The Hopeful Wanderer.015 – Warning Signs

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Blood on the dirt path ahead of me. So fresh it glistened bright red in the noonday sunlight, still puddling around bits of gravel. Just a moment ago, a hare had hopped down this turn, tall sunflower stalks obscuring it from my line of sight. Now it was gone. Now, the blood.

Sunflowers. Though the sun glared down from just overhead, every bloom lining the ditch to either side faced one direction. Faced me. Staring like brown pupils within unsettling yellow irises, unblinking. Tall stalks rubbed against enormous leaves, making a noise like bristly leather. No other sound broke the silence. My scalped prickled at the tension, at the sense of expectation.

I would not travel down this path. Despite the lack of breeze, a hissing rustle set up from the sunflowers as I turned away. Perhaps they should’ve waited to kill the hare, if they’d wanted to snare bigger prey like me. How could such a dangerous patch of plants be left alone out here?

Off to the side, I spied more red hidden within a clump of tall grass. A sign, though of a different kind than the blood. When I hauled the sign from the thick tangle of plants, I read on it warnings of danger ahead in four different languages. Do not pass. At least someone out there had tried. I side-eyed the sunflowers, noting the way younger stalks grew around a gap in the ground where the sign must have once stood. Suspicious.

Since the warnings couldn’t have saved the life of the poor hare, I silently thanked the unfortunate creature as I used a rock to hammer the sign back into the ground. Far enough away that the sunflowers could not cut it down again anytime soon.


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Writing with Anxiety: Be Afraid and Write It Anyway

Anxiety in writing often derives not from a fear of writing itself. In truth, we writers fear audience judgement

Word Nerd Scribbles Turns 100 Posts Old

We hit the 100 posts mile marker last week with the review for All Systems Red. Such a momentous occasion deserves something special, so today’s 101st post will mark the beginning of the addition of semi-regular Tuesday posts, complementing flash fiction publications on Thursdays and book reviews on Saturdays.

While in search of ideas for a spiffy 101st post topic, I ran across The Writeous Babe’s article 100 Blog Post Ideas and My 100th Post, stuffed full of excellent suggestions. If you writers ever run dry on post ideas, I suggest wandering over there. Two of the suggestions that intrigued me were “Write the story of how and why you got started blogging” and “Post an inspirational quote and what it means to you.”

We will, in a way, cover both as we explore my personal methods for dealing with anxiety as a writer.

Be Afraid and Do It Anyway

As a young person harboring both anxiety and ambition, I had to adopt the mantra of be afraid and do it anyway just to accomplish anything, including my goal of becoming a writer. The phrase echos Susan Jeffers’s book entitled Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, which may be where I got the idea. I’ve never read her book, but the basic premise of my attitude runs thusly: accept that you are afraid–impossibly afraid, too afraid to ever make the move, submit to the contest, post the article online–and then make it, submit it, post it, even if you do so blind with panic. Being afraid and doing it anyway landed me my first job, got me into (and, when necessary, out of) relationships, and convinced me to start showing readers my written work.

(Disclaimer: I’m fully aware that anxiety is a difficult disorder to deal with, especially when it involves actual panic attacks. When applying this principle, your mileage may vary.)

Anxiety in writing often derives not from a fear of writing itself. We like writing; it’s fun and brings us satisfaction. Lots of writers write just for themselves or trustworthy friends and while this may involve its own sense of anxiety, I myself haven’t experienced such in my own experiments with personal journaling.

In truth, we writers fear audience judgement–how our work will be received by friends and strangers, whether it will be “good enough.” By good enough, I mean entertaining. We hope so much for those likes and kudos and gushing comments, which follow effective entertainment, and fear the lack of them. Yes, yes, we’ve read those remonstrations that writers must develop a thick skin (all true), but anxiety cranks that fear up to eleven. If you write with anxiety, you may never develop that thick skin. May never feel ready to share your work with an audience.

Do it anyway.

Methods for Writing Anyway

Every anxious writer starts somewhere. While my experience may differ from yours, below are my suggestions to get you started writing in spite of anxiety, based on what helped (and helps) me write while afraid.

Because I write fiction, my suggestions live within the realm of crafting story more than in the various aspects of creating non-fiction. Be afraid and do it anyway still applies to all types of writing, as well as to living life in general.

