Giving Thanks to our Inspirational Books

It’s Thanksgiving today in the United States. In honor of the holiday, we thought we’d share the books that we are most thankful for — the books that have in some way inspired us.

Amanda Headlee:

Giving Thanks to Our Inspirational BooksI know it is cliche, but Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is the first book that I am most thankful for. It was the first full-length novel that I read as a child. Carroll’s words fueled my imagination. I felt as though this specific book unlocked something in my mind. It gave me permission to dream. Whatever boundaries that were being placed on my imagination by culture and society as I matured, I ignored. My imagination is my most prized possession and I am proud to say that as of today, in my 30’s, it is still brilliantly limitless.

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood is another book that I am thankful for as it taught me about letting go and finding where I am happiest. Elaine Risley was the first character that forced me to reflect on my life.  Her story was one that resonated with my soul. Just like Elaine, I also have a background in Biology, but I chose my passion and career to be in the arts. When I read this book, I was struggling to let go of experiences from the past. It was this very book that showed me how to let all of that pain and sadness go. Also during this first reading (and as a sophomore in university), I was wrestling with the decision whether to continue with my goal to become a Marine Biologist or to change my career to a Technical & Creative writer track. Cat’s Eye was the force that compelled me to choose writing.

Michelle Mueller:

A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle was probably the most important book of my childhood. I read it around the time a horse I loved died, and in a lot of ways it helped me learn how to cope with loss. Though I read a ton of books as a kid/young adult, this is the one I always remember. I think every young person (and adult) should read it at least once.

A lot of people are surprised by this one, but Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is one of my favorite books of all time. No one can forget the brutal, stubborn, selfish Scarlett O’Hara. I don’t know if admitting this is a good thing, but she was one of the first characters I truly could relate to. She’s a survivor. Weaknesses and strengths aside, I understood her.

Chris Musgrave:

I’m going to buck the trend and eschew all that sentimental crap my colleagues are spewing. What books am I most grateful for? Good question. To be perfectly honest with you, I’ll read just about anything, but I have a very special place on my shelves for Terry Pratchett. The wit and surreal perspective, not to mention the sheer genius of the Discworld, have always spoken to me and keep me coming back for more. If I had to pick one book out of the canon which really stands out, I’d have to say Mort.

Another book and author to which I owe a lot in terms of inspiration is American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I’ve grown up on myths and legends but this was the first time I’d ever seen deities in the modern world. The fantastical and yet everyday themes which colour Neil Gaiman’s tales started me down the path to insanity which I am currently hurtling down head-first.


Which books are you thankful for? Let us know in the comments!

 

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Writing 101 – Read Like A Writer

Read Like A Writer

(c) Robyn LaRue 2014

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

– Stephen King

All of the muses love to read. Some take it further and analyse what we’re reading. And then there’s Kirsten… Kirsten, not content to simply read, poses with novels in a series of author selfies.

But I digress.

Writers need to read. It helps us to translate the world around us into written word. With every book/story/article read, we expand our understanding of the mechanics of writing and the art of storytelling. We’re lucky in that respect; we have the most enjoyable on-the-job training ever. What other professional can lose themselves in fiction and claim that they’re honing their skills?

But, it is not enough to simply read. Although it’s true that some knowledge will be osmosed subconsciously, it’s only when we really study great (and poor) writing that we gain any real insight into the art.

Tips

Read critically

Scrutinise every word, every sentence. Ask yourself why the author chose that particular phrase to convey their meaning? What does it reveal about the characters/setting/plot? Is there anything you can take away from it that will add strength to your own stories?

Reading the work of others with a critical eye is the best way to learn the craft of writing. It’ll help you to identify what does and doesn’t work about a piece. Writing shouldn’t be about reinventing the wheel. Follow the examples set by others and draw inspiration from them and, very soon, others will be drawing their inspiration from you.

When reading, it is all too easy to let your brain fall into neutral. This has the same effect as zoning out at the cinema; you may have followed the gist of what is going one but you’ve missed the subtle clues about the plot. Don’t let that happen. The best way to achieve this is to:

Keep a book journal

What better way to combine writing and reading than by keeping a book journal. You can do this in a notebook (one specifically for the journal, or in your writer’s notebook), on loose leaf paper, or even make note on the computer. Whatever format the journal takes, use it to record the following:

  • your thoughts on the work;
  • your thoughts on the characters;
  • what you liked/didn’t like about it;
  • what you thought worked or didn’t work; and
  • any interesting quotes, phrases or words you encountered.

I know writers who prefer to fill the books they’re reading with notations, highlighting interesting passages within the body of the text. I’m not one of these people. If you come near any of my books (textbooks excluded) with a pen or highlighter, I will hurt you…badly.

Read with a dictionary

Words are our clay. From them, we create vast worlds, vibrate people and epic adventures (or stories about people drinking in bars). English is a hugely versatile and poetic language with an estimated (although unverifiable) word count of over 1 million words (source: joint Harvard/Google study, December 2010). But, no one can know all of them and their individual meanings without help.

The more, and the wider, you read, the higher the likelihood that you’ll encounter words you’ve never come across before. When this happens, make it a point to look up the word and study its meaning. Who knows, it may be just the word you’ve been looking for your own work.

