IWSG - The End of NaNoWriMo

Ah. NaNoWriMo is over. I got to 30,000 words, which I’m okay with. And I plan on finishing the novel I started. It’s just going take a while. I’ve never written as much in a month as I did for NaNo, and I’m not certain I can do it again. One of the things that I find extremely stressful about the writing process is that it takes so long! How do you other writers deal with this?

I have been blogging about my NaNoWriMo experience on the Foreword Reviews website, here, here, here, and here, if anyone is interesting in reading about my NaNo experience. Thanks in advance if you take a gander!

Peace, Aimee

IWSG - NaNoWriMo 2014

This year, I am participating in National Novel Writing Month. I have tried before but never really made it past the first week. In truth, I don’t think I’ve ever written more than 15,000 words in a month before. Luckily for me, though, this year I have plenty of pressure from friends, family, and especially work. I will be blogging about my progress (as well as giving tips and advice) on Foreword Reviews’s website (where I work as Deputy Editor) and tweeting about it (probably too much) as well.

Good luck to everyone participating this year!

Peace, Aimee

IWSG - Opportunities to Achieve Goals and Reach Fulfillment

It’s that time again, and though I said in my last IWSG that I was determined to finish my first draft by the end of the year, I have not accomplished much in it. I am not on track to finish, at the rate I had intended, so I will really have to up my game to get it done on time.

The thing is, I didn’t honestly expect myself to be on track one month into my venture. I’m truly lacking some perseverance quality or something. Because of this, my biggest writing fear is that I will never finish a novel worth publishing, that I will not be able to accomplish the thing I knew when I first picked up a book as a toddler that I needed to do with my life. After watching John Green’s latest VlogBrothers video yesterday, in which he claimed to not know what to do with his life, I have been unable to decide if I am relieved or unnerved. If someone who has accomplished great things and achieved much of his life goals is still afraid that they aren’t doing enough, then what is it I need to do?

I must say, I am actually more relieved than unnerved by John Green’s words. I’m certain that, even if I achieve something even remotely close to his books’ popularity, I too would still feel like I haven’t achieved yet my life goal. It’s just the way humans work. It’s the way the world works. We don’t finish our big project and then be happy the rest of our life. Goals come ago, happiness comes and goes, and achieving something doesn’t mean you’re finished.

Let’s hope this knowledge helps me complete this draft by the end of the year. I know I will feel replete for a while when I’m done, but that feeling will fade, and soon I’ll have others opportunities to write and bring happiness to others—and myself.

Peace, Aimee

IWSG - What I'm Doing for the Rest of 2014

Over the summer, I attempted to write a piece of flash fiction each week, but I didn’t entirely succeed. I cheated a bit, and when I did not have something new, I posted an old flash fiction piece on that day. I do feel slightly guilty about that…

However, I am vowing to write regularly for the rest of the year, with the goal of finishing the first draft of a book by the end of December 2014. The projected word count is 120,000 words, which is obviously too long for a novel, but it’s a draft, so that’s okay. I’m sure the story will change a bit as I write and see how things work out concretized rather than in its current outline form. I already have about 30,000 words written, so I will have to write approximately 90,000 words (projected, according to my outline, of course) in the next four months. This will be the most I’ve ever written within a set time period before in my life, so I am bit frightened… But I will keep you updated in my Insecure Writer Support Group posts!

Thanks for reading and wishing me luck!

Books I Read This Month - August 2014

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

A mentally challenged man undergoes surgery to improve his intelligence in this novel, but it does not quite turn out exactly how he or the scientists expected. This is one of those classic books that had been sitting on my shelf for a while and that I knew I would have to read eventually, but when I finally got to it, I didn’t realize that it was going to be so well written and moving. The author perfectly captures the main character’s voice and emotions as he goes through this experience, using the medium of a journal to describe the events over the course of several months and what he thinks about his mental development, relationships, and work life. His family history also plays an important part in his emotional development over the course of the novel. The book discusses some important themes of where intelligence comes from and what makes us happy in life, though I wouldn’t say I was satisfied with the ending. Overall, it was an engaging read that I would recommend for people who enjoy science and thoughtful books.

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

In this book, a young girl named Harriet aims to solve the cold case of her older brother’s murder, which took place when she was only six months old. Harriet is very smart for her age but has trouble making friends and getting along with her family members because of her snarky, sarcastic, and smart-alecky personality. She constantly is asking why, which makes her annoying to the people around her but makes her a compelling protagonist, especially in the literary mystery genre. There is a pervasive To Kill a Mockingbird vibe here, which makes this a relatable read, as it follows the coming of age of a girl learning about the adult world a bit before she is ready for it. The first quarter or so of the book seems to consist of a lot more telling than showing, but it’s done in such a way that it come across as skilled storytelling. Tartt knows how to tell a great story with well developed characters. The writing style is clear and concise, not involving a lot of elegant, literary turns of phrase, which is sort of what I was expecting based on what I heard about the author and the fact that she has won big literary prizes. It's mostly the storytelling that makes this book a good read.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

This is Haruki Murakami’s latest book, which just came out this month. Of course, it was amazing, as to be expected from Murakami. Also, you should expect me to say it was amazing because he is one of my favorite writers. As a character, Tsukuru Tazaki is similar to many of Murakami’s protagonists in that he is a youngish loner who is in love with an independent woman but who is going through some sort of existential crisis. The plot of this book is easier to follow than some of Murakami’s other books, and it seems to have a bit fewer surrealist elements, even as it involves dreams and an exploration of the past. While I wouldn’t say it’s unique amongst Murakami’s books, it is certainly worth the read and has only reinforced my enjoyment of his work on the whole. Murakami has been and continues to be an important influence on my own writing.

Dune by Frank Herbert

I am not one to read soft science fiction or fantasy like this, but I felt the need to read this since it is considered a classic in the genre. I loved it, surprisingly, as the plot developed gradually and understandably, and the main characters were all well developed and empathetic. I can see why it’s such a popular and distinguished book. It takes place on a strange desert planet where a royal boy named Paul goes with his parents to learn the ways of a rare supernatural group of people to which his mother belongs (a bit like the Jedi). However, there is an evil man who wants to kill Paul's father, called the Duke---I'll be honest, I wasn't entirely clear on his intentions. Despite this latter fact, though, I found all the characters to be well rounded and entertaining to read about. I will continue reading the series, though probably not right away.

Proximity, Part 3 of 3

“I said go,” Krane repeated. The muscles in her arms were beginning to loosen, to relax in uncertainty.

“I want to ask. I’d like to know,” Amma said, averting her gaze. She shifted her feet, as if she too wanted to leave, but something was stopping her. “Are you lost? Or are you sneaking around like me? You let me do what I came here to do, so I want to help you. Do you need to get back to the barracks?”

“No. Please leave before I change my mind and decide to report you.”

A smirk snuck across the girl’s face. “That doesn’t seem like something you are going to do. I bet you know as well as I do that even wardens aren’t allowed back here on their own.”

“I know the rules. Why won’t you just go?”

“Why won’t you loosen up? We’re both here without permission. You’re not in charge of me, you know. We can help each other.” She lifted her chin and raised her eyebrows. With her spine straight, she was taller than Krane, her long, thin limbs lifting her high above Krane’s five and a half feet.

“I don’t need your help,” Krane said.

“I don’t believe you. Now tell me your name. I told you mine.”

“Mariángel,” Krane spat out, submitting to Amma’s unrelenting pressure. It was her grandmother’s name, the first that came to her mind. “Now will you go, please?”

Amma’s eyes lit up, her smile shining briefly and smugly. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

With a slight, ambivalent shrug, Krane shook her head. “Are you going to leave now?” She said, sounding even to herself a broken record.

“If you really want me to.”

Krane paused, then let out a sigh. She lowered her head, looking down at her black boots, new and shining. In a few days, they would be covered in mud from training outside—if she could find her way out of here.

“You know, Marie,” Amma said with a smile, and Krane cringed at the name, spoken in such an Americanized, almost teasing way. “We’re both being secretive, which means that neither of us has to be, to each other, at least. Since we know we’re not going to tell anybody we were here.”

The girl’s optimism, her innocence, was starting to irritate Krane. When Amma took a few more steps closer, Krane stiffened and backed up against the wall. She could feel her cheeks going hot with frustration and fear.

“You’ve got me curious now,” said Amma, but before she could continue pestering Krane, the light above the door leading to the locks switched from red to amber, and the sound of air rushing in to destroy the vacuum boomed.

“Hide,” Krane yelped, lurching forward and pushing Amma into the storage cell opposite her. Krane ducked into room twenty-one, watching Amma across the hallway as her eyes grew wide with terror and she crouched behind the boxes. Only the top of her blonde head was visible over the crates of lost toys and trinkets.

The door hissed open. From her hiding place, Krane could see Clark enter the room but hold the door open with his bulky, muscular arm. His hard expression, his lips tight and his forehead creased, was betrayed by the shaking fingers of his free hand, his wrists shivering violently with fear.

