“You’re so boring, pops. You only sit there and meditate.” The young man pounded his fist on a simple table, rattling a knife, bread, and cup of butter.
The elder took the knife and buttered a piece. “There are many ways to glory.”
He growled, pulled on his cloak, and left.
The young man returned to the chapel, this time much grayer. His hands were manicured, his wallet full, his clothes fine. He brushed his hand against the rough-hewn table.
He crushed the land’s deed in his hands. He’d sacrificed a quiet glory, but what for he couldn’t tell.
This was written for the Carrot Ranch’s most recent flash fiction challenge, “rethinks the hero.” One of my Sunday school lesson series (back in the before times) was on contemplative life and meditation, and there we talked about the criticism that being entirely contemplative kept one from helping the world or other people. At the same time, contemplation isn’t terribly valued in a pretty cataphatic society. I wanted to play on that here.
We’re on to 2021’s second indie book month – and it’s going to be exciting as we delve through some books with female leads!
What to do with Baby Ashes – Marnie Heenan
I’ve followed Heenan online for quite a while. She used to be active in the WordPress scene, but now I keep up with her on Twitter and gaze every so often at her website. You all know I’m not a mom and don’t plan to be, but I’ve kept up with Heenan enough to know that she’s really, really good at poetry, and this book is her first chapbook. I think my heart’s ready to get ripped out. Stick around for the emotion bath.
This summer, I read an anthology called From Ashes to Magic, and that contained one poem about the gods Life and Death that just blew me away. I chose to read Essence because it is told from the perspective of gods reminiscent of those in Greek myth, and I thought it could be as beautiful or interesting as the short I’d read this summer. However, I did note that it’s YA, so I’m not sure how that’s going to play out for me (just ok with YA).
Everyone loves Bhatal online. It’s honestly hard to find a sweeter person. And, what’s more, I completely decided to buy this book when she self-described it as “Chickpea Lit”. How cute is that? I’m a sucker for puns, and I’m always looking for books about non-English, non-American cultural norms, and this book seems to be it. What’s more, I trust Bhatal’s experience, interpretation, and craft enough that I’m sure it’ll fulfill my international needs.
Desire is merely emptiness lasting
long enough for a dire span of fasting
to fade the sweetness of last time's tasting,
leaving one breathless and for air gasping.
Sinister my void grows, hunger gnawing,
thirst enlarging despite ever drawing
from the well that promises restoring
water, but instead strengthens its calling.
I desire rich words like honey dripping.
To simple phrases my ears stay gripping
in hopes of cheers and compliment sipping,
but instead I fear connections slipping.
Desire is merely emptiness lasting
long enough for a dreadful breakfasting
to prove there's no use in truly tasting
meals best kept sealed in condition pristine.
This was written for no good reason. Just felt like it.
Good Lord, you people. Its March once more, and if you’ve learned anything from 2019 or 2020, it’s that you’re in for some Age of Jackson reading.
The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren – Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren was Jackson’s left hand man (because, despite the murder, bloodshed, etc., Jackson still somehow didn’t manage to do all his dirty work). Van Buren was a mischievous little twerp with a magnificent mind for dastardly deeds and political maneuvering. He was elected president in 1836.
And he wrote an autobiography.
Well, almost. He died before he finished it, so this is technically not an autobiography. Despite its girth, it’s so dreadfully incomplete that it wasn’t published until 58 years after his death. Still, if I am not faced with the most blatantly partisan book about a political figure that I’ve ever seen, I will be sorely disappointed. I’m looking for slanted opinions, lies, and alternative facts. GIVE ME THE CRAZY.
Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times – H.W. Brands
Last year I read the very popular American Lion by Meacham. H.W. Brands is another of those pop historians with a cult following, but I’ve not read from him before. Like American Lion, this is a single volume biography and I have no doubts that it will glance over so much stuff that it will disgust me. Even so, I think it will be interesting to see how well this matches up with Meacham’s work and what sorts of information Brands chooses to include.
But God, that title. He would have had to genuinely try in order to make a more boring title.
Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union – Robert V. Remini
Robert V. Remini is, without a doubt, my favorite Jackson historian. Common critiques of his work include being too chummy with his subjects, and I’ll be honest that this critique is perfectly valid. Even so, the man had sass, and he’s either very good at picking an editor or very good at editing himself. I’ve read six (almost seven now!) of his books, and they’ve never let me down.
But this? THIS?! How could he have betrayed me and Old Hickory by writing about Henry Clay, the blackleg and Judas of the West? Henry Clay, mortal enemy of Andrew Jackson, was not the sort of person I’d have expected Remini to write about. So, given that I already know Remini gets too into his subjects, I wonder how this staunch Jacksonian author will feel about Henry Clay in this work.
