Book Review: Look Up!

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lookup-ccIn a fast-paced world that often makes us forget our humanity, we need to be reminded that life is more than work and paying the bills. Life is about breathing and soaking in the magic that comes with being alive. Jennifer A. Payne’s book, Look Up! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness, offers both an exploration and reminder of how nature can save us from ourselves.

A simple walk through the woods is all it takes. Payne’s meditative journey begins on a wooded path surrounded by trees and with a question, “And how have I missed this before?” The wind through the trees and the crunch of leaves beneath her feet suddenly became the missing pieces she craved.

Look Up! is unique in that it combines quotations from the likes of Emily Dickinson and Henry David Thoreau with spiritual thinkers such as the Dalai Lama and Krishnamurti. In between lines of poetry and philosophical ponderings are Payne’s personal essays that explore her meditative journey to reconnect with nature and ultimately herself. Her candor and wit makes her personal journey relatable and universal to anyone who feels overwhelmed by the pressures of modern life.

Payne’s use of diverse perspectives serves as a reminder that meditation isn’t a one size fits all kind of thing. For some achieving total mental stillness is a possibility, but for others the mind never stops ticking. In one of her personal essays, Payne puts out the idea that a constantly ticking brain isn’t necessarily a bad thing in terms of meditation.

Meditation is all about slowing down and redirecting all of our energy towards something that isn’t a to-do list. If we take the time to slow down and simply be, we might just learn something. Dragonflies and even a mushroom can carry a valuable lesson that is worth seeking and contemplating.

In addition to carefully selected quotations and essays, Look Up! includes beautiful photographs of Payne’s interactions with wildlife. Everything from raindrops on water to slithering snakes to autumn leaves elevates this little book into something very special. It truly invites the reader to take a personal journey. Whether it’s on an actual trail or vicariously through the pages, the meditative path is one worth pursuing.

I read Look Up! in three sittings, but I highly recommend treating it as a daily, weekly, or monthly devotional. It’s divided into months and seasons reminding us all that a journey takes time and patience.

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Click on the image to purchase Look Up! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness

Visit Jennifer A. Payne via her blog: Random Acts of Writing [+art]

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c.b.w. 2014

The Genre Game

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It turns out the hardest part of writing a query isn’t trying to fashion a snapshot synopsis, (although that is definitely not an easy task). The hard part comes in the “logistical” paragraph. Right after the title and word count, agents want to know what genre fits your novel. That’s a toughie for those of us who write something that doesn’t exactly fit into a precise pigeonhole.

The genre section of my query letter is a sentence with a blank space until I figure out what genre best describes my novel. I have a few choices that include sub-genres of YA: fantasy, paranormal, romance, urban fantasy, magical realism or a combination of two or more.

I decided the best place to start my research was at my neighborhood bookstores. The Young Adult section is divided into Fiction, Fantasy, Fantasy & Adventure, Romance, and Paranormal. I looked at various books on each shelf to find anything that had any sort of reference to Greek mythology or re-imagined myth. One bookstore had those books shelved under Fantasy, but another had them shelved under Paranormal. Yet another, had them shelved under Romance. Clearly, there is dissension among the ranks.

Now even more confused than I was at the start, I went online and researched general definitions for fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal and magical realism. These are the four genres I feel have the strongest relationship to my work, but after researching them I’ve discovered the line dividing them is much thinner than I previously thought.

Fantasy: commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as primary plot element, theme or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic and magical creatures are common.

Urban Fantasy: sub-genre of fantasy defined by place; the fantastic narrative has an urban setting. Many urban fantasies are set in contemporary times and contain supernatural elements. However, the stories can take place in historical, modern, or futuristic periods, and the settings may include fictional elements. The prerequisite is that they must be primarily set in a city.

Paranormal: encompasses elements of the paranormal, such as ghosts, vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, and any sort of magical or otherworldly creatures. This type of fiction often goes beyond fact and logical explanations to speculate about the things that cannot be seen or proven.

Magical Realism: magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment. Magical realism portrays fantastical events in an otherwise realistic tone. It brings fables, folk tales, and myths into contemporary social relevance.

Hmmmmmm. A story about a girl who falls in love with a male muse could easily fit into both fantasy and magical realism. Plus, the fact that the bulk of the story takes place in a modern city gives urban fantasy a point as well. Heck, we can even give YA Romance a point! The only one I think I can safely eliminate is paranormal because it seems a little darker in subject matter. Muses aren’t remotely scary like a vampire or werewolf.

The Muse takes place in the real world for the most part, but also in a fantastical world towards the end. It includes human characters and magical beings. And mythology is re-imagined and ushered into the modern era. I’ve got fantasy on one hand and magical realism in the other. Can it be both??

Why all the fuss about genre? Agents are pretty picky about they want to see in their inbox. If I don’t label my novel correctly, it could end up in the slush pile without a single look.

What’s a writer to do?

I have no idea.

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c.b.w. 2014

Genre Information courtesy of Wikipedia and http://www.wisegeek.com

Scribble Diary: Storage

Scribble Diary, September 5, 2014
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This week’s Scribble Diary seemed to be all about different ways I store the things I care about or wish I could let go. It’s amazing how one day can reveal so much about life as a whole when I consider how I package my feelings, apprehensions, and physical objects.

Wake-up call:

My day always starts before the sun rises. I wake up at 5:20 a.m. just about every day whether I want to or not. Sleep has never come easy to me and mornings are my favorite time of the day. That combination leads to an early start!

Saving up for:

I’ve always been a penny pincher, so this prompt was pretty easy for me. Aside from saving for a rainy day, I’m always looking to add to my yarn stash or my bookshelf.

With two elderly dogs, it’s only logical to keep a little money stashed for unexpected medical issues. While my boys are doing very well at the moment, I am constantly aware of how that could change in an instant.

