Update: Announcing The Hopeful Wanderer 100th Post Bookmark Giveaway! Deadline extended!

For all you story lovers out there, it’s time for a bookmark giveaway! Over on my Twitter, @wordnerdscribe, I’ve set up the giveaway thread. Make sure you check out the post for rules and deadlines. The deadline has been extended through the end of September, so get. on. it. Enter to win one of these beautiful bookmarks!

On August 13th, The Hopeful Wanderer turned 100 posts old! That’s one hundred stories featuring the Wanderer that you can browse anytime on my blog. I’m celebrating by giving away five Hopeful Wanderer-themed bookmarks, handmade by me, featuring the Wanderer’s signature symbol, an old-fashioned compass.

To celebrate, I’ve given myself the monh of September off. Look for new Spooktober Hopeful Wanderer tales beginning October!


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Book Review: The Tangled Lands by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell

Introduction

The narrative of The Tangled Lands, written by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell, follows the separate but intertwined stories of a handful of people living in or attempting to leave the Blue City, so named for the blue fires whose smoke detects those who have recently used magic. Choked with bramble and briar, the world features mere pockets of civilization, a far cry from the past, when mages and kings lived in floating castles and anyone with a spellbook could cast a spell. For casting magic brings on the bramble, and once the bramble arrives, it remains.

The clutch of stories within this anthology examines life in such a place, following the suffering, struggle, loss, overcoming, and hope. But not always in the ways you expect. In The Tangled Lands, hope almost always comes snarled up in loss.

Review

Of the short-stories presented, my favorite followed the tale of the Executioness, wherein her search for her kidnapped sons leads her to learn to fight, raise an army of women, and topple a small empire. I loved her no-nonsense manner of interacting with others and her unwillingness to see herself as anyone but a butcher from the Blue City, even as she becomes elevated throughout her journey.

As The Tangled Lands falls firmly within the realm of adult fantasy, I had no delusions going in of how gritty the descriptions could get. Frankly, there’s a lot of brutal death. As well, many instances of the nature of consequences in an incredibly unfair existence. Yet none of the short-stories left me feeling hopeless. In spite of the nihilistic nature of reality for the characters, their stories always represented the possibility of hope or peace or acceptance. A small, flickering reward for the struggle.

Readers will appreciate the very human nature of each of the characters. Their complicated relationships with their families, their willingness to fight to survive even as the odds stack against them. And the impressive twists that keep you hoping things will turn out alright, even as you suspect they will not.

Conclusion

In reading The Tangled Lands, I found myself fascinated with the conflict between the danger of using magic and the desperate need for it. I couldn’t help but compare this central problem to the danger of wringing out earth’s natural resources to the (perceived) desperate need of many to continue using them. We look back at past empires and admire them, then look toward a bleak future, knowing that a little dabble now will harm someone else, but that in the end, our actions will come back to bite us as the consequences become all-encompassing.

This book felt like it was made as an intersection of many of my personal interests. I don’t know who out there may have my exact reading tastes, but I would happily recommend The Tangled Lands for others to read.


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Sketchy Writing Advice: 5 ways to make receiving feedback less painful

Disclaimer: the following writing advice is base on the author’s personal experience of writing and does not represent any hard or fast rules. Your mileage may vary.

A Common Feedback Narrative

As a writer looking for ways to improve your skills, you may have heard or read this trite advice: writers must develop a thick skin. Don’t take feedback so personally. Blah blah blah. In reality, everything you write seems personal to you. At first. Maybe forever. You haven’t put many words out there, not enough to take the hits like a thick shield around you. Not yet. On top of that, you didn’t start writing because you’re insensitive. Writers happen to be among the most sensitive artist types out there. How else can you tune in to the human condition enough to translate that on-page for your readers to feel? To you, every bit of commentary on your work feels personal.

So, right now, and maybe for a long time, feedback has hurt you. Your words represent you, your skill, your thoughts and feelings, your convictions. You have tied your worth and value to them. Even though feedback feels like a personal attack, you know you have to receive critique in order to get better. I’m not telling you to develop a thick skin, because you may never manage that. But I am telling you to be brave. And most of all, clever.