John Quincy Adams – Harlow Giles Unger
John Quincy Adams, affectionately known as “J-Qua” by me and my friends, is one of those obscure presidents (I think – he’s not obscure to me, so I’m just guessing). Recently, he’s been brought up for sharing two major traits with 45: he had one term and lost the popular vote. I’ve said before that the Election of 1824 was probably a good analogy for the Election of 2016, and by golly after 2020 rolled around I felt so stoked that I called it. Nailed it good, you guys. Or at least I think I did – don’t know what’s coming in 2024. Might have to update with some Grover Cleveland madness.
Anyway, J-Qua won the election against Andrew Jackson. Jackson blamed/hated him (and Henry Clay) for murdering his wife, Rachel. He was the son of John Adams of revolutionary and Alien and Sedition Act fame. This dude needs to be read about.
I’ve got a buttload of reviews for you this year. While all the slots for indie book reviews on this blog are taken this year, you can still submit to my review request page and maybe see something pop up on Goodreads and Amazon.
Whew – it was a doozy of a February! It looks like I was barely even online, going by my post schedule and how good (i.e. bad) a job I did at reading other people’s stuff. But that’s ok – I think I did more good by choosing the path I took this month.
It’s made me sit back and think, though: what are/were my goals for the blog? How is what I’m doing going to get me closer to those goals? Have my goals changed?
The short answer: my life goals have most definitely changed, and everything else has as a result.
The longer answer is more complex. Chief among the things behind all these changes is my depression has, in recent months, gotten significantly better. I am able to experience things and have my mind not instantly go to “well, life is basically over now.” I’m also not constantly afraid that I’m going to be fired, and thus I don’t feel like I have to get a book traditionally published as a backup career. I’ve never wanted to self-publish because then I’d have to spend time and effort being my own salesman, which I hate and am not good at. I’m not invested in blogging as a sales platform, and I’ve only done it when my short story contracts required some social media presence as part of my contract. And that’s fine. The career/monetary/advancement prospects of blogging have essentially evaporated.
Related to feeling less depressed, I have new reason to become more introspective for a while. It’s not bad stuff that’s happening, and neither is it good things coming to pass. It’s just real life things I need to meditate on, mull over, and think about. It’s things that I won’t be able to do by focusing on trying to make people like me – whether that be in real life or over the internet.
And, as much as I hate to admit it, I must let some things go, and it’ll be a while before I’m back on the blog at full speed.
So, new rules for my blog:
I’m not going to be reading as many posts. Most people’s posts are interesting and fun, and I’ll still try to peruse the WordPress reader and pick a few to read, but I’m going to turn off all my email notifications. I can’t follow anyone religiously anymore.
I encourage everyone to only read my posts if you’re actually interested. I’ve planned this year’s book review posts in advance (except June, which I may be changing), and all of those will be published on the blog and my Goodreads. I’ve also got many other posts planned in advance.
Except for those posts I’ve already pre-planned, I’m only going to write a post if I’m inspired to do so. No more forcing myself to respond to a prompt with the hopes to bait people to the blog. No more struggle to boost the stats.
I’ll respond as quickly as I can to comments, etc., but won’t work myself up over it.
In effect, these new “rules” will likely kill the blog. I assume I’ll start back up on full steam at some point, and I’ll potentially have to do so from almost scratch. I’m not worried, though, because there’s many times I’ve had to do something new. I don’t have a timeline for when I may pick up the blog again fully, and honestly it may end up being “never.”
Godspeed, my friends. Regardless how involved I am in your and your blog’s future, I hope I’ve improved a day or a moment for you in the past. You have almost certainly improved some of mine.
I love me a good plot twist. I love writing them, I love reading them – but they so often fall flat, and they’re hard to get right. What makes a twist good? How do you stick ’em in there?
Well, I think I’m pretty good at twists, so I’m here to help you out.
Fair Warning: Major spoilers for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Star Wars, and The Kite Runner are present in this post.
4. Know What a Twist Is
Normal development includes elements of discovery, addition of information, mystery solving, relationship building, and (in some books) fights. A twist is where some additional, unexpected (more on this later) complication arises. For example: losing a fight isn’t a twist. People, even the good guys, lose fights all the time. But losing a fight to a guy who suddenly reveals he’s your father? That’s a twist.
That twist, the famous one where Luke discovers Darth Vader is his father, is epic. Honestly, it’s the best twist in the Star Wars film series as it changes the entire dynamic. There’s not enough build to it for my tastes, but the fact that it’s an unexpected addition to the plot and forces a massive change in the characters’ outlook is what makes it a twist.
If you think you’ve inserted a twist, ask your beta readers what they thought of the twist. If they don’t know or if they say it’s not a twist, think about how you can either change it to make it better or if you shouldn’t think of it as a twist in the first place.
3. Placement of Twist(s)
Where your twist goes in the story is important to get the biggest effect. Every story follows a certain format wherein you build tension during the large portion of the book then end it after the final part of the conflict. You’ve probably seen one of these plot diagrams before.
A common place to put the twist is right before or during the climax. When the twist is finally revealed