  • Show it to a very trusted friend

Make sure you’re presenting your work to an audience that will be receptive to what you write. So don’t show it to just any friend. If you hand off your piece to your friend who doesn’t read much, you’ll probably get that “it’s nice” response that no artist wants. You stand a better chance of getting useful feedback/a desired response from friends who read, especially if they like the genre you write (i.e. if you write mysteries, hand it to your friend who likes solving puzzles and/or reading mysteries). Matchy-matchy.

I started this (and discovered who my First Reader would become) by offering to write fiction about characters my friends were playing in a tabletop game. People love reading your words about something they made, so you could even offer to write about the original characters your writing friends have created. Just ensure that you do those characters justice.

  • Write (and post) fanfiction

Writing fanfiction has a freeing effect on the anxious writer. Since the characters, backstories, settings, and plots have already been established, have already drawn in what might be a huge audience depending on the franchise’s popularity, you as a writer can capitalize on the readership of fans who like the same thing that you do. They’re hungry for more content and you want to improve your craft, so churn out coffee shop AUs and original plots and everything in between to hone your skills, drawing in enthusiastic readers who expect to be forgiving of amateur work.

I wrote and posted four Fallout 4 fanfictions before I got serious about creating original work. It’s gratifying to watch that views counter rise (in active fandoms) and even receive a kudo or a comment. More importantly, comparing the progression of your works shows you how much your writing has improved with practice. You can take the lessons learned in writing fanfiction and apply them to crafting your own original fiction.

I suggest Archive of Our Own as my favorite fanfiction forum, with Fanfiction.net as a close second. AO3 is much easier to navigate and post stories, but requires a request to join, while FF.net lets you get started immediately, even if the document uploader can be tricky to use. No reason why you can’t sign up for both for more wider audience variety.

  • Put it on your blog

Got a Tumblr? WordPress? Blogger? Reddit? Even if you don’t, it’s not hard to get set up on these websites and start posting your content, be it fanfiction or original work, short-stories or novel snippets. All of this for free with no gatekeepers to turn you away. Consider making your own little writing domain on a more open website like WordPress or Blogger and then crossposting your work to forums you must join like Tumblr. All of these boast an anonymous function if keeping your own name off your work will help you be braver about posting publicly. Liberal use of tags helps readers find you.

Keep in mind that what you post on the internet, most magazines, quarterlies, journals, and contest websites will consider published. It’s great to post original fiction on your blog, but make sure it’s work you’re willing to give away for free. Hold back any pieces you hope to submit or sell.

Word Nerd Scribbles (a blog I had created but rarely used) became a great place to post my profile pieces written about friends and family for a Facebook social project. You can read about how that went here.

  • Write it for you

In the end, the audience member who matters the most is you. Whether you write just for yourself or you want to garner as many appreciative readers as possible, you are the one who has to like what you write. Don’t be too hard on yourself, accept your own criticisms with a grain of salt, and remember to forgive yourself as much as you would forgive another writer.

In On Writing, Stephen King says, “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” Meaning to help alleviate that anxiety, forget about audience altogether. They don’t matter until you get to the revision stage; your writing is for you.

Do you as an anxious writer have any tricks for powering through that fear and writing anyway? If you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments. Happy 101st Post!


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Book Review: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Only seven chapters long, ‘All Systems Red’ moves along at a snappy pace, following the tale of Murderbot, an angry, dismissive robot learning how to deal with autonomy and other people during crisis. Can relate.

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All Systems Red by New York Times-bestselling author Martha Wells

All Systems Red Synopsis

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

(Via Goodreads)

About Martha Wells

Martha Wells has written many fantasy novels, including The Books of the Raksuraseries (beginning with The Cloud Roads), the Ile-Rien series (including The Death of the Necromancer) as well as YA fantasy novels, short stories, media tie-ins (for Star Wars and Stargate: Atlantis), and non-fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel is The Harbors of the Sun in 2017, the final novel in The Books of the Raksura series. She has a new series of SF novellas, The Murderbot Diaries, published by Tor.com in 2017 and 2018. She was also the lead writer for the story team of Magic: the Gathering‘s Dominaria expansion in 2018. She has won a Nebula Award, an ALA/YALSA Alex Award, a Locus Award, and her work has appeared on the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Award ballots, the USA Today Bestseller List, and the New York Times Bestseller List. Her books have been published in eleven languages.