Krane stepped out from behind the crates.

“Clark,” she said in a muted voice, using his name instead of his title, as was expected from a trainee. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. You left me there.”

“Jesus, Decleric,” he blurted. The lines in his face fell into momentary relief. “We need to get out of here.”

He grabbed her arm and yanked her through the door, giving her only a brief moment to shoot her gaze toward Amma’s location. She was invisible, still hidden.

The door closed behind them, and they were safe in the locks.

“You breathe one breath in there,” Clark said, gripping Krane tightly by both shoulders, “and everyone in this fortress could be dead within days. Do you really want to have that on your conscience?” Clark’s eyes darted back and forth between Krane’s, and she could feel his own breath, heaving and Immune, warming her collar bones.

“No sir,” she said.“Then we need to get out of here.” He released his grip on her shoulders and began marching, which quickly morphed into a quiet run, down the dark hall. Shaking, Krane followed.

Lord Soul by S. M. Kois

In her second novel, S. M. Kois ups the ante in terms of philosophical discussion and spiritual questioning. This book, Lord Soul, introduces a young boy named Charlie who has an extremely high IQ. When his baby brother is diagnosed with an incredibly horrible disease and is given a life expectancy of only a few years, seven-year-old Charlie is determined to find a cure. He studies books well beyond his education level, and his ideas are soon funded by a research lab that takes over the project for him. However, Charlie begins to see a man called Lord Soul, whom his parents believe is a hallucination, and he is diagnosed with schizophrenia. What follows is a philosophical journey consisting of dialogue between Charlie and Lord Soul, as well as an emotional journey as Charlie deals with adult issues at his young age.

The philosophy is definitely the most important part of the book, to S. M. Kois, as more than half of the book is devoted to these compelling discussions, which provoke thought very effectively. Even though the plot often takes the passenger seat to the theme, the dialogue and descriptions drive the story forward at a fast pace. The content of the discussions paired with Charlie’s age and circumstance makes the story fascinating.

It does seem a bit unrealistic that Charlie is so young and yet so intelligent, but there are certainly a few children out there with IQs as high as his, and his questionable mental stability makes this more realistic. He is naive, like a seven-year-old, and his relationship with his brother is empathetic and emotive. That relationship and the scientific discoveries work well together to bolster the theme of the book.

This novel is perfect for people who prefer philosophical books and value theme over plot. The characters are well developed, so there is no shortage of literary merit there. With straight-forward prose and in-depth discussions of empathy, animal rights (though this second one often feels out of place and a step away from the plot and theme on the whole), and the nature of reality, this book is an interesting contribution to philosophy, while containing a decently compelling story, as well.

Proximity, Part 2 of 3

The girl spun around, her eyes wide. Krane lurched backward, falling deeper into the small room. She pressed her back against the cool concrete wall and tried to make herself as flat as possible. Her throat burned as she pushed the rejected saliva up as silently as she could muster.

“Hello?” said a fragile, shaking voice. “Who’s there?”

Now, Krane had to make a choice. For a short moment, she allowed her heart to beat wildly, her eyes to dart around the room in search of a weapon for self defense, her chattering mind to desire flight instead of fight. But then she chose. She straightened her back and pulled back her shoulders, lifting her chin and pursing her lips, building up the false face her two years of military training had taught her. And then the girl appeared in the entrance of room twenty-one.

“Hello?” she repeated. She was tall, thin, blonde, and beautiful—she looked just as Krane had imagined a Susceptible would look. But her blue eyes were wide, moist with fearful tears, and her hands were clenched together near her chest, as if protecting her heart from a painful emotional blow.

“Hello,” Krane said hoarsely then cleared her throat, attempting to keep her expression rigid while clearing out the remnants of saliva and phlegm that had been her downfall. “Go about your business.”

Wringing her delicate, white hands, the girl stammered. “I was just looking for my brother’s teddy bear. I was going to get an escort, but he was crying, so I didn’t want to have to wait.”

The girl’s voice cracked as she spoke, the words flowing out one after the other in a stream of worry. Krane stood firmly, like a soldier, like the fortress guard she’d always wanted to be. Though as she stood, unable to speak any other words, as she couldn’t discern what she was possibly supposed to say, she watched as recognition slowly melted over the girl’s milky-white face. Her expression eased into a different kind of crumpled, the confused kind. Krane stiffened her posture further, but she felt her position of authority in front of the girl weaken.

Her hands halting their twisting motion, the girl tilted her head ever so slight. “Are you a warden? You’re not, are you?” Her brow furrowed. In all her life, in all her childhood and her military training, Krane had never been caught doing something wrong. She’d never done something wrong. So she was unprepared for this experience and didn’t know what to do with the hesitant moments between the girl’s question and her as-of-yet unknown response. Rationally, it would be best to lie, to claim to be one of the wardens of which this girl spoke, except that she was unsure how the Susceptible, upon entering an area they were apparently not permitted to be, were punished. She didn’t know her way around the chambers, let alone the inside of the fortress, but if she revealed herself to be Immune, to be someone from the outside, she would likely be immediately killed. As she held her breath, out of fear of the consequences of her actions—albeit considering their accidental nature—she recognized the irony of her adrenaline-filled lack of reflexes. If she opened her mouth again, who knew what the result would be. This girl could fall ill, and the plague could erupt again within moments. This was the very thing the government was trying to prevent. This was the reason for the walls.

Krane cleared her throat again, with one beat, to be sure her voice would be assertive. “You’re not supposed to be here,” she said as confidently as she could muster, though she could feel her clammy fists, tight at her sides, beginning to shake.

“I don’t think you are either.”

There was no tremble in the girl’s vocal cords. As the girl’s blonde brows furrowed, Krane observed her inch forward one of her feet, garbed in a white slip-on shoe. She took another step, but Krane remained stolid in her repose. Her lips were hard and clenched, like her mother’s when she commanded the child Krane to go to bed or to finish eating her vegetables. She could hardly imagine what her mother, so proud of having a guard-in-training for a daughter, would think of her now.

The girl stopped, standing with a ballet dancer’s grace, four feet in front of her. “Are you lost?” she asked. “Were you looking for the wardens’ barracks? If you’re new, I understand. Everyone gets lost if they’re not used to being in this area of the compound.”

“I know perfectly well where I am. Get back to your business. Find whatever it is you’re looking for. Your brother’s toy. Then get out. I’ll let you go this time, but only this time.”

“Thank you.” By the confused glint in the girl’s blue eyes, Krane discerned that she was not saying the right things. But now that she’d said it, there was no going back. Inconsistencies would be more likely to give her away. “But, can I ask? Are you a new warden?”

“That’s none of your business. Now go.” She rose the volume of her voice ever so slightly, ting to make it sound more firm, more authoritative. She stiffened her arms at her sides even more. She could feel her veins pulsating in her fingertips and her palms.

The girl took a few steps back, slowly. Her brows were furrowed, her cheeks glowing pink. “Thank you,” she repeated, sounding not quite convinced, but getting there. Walking backwards, the girl kept her gaze pointed at Krane, though her lips were slightly pursed and her forehead was wrinkled. When she rounded the corner and slipped back into room eighteen, Krane heaved a silent sigh and allowed her shoulders to relax. She listened to the sound of the girl moving objects around in the crates and boxes, plastic bouncing against plastic, metal, and wood. The search seemed to go on for several minutes, but as Krane counted her breaths, forcing their steady slowing, she knew it could have only been thirty seconds before the girl’s gentle footsteps began again. She appeared in the entrance of section twenty-one, where Krane still stood. Once again, Krane stiffened her military stance.

“Thanks again,” the girl said, a tattered teddy bear in her hand. It had one button eye, the place where the second eye should be a hollow divot. A blue ribbon was tied around its neck, much shinier and smoother than the rough brown fur of the bear. “Can I ask your name?”

Krane hesitated. If she said her name, the girl could report her for not doing her duties, if that was what was going on. But the nervous tick of the girl rubbing the ribbon around the bear’s neck between her thumb and forefinger alerted her that there was no need to fear anyone ever knowing she was there. The girl was obviously not supposed to be here in what Krane discerned was the storage areas, some sort of lost and found.

“My name is Amma,” said the girl. “I just want to thank you again for letting me look for the bear.” She lifted it awkwardly. “I found it.”

“Good. Now go.”The girl didn’t move. The long pause in their words made both of them shift their feet, though Krane’s posture remained frozen. The desire for Amma to leave, the fear of sparking a new plague into being, had her legs nearly shaking with the need to run.

Proximity, Part 1 of 3

Krane Decleric was somewhere she wasn’t supposed to be. Her junior commander and trainer—the bug-eyed, golden-haired, always-on-the-edge-of-smirking Clark—had ditched her, maybe as some sort of trainee initiation prank, and left her in one of the chambers near the entrance to the locks. She had warily gone through a door, which led her into a hallway, which took her to another door. Forgetting she was supposed to be scared, she opened it, knowing she probably shouldn’t but feeling as though she had no other choice. She was lost and it had seemed like it could be a way out. Instead, it had been a way in.