As in the casting of any magic spell, set your intentions before you begin, keeping these elements in mind.

How to Handle Feedback

Know what you want feedback on. Tell your reader so beforehand. Very often, readers will focus in too much on an aspect of the passage that you don’t view as a problem, or that you are not ready to tackle just yet. Then, what you really wanted help on falls to the wayside, wasting everyone’s time. Having an idea of what needs scrutiny and pointing your reader’s critique at that specific problem will help you the most in the long run. And I don’t mean, “Here, help me with this paragraph.” I mean specific specific, as in, “I want the relationship between the characters in this scene to come off as tender but it seems flat. How can I fix it?” In addition, try to have the passage you want help with as polished up as you can make it. Glaring problems with punctuation, grammar, tense, voice, et cetera will serve to distract your reader from the main issue. They may even have a hard time gleaning a solution for you if your passage is an indecipherable mess.

Don’t argue with critique. Just write down your reader’s feedback and say, “Okay, thank you.” Arguing with suggestions for improvement, after you asked for help, leaves your reader feeling like you don’t want to improve your work, you just want things to stay the same, and you wasted their time. This behavior also sets you up for bad relations with your future editors. Not arguing about suggestions and feedback allows you to consider the advice in private.

In the end, you get to decide whether you should take the advice or discard it. Your conclusions aren’t always right, so keep an open mind, but their conclusions aren’t always right either, so have faith in yourself. Don’t go back and tell your reader your decision about their advice either way. This keeps relations between you and your reader good and leaves open avenues for future help with critique. But most of all, keeping a cool head in the moment of receiving feedback, and recognizing that you get to decide whether to keep or discard the advice, gives you all the power to avoid letting critique hurt you.

Request feedback from readers/writers of your genre/style. If you can. This will make the feedback you receive more relevant to your work. As a gross oversimplification for an example, if you write hard sci-fi and ask a romance writer for feedback, they may focus on trying to get your characters to kiss. And if you write romance but ask for help from a fantasy writer, they may focus on trying to get your couple to go on an epic quest together. But if you write horror and ask for help from another horror writer, they stand a better chance of helping you turn the fright up when that’s the problem you can’t fix yourself.

If you need to ask a non-writer for help, you would do best to approach a reader of your genre over someone who enjoys something else or who does not read at all.

Decide you want critique. This point leads into the next point, but first, a word. If you have been brave enough to seek out feedback, you should remind yourself that whatever form of feedback you receive, this information will help you. That feedback may challenge your views, it may ask of you more than you have the skills yet to give, it may attempt to silence you or demand you speak up, it may even seem vague and wasteful of your time. As long as you remain aware that you always have room to improve, you will come to view critique as a tool in that aim. You just sometimes have to work to dig out the helpful bits from the tone or the content of the feedback. Ready your scalpel.

Figure out whether you want criticism or praise. Too often, we writers hand our piece to someone we trust and say, “What do you think?” If inside you catch yourself hoping something like, please be good, please be good, please be good, you did not want criticism from that interaction. So when your reader dutifully points out something you could improve, you will feel disappointment. You instead wanted praise.

And that’s okay! Oftentimes, you won’t even know you have your fingers crossed for praise. But before you hand your piece over to someone, figure out what you want from the exchange and set expectations accordingly. So if you realize you just need a little hit of the serotonin that comes with praise, maybe include a caveat like, “I don’t want critique; I just want you to read this and tell me what you like.” There’s nothing wrong with asking for this kind of feedback. But you must remain aware and in control of your desires when requesting another’s thoughts.

How I Learned These Skills

In giving feedback to others, I went through a time of feeling guilty when the feedback other writers received from me clearly hurt them. I struggled to balance a genuine desire to help them improve with not hurting them by softening my tone, rounding the corners of my content, and couching criticisms inside praise. That doesn’t always work, but at that point, I can say I tried my best. I also found that writers would argue with my feedback, making me feel like all the effort I put in to picking out the issues causing the writer problems and suggesting solutions was a massive waste. I learned to walk away from those arguments, because they came from someplace personal within the writer that I could never hope to reach. You can only control so much.