(Via Martha Wells’s website)

My Thoughts

How All Systems Red wound up on my Goodreads TBR list is a mystery to me. I suspect I must have seen one of my friends mark it as Read and seriously liked the description, which hints at an angry, dismissive robot learning how to deal with autonomy and other people. Can relate, so I snagged it from my local library.

I was not, however, expecting a novella. All Systems Red is only seven chapters long, about 160 pages, but what an excellent clutch of chapters. Tor will be releasing three more novellas of The Murderbot Diaries throughout this year and I already have the sequel, Artificial Condition, on order. I had never even heard of Martha Wells before, but I believe I’ve just become her newest fan.

What I Liked

Over-Arcing Content

With the constraints of the limited page amount, the plot of All Systems Red moves along at a snappy pace, wasting no time with extraneous details or fluff. Yet it avoids sacrificing important story aspects like emotional investment, character development, and plot twists. It’s interesting from start to finish, cleverly revealing bits of the universe through relevant character thoughts, dialogue, and setting description.

Characters

The main character of All Systems Red, which calls itself ‘Murderbot,’ has more personality as an android than many of the main characters I’ve read in the past. It’s shy, smart, and youthful, has interests, opinions, and wit, and embodies a certain sense of true asexual, aromantic, gender neutrality. The story happens in first person and Murderbot makes a point of indicating that it has zero interest in sex or romance, which is the kind of main character I want to read! Skip the romance fluff and get down to important things, like group dynamic observations and interactions or Big Questions. Murderbot also represents a recognizable dynamic of the Millennial generation — under-educated, over-competent, and winging it at any given moment.

The rest of the crew surrounding Murderbot shines each in their own way. Based on the names, readers can divine a diverse group in ethnicity alongside Murderbot’s observations of their eclectic gender orientations and futuristic lifestyles. Many ladies populate the crew, receiving action, agency, and voices throughout.

Motifs

The spacefaring interplanetary exploration motif put me just a little in mind of the beginning of the movie Alien, but with the draggy elements cut out. The plot features a good mix of exploration, action, and mystery.

The Ending

At first I thought the ending of All Systems Red would be just okay. There are big and small resolutions that tie up the plot itself quite neatly; however, the way things appear to go at first leave Murderbot’s personal issues somewhat reconciled, but certainly not complete or satisfied. I greatly preferred the way the plot actually ends, transferring into a sequel with a little meta tag as the last word. I’m considerably more satisfied with the way All Systems Red subverts typical short-story ending tropes, but I recognize such success arises from the opportunity to continue.

What I Disliked

Perhaps because of the point of view of Murderbot, who doesn’t care about distinguishing human characteristics, it was at first hard to tell the other characters apart. Yet as the plot progressed, it became easier to know who was who based on dialogue, actions, and group dynamics, so it doesn’t remain a problem for very long.

The explanation of Murderbot’s crew identity came off as a little convoluted so that I’m still not quite sure what the narrative meant to relate about their background. Possibly a reread would solve that problem, though.

Recommendations

I recommend All Systems Red for fans of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot and the world setting of the Alien movies franchise (minus the alien horror aspect), as well as for readers looking for a total lack of romantic subplot in science fiction.

My Rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.15 stars


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The Hopeful Wanderer.014 – A Ghostly Guardian

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A thick cloud came to rest over farmland and countryside, shading the afternoon in sepia tones and muffling the distant sounds of highway traffic. To avoid a wide, unnecessary loop of interstate, I was cutting across an open field, boots squishing in mud from overnight rainfall. Yellowing grass swished against my knees, soaking my pants legs to my ankles, and moisture beaded in my hair, dripping cold down my face. Everything smelled damp, full of possibility.

Watching where I stepped, I almost missed it. A gentle whuff of breath and warmth radiating at my side alerted me to the presence of another walking with me, pace sedate, bearing regal. Just visible in the fog was an enormous buck, brown coat fading into the the landscape. Its antlers grew shaped like tree branches, winter dull twigs rattling together as it turned its head toward me.

A guardian. Legends spoke of the wisdom of the ancient guardians, rarely seen, who imparted their knowledge to those they deemed worthy. Shocked, I stopped, and when it realized I no longer kept pace, it paused ahead.