Krane found herself in a concrete room with areas sectioned off by concrete walls. These doorless rooms, whose exposed entryways allowed her to see inside, contained boxes. Cardboard boxes, clear plastic boxes, crates—they filled these small rooms, each area labeled above its entrance with numbers growing chronologically up the left side of the room toward Krane—to number twenty—and back down the right side—ending with number forty—toward another door, huge and wooden, on the opposing wall.

A dull, heavy noise resounded behind her, and a slurping, like the sealing of a vacuum, was the coda to the sound. Krane lurched and spun to face the door through which she had just entered, only to see the light, in the shape of a thin rectangle tracing the top border of the door, flip from amber to deep red. She gulped down the beating of her heart in her throat and flicked her eyes to her right, then to her left, but there was no guard or code panel in sight.

With all the effort the government had put into protecting the Susceptible, Krane found it awfully disconcerting that there was only one coded door—never mind the labyrinth of the chambers and the locks—separating them from the Immune. Of course, only the fortress guards were privy to the codes, which meant no one could get in or out without one letting them through the door. But a code and one guard, even with his sturdy body and stern expression, his bulletproof vest and hefty firearm, seemed less of a barrier to this sensitive world than all the propaganda claimed they needed. Yes, there was the gargantuan electrical fence surrounding the fortress on the outside, barricading civilians from entering, but it seemed that the military could come and go as they pleased, as long as they surpassed the guards and the code. Krane had always assumed that inside the chambers were men with stronger artillery, and on either side of the locks were ID scanners, disinfectant rooms, and cameras taping from every angle. Maybe the guard on the inside of the locks was off duty at the moment, or maybe he was taking a bathroom break and had no one else to step in—but, more likely, the Susceptible, craving their near royal treatment, were not subjected to staring at a beefy, rifle-bearing monster standing at their doorstep every moment of the day like the Immune were. Krane entertained the thought for moment, then froze in place. No guards meant possible surveillance. Cameras could be anywhere. Alarms could go off any minute. And Krane would more than likely be shot dead with no chance to explain herself.

Even in the chambers, where her only fear had been failure to impress Clark, who would report about her to his senior commander, she had not been much concerned with the possibility of surveillance. Hell, even on the streets of the city, where she knew there were cameras aimed at every storefront, every window, every corner, she’d known she didn’t have anything to be afraid of—as long as she followed orders. But now, the threat of arrest was real.

Arrest, while not uncommon in New York, was something reserved for people who disobeyed. Misbehaving men, women, and children, regardless of their age, were snatched away shrieking by police doing their rounds, often returning starving and bruised a few days later, or weeks, depending on their crime. Krane had witnessed from her own bedroom window rebellious teenagers dragged away shouting into the night several times over the course of her childhood. Their dirt-smeared trousers and wild eyes told her that these deviants needed to be kept in line. So Krane had always followed the rules: she’d never stayed out past the ten o’clock curfew; she’d attended every day of her eight years of classes, unless she was ill; she’d joined the military academy upon her graduation at sixteen; and she’d even had her first kiss from a boy, Bobby Durkheimer, when she was twelve, even though his lips were pink and sticky from the raspberries they’d been picking in the fields and she could smell the dull stench of old sweat emanating from his armpits, barely covered by his government-provided t-shirt.

She’d done what the law, her parents, and her peers had told her to do, and now she was stuck somewhere she wasn’t meant to be, unsure of how she’d managed to get there, and likely to be killed the moment she was found. As a trainee guard, she had only been allowed to look at the map of the chambers briefly before this first tour, and it had not shown the inside of the fortress. There were the chambers, like a cell wall, lining the miles-wide holding area, and there were the locks, four small hallway-like structures on the center of each of the square-shaped fortress’ sides. But beyond the areas she was permitted to enter, there was a big blank space. Not even senior commander’s had the privilege of seeing the maps of the inside of the fortress.

Having studied the limited map for only a few minutes before being escorted by Clark through the North guard-and-code-locked entrance, Krane could not discern whether she had gone through the locks or not. Was she still in the chambers? Or had she passed into the fortress? There was nothing to indicate either possibility. The smooth concrete walls had an industrial presence, but the dozens of boxes in the unenclosed rooms appeared fairly domestic. In some of them, Krane could make out items peeking up over the tops: tennis rackets, tattered books, dishes, stuffed animals. She squinted as she surveyed them from her place in front of the door, contemplating, analyzing, rationalizing why they were there. Then she realized, even though her confusion and mild worry about the surveillance clouded her minded, there was a soft rushing noise serving as background music to the room. She followed her ears to search for the source of the sound. Still standing in place in front of the door, unsure yet if she should move, she saw a vent in the upper corner of the room to her right. Quietly humming, the vent seemed to be sucking in air, and when he turned to her left, she saw an identical vent giving off a similar sound. This was further evidence, she thought, that she was inside. These vents had to be cycling and purifying the air, making it safe for the Susceptible to breathe. She thought harder, pondering each step she had taken to get to this room, in case there was a chance she could manage to open the sealed door behind her and to get out. Obviously there had to be a way. Under no circumstances could she possibly be trapped inside the fortress. She couldn’t let that happen to herself. She couldn’t imagine the guards—or Clark—letting that happen to her.

Then, beyond the barely audible hum of the vents, Krane heard another sound, like footsteps, echoing toward the room from the other side of the huge wooden door fifty feet in front of her. They were quiet, so quiet that she could hardly discern that they were in fact footsteps. She could tell by their volume and the fact that they resonated marginally that the door was thin, that the dim light she could see around the edges of it was shining through from whatever was on the other side. It wasn’t Clark, that was for sure. His gait was crooked, even after his five years of military training. His boots were heavy, not gentle, like these steps. Whoever it was, though—despite their delicacy—would likely not be happy to see her.

As the wooden door shifted, scraping against the concrete floor, Krane slid into the room closest to her on her right, number twenty-one. The wall hid her from the view of the person entering the room—just one, thankfully. But that also meant that Krane could not see the person either, and therefore, she couldn’t know if they were armed. The footsteps edged closer, and Krane’s abdomen tensed. But then the person halted, probably too close for Krane to be able to make even one peep. There was shuffling, the sound of plastic items knocking against each other, as if the person was searching for something.

She moved her head slowly and peered around the edge of wall. What she saw, in the section labeled eighteen, not ten feet away across the hallway from her, was a long, white-blonde head of hair, hanging loosely and bouncily and nearly grazing a pair of narrow, feminine hips. This wasn’t a guard, that was for sure. This wasn’t even someone from the military. This was the final clue that Krane needed to tell her that she had indeed passed through the locks and into the fortress. She gulped. It was the kind of gulp she dreaded, the kind that happened after drinking an abnormally large swallow of water, the kind that made her choke on her own saliva like a child just learning how the throat works. She felt it go down her windpipe, felt her chest attempt to push it back up, and tried with all her might to force it to stay, to let her drown for only a minute, until the girl had found what she was looking for in room eighteen and left. But then she coughed. She coughed and knew there was no chance now she wouldn’t be caught.

IWSG - To Write or to Nap, That Is the Question

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. But sometimes there’s not always a will. Sometimes I’d rather just take a nap. What do you do when you’re too braindead to write? Do you write your way through it? Do you take the nap and pick back up the next day?

I have been facing this dilemma in the past month or so, putting off starting back up again by convincing myself that next week my brain will be revived, but when next week rolls around, I’m still in the rut. Once I get the butt in the chair and start writing, though, I know it will pick back up again. It’s the first five minutes of dread that always seem to get me. Next week, though, I’ll be able to get past it, right? :)

Peace, Aimee


Abby’s boyfriend had just accepted a new job when Abby decided to grow dreads. She told herself that his new, fancy, telecommuting job had nothing to do with her decision, despite the fact that his old job was where they met and where Abby still worked. If he was leaving his job, she thought, who knew what else he would leave? She did not tell Brian that this did not influence her decision, because he did not ask. Instead, he’d simply told her that she was already a hippie, so it was nice she was making her external identity match her internal.

Though Brian lingered in the office, wrapping up the big projects he had begun himself and which necessitated his final approval, Abby remained at the front desk, warily answering phones and emails while their menopausal coworkers tornadoed from office to office in a flurry of papers and numbers and remembered night sweats. The company would surely fall apart without Brian, but no one seemed to know this as intimately as Abby, who, as the quiet, nervous receptionist, feared this little place, where she’d been able to put her foot in the door of the otherwise locked-up tight advertising industry, would soon be drowning in paperclips.

One week after Abby had stopped brushing her hair found her examining the miniscule tangles already forming in her naturally ratty mop while secretly worrying that her boss would deny her, in the absence of organized Brian’s words of wisdom, the right to display herself as she pleased. Even as the boss’s dog, who roamed the office, galumphing from door to door in search of dropped snacks, emitted an airy fart from his patient perch next to Abby’s desk, Abby still maintained that inkling of a notion that the boss could in fact successfully accommodate a new, unfamiliar Brian and would ridicule Abby into brushing her hair after Abby’s Brian left.

