “following orders” he also has his own feelings and opinions about his “job.” For instance, he harbors a bit of disdain for the souls around him—especially for the soul he has to collect.
“Abelard ate a lot. That was why, after I’d slashed my knife across his belly, I half-expected his bulbous stomach, chock full of tender roast, broccoli, soft rolls, and the most delicate shiraz I’d ever sampled—all served just an hour before by his fat merchantship’s very staff—to come tumbling out like a too swollen jellyfish. But something about the cut didn’t feel right, and though Abelard clenched his hands to his gut and fell to his knees as I expected he would, there wasn’t even a single, glistening trickle of gastric juice seeping out from between his fat fingers.”
Imagine that you invited a guest over to your house and, after showering them with your best hospitality, they suddenly reveal that they’re there to kill you. A situation like that would make anyone desperate!
In a nutshell, this is Abelard’s situation in Scott Marlowe’s short, Fine Wine. The main character, who’s unnamed, is hired to kill Abelard for reasons unknown. The story starts off with Abelard being “assassinated” but something just isn’t right…
What’s wrong? Since this a very short tale I don’t want to ruin anything. BUT you can go find out for yourself, here.
One thing that I want to assure you is that Fine Wine isn’t as dark and gritty as it may seem. Marlowe uses humor to temper the grim aspects of the story, keeping it interesting and easy to digest. In fact, I found the main character to be hilarious!
S.E. Stone from Paper, Pen, and No Plan “bookshelf tagged” me earlier this week. I thought it would be fun to do (not to mention that I am way behind with my posts) so here’s the rules:
“Answer the following questions about books on your bookshelf and then tag five other bloggers. You can answer the questions any way you want, whether it’s on your blog, in a video, or a combination of the two. Then remember to let whoever tagged you know when your post is up so they can read it.”
– S.E. Stone
1. Is there a book that you really want to read but haven’t because you know that it’ll make you cry?
I haven’t came across such a book yet. So no 🙁
2. Pick one book that helped introduce you to a new genre?
If it wasn’t for The Strange Case of Finely Jane by Kady Cross, I wouldn’t have discovered the mechanical world of steampunk.
3. Find a book that you want to reread.
The Crown Tower by Michael J Sullivan! This book was an enjoyable read and I would recommend it to anyone who likes high fantasy stories.
4. Is there a book series you read but wish that you hadn’t?
There isn’t a single book that I’ve read that I didn’t like. However, I do wish that I would have finished Emily Rodda’s Deltora Quest series before watching the anime.
5. If your house was burning down and all of your family and pets were safe, which book would you go back inside to save?
Omigosh a fire!!! I would grab my laptop—hands down. It has everything on it…including my digital library. 🙂
6. Is there one book on your bookshelf that brings back fond memories?
The City of Towers by Keith Baker. My parents gave this book to me on my 13th birthday. It was a book of “firsts”: 1st book I ever owned, 1st fantasy book I ever enjoyed, and the 1st longest book I ever read.
7. Find a book that has inspired you the most.
Do the Work by Steven Pressfield. This is a book I would recommend to anyone trying to start any sort of creative project. Pressfield taught me to ignore resistance and just get things done.
8. Do you have any autographed books?
No…I don’t 🙁
I’ll have to make a point to get one just for the heck of it!
9. Find the book that you have owned the longest.
Bram Stokers Dracula and a Webster Thesaurus that my dad gave me.
I know—that’s two books!
Thing is, I’ve had them both for such a long time that I can’t remember which came first.
10. Is there a book by an author that you never imagined you would read or enjoy?
Captain Underpants by Dave Pilkey. This series was the rave during gradeschool! However, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about until I read one myself.
Here are my five tags:
I suggest that you—
*points at you*
YOU should check out those five awesome bloggers.