In receiving feedback from others, I spent a long time yearning for actual help, instead of the vague, unhelpful phrase: “It’s good.” Whether I am being too hard on my work or not doesn’t matter – there’s always a way to improve my writing and it bothered me when someone did not point out any issues they found. In this way, through trial and error, I found more useful methods for requesting critique, such as finding writers in my genre and specifying where I wanted the critique focused.

Ultimately, requesting and receiving feedback comes down to a sticky social interaction. We have all seen feedback, reviews, and commentary devolve into a nasty mess. Some guiding principles, on both sides, should help we writers to navigate through this necessary evil and come out unscathed on the other side. Experience will lead to that thicker skin one way or another, but until then, may these tips help you dodge some of those scary flying knives.

Got any questions about dealing with painful feedback? Let me know in the comments below. If you have any stories about how YOU learned tricks for receiving feedback, I want to hear them!


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The Hopeful Wanderer – The Gift of Knowledge

A sense of familiarity closed around my shoulders as I crept through the crumbling ruins of a massive apartment complex. By the several levels towering above me high enough to almost block out the sun and the many rotted out doorways peering down at me, this place had once housed hundreds of people. Now moss clustered on walls and balconies. Debris littered the courtyard floor. Empty storefronts gaped from recesses in the ground level walls like mouths open in surprise that an intruder would set foot in this forgotten place.

In lieu of the collapsed elevators, a massive stairwell at the end of the courtyard circled up and up. But it also led downward. This I followed into a cool underground level, where sunlight never touched. Water dripped somewhere in the distance; moss fuzzed the walls, soft and deep beneath my fingertips as I trailed my hand along the sides. I could see nothing at all.

Yet around a bend, a faint electric buzz started with the sight of a blue-green glow. I stepped through a pair of double doors. Or rather, over them, as both had fallen off their hinges long ago. The sign above the doorway read: Information Technology.

The glow now permeated the room, coming from a moss-covered terminal at the far end. Hologram ports lined the walls, in various stages of takeover by moss and deterioration. But above the active terminal, a shimmering ball of blue quicksilver rippled in on itself, as if lost in contemplation.

When I stopped in front of the holograph, eyes squinted against the brightness, the quicksilver resolved itself into the idea of a face.

“Ah, Wanderer.” Though the AI spoke in a sophisticated accent, the tones kept glitching out, like a bad connection. “You have changed so much, I did not recognize you at first. Less fiery, more subdued.” A plonk issued from beneath the terminal, followed by a hiss as a small cover slid open. “I assume you are here for this.”

From the little cavity behind the cover, I drew forth a slim glass tube, capped at both ends. A little pile of stardust glowed within. Just like all the other caches of stardust I had found, this one’s glow seemed to lead off in a certain direction, pointing more upward than any way else.

I rolled the slender tube between my fingers, watching the way the dust slithered over itself. “Every time I find one of these…” I started. But I couldn’t quite finish the thought out loud. A nagging suspicion. That tug of familiarity with every place where I discovered more stardust. I could not help but wonder… “Who… who gave this to you?”

The AI remained silent. For several moments, I felt studied. “You did,” it said at last. “Centuries ago.”


Thank you for reading the 100th Hopeful Wanderer tale.

Book Review: The Hatch by Michelle Saftich

Introduction

The Hatch by Michelle Saftich takes readers through a dystopian future in which humanity has begun colonizing other life-supporting planets, while the humans who remain on earth must survive the planet’s harsh climate in tiny bunkers several levels below ground. EASA, a totalitarian government and spearhead of planetary exploration, utilizes all resources in the search, including psychics like Britta, her mother, and her brother, who can astral project to search light years of space for new homes without ever leaving earth. Yet both Britta’s mother and brother have gone missing, each after visiting Nattalia, the most livable planet in the galaxy. Britta must follow mysterious visions and hints from higher meaning to find them, lost in the farthest reaches of space.