After three years of minimal traveling, I’m starting to feel the itch to explore new places. I have my eye on Seattle and Amsterdam in the coming year. Even though I’m confident about finding a great deal, I’m still stashing some cash for what I hope are two memorable trips.

On a side note, this little doodle reminded me of the three containers I use to save spare change. Perhaps, it’s about time I took those to the bank!

Something(s) I can’t let go of yet:

This prompt took the longest for me to complete as I had just gone through pretty rough day. So many things were beyond my control and I was left feeling incredibly helpless and frustrated. If anything, this prompt arrived right on cue, but I had to sort through myriad emotions to get to the core of why I was feeling so frustrated.

After some contemplation I came up with two things that are always inside my little cage. When it comes to my job, I am always worried about getting called into the principal’s office. Regardless, of how well I do my job, there is always that fear that I’ve unwittingly broken a big rule because of my unorthodox methods. I’m usually very cognizant of what I can and cannot do, but school policies are constantly changing and not always well communicated. On this particular day, I was called into the principal’s office because they thought I was involved in something. It turns out I had nothing to do with it, but this little visit woke up my old fears.

When it comes to everything else in my life, I can’t let go of my perfectionist tendencies. I know perfection is impossible, but that doesn’t stop me from striving for perfectly straight lines, perfect stitches, or perfect writing. While I’ve gotten better about my nitpicking ways, the bars on this particular cage are still pretty rigid.

In my belly right now:

Perhaps this is the place where my perfectionism is at a standstill. After reviewing what I ate that day, I am astounded at the crap I managed to eat in such a short period of time. It’s like my stomach became a storage unit for junk food. For the record, I ate a much healthier array of food over the next week, (including grains, vegetables, and fruit).

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What storage containers are in your life?

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c.b.w. 2014

 

Scribble Diary: A Long Day

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Scribble Diary, August 30, 2014

It’s been a while since I picked up my Scribble Diary, but I spotted it on my shelf a few nights ago and couldn’t help but scribble an entry.

Sidebar:

I jumped into this entry after a long day of seemingly endless errands. That’s how a three day weekend goes sometimes! It was late at night, so I set the scale at the bottom of the page at “letting go” as I was in the process of letting the day go before heading up to bed.

The potion most needed now:

I spent most of the day worrying about one of my cats. She had a very pronounced limp and at her ripe old age of 14 this was very concerning. How nice it would be to have a potion to put an end to her limp and her pain. Thankfully, that awful limp was gone by the next day. Heeeey, maybe the potion worked!

If these walls could talk:

With my bookshelf in view, I could just hear it complaining about the rows of bookshelves bolted to it’s support beams. And I just keep bringing more books home. Poor wall.

Made a start today:

Every day off starts with a morning of knitting. I made some great headway on the reboot of the Box Pleat Scoopneck using my beautiful new yarn from Knit Picks. So far, I am so happy with the results.

For some reason, my old hobby of Barbie collecting has been rekindled. I spent some of the day reorganizing my display and reacquainting myself with some of the dolls I forgot I had. Some have spent so much time in the back, it was like we’d never met!

Brought this home with me:

What’s a day off without a trip to Target? I ran out of a bunch of random necessities all at once, only a few of which would fit in the little basket on this page. I went with including the easiest items to draw! Oh, and the cookies are long gone.

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c.b.w. 2014

The Flashback Conundrum

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As I embark on writing the sequel to The Muse, I find myself in the middle of an artistic quandary. Writing a series is tricky business, particularly when it comes to reminding the reader what happened in the previous book(s) in a subtle, yet effective way. It’s all too easy to alienate readers with overwhelming reminders or lose them by providing little or no details to jog the memory.

Having read multiple Young Adult series books, I’ve taken note of how each author handles the  “flashback conundrum.” The methods vary greatly from series to series, which makes me seriously question how I should handle the flashback conundrum that inevitably plagues every series.  Ultimately, it comes down to how much an author trusts the reader. In the YA genre, we are dealing with a generation with short attention spans, but also fangirl mentalities that forget nothing. It’s a paradox with no simple solution!

The methodology of crafting a series flashback seems to break down into four categories:

Snapshot Flashback

This method involves inserting nuggets of information within the first few chapters or the entire sequel in small doses. Flashback details are carefully chosen and strategically placed to keep the reader apprised of necessary information without detracting from the story as it pushes forward.

Best example: Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga

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Prologue Flashback

Some authors choose to remind readers of key storyline details by crafting a prologue that directly states prior events or utilizes a similar story layout or literary technique to pull the reader back into the world that was created in previous volumes. In a sense, it works like a mnemonic device to trigger the memory.

Best example: Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush Saga

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Information Dump Flashback

This style of flashback tends to be unpopular, but unfortunately it still pops up in a number of series. The author essentially dumps large blocks of information either at the beginning of the sequel or in chunks throughout the installment. Most readers find this annoying and very distracting. I’d have to agree.

Best example: Luckily, I haven’t come across the information dump in recent YA reads, but it is very present in just about every Dan Brown book involving Robert Langdon since The Da Vinci Code. The Lost Symbol is the worst offender.

Invisible Flashback

There are a number of YA authors that implicitly trust their readers to remember every detail, look it up on wikipedia, or take the time to comb through the previous books. Little or no references to previous novels are included as readers are just expected to know everything.

Best example: Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices Series

Cassandra Clare Books The Mortal Instrumenst The Infernal Devices

Authors of all genres have grappled with the flashback conundrum as there are undoubtedly far more than four methods. Still, the question remains which method is the  most effective and least annoying to readers? There is no easy answer as readers are as diverse as the books they read.

To all readers and writers out there, I put the question in your hands …

 

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c.b.w. 2014