The accompanying waft of the dog’s sharp stench brought the boss to Abby’s office, dog treat in hand. “Come here, Ricky. Let’s go outside,” the boss proclaimed, snapping her fingers and flashing Abby an apologetic smile. Brian, too, appeared then in Abby’s doorway, clenching his nostrils and holding out a newly printed paper for her.

The boss chuckled, pointing to Brian’s feet. “Nice socks,” she chided, more mocking than an actual compliment, then led lazy Ricky away. Abby peered over the desk, the hot pink glare of Brian’s new socks gleaming up at her. With a roll of her eyes, she tsked him and returned to her work. But the boss, who’d always appeared so strict in Abby’s eyes, had not told Brian to change. She’d enjoyed the quirkiness of his unconventional footwear and exhibited no recognition of the week-old dreads. Abby was in the clear—so far.

* * * * *

Abby’s boyfriend had tied up all the loose ends at the advertising company when Abby decided to take her college search seriously. These events were likely flip-flopped in time, Brian seeking out a telecommuting job in preparation for Abby leaving the city, but this only crossed Abby’s mind once or twice. His new job allowed him to work at home rather than holed up in an office all day, and Abby found herself attempting to massage out the curious knot in her gut that begged her to ask if this truly meant he’d move with her if she enrolled somewhere far away.

A degree in graphic design or a degree in art theory awaited her on the other side of the college admissions barrier, but even in all her tormenting and self-interrogation, Abby could still not decide. Practicality and application or creativity and passion—these felt to her like the two factors yanking her back and forth, a fraying tug-of-war rope.

The dreads, too, now celebrating their one month birthday, were more a tangled sea of knots than the slim ropes for which she’d hoped. Crispy leaves falling from the undressing trees would grip velcro hairs and not let go. The incoming chill charmed Abby’s favorite wool scarf out of her cluttered closet, only to prove more a challenge than a comfort as the bird’s nest that was her hair attempted to weave the loosening fibers into its gathers. Every time a would-be dread got stuck on something—or something got stuck on it—Abby considered the possibility of going to a hairdresser and getting them done professionally. But no: that would be cheating; that would be succumbing to the system of materialism, of caring what you look like, of skipping to the end result without enduring and enjoying the process; that would be unnatural.

In the process of researching colleges online, Abby found herself in a similar dilemma: Some programs boasted a high post-grad hire rate, some a proclivity of their grads to win classy, artistic awards. Some required tons of business and marketing courses, ideas which interested her, and others an abundance of painting classes for which Abby yearned. All appealed to her, but none were unobjectionable. Maybe she should just not bother with school at all and attempt to find her artistic niche on her own. Or maybe she should let someone else decide for her.

Just as her fingers were about to go gangrenous and detach, her cellphone buzzed with the cajole of her spunky cousin. Picturing the image of young Ivy’s layers of tattoos and piercings, Abby lurched toward her phone with excitement.

“Ivy, just the person I wanted to talk to,” she lied, hoping only for reassurance rather than conversation. “How’s it going?”

“It’s alright. Just making sure you’re still coming over for Thanksgiving. Don’t want you chickening out because of the storm.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m still coming. I can handle a little snow,” Abby replied, though she wasn’t so sure. “But, what do you think everyone would think if I showed up with dreadlocks? I kind of stopped brushing my hair, so I’ll be looking scraggly in front of grandma.”

Abby heard Ivy’s snort derisively over the line. “Who cares what they think. People who care about what they look like are stupid. Good for you, I say,” Ivy growled. Her treatment of frivolity surpassed in sternness Abby’s dislike of all things inorganic. Plants poisoned for commercial gain, animals tortured to make sure shampoos were safe for humans, enormous vehicles chugging gas like an alcoholic chugs whisky: Abby and her cousin shared a distaste for things such as these, but Ivy’s hatred was extended to shaving, deodorant, shoes, religion, and even fluorescent lights. Ivy hated unnatural things. Ivy didn’t care if other people disliked her. Ivy didn’t want to go to college and didn’t have an office job, where things like dreadlocks mattered. Even going into an artistic career, and even being related to someone like Ivy, who had been accepted in the family though she bore a dozen tattoos, Abby felt that maybe she was different, that maybe she was less. That maybe dreads just weren’t for her.

* * * * *

Abby’s boyfriend had invited her to a see movie with some friends when Abby decided once and for all that she’d stick with the dreads. It’s what she’d said the last time, too, “once and for all,” but this time she knew she’d feel confident enough to answer with distinct affirmation when someone like her boss said, “I see you’ve started to let yourself go.”

Three months had passed since she’d brushed her hair, and a few yarn-like locks were becoming quite evident. Abby found herself putting her hair up more often than not, as she guessed the mess was just as unappealing to the public as it was to herself. In a few more weeks, she’d be reaching the point of no return—weeks filled with watching clumps of hair slowly morph into ropes, anxious heart-fluttering, dodging glances and pretending strangers weren’t judging her. The scraggles would even out—if she stuck to the plan and remained patient.

She couldn’t keep up with the patience side of things, though, in the horrid movie Brian had taken her to see. As a bland scenery unfolded and poor camera angles marred the story, Abby found her graphic design-oriented brain squirming with disgust. Even she could do better than that, and she hadn’t even studied film.

But as she was about to turn to Brian and express her hushed disdain in his ear, a gorgeous actress with whom Abby could never compete burst across the screen, her sweeping, angelic hair flowing out behind her and imbuing Abby with envy. The stream of light filtered through her mane was obviously meant to illustrate the love at first sight the main character felt upon her entrance, but to Abby, it was only a reminder of the people littered throughout her past who’d told her that her hair was beautiful and that they were jealous.

Sitting in that the scratchy cinema seat, the twinkling of a blissful piano tune filling the dark theater, Abby found herself missing her frizzy mop. Running and swimming would be floppy instead of flowy with dreads, and flying insects and stray bits of fuzz would always get trapped in her web. She’d carried a wasp into her apartment on her hair a few weeks before, and though it seemed hilarious at the time, now, admiring the actress’s lavishing blond hair, Abby was conscious of her disheveled, filthy, pathetic attempt at nonconformity.

When at last the credits began to ascend the movie screen, Abby was renewed with a cognizant understanding of her self. She, Brian, and their friends filed out of their row, inching between the too-small seats in the dim theater. As they burst through the doors, basking in the light of their post-film wonder, a light touch at the back of her head, as if someone were warily petting her like a new kitten, drew her attention.

“It sort of looks like you have dreads,” her friend Bree, who moved beside her, said.

“I sort of do, but I’m brushing them out this weekend. I thought it was a good idea, but I just can’t fully embrace them. They’re not really me.”

Bree’s accepting nod, Brian’s taking of her hand, and their swift goodbyes were affirming yet anticlimactic, leaving Abby perplexed at the affable accord. Shoving open the hefty theater doors and into the bitter February evening, she and Brian turned in the direction of Brian’s car with hardly half a twinkle of new insight between the two of them.

In a flash of gentle curiosity, Abby paused at the edge of the sidewalk, squeezing Brian’s hand. “You keep saying you don’t care,” she pried. “What do you really think of the dreads?”

“No matter how you wear your hair, I still think you’re beautiful,” Brain said.

Abby smiled unintentionally but avoided holding her gaze for too long, thinking him an undeserved gift. A tentative moment passed before she replied, “Thanks. I really needed to hear that,” though he certainly hadn’t helped in her decision-making process regarding her hair.

But as they shuffled together across the snow-dusted parking lot, Abby contemplated the consequences of her options. Dreads matched her political disposition, for sure, but admitting that she couldn’t fully embrace them left the residue of the notion that a malleable style was more suited to her personality. Couldn’t she be a hippie without dreadlocks? She’d untangle them that evening, Abby told herself, in spite of the sharp yanks of the hairbrush and the globs of old hair that would aggregate in the bathroom trash can, but the beauty of extinguishing three months of hard work was that she had the option of starting over again—when she was ready to commit to such a journey.

Books I Read This Month - July 2014

Room by Emma Donoghue

Whoa. This is a hugely powerful novel about a woman who was kidnapped at nineteen and held in a room for several years, repeatedly raped by her captor. It is told from the perspective of her five-year-old son, Jack, who was born in the room and has never been outside and never met anyone other than his mother and the kidnapper (from whom his mother fiercely protects him, never allowing the captor to speak to him or touch him). The writing perfectly captures what you’d expect to be going on in his mind, since this is all he’s ever known, and it’s evident that the author did a lot of research about developmental psychology. The first half of the book is creepy, since the reader gets hints of what's going on based on narrator Jack's observations, and the second half is heart-wrenching. Through Jack's eyes, we are shown some of the things in our world, often socially, that are strange and constructed rather than psychologically innate. It’s fast-paced and emotionally moving. Very much recommended.