Review

The only part of The Hatch that I enjoyed was the moment at the end when Britta and everyone she loves faces execution for their crimes against the government (because of course they do). In spite of technological advancement in a Utopian society on the most livable planet in the galaxy, the citizens left over after a brief but brutal civil war get whipped up into a frenzy to stone the criminals to death. I found myself, at least, interested in the juxtaposition between civility and barbarism, the way pain and suffering reduced even the most satisfied people to rock throwing monkeys as soon as they had a scapegoat to blame for what happened. I wanted to see what Britta and company could possibly do to get out of this one. Unlike the rest of the story, there were at last up against a wall.

But almost at once after that, a deus ex machina swooped in to save them. Even the injuries they had suffered were healed. No consequences whatsoever. This kind of unwillingness to push the characters sets the tone for the entire book. Britta always got what she wanted with the barest breath of a struggle. People in charge let themselves be convinced to see things her way just because she had a power they all typically doubted. The parents were all perfect, including the ones who abandoned their son on earth to abusive foster parents. The romantic subplot became more of the main plot on several occasions, slowing down the pacing of the narrative and adding not very much at all. And while I recognized after a while that Britta could describe in accurate detail the feelings of everyone she met because she was an empath, this took all the mystery out of every character interaction and made her seem almost godlike in her ability to always comprehend the emotional motive behind every action.

Conclusion

Given that The Hatch included some science fiction touchstones like cryosleep, space gateways, and actual aliens, the world building could satisfy readers of lite sci-fi, which is totally okay. The closest comparison I can give to this book is a cross between Ender’s Game and Mass Effect. So if you like those but with the stakes much lower, you might find in The Hatch a nice, cozy read.

My rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Goodreads rating: 4.23


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The Hopeful Wanderer – Bloodred Blight

Blood, slick and swift, dribbled like drops of rain from the needle tips of a tall, old pine. Red gathered around the base of the trunk, staining scrub, dirt, and stones alike. Lessening along the height of the pine, but climbing ever upward, spreading down limb and bough. A bloodred pool glistened at the tree’s roots, the stink of copper choking the air. I tasted pennies on the back of my tongue.

My boots squelched as I approached the bloody pine, liquid red filling the indents of my tracks. As I drew near, my skin stretched across my bones, losing moisture at once. Beads of sweat dripping from my brow took on a pink hue, mingling with the red at my feet as they fell.

Joints aching, I knelt among the tree’s roots. Clusters of low twigs reached toward me, grasping, ready to hold me here forever.

I withdrew a pocket knife. The blade gleamed, reflecting bloody silver. “You cannot have me,” I whispered through cracking lips.

Upon each exposed root, I carved a different sigil, all for loosening, for shaking, for falling. Blood welled up from each cut, flowing over my fingertips. Sticky. The pine above groaned and shivered with every slice biting into bark.

At last, I stood back, breathing hard, vision blurry. “May the earth rise against,” I gasped.

A rumble started beneath my feet, sending ripples dancing over the bloody pool. Rocks clattered. I stumbled and fell. A crack split the air, followed by a crash as the pine toppled over, its longest branches just brushing my sleeve. Like the fingertips of a betrayed lover.

When I looked, a network of roots lay exposed to the air, dripping blood slowing. Dirt and rocks clogged the pool of blood, clotted like a scab over an old wound.


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Author Update: 10 Things I Love That You May Not Know About Me

How about a little positivity today? This exercise sprang from a Facebook trend that circulated during my city’s COVID-19 lockdown wherein people would post lists entitled, “10 Things People Love, but You HATE.”

The whole concept was a bummer, in both premise and execution. That was more negativity than folks needed at the time and I don’t think anyone felt better for having written or read any of them. But then a counter movement began from people who felt the same way I did. When we started to write lists of ten things we loved, I learned so much more interesting things about the people in my circle. For example, one of my college English professors enjoys weightlifting! I would never have known.

Here’s my list. I surprised myself with what made the cut for my top ten, so this was a great way even for me to learn more about me. I encourage you to try this, too!