I stared. It looked back at me. The thudding of my heart crashed in my ears.

“I have questions,” I whispered. My voice sounded like nothing at all. “Please.”

Those liquid black eyes bored into me. My breathing stalled altogether as I waited, hoped. A beat of time passed, but then slowly, silently, the guardian turned and walked away, vanishing into the white fog.

Alone now, I tipped my chin back, searching for meaning in the swirling mist above. Nothingness and emptiness. I let out a breath and quietly accepted rejection.

Of course we all had questions; that made none of us special. I hoped one day that someone would learn from this guardian what I could not.


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Book Review: Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

While I don’t quite agree that ‘Thunderhead’ beats ‘Scythe,’ they’re absolutely comparable in terms of quality. 

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Thunderhead by New York Times-bestselling author Neal Shusterman

Thunderhead Synopsis

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?

(Via Goodreads)

About Neal Shusterman

Neal has made his mark as a successful novelist, screenwriter, and television writer. As a full-time writer, he claims to be his own hardest task-master, always at work creating new stories to tell. His books have received many awards from organizations such as the International Reading Association, and the American Library Association, as well as garnering a myriad of state and local awards across the country. Neal’s talents range from film directing (two short films he directed won him the coveted CINE Golden Eagle Awards) to writing music and stage plays – including book and lyrical contributions to “American Twistory,” which is currently played in several major cities. He has even tried his hand at creating Games, having developed three successful “How to Host a Mystery” game for teens, as well as seven “How to Host a Murder” games.

(Via Neal Shusterman’s website)

My Impressions

For a reader, an entertainment consumer of any stripe, really, hyped up claims about a new release tend to disappoint. I picked up Thunderhead from the library because I liked the prior installment, Scythe, enough to devour the last chunk of it in one Saturday afternoon (even with my Work In Progress judging me from my writing desk). But when I read somewhere (an offhand comment? an official review, maybe?) that Thunderhead surpassed Scythe, I became wary. When does book two in a trilogy compare with the first? Rarely.

Yet I found myself pleasantly surprised. While I don’t quite agree that Thunderhead beats Scythe, they’re absolutely comparable in terms of quality.

What I Liked

Over-Arcing Content

The narrative of Neal Shusterman’s Thunderhead brings expanded perspective to already established lore, homing in on previously mentioned sects like our wonderful and terrible Scythes, the religious Tonists, and a new class, the rebellious Unsavories. It touches on many aspects of what it means to be human in an immortal world, recognizing the need for deific reverence, rebellion, and guidance.

It also covers the perspective of an entity that recognizes itself as not God, but which concludes that it might as well be. It also begins to relate more and more to the humans which it protects as it discovers within itself the ability to experience betrayal, anguish, fury, and helplessness.

Characters

Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch, or rather, Scythes Anastasia and Lucifer, pick up with coming into their own separate but intertwined callings, each becoming more formidable and dangerous in the realms of politics and shadows. Scythes Curie and Faraday continue to impact Thunderhead‘s narrative, inciting change in the same vein as their protégés.

We meet a few new characters as well, including the Thunderhead itself, (the musings of which replace the Scythe gleaning journal excerpts present in Scythe), as well as Greyson Tolliver, a boy raised by the Thunderhead and used as an extension of its will. (Jesus son of God metaphor, anyone?)

The villains, whose identities I cannot spoil because it’s a huge reveal, get a little more focus as well. The allowance of a passionate and intelligent female villain satisfied me very much, and I do hope she gets a long existence of betrayal and revenge.

Motifs

The “war in Heaven” motif that grew present toward the end of Scythe becomes even more apparent with the insertion of the Thunderhead’s point of view on the increasing division between new order and old guard Scythes. Even without the blunt function of having Rowan use Lucifer as his Scythe name, it’s pretty clear that this immortal world stands in for Heaven and the divided Scythes represent pre-Fall angels and devils.

The Ending

That ending. Hard on the heels of triumph comes disaster, relating in loving detail and fabulous pacing the follies of humanity. The denouement events stirred my anxiety and had me on the edge of my seat during my lunch break. I had meant to cut that break short to make up for lost paid time, but I literally couldn’t stop reading Thunderhead until I finished it. Delicious anguish, tagged with a note of hope. The cliffhanger has its hooks in me and I must know how this series ends. No doubt, I will be picking up book three, entitled The Toll.

