Personal, Update

MFA Update and 5 Writing Tips

I just finished my sixth quarter at Lindenwood University. For those of you who don’t know, I’m working on an MFA in writing fiction. I can’t believe I only have two quarters left! If everything goes according to plan, I will be finished in March 2018.

Overall, my experiencing in the MFA program has been very positive. I think that I’ve grown so much as a writer, so I wanted to share some things with aspiring writers. Here are my five top tips for writers:

  1. Discipline is so important. It doesn’t matter that you have millions of great ideas if you never get them down on paper. It is a great idea to come up with a writing routine so that you get in the habit of writing every single day.
  2. Editing is crucial. No one’s first draft is perfect. Yes, publishers provide editors if they decide to take on your project, but it’s important to do your best so that you can even get to that point. Make sure you’ve done all you can to make your project the best before you send it out.
  3. Feedback is so helpful. You can’t objectively analyze your own writing. You just can’t. It’s so important to have a beta reader you can trust that will provide you with honest feedback of what isn’t working in your project.
  4. Rejection is unavoidable. Whether your peers hate your story in workshop or several publishers say no to you, every writer will face rejection at some point. In fact, rejection is going to happen a lot more than acceptance. If you want to be a successful writer, you’ve got to develop a thick skin. Don’t let rejection get you down. Let it inspire you to become a better writer.
  5. Conventions exist for a reason. Sure, rules can be broken, but most publishers won’t take a chance on something too experimental. There’s a reason that children’s books are shorter than adult books – children don’t have a long attention span. There’s a reason that most novels aren’t written in second person – it’s hard to sustain for longer projects. Have you noticed that most horror movies are exactly 90 minutes long? It’s difficult to create suspense and have escalating tension for much longer than that. Learn why the conventions exist in each genre before trying to break the rules.

I hope that these suggestions can be helpful to anyone reading this blog who is considering becoming a writer or sending things out to publishers. Writing can be discouraging – only about 4% of writers can live off what they make from their writing – but it’s also very rewarding to see your name in print. Honestly, I think that the process of writing is so enjoyable that it makes up for all the rejection and poor pay. Still, if you want to pursue writing, make sure you’re doing it because you love it and not because you think it will make you rich.

Thanks for reading!

-Tiffany

Book Review

Book Review: The Girl With All the Gifts 

It’s nearly autumn! That means we’re getting closer and closer to Halloween: my second favorite holiday. I’ve already decorated my apartment and purchased both of my Halloween costumes! Since I’m already in the holiday spirit, I’ve decided to review a horror novel for this week. So, today we’ll be discussing The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey.

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As far as horror goes, this one is more suspenseful than scary. It deals with the aftermath of an apocalyptic event that has caused much of earth’s population to either die or become zombies. There are still some humans left, and they are desperately researching the zombies, trying to learn more and find a way to immunize against this plague. As a disclaimer, I really hate zombies and typically don’t find them interesting, but I wanted to challenge myself to read this book and I’m very glad I did. I won’t go into too much detail about the origins of these particular zombies, but I will say that I found the explanation to be a really interesting take on the zombie genre.

Overall, this is a study on what it truly means to be human. There are two types of zombies here: the mindless ones who destroy without thought and the hungry ones who can speak and learn and rationalize who and what they are. I found this to be much more interesting than the traditional type of zombie. Of course, as the human characters are thrown into the mix, the label of monster becomes relative. Who is the true monster here? What defines a person? These are concepts brought up in this novel that are very interesting to ponder.

I would definitely recommend this book to horror fans who don’t need a ton of action or gore to stay interested. This one is definitely more character focused, so it might appeal to non-horror fans as well. It was a slower paced book, but it still felt like a fast read because I was so engrossed in this world. This is the first book I’ve read by this author, and I’d definitely be happy to pick up another.

Book Review

Cozy Corner: Booktown Mysteries 

Welcome to another edition of Cozy Corner. As fall approaches, I am really getting into the mood for more lighthearted books, especially ones with great settings and puzzles to solve. I think one of the reasons that I love cozy mysteries is that they often are more focused on solving a puzzle than action and suspense. One series I’ve been really enjoying recently are the Booktown Mysteries by Lorna Barrett.

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These are charming books (for the most part – book 3 gets a little preachy). They take place in an idyllic little New England in town filled with genre-specific bookstores. Tricia Miles, the owner of the mystery-themed book store, stumbles upon dead bodies and uses her intuition and all she’s learned from her beloved books to crack the cases. She is a straight-laced person who I can really relate to. Her sister Angelica is her opposite but I really like her character too. The dynamic between the two sisters can be both heartwarming and humorous at times, and even their occasional friction is entertaining.

There are some great side characters too. I love Grace and Frannie especially. They add more entertainment and are very distinctive. I even really enjoy Tricia’s sparring with Sheriff Adams. I will admit though that I loathe the character of Ginny whose whining wears thin. I’ve been listening to these audiobooks and I find myself tuning out during her scenes, but overall there’s a great cast of characters here.

The setting of these stories is wonderful. It’s a cozy New England town that kind of reminds me of Cabot Cove. This is a place that would absolutely love to visit! I love cozies that take place in New England because I would love to live in New England (specifically Boston area) if I wasn’t such a wimp in winter.

The mysteries themselves are very well-plotted, especially for a cozy. There are lots of clues interspersed everywhere and it’s fun to try to figure out who committed the murders. In a lot of cozies, readers kind of bumble along and enjoy the ride while the amateur sleuth unbelievably uncover the murderer’s identity by happenstance, but these are very well-conceived puzzles.