1. Baking. Though I don’t bake often, I have tons of recipes saved to my Pinterest. Sometimes I pluck one of these out when I’m stressed or procrastinating on something I don’t want to do.

2. Coloring. You may know about this one if you follow my Instagram. I have a very basic understanding of the color wheel, but I use crayons to learn shading tricks and to make the usual an unusual color.

3. Exploring. Especially abandoned places, forgotten spaces, and far flung locations.

4. Scavenging. I’m secretly a Corvid in my heart, because I love finding old things I can still use and love. This covers my obsession with thrift stores, used book stores, and garage sales.

5. Exercising. If God hadn’t nerfed me with weak joints, I would exercise way more than I do. Right now I settle for walking, but dream of running and lifting again someday.

6. Organizing. Plans, items, schedules, topics, projects, I’ll organize them all. I get a sense of peace and well being from having things in order.

7. Listening. To music, people, silence. You can learn a lot about others and yourself if you just keep quiet.

8. Creating. Probably more obvious with all the writing, but this also encompasses drawing, building, fashion, and crafts.

9. Philosophizing. Nothing serious. Just making mental connections about the how and why of life.

10. Daydreaming. I have more in mind to write or do or try or be than I could ever manage in one lifetime. I hope I get reincarnated or existence turns out to be a videogame simulation with extra lives so I can experience it all. If not, at least it all still happened in my mind.

Got a list of things you love? Post yours in the comments below. I’d love to read more about you!


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The Hopeful Wanderer – Sea Sparkle

Craggy rocks nipped at the soles of my feet as I clambered from a sparkling sea. Close to shore, blue light limned the water around every stone, brightening and dimming with the ebb and flow of the waves. Blue clung to my skin, outlining my toes, creeping up my legs. Growing heavier and heavier. Should the blue weight drag me down, I would drown in water no deeper than my waist. I pushed forward, avoiding the sandy bottom lest my heavy steps pushed so deep that I could not escape.

As I pulled myself out of the water onto a stony outcrop, a large shape moved in the dark. Just visible in the bioluminescent glow. A humanoid creature crouched in the shallows between me and safety. Blue light played across smooth, sharklike skin, revealing a long muzzle and a golden eye staring at me. The mouth parted to reveal rows of razor teeth.

The creature came nosing toward me. I froze, unable to step off the stone, heavy enough now that the blue would pull me under. My knees buckled under the added weight and I sank into a sit.

Blue glowed from within the creature’s gullet as it opened its mouth wide. Webbed hands groped at my safe rock and I scrabbled back as far as I could go. A long tongue slithered out and scooped up the blue sparkles clinging to the hem of my pants.

At once my leg felt lighter.

The glow outlining me dimmed as the creature cleared away every last glimmer. When I could stand, I did so slowly. Eyeing my retreat to the shore, the creature backed away to crouch in the shallows. With a snap, it resumed its meal of the blue glow, spreading darkness ever outward around it once more.


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Book Review: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Introduction

Throughout Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, Galaxy Stern fights to balance her background as a drug abuser and teen runaway, her lifelong gift (curse) of the ability to see ghosts, known as Grays, and her job working for a secret cultish organization entrenched within the high society of Yale University.

Together with her distant work partner, Pamela Dawes, who resents Alex for losing their boss, Darlington, to an unknown portal, and Detective Abel Turner, who resents Alex for interfering in his murder investigation, Alex must survive where all her worlds clash to do her job and put her own ghosts to rest. But she has more to do with the dangerous events happening around her than she realizes.

Plot

For Alex, the opportunity to study at Yale leads to her wholehearted attempt at change. From the drug abuse, from the hurt she caused her mother, from the abuse of the Grays themselves. But in exchange, she must use her gifts in service to the House of Lethe to guard dog the other Societies of the Veil from taking their magic dealings too far, sacrificing the lives of the citizens of surrounding New Haven in the pursuit of whatever they want.