The Abominable by Dan Simmons

Three men are sent on a mission to climb Mount Everest to uncover the body of a man who went missing on a climb the year before. But when they get there, they realize their mission is not quite what they thought. The book is very long and split into three sections. The first part details their preparation and is interesting, though it made me impatient wondering when they would start the trip; the second part details their climb, which is also interesting but doesn't yet include the suspenseful elements that the description of the book claims; and the third part details a scary chase up and down the mountain by creatures which the climbers must identify and attempt to escape from before they are killed. The legend of yetis is used here in a terrifying way, and the historical details in all three parts (especially the first and third) add a lot of depth and meaning to the plot. I found this to be an adventurous (albeit long) book, and I'd recommended for people who like big travel stories.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

I’d been meaning to read this for a while, since Upton Sinclair was in his twenties when he wrote this (and I am also in my twenties), and it contributed to economic and environmental social movements. I can definitely see why it is considered a classic, as it follows an immigrant’s journey from his arrival in the US through his adulthood, which consists of many up and downs through poverty, success, tragedy, happiness, and more. His life is a roller coaster, which at times seems unrealistic, but the plot works perfectly for conveying Sinclair’s political and social messages. The narrative is also largely "told" rather than "shown" in its writing style, making it extremely plot-driven and lacking in emotional depth (except when discussing the main character's family, who goes through some heart-breaking experiences). Otherwise, it is a fascinating look at poverty, immigration, and labor unions in the US.

The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

The front cover of this book and the description make this sound like a steampunk novel, with a lot of sci-fi elements, but it’s really not. It’s an extraordinary and fun adventure in the vein of Jules Verne or Charles Dickens. Set in Victorian England and following three main characters who each deal with time travel and romance in some way, this book is seriously fun. It’s split into three parts that each can stand alone as individual stories, but when straight through, they create a tapestry of a story where all the parts fit together. The characters and their dilemmas are unique, often hilarious, and sometimes over-the-top romantic. Anyone who loves a good time travel story will adore this.

My Short Story "Choice" Was Published Today!

My short story "Choice" was published today on S/tick magazine's blog. I'd love to hear your comments! S/tick is a feminist magazine based in Canada. My story fits with their mission because the subject of the story is a contemporary feminist topic. I feel like I should mention that my story is not based in experience, as it is a sort of controversial topic. I hope you enjoy it, if you venture over to read it.

Thank you!

IWSG - Just Doubt

For the first time, my insecurity I’m writing about in my insecure writers’ post does not stem from me not having the time, energy, or will to write. For that I am immensely grateful. Instead, my insecurity is coming from me having nothing stopping me aside from myself.

I have graduated from college, so, even though I’m now working full time, I have more time to write now than I ever have before. I’ve been slowly finishing up and removing other responsibilities in my life in order to make more room for writing and reading, essentially simplifying my life to keep myself focused. This means I have to use my time wisely, obviously.

The thing I’ve noticed about myself in this regard is that I’m a major procrastinator. I’ll look at the empty page for a minute and feel dread at writing, then go check Twitter. But, if I set my mind to it, as soon as I start writing and get a sentence or two on the page for the day, the words just spill out. It’s the starting that’s hard. The rest comes easily.

Now, though, it’s my skill that will hold me back. It’s only the “my writing’s not good enough” that’s holding me back. I have time, I have will, I have energy. It’s only my own doubt that’s preventing myself from writing, and from practicing in order to get better. I’m realizing that I was only using time and energy as excuses before. So now, I must write, and not be afraid. Maybe it will get me somewhere some day?

Peace, Aimee

Books I Read This Month - June 2014

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murkami

More Haruki Murakami, of course, because he is easily one of my favorite authors. This book is one of his earlier works, and it's less supernatural and surreal than his later books. It's more straightforward and clear in its writing style, but it still has Murakami's quirky sense of humor and introspectiveness. In this book, a young man who's a bit dull (again, classic Murakami) takes on a task that's a bit more than he can handle: literally a wild sheep chase. A man contacts him in search of a sheep with a star on its back that, according to legend, enters people's souls to make them immortal (but leaves them and makes them mortal again if it deems them unworthy). There's a creepy man who dresses up as a sheep, there's another creepy guy who hates his son for no reason but who claims that the sheep was once inside of him, and there's a girl with beautiful ears. Weird and wacky and unexpectedly insightful (or not unexpectedly, if you know Murakami's works at all). This book certainly has not hanged my overwhelmingly positive opinion of Haruki Murakami.

Bad Teeth by Dustin Long

If you like literary allusions (and I do), you'll definitely like this. It's very layer-y, more than a cake or an onion or other cliches, and follows a college-age man who's looking for a mysterious Thai author. He goes from Brooklyn to Berkeley to Bloomington to another town that starts with a B that has slipped my mind in search of any information he can find on this man. Several characters he meets are also tormented writers, and the relationships he makes with them reveal a lot about modern literary culture. I'd recommend this book for people like me (well, I mean, I did read this and enjoy it) who are well-read, and mostly young writers. It's a fun read, if you just read it along the surface like any other novel, but if you follow closely to the metaphorical language and what the characters are saying about their states of being, you'll discover some interesting analyses of the self and what "self-consciousness" means.

Drood by Dan Simmons

Told in the style of Charles Dickens, this epicly long and winding novel details (in a fictionalized manner) the last five or so years of Dickens's life, after the Staplehurst accident that killed several people and left Dickens mentally scarred. The book is told in a Watson-like fashion from the first-person perspective of Dickens's author friend Wilkie Collins. The layers of the narrative are extremely satisfying to read and uncover, especially with the voice of the story, which is immensely Victorian. It's Gothic, creepy, and very suspenseful; even at over 700 plus pages, I found myself whipping through it, wanting to know what happens in the next chapter (although, obviously, Dickens is dead by the end of the book). The book asks some fascinating questions not only of Dickens's life and motivations but also of the afterlife, the supernatural, and the divide between good and evil (as so many excellent books tend to do). The character of Dickens is, well, very like Dickens. Author Dan Simmons did a fantastic job making him act and sound like the image of Dickens we have today, only as a more full person revealed through the narrative. I will definitely be reading more by this author, and soon.

For the Time Being by Annie Dillard

I'm not entirely sure I've read anything by Annie Dillard before, but I have to say that this book is one of the most thought-provoking and deep books I have ever read. It covers a range of seemingly unconnected topics (China, Israel, clouds, birth defects, sand, and more), but she is somehow able to connect them through an analysis of how they reflect what God is like, while constantly asking of the universe if there is a God, what our world says about the nature of God, and how miraculous and uniquely awesome our world is, with or without God. It can sometimes be boring to read about a random topic and strange facts in some of the sections, but overall, this book is extremely fascinating and made me think deeply more than any other book has. If you venture into this one, be prepared to skip over some dull, boring parts but to find yourself thinking about the universe in a new way at the end of it.

Grief, Noise, and Dishes

A swift-flying crow swooped across the dull gray sky, passing over the old elm. I followed it with my eyes as it crossed the area of sky above the miniature wooden bridge that arched over the little creek. A false, fairy-tale like scene for a masquerading, lonesome park. A late September breeze rustled my hair, my forest green sweater preventing a shiver from coming over me. I continued to trail the crow with my eyes until it passed in front of a tall young man with a golden retriever. He was thin and brunette, his bulky gray sweatshirt rolled up to his elbows despite the chill in the air. His dog roamed free, no need for a leash, but it remained close, either out of loyalty to its master or out of fear of what lay beyond its master’s sight.

I released the crow from my gaze, my eyes landing on the young man. He was beautiful. Thin and tall, brunette curls, this was all I could discern from the distance, but I still could see that he was beautiful. The golden dog leaped over the dry grass away from him, but the young man did not follow; he merely stood, watching. I traced the curls on the back of the young man’s head, sweet brown curls that fluttered in the biting breeze.

I stepped forward, the crunch of the first fallen leaf resounding from under my shoe.

“Lovely day, isn’t it?” I said to the young man, and he turned to face me.

“Bit chilly,” he answered.

I shrugged. I glanced up at the sky, the clouds obscuring the blue, only the filtered light of the sun dimly showing through.

I pointed at the golden retriever galloping farther and farther away.

“What’s your dog’s name?”

“Verne. After Jules Verne.”

“Oh really? Is he your favorite writer?”

“One of my favorites.”

“I adore Virginia Woolf.”

An odd glance from the young man. A judging smirk.

“And Flannery O’Connor.”

The look from the young man caused me to pause and assess my thoughts before voicing them. Up close, the young man was even more beautiful than he was from far away. His eyes were blue, and freckles dotted his cheeks.

“Aren’t you going to ask mine?” he inquired. His expression was vindictive.


“My name.”

“Oh, yes. What’s your name?”


“Hello Adam. I’m Jordan.”

Verne paused for a moment to sniff something on the ground, then continued to hop about, lost in his own world. Adam watched Verne, and I watched Adam, basking in his mysterious, enveloping aura.