What I Disliked

Without revealing any spoilers, I at first disliked the beginning of the villain arc. It seemed clichéd, just a trope that’s become a recognizably lazy storytelling insertion. But as Thunderhead progressed, Shusterman proved himself capable of handling a worn out trope and sparking new life into it.

So it grew on me and I no longer have much of a problem with it at all.

Recommendations

I recommend Thunderhead to readers of thought provoking, philosophical fiction, compelling narratives, and examinations of the human condition.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.54 stars


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The Hopeful Wanderer.013 – Doughnut Offerings

In which the Wanderer shares sweets. #microfiction

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In a distant train station on a snowy afternoon, a fellow traveler passed me by. Shoulders hunched, hands in pockets, expression distant. For my part, the spring in my step threatened to launch me into the clouds — I had a paper sack of pastries in hand and a new destination ahead.

On the crowded platform, he sidestepped me, his foot landing square on a patch of ice. Hands flying from his pockets, feet sliding out from under him with a gritty scrape, he started to fall.

We both whooped in surprise. I snagged his upper arm, keeping him upright despite the slush. For a moment, we froze, him half-suspended in mid-air, me still as stone to prevent us both going down. Then he clambered up my shoulders, righting himself on shaking legs.

“Thank you,” he gasped.

I helped him over to a nearby bench, standing next to him while he caught his breath. An engine roared in the distance, fast approaching. As he steadied himself, I reached into my paper sack, withdrawing a fresh jelly doughnut. The warm scent of sugar and fried dough cut through that of sharp, cold air. I offered the confection to him wrapped in a napkin.

Eyeing the pastry, he waved a hand. “Oh, I couldn’t eat your doughnut!”

Before he could protest further, I tipped the bag to show him the chocolate doughnut nestled in the bottom. “Don’t worry, I saved the best for myself.”

My new friend accepted my offering. “One could argue I got the best,” he said, and took a huge bite.

Licking the sweet, sticky glaze from my chilled fingertips, I hustled off toward my approaching train, cautious of the slush. Over my shoulder, I tossed him a grin and a wink. “One could argue,” I agreed.


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Book Review: Valiant

A study in edges, where Faerieland meets big city, where drug addiction meets magic, where homelessness meets whimsy.

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Valiant by #1 New York Times-bestselling author Holly Black

Synopsis

When seventeen-year-old Valerie runs away to New York City, she’s trying to escape a life that has utterly betrayed her. Sporting a new identity, she takes up with a gang of squatters who live in the city’s labyrinthine subway system. But there’s something eerily beguiling about Val’s new friends. And when one talks Val into tracking down the lair of a mysterious creature with whom they are all involved, Val finds herself torn between her newfound affection for an honorable monster and her fear of what her new friends are becoming.

(Via Book Depository)

About the Author

Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare) and The Darkest Part of the Forest. She has been a a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.

(Via the author’s website)

My Impressions

It turns out that Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie actually exists as the second in Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales series. Not that it mattered much, as this story stood on its own quite splendidly. The narrative may have made one or two references to Tithe, its predecessor, but clearly I needn’t have read it to understand Valiant, because I absolutely took these out of order.

The undertone of Valiant puts me in mind of Maggie Steifvater’s Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie, one of my absolute favorite books — it displays a similar raw hunger, oozing pure enthusiasm if not finesse. An obvious representation of Black’s earlier offerings before experience could smooth out the edges of her style. The narrative itself is a study in edges, where Faerieland meets big city, where drug addiction meets magic, where homelessness meets whimsy. In that regard, it displayed a remarkable likeliness to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

I enjoyed how such a jagged demeanor overflowed into the main character, Val, and her total jock attitude. Not only does the narrative not focus on refining her into something more feminine, it makes a point of proving how her masculine interests and behavior become integral to the plot’s resoluation. She herself grows increasingly liminal, bearing a unisex name and wearing a unisex identity, until she seems mutable enough for anything and anyone. Capable of navigating the fine line between the mortal and Faerie worlds thrown together in the shadows of New York City.

I would recommend Valiant to fans of Neverwhere, urban fantasy, and angry girls.

My rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads raiting: 3.91 stars


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