Yet Alex soon learns that if she continues to keep her head down and try to fit in, she will fail the main directive of her House: we are the shepherds. Everyone expects her to let the murder of Tara Hutchins go, but where good girl Alex can get nowhere, the sharp, hardened Alex who has survived worse than anyone at Yale could imagine coils up to strike back. She may not fit into this world, but that lends her the element of surprise.

Characters

In her role as Dante of Lethe House, Alex meets Occulus Pamela Dawes and their Virgil, Daniel Arlington, who begins mentoring Alex to take over his role once he graduates Yale. Darlington, well-loved by all as the gentleman of Lethe, struggles to deal with Alex’s presence, as she was chosen as his apprentice for him rather than by him. But with his mysterious disappearance soon after they begin getting along, Alex finds herself on her own doing a job she has not enough guidance to do well.

She and Pamela must team up to uphold Lethe House’s creed when the very dean of the school leaves them high and dry with no help. Detective Abel Turner, recruited from New Haven’s police force as Lethe House’s Centurion, would rather have nothing to do with magic and monsters. But as Alex calls upon the two again and again, they become embroiled in helping her get to the bottom of Tara Hutchins’s murder, whether they like it or not.

Review

I loved so many moments in Ninth House. When Dawes stands up to Dean Sandow for Alex, calling him out on his blaming her for being attacked; when Alex first begins letting her true colors as a sharp-edged, deadly person to deal with show through in order to continue the investigation without the dean’s approval; when Alex gets petty revenge on another student who hurts her roommate; when Alex calls out the main villain for attempting to turn a string of murders into a feminist manifesto. And all the soft moments when Alex gets to, for one or two minutes, enjoy the wonders of magic and of a found purpose.

Leigh Bardugo pulls no punches, so the narrative contains harsh elements and examinations of cruelty and unfairness, considering how trauma can shape a person into the sort who would seek justice at any cost so others won’t have to suffer like her. Everyone who loves magic, hope, kickass women in droves, honorable detectives, underdogs, and petty revenge should read Ninth House.

Conclusion

Since purchasing Ninth House in October 2019, I have read this book twice and loved every second of both readings. I enjoy the high stakes action, the contrast between Yale high society and Alex’s poor, mixed background, her toughness and unwillingness to let injustice pass, and the high energy, witty interactions between the characters.

This fantasy murder mystery examines individual responsibility to protect the weak and seek justice for wrongdoing, but in a low, shifty, clever manner. Not every tale of wrongdoing brought to judgement need be noble and lofty. When the nobility will not take responsibility for the actions of its own, the lowest must rise to take up the mantle. For, after all, we are the shepherds.

My rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Goodreads rating: 4.07


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The Hopeful Wanderer – A Garden of Lights

Twilight lit up with colorful sparkles carpeting the ground around the silhouette of a nearby tree. Colors clustered together like starbursts, clumps of sapphire and aqua scattered around those of tangerine and ruby, alongside honey and violet drops. Where I stood at the limit of their glow, these small orbs twinkled up at me from the ground at my feet, illuminating dead and dying grass all around. I had not noticed in the dark.

Not too far away, the shadow of a person stood up from a crouch, holding an electric cord that led away into the lights. This they dropped on the ground with a faint thump. Rainbow light touched their legs but not their face, making them impossible to make out. I wondered if I looked the same to them.

“What’s this?” I asked.

Turning to me, the person’s bearing shifted to something like a smile. “A garden,” they said, looking over to view their work.

“Don’t you think flowers would be more useful?” I said. “Lights don’t make oxygen or cleanse carbon monoxide from the air.”

“True,” they said. Their voice dropped a key to sadness. “But it’s too late for conservation efforts in this place. Flowers no longer grow here.”

That sadness crept down my spine and lodged at the base. Remembering the deadened grass, I surveyed the area. By the fading sunlight, I noted lots of dwellings, plentiful sidewalks, few trees. Almost no patches of earth where grass could grow. I wondered what had poisoned this ground so that flowers could not bloom here anymore.

“Besides,” the stranger added, “you can’t see flowers at night. Not like this.” A hitch crept into their voice, as if they fought back tears. “So this is alright. Yeah, it’ll have to do.”


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