“So Jordan. Do you have any siblings?”

“No. I’m an only child.”

“Are you self-righteous?”

“What? No.” I was slightly taken aback. A twinge of anxiety was beginning to creep up on me, but Adam’s expression remained quite the same.

“Self-righteous? Self-absorbed? All only children are self-absorbed.”

I thought it over for a moment, giving him the benefit of the doubt—despite his awkward stance, his left foot cocked out slightly in front of his right, he seemed to know what he was talking about. One dark eyebrow was lifted, not inquisitively so much as judgingly. “No. I don’t think I am,” I assured him.

“I have a sister,” he said, though I hadn’t asked him the question in return.

“That’s nice. Sometimes I wish I had a sister.”

“I used to have a brother too. He blew his brains out last month.”

I flinched.

“Because his girlfriend broke up with him.” Raising my eyebrows, I hesitated, unsure what to say. Adam did not seem to be in need of condolences. In fact, he appeared to enjoy having the tragedy in his life.

“You’re so frank,” I said.

Adam smirked, still looking at Verne. “Frank is my middle name.” I let out a short laugh, and Adam’s smug grin remained, though there seemed to be a punchline hovering in the air, to a joke of which I was unaware.

I waited until the echo of my laughter had faded. “Is it really?”

Finally a real laugh from the young man, coupled with a slow nod. “Yeah it is. And it was my nickname at school.”


“We cremated him. My brother.” The sudden shift in emotional content of conversation left me speechless, but it did not appear to bother Adam in the least.


“We have him in an urn, sitting on a shelf.”

I hesitated again. Adam was beginning to make me wary, but there was something about him that kept me from walking away. “I’ve never seen an urn before,” I found myself saying.

“Would you like to see my brother’s?”


Adam put a finger and thumb in his mouth and whistled loudly. “Verne!”

The dog came running toward his master, ears flapping joyfully and naively at the sides of his head. Conveniently Adam lived only a block away, having brought Verne to the park because it was so close and dog were allowed. We walked in silence, my wariness increasing.

“My mother’s locked herself in her room,” Adam said when we walked in the front door of his house. The screen door clicked closed behind us. I glanced around the living room we had just entered. The walls were blank; no photos were hanging in celebration of family and love like there were in my parent’s home. Only a stark, dark brown wooden crucifix, merely a foot long, adorned the far wall of the living room.

“Where’s your dad?”

“Oh, he beat it years ago.”

I followed Adam and Verne into the kitchen where a young woman with cropped blonde hair was doing dishes, washing them by hand though there was a dishwasher that appeared perfectly usable embedded in the counter beside her.

“Hey Lillian.”

She turned and faced us. Her smug expression was identical to her brother’s. “Brought home another stray, have we?” she sneered.

I glanced down at Verne to see a light blue collar around his furry yellow neck.

“Uh, I’m not a stray,” I said shyly.

With unexpected force, Lillian slammed the glass plate she had been drying onto the counter. It didn’t break, but the noise caused me to jump. Lillian’s face flushed as she glared at Adam.

She exploded into a stream of angry words. “Why can’t you be more like Douglas? Why do you have to be so strange? I can’t take care of you while I’m still taking care of mom. Douglas could take care of himself. Why can’t you?”

Adam remained calm. “I don’t need you, Lillian. I can fend for myself. I’m doing just fine without mom.”

“Yeah because you have me!”

“Cooking and cleaning isn’t ‘having’ you.”

Her eyes not leaving Adam’s, her body still except her arm, like a robot with only one function, Lillian reached over, picked up the plate from the counter, and slammed it on the floor with incredible force. It shattered.

I jumped back. “I should, uh, go now,” I said, the nervousness evident in my voice.

The sound of a slamming door exploded from upstairs. I jolted once again, but Adam still did not flinch.

“See Adam. You’ve upset mom.” Lillian pointed toward the stairs.

“No, Douglas upset mom.”

Lillian whipped around, returning to her chore. I glanced over at the staircase with my eyes, realized that simply slamming a door did not mean she would come down to see what all the fuss was about, and then I moved my gaze to Adam.

“I’d better go,” I said.

“Ok. Goodbye.”

I turned swiftly on my heels and sped across the living room and out the front door, into the chilly autumn breeze. A crow swooped by again, silently grieving the loss of the flighty geese and the hibernating bears, the friends it’d never had.

Convergence of the Ghosts

Sarah stepped forward and looked down into the gaping hole in the porch. The wood planks were splintered and jutted out in places, creating a two-foot circle. Through the hole Sarah saw the dirt. A yellow plastic thing poked out of the ground, a toy truck, perhaps. It must be Adam’s, Sarah thought, or else it was Jack’s from thirty years ago, buried and fossilizing in the dirt beneath the aged porch.

Sarah grimaced. Where was Jack, that adventure-minded, ratty brother of hers, now? Beijing? Shanghai? A rice patty somewhere out in the rural farmlands; in love with some beautiful Chinese girl who brewed him tea and kissed him on the cheek? He wasn’t here, anyway, that’s all Sarah needed to know.

Sarah stared down into the hole. The hole stared back. This hole had killed her mother. The mother had slid open the glass back door and dragged her bulky oxygen tank outside to watch her only grandchild spin around on the tire swing, his faded jeans streaked with dirt, and when she’d lifted the oxygen mask to say something to him as she stepped forward and hit a loose board, her foot had gone through the wood with an almighty crack, and her last words before she smacked her head on the wooden railing were “Sarah, Goddammit!” and now she was lying in a coma living out her last days in silence, offering no explanation for what those words meant.

Sarah bent her knees and reached down to pull the yellow toy from the dirt. It resisted, the heavy dirt wanting to keep the toy in the ground, and clinging to it still after Sarah brushed it off. It was indeed a truck, with a big claw on the front used to haul sand in a sandbox. Scribbled in a black permanent marker on the side was ‘JACK.’ Her little brother’s truck, thirty years old, still buried in the dirt beneath the porch after all this time. He’d buried his truck, he’d buried his sister and his nephew and his mother, and now he was God-knows-where probably having the time of his life.

Sarah shook the toy truck to loosen the dirt and the bugs that had crawled over the black tires and had nestled into the claw. She turned and reentered the house, seeing Adam still sitting on the living room floor picking at the beige carpet with his dirty fingers, his superman figure retired and tossed aside next to him, bored of having a boy pretend to make him fly.

“Hey Adam, look what I found,” Sarah said. Jack wasn’t going to play with it anymore; she might as well make use of it.

Adam looked up and saw what Sarah held in her hands. “Cool! A bulldozer!” he said, jumping up from the floor and running over to his mother. She handed him the toy, and he ran immediately out the back door, hastily dodging the hole and heading straight for the sandbox. Sarah watched him out the window as he pushed the truck around and hauled sand from one end of the sandbox to the other.

She watched him for about five minutes, and then she smelled something burning. She sniffed the air to be sure her nose wasn’t playing tricks on her. Realizing that indeed it was the scent of crisping smoke, she spun on her heels and bolted into the kitchen.

“Adam, Goddammit!” she said, grabbing an oven mitt, opening the oven, and pulling out the tray of blackened fish sticks. She tossed the tray onto the stove with a clang, the heat emanating through the ratty mitt. She flicked off the oven and stood there in the kitchen, watching the grease from the fish sticks sizzle on the tray.

It took a minute before it registered in her mind what she’d said in that moment of frustration. But they had been Adam’s fish sticks, anyway. It wasn’t like she was going to eat them, that plasticy child’s finger food.

The doorbell rang, and Sarah released a sigh. She went through the living room and opened the door. There stood her Aunt Polly, her mother’s sister. Her eyes were downcast, her hands folded over her belly.

“Your mama’s passed,” she said sullenly.

Sarah ushered her inside.

“What’s that smell?” Aunt Polly asked.

“It was Adam’s lunch, but it burned,” Sarah said. “Fish sticks.”

“Oh.” Aunt Polly sat on the couch. Sarah remembered sitting on the couch with her mother and her brother, watching TV in the evenings after dinner. Aunt Polly cleared her throat. Sarah could tell she had been crying. “Your mama, she wasn’t as bad a person as she seemed, you know.”

Sarah didn’t answer. She continued to stand there, looking down at Adam’s superman figure.

“When our mother passed, your mama was so angry at herself. She hadn’t talked to her in three months because she’d been mad at her for something or other. She wanted to get away from her. She didn’t want to be like her, but I could see. I could tell already that she was treating you and your brother just the same way our mama treated us.”

Sarah shifted her feet anxiously.

Aunt Polly looked at Sarah, but Sarah continued to stare at the floor. “I bet your brother Jack is going to come home any time now.”

“Maybe just for the funeral, but then he’ll go back to China again,” Sarah said. “And I don’t blame him.”

“Maybe.” Aunt Polly snorted out a little laugh, glancing out the back window, which could be seen from the living room couch. “Your boy Adam,” she said. “He looks just like grandpa. And just like his uncle.”