Read outside your genre

When we stick to the confines of our preferred genre, we miss a world of possibilities. Think about it, if authors stuck solely to one genre we wouldn’t have such great crossovers as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith (Quirk Books, 2009), or American Gods by Neil Gaiman (Headline, 2001). The wider we read, the more we open ourselves to new ideas and different ways of presenting our work.


Do you read with a critical eye? Has reading outside your preferred genre sparked any ideas? Please share your experiences and tips in the comments below.

Words and their Wicked Ways

As an avid reader and dedicated writer, the power of words never ceases to amaze me. I find myself drawn to certain words and repelled by others. The sound of a word on my tongue can sometimes overpower the sound of it in my mind.  The cadence of the syllables wraps around me as would a lilting instrumental melody. The image it plants in my mind is like a brand, hot and powerful searing into my subconscious and on my soul. They create a balance that speaks to me on a level that goes deeper than intellectual comprehension.

I love words. I should, I’m an author, an editor, a reader. My love for words goes farther than just enjoying the story. It’s the power they wield over me. They make me laugh, cry, and rage.  They make me question myself and the world around me. What would I be without words? A blank page.

I’m always curious about words, where they came from, what they mean, and how they’ve evolved. Most intriguing to me is when a word can have multiple meanings, hinging on how they are used by the speaker/author.

What words strike you? The ones that make you grin when you read them, savoring the familiar feel of them in your mind and on your tongue. Shall I share my favorite one with you…

wicked

What image did it put in your mind?  Did you imagine a villain, standing in the shadows his eyes blazing with fury?  Did you picture a witch or a warlock with a sinister smile playing on their lips?

Or did it bring something else to your mind?  A sinful thought? The desire to do something that you know is forbidden or that you promised yourself you wouldn’t do? What about using it to call something delightful or amazing?

The connotations of the word wicked can be positive or negative, depending on the context in which it is used. Both the good and the bad tangled up in one innocuous little word. This is why I love it so much. It’s the perfect representation of the connotations we give to words.

So tell me…what words do you like that have multiple associations?

Wicked_word

An Irresistible Shadow

AnIrresistableShadow_600x900

Meet my baby.  My first novel.  I have been busy working with the publisher, Breathless Press, and my editor.  Fiona Jayde, my wicked talented cover artist, sent me this gorgeous cover last week.  I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot.  I have an amazing crew supporting me as I venture into this new world.  They gave me this wonderful opportunity to share my book.  This week, I wanted to share a sneak peek of the cover with you all.  Enjoy.

I will post next week on my publishing journey!  Stay tuned.  And keep checking back for updates for a release date!  🙂

Hugs, Kirsten

To Read and Write About Love

This week’s topic has sprung from a personal event in my own life (as so many of my topics do). I’ve been thinking for several days about writing a love story — about writing the love story. The only one in my head, that is. It’s a bit complicated to explain, and though possibly random incoherence isn’t the best for an article on this site, what got me started on this train of thought, ultimately, was Margaret Atwood’s book, The Blind Assassin.

This book had me thinking about it for days. Literally days. The moment I finished it, I felt that odd suffocating feeling I get when I finish reading something so incredibly powerful and resonant that I ended up driving around in my car for over an hour just to process it.

Love was a theme, among others. But it was grittier than that. Real, harsh, however you’d like to describe it. It was that long-lived but short-going kind of love. The kind you don’t want to end, but you know it will, because it is simply in its nature.  It was in the background but it moved the story, within a story, within a story. Atwood wove a tapestry with this book. I can’t really justify it. I won’t try.

I like reading about love, if it feels real. If it’s a rough sandstone or a cracked vase. If it’s crumbling but still clinging. If it’s holding despite the pain. I can connect much better with that perspective than with happily-ever-after. Don’t get me wrong. Happily-ever-after has its time and place, but it just isn’t for me (with the exception of Jane Austen, perhaps). It leaves an acidic taste in my mouth, like I’ve just swallowed venom. Like someone is mocking me, mocking my pain — the pain we all experience — because of love. I’m sorry, but I just can’t let love get away with kindness so easily. And yes, I seriously get that frustrated with it.

But regardless, reading about love and writing about love are two very different things for me. I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about the bond itself — fallible, transient, like a smooth wave-stone in the sea. I’d much rather have my characters killing someone than loving someone. You can get rid of the bodies, but love tends to stick.

So how do these writers do it, then? Write a love story that seems to matter? How do they make it look so effortless? And I’m not talking about genre, really, not in the sense of romances or the like. I’m talking about the human experience that rises from a truly good novel, a story that can carry love as one of its themes without letting it fully take the stage. A story that can keep it in the background even as it drives the novel; a story that can leave it without words or rendering but still carry it as its core.

In The Blind Assassin, love seemed so far away all of the time, but it was right there, in the words — in the pain and memories of the characters, in their acceptances and their failures. It’s those little things that I pick out of the novels and continue to carry with me, brief snippets of words and images and story that haunt me because they can hit so close to home.

How do these writers do it?

I guess it really isn’t for me to say, but if someone has advice, I’d love to hear it. I can only hope that one day I could be so good as to write a novel half as thought provoking as The Blind Assassin. And I can only hope that one day I’ll be brave enough to write about love.

The article below summarizes exactly how I felt about The Blind Assassin. If you’re interested in the book, I suggest you give it a read.