If you’re looking for a new cozy series, I highly recommend this one!

 

Book Review

Book Review: A Secret History of Witches 

Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I think growing up with the Harry Potter series made it so that I love things with a bit of magic in my fiction. I love secret castles or witches or fairies or anything like that. So, I was excited to be able to read an advanced copy of A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan.

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This book was much different than I expected. It was a lot less fantastical than I had hoped, but it was still fantastic. This book explored a whole family of female witches and has different sections that focus on specific women. It is much more of a character study than a work of fantasy, but it was very thought-provoking and well-written.

I don’t want to give too much away of the plot, but I did love that there is a theme of magic always coming with a price. In this book, actions definitely have consequences. These witches are very complicated and much different from one another. That was one of the best things about the book – each character felt very fleshed out and unique. Also, even the characters that were unlikable were still engaging because I wanted to understand them. Overall, this was a great character-driven book that focused on many domestic issues. I would absolutely recommend it to people who like slower-moving character-driven books. There’s a lot of great stuff in here to think about when it comes to the human psyche. However, if you’re looking for a quick, exciting, magical romp – this one probably isn’t for you.

 

Book Review

Cozy Corner: Agatha Raisin by M.C. Beaton

It’s time again for another installment of Cozy Corner! This time, I am recommending the fabulous Agatha Raisin series by M.C. Beaton. This series is set in the English Cotswolds where retired PR guru Agatha Raisin is struggling to enjoy her retirement and winds up becoming an amateur sleuth and solving lots of village murders.

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This series is one of my favorite guilty pleasures, and I’ve been listening to a lot of the audiobooks recently (read by Penelope Keith who does an amazing job). I love Agatha as a protagonist. She’s endearing but very flawed which makes her both funny and relatable. Agatha can be petty, vain, and jealous, but she also has a big heart and a lot of wit. I love following her and the cast of side characters (especially Bill Wong and Toni Gilmour).

The mysteries themselves are not always the coziest, especially in the later books. While I would absolutely classify this series as a cozy series, there is occasional foul language, reference to sex, and some of the deaths are described in grisly detail. That being said, there’s still a light, whimsical tone in the books and Agatha is an amateur detective. These are two big parts of traditional cozies.

There is a companion television series that recently came out in the US, and it was just as fun as the books! I think I’ve seen every episode three times already, which is kind of insane actually. So far, only one season has aired, but I desperately hope that they make a second season. Agatha is played wonderfully by Ashley Jensen, who was the seamstress sidekick in Ugly Betty.

Some cozy series can be read in any order, but I would highly recommend these being read in the order they were published. While Agatha never seems to age, the drama of her personal life is complicated and will make more sense if the books are read in order. If you’re looking for something British and cozy and funny, I definitely recommend this book series and the TV show!

Book Review

Book Review: Libriomancer 

I’m not a huge science fiction/fantasy fan, but every so often I get in the mood for something other worldly! I decided to pick up Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines because I really enjoyed his Princess Series (a retelling of some classic fairy tales). I was so impressed by this book, and I can’t wait to read more in the series! It was incredibly unique and fast-paced.

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Libriomancer is jam-packed with action and adventure, and it really sucked me in from the very beginning. I would classify this book as magical realism because it takes place in our world, but there are definite elements of magic. I loved the way that magic was set up in this book – certain types of magicians called Libriomancers can literally pull out items from books and use them. (Just think of how cool it would be to pull out the sorcerer’s stone from Harry Potter!) The structure of the magical world in Libriomancer was well-defined and developed: there is a secret society that governs how magic can be used (led by Gutenberg himself – who has gone missing). There are also vampires and nymphs and spiders that emit fire. A LOT happens here, but it all really works and was so entertaining.

The main character, Isaac Vainio, is a disgraced libriomancer who now catalogs  magical tomes as a librarian instead of practicing magic. However, when a band of rogue vampires get him entangled in the mystery of where Gutenberg has gone, he must face his past and rediscover the magic within. He’s a great main character with many complexities. I enjoyed his personal, internal journey as well as the vivid, exciting plot. I would highly recommend this book to someone who loves magical elements and is looking for something plot-driven!

 

Book Review

Book Review: Come Sundown by Nora Roberts

I’ve recently been trying to expand the types of books I read. As part of this experiment, I decided to try some Nora Roberts books. I had always avoided her books because I don’t love books with lots of romance, but I ended up really liking several of her books because there are elements of other genres too. Her latest book, Come Sundown, is a novel of romantic suspense, and I really enjoyed it!

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This novel takes place on a ranch in Montana, where a woman named Alice disappeared years ago. She is assumed to have run away, but when she suddenly shows up in a disheveled state, they realize that she’s been held captive somewhere nearby for all these years. There’s a mystery here as they try to figure out who is responsible, but there’s also a lot of internal conflict as Alice has to try to cope with what has happened to her, and her family has to readjust to her sudden reappearance as well as the fear that this could happen again if they don’t find the man responsible.

I really enjoyed reading this book, although it was hard to read in some parts because of the captivity subject matter. I definitely thought this was one of Nora Robert’s darker books. There are elements of romance for some of the characters, but they definitely take a back seat to Alice’s story and journey. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who enjoys romantic suspense, and for anyone who enjoyed the book Room by Emma Donoghue (which has similar subject matter).