Sarah turned around and looked out the window too, wishing she would not see that long-lost family face plastered on the face of her son, and she saw Adam still playing with Jack’s truck, his jeans and cheeks now streaked with dirt, as if he were beginning to bury himself.

The Pocket Watch

Clutched in his clammy palm, the perfect circle of a smooth, gold pocket watch went tick tick tick tick while the meaty, red thing in his chest sat still and stagnant, tired and finished. The little girl leaned down and placed a hand on his mud-smudged cheek, her fingers getting a taste of what it was to touch an American man, to touch him by choice. His skin was cool and pocked and white against her fingertips, which lingered on his cheek before she dragged them to his chin to unclip his helmet and remove it from his head. She slid it off and his head went smack on the hard ground, which made her flinch, but he did not seem to care. His hair was yellow, and she ran her fingers through it to see if it felt any different than hers, jet black and silky and sweaty, but when she felt that his was sweaty too, and filled with the same lice that crawled through hers, she withdrew her hand and narrowed her eyes, analyzing the man’s face, his eyes blank and blue, so different from hers, which were black as night.

A boom exploded in the distance, and she fell to her knees in surprise and fear, collapsing on top of the man, but he did not clutch her, did not hold her close like her father used to do when they heard those terrible noises, but the man just lay there, indifferent to the little girl on top of him. Her head was on his chest, which was silent and hard, his body encased in that green and brown splotched uniform, and she quickly struggled to her feet, her cheeks reddening before she realized completely that there was no one there to see. She turned her head toward the sound, which echoed through the forest, and through the cracks of sky between the trees she could see the smoke, thick and gray, expanding and encroaching on the blazing yellow sun.

The tick tick ticking reached her little ears, a strong, even rhythm resounding through her head as the sound of the explosion began to fade. She knelt by his side to get closer, and when she saw that the source of the sound was the thing in his hand, she pried his fingers open to reveal the pocket watch, the most circular object she had ever seen in her life. It was smooth as she ran her fingers over it, removing the coat of dirt to expose its shining golden varnish, so mesmerizing and beautiful her eyes widened in awe. There was a tiny curvy "1942" etched in the metal, and she remembered suddenly that her father had once told her he had been born in 1942.

The little girl glanced to the right then to the left then over her shoulder, and when she saw that there was no one there, she tightened her grip on the watch and hopped to her feet and began to run through the woods toward the big rotting tree. It was the familiar landmark that would lead her back to her mother, but when she reached it, her heart pounding in her chest, going thum thum thum thum, she paused and looked up at the sky, which slowly grew darker and darker with smog and ash and night.

Spinning on her heels, she turned and scampered back to where the American man lay, and she knelt once again next to him, placing her free hand over his face, her thumb and forefinger gently touching the silky skin beneath his yellow eyebrows. Then she looked at his face, quiet and still as if he were asleep. She leaned down, placing her ear on her chest, remembering the silence she had heard when she had fallen on top of him, and she closed her eyes and listened. There was no movement; he was absolutely still, but she could hear the tick tick of the pocket watch, and for a moment she let herself believe that it was the sound of his heart, pumping just like hers did, thum thum thum, in her chest.

Books I Read This Month - May 2014

Far from You by Tess Sharpe
I hadn't read a Young Adult novel in a while, and this thriller sounded like something I would enjoy. It was a quick read, as I expected it to be and as I was in the mood for, but that doesn't mean it wasn't powerful. This book follows high schooler Sophie in the few weeks after she is released from a drug addiction treatment center. Right before she was sent there, her best friend was murdered in front of her, and now she is determined to find the killer. The pace is quick, which makes the narrative heart-pounding, though it feels like not a lot of space to fully develop the characters. Sophie and her deceased best friend are the most developed and well-rounded, with Sophie flaws making her realistic and her hopes and motives making her someone to root for. There are some big themes that are perfectly developed and rare in YA fiction: love, friendship, coming out, drug addiction, etc. Recommended for readers of thrillers.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
At over 600 pages, this book took me a while to read, meaning I had to put off reading others on my list. But it was totally worth the time and effort. The narrator, a recently unemployed married man in Japan, is a bit of a downer in that he has zero ambition. However, as he goes searching for his wife, who leaves him for another man, the story gets more and more surreal. He is on a journey toward finding his identity in a world that is strange and unpredictable. This is a wonderful read for those who enjoy literary fiction, as well as some supernatural themes. Murakami is one of my favorite authors. I wish I could write like him.

Leverage by Nancy Thompson

I waited for Nancy Thompson’s sequel to her high-tension debut novel, The Mistaken, with a lot of excited anticipation. And it lived up to my expectations.

Leverage takes place a few years after where The Mistaken left off and follows Tyler, Hannah, and Hannah’s son Connor as evils from their past, which they thought had been long-buried, return with vengeance. Connor believes his college friend was pushed off his balcony to his death rather than having jumped, and then he falls in love his dead friend’s girlfriend. Tyler looks into the death of Connor’s friend to find that the Russian mafia folks he thought he’d dealt with a few years ago may be back for him. Tyler will do anything to protect his family from the rage and menace of the mafia, even if it means committing the one act he promised himself he’d never do again: murder.

Leverage has a high level of suspense, even more so than The Mistaken. The non-stop action makes it impossible to put down. The plot points are strung together will skill at a perfect pace, forming a cohesive story that is satisfying emotionally. Similarly, the characters have realistic emotions that are relevant to their situation and are superbly portrayed in the writing on every page. The only times where the characters’ reactions are a bit strange are when they have sex at relatively unrealistic times, like when they are in extreme danger. However, these scenes are written well and will have romance fans enjoying the story and these sensual scenes immensely. Nancy Thompson shows her skill in developing and conveying her characters’ emotional depth to great reader satisfaction in Leverage.

While all the protagonists are super attractive (which is sometimes hard to believe but definitely fits as a trope of the romance thriller genre), their personalities are what shine in the story. Tyler's flaws are real and scary, making him a very complex protagonist. His anger issues and secret-keeping are part of what makes this novel so emotionally engaging. Since his character is so well developed, I felt true frustration when he did something he thought was for the best but which definitely was not. Tyler's perspective makes sense based on his prior experience. He doesn't succumb as a character to being too good or bad to be true: he feels like a real person, and his personality is consistent throughout the book. Same goes for Hannah and Connor. It's because they are not perfect protagonists that they feel real and therefore emotionally compelling.

It's hard to tell if there could be a third book in the series, based on the book's ending. But no matter what happens, I will be eager to read the next book Nancy Thompson publishes!

You can find Nancy Thompson on her blog here, and on Twitter here.

A Summer of Flash Fiction

Due to the lack of me having an actual writing schedule, I have decided to do what I’m calling “A Summer of Flash Fiction” this June, July, and August. By writing a posting one short piece of flash fiction every single week for those three months (that is 14 pieces total), I hope to build a nice writing habit of getting at least 2000 words in each week. This will, theoretically, get me in the habit of writing daily, evolving into a steady writing schedule of at least 1000 words each day. Because I work full time and have just graduated from college, I have not had the time to write as often as I would like. So I’m making the time. Look forward to one short story every Sunday this summer. Your input on the writing is welcome, and you are also welcome to join and post your own short story every week this summer!


Books I Read This Month - April 2014

A Wounded Name by Dot Hutchinson
This retelling of Hamlet following Ophelia and taking place in a boarding school is written with gorgeously flowery prose. The pacing, setting, and literary style are perfect. The only problem I had with the book is quite a major problem, in that the young Hamlet is violent and abusive toward Ophelia, and Ophelia simply deals with it, making excuses about his behavior. Thematically, it could be that the book is saying this behavior is unacceptable, but it might have been too subtle. Highly recommended for the writing style, as long as readers keep this in mind.

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy
This is definitely not for the faint of heart. It’s written in the class McCarthy style, with the characters speaking in vernacular, and solidly “showing,” not even a hint of “telling.” This technique makes it for an interesting read because McCarthy withholds judgment against the disturbing behavior of the main character. Excellent, though with extremely mature content.

Rosehead by Ksenia Anske
Dark and creepy, suspenseful and mysterious, quirky and hilarious. A little slow sometimes and requires a little extra suspension of disbelief, but perfectly delectable for children and adults alike. Lilith makes for a strong, intelligent young heroine.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
I love this author. The story starts out a little odd, in a good way, and continues on to grow more and more supernatural, with a dreamlike tone. All of Murakami’s works that I have read are written in this same spectacular manner. This one follows a teenage boy and an older man whom both are suffering from mental and emotional disturbances. Fascinating and winding, and I was completely unable to put it down. Recommended highly, though beware that it is a bit weird. But good weird.

Books I Read This Month - March 2014

The Child in Time by Ian McEwan
A children's book writer struggles with the emotional downfall of his marriage after his three-year-old daughter is kidnapped in a supermarket. While the book is slow in parts, especially when it deals with the man's serving on a political board that makes policies concerning literacy in education, it goes really deep into his psyche and details how the loss of his daughter has affected all facets of his life. The themes of childhood innocence and the social construction of adult behavior pervade. It's a tough read sometimes, but worth it for those who are able to slog through. I still love Ian McEwan after this book. He's still my favorite author of all time, even though this isn't one of my favorites of his books.

The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann
Another book where a girl goes missing, and a writer is involved, but very different from The Child in Time. The missing girl here is teenage Milla who is nannying for two young girls for a summer. The parents, a writer and a chef, are having struggles in their marriage, and a few other members of the community receive narrative focus along with this family. This digs into the pain we feel when someone we know goes missing or dies, and how this pain can separate us from those around us. The writing is gorgeous.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
A nine-year-old boy who is rather naive moves with his family to a house outside a concentration camp, because his father is a highly-ranked officer of some kind stationed there to make decisions about the camp. The boy secretly walks along the fence one day and meets another nine-year-old boy, a Jew inside the camp. Their friendship builds the core of the story and is touching, especially when the main character's naivety shows through where the reader knows what's going on and he doesn't. The ending does not seem realistic to me at all, and neither does the extent of the main character's ignorance, even though he is only nine, but the message of the story is powerful enough to make up for the places where the book stretches the reader's suspension of disbelief.

Looking for Alaska by John Green
This book affected me more than I thought it would. In the aftermath of the book, I was quite sad for a day or two. I've read The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns by John Green, and this one made me cry nearly as much as TFIOS, even though the premise is completely different. This is a bit similar to Paper Towns, though I didn't like that one nearly as much. A socially awkward boy goes to a boarding school and falls in love with a wild, passionate, self-destructive girl who only loves him back as a friend. Her character is obviously selfish and a bit bitchy, but still, as a reader, I sympathized with her and empathized with Pudge, the narrator. Halfway through the book there is a twist that turns the narrative on its head and calls for some emotional reeling. I wish I had read this book a long time ago, when I was a teenager. But I'd still highly recommend it now.

The Emissary by Marc Pietrzykowski

Set in a nursing home where ex-worker Cam Wright often visits to record the residents telling vignettes from their life stories, The Emissary follows a handful of characters as they encounter death in numbers suspiciously higher than expected for the average nursing home.

Head nurse Carol Ann DeFazio is caring but a stickler for rules; nurse Angela Padilla is a kindhearted single mother and Cam's love interest; and several of the nursing home residents, such as Tom Kinney, Magoo, and Mrs. Treadwell, all have their odd quirks and sometimes mysterious personalities. All the characters in this novel are well-rounded and offer something unique and significant to the plot of the book, even when they are simply sitting there dictating an unusual tale to Cam's voice recorder. Cam is a protagonist to root for, a typical video-game-playing loser sort with artistic talent that could one day make him rich and happy. Angela is also a sympathetic character, as are her two daughters, and when she dies (poisoned by a plate of cookies) and Cam is arrested for her murder, the suspense goes through the roof.

The plot of The Emissary is original, quirky, and unique, putting fairly normal characters into a fairly normal setting but tossing in an odd motive for the sneaky, twisted serial murderer. At the start of the book, the plain setting and characters make the reading slow, but after a chapter or two, when the deaths begin and the characters start questioning some people and defending others, the murder mystery is what drives the story forward.

Thematically, The Emissary can be hard to pin down, but author Marc Pietrzykowski certainly had some thematic intent, as evident by his often literary writing style. The plot of the story is only the surface of the text; there is obviously something deeper behind the events in the book. Reading into the story is a bit tricky occasionally, though, with references to architecture, storytelling, and the desire for death appearing often but not very concretely. Not having the thematic intent so blatantly portrayed in the text is a nice move on Pietrzykowski's part, however, because it is easier for the reader to get something out of the book themselves rather than being told what the moral of the story is.

Pietrzykowski writes with wit and a dark sense of humor that is definitely this novel's strong suit. The way the pieces of the puzzle fall together (even though you'll definitely guess the murderer pretty much from the outset of the story), the interesting and funny characters, and the humorous writing style make this book very much worth reading. I reviewed Marc Pietrzykowski's previous novel, Music Box Dancer, a while back, and it has a similar writing style, evidence that this author has developed his own, unique voice.

Books I Read This Month - January 2014

I had a bit of time to read this month, but I'm not expecting that in the next few months, as I wrap up my university studies. Here are the first books I read in 2014!

Memoirs of an Imaginary Best Friend by Matthew Dicks

I really, really wanted to like this book. I had high expectations because of the fascinating premise—the story of the kidnapping of an autistic child told from the perspective of his imaginary friend—so perhaps that is why I didn't enjoy it as much I thought I would. The premise is brilliant, but the characters were not nearly fleshed out enough for my liking, even the imaginary narrator. The autistic boy hated a few things passionately, and he loved other things just as passionately, but he did not have much personality aside from his quirks. The imaginary friend and narrator was a bit one-sided for being a narrator, even if he was simply the product of a child's imagination. The writing is great, and the plot is amazing, and I will admit to getting teary-eyed at a few points, but I expected more depth from the characters. People who love suspense and stories with children as the main characters will enjoy this, though.

The Waves by Virginia Woolf

I've read one other work of Virginia Woolf's before, and I had the same opinion of it: a bit jumbly, lofty, and hard to understand. This is another book I really wanted to like, though I didn't feel cheated as I did with the previous novel, just a bit disappointed in myself rather than with the book, since I had a hard time following the plot. This book is told from the perspectives of six different people, told through their thoughts over the course of a couple years after they graduate high school. It is definitely eye-opening as to the experiments writers can succeed in when writing perspective, but it's hard to get something from it if you don't read slowly and closely. I tried, and I think I succeeded to an extent. Definitely recommended for writers.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

I read Karen Russell's short story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, recently and simply died of envy of her writing abilities. This novel, runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize last year, did not disappoint in the least, except for the ending was vague and did not wrap up the story very well. I feel like I need to say that as a warning to people who read it. You should definitely, definitely read it, especially if you are a writer, but just be warned that the ending drops off. Sorry if this is a spoiler, but I don't want you to have your expectations up and then be disappointed; I want you to love this novel too! It takes place in an alligator theme park in Florida, where a family lives on a remote island. When the mother and alligator wrestler dies of cancer, thirteen-year-old Ava (the narrator) hopes to follow in her mother's footsteps and save the park from financial ruin. Some pretty weird stuff goes on, such as Ava's older sister falling in love with a ghost and Ava being kidnapped, sort of, by a man who works with the birds on the island, and Karen Russell does a brilliant job of making the reader believe that these things are true and good, as the young characters believe. A child's perspective on life is significant to the story, and it is a coming-of-age story in this sense, as the bleakness of reality is slowly revealed to the reader over the course of the novel, as Ava slowly realizes it as well. The ending was a sad lead-in to adulthood for the siblings, but the journey there is mystical and well-wrought. Russell's writing is flowery, but only in the good ways.

St. Lucy's Home for Girl's Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

I simply had to read Karen Russell's other short story collection, and I loved it as much as the other one. She has a way of making the really out-there, fantasy-like plot lines and events seem normal, and by making the normal things seem strange. The stories are so original, and I have no idea how she could possibly come up with this stuff. Anyway, highly recommended.

In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell

This is another very lofty, high-attention-required novel, which I read mostly because the author is a professor at one of the MFA programs I have applied to for the fall, but I heard about the book before I heard about the program and thought it sounded interesting, just didn't get around to reading it until now. The narrator, a newly wed who moves with his wife to a secluded area in the woods where they build a small house near a lake, is extremely introspective. His wife suffers several miscarriages, which come to define the trajectory of their marriage. Some strange, dreamlike events which do not seem real in the least make this read more like an allegorical tale rather than an actual story, but, if this was the author intent, then he succeeded. The book is loaded with dualities: male/female, urban/rural, human/animal, land/water, young/old, parent/non-parent, forest/clearing ... I could go on. The writing style is quite experimental, not recommended for the light-of-heart, but worth a read if you are interested in different methods of storytelling and especially in symbolism and allegory.

The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan

Ah, Ian McEwan, one of my favorite writers of whom I have not (until now) read any of the earlier works. This, his first novel, has a good dose of weird and creepy, as four siblings deal with the death of both their parents without telling anyone they've died, so as to stay together and avoid the foster system. It's a bit gross, but engrossing, a bit awful, but awfully intriguing. Another one not recommended for the weak stomached, but it's a quick read for those who enjoy psychological books and the exploits of misbehaving children.

The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan

An unmarried couple goes on vacation to an Italian city and meets another mysterious couple, who introduces them to their odd sexual appetites. I found the voice of this novel to be the most engaging, and it inspired me to write a short story with a similar, suspenseful and psychological voice—though definitely not with a similar theme or premise. McEwan is odd, often labeled "macabre," which I suppose I didn't really understand until reading these two books, having only read some of his later, more mature works until now. This novel just as unsettling as The Cement Garden, but it has not put me off of Ian McEwan at all. I look forward to reading some of his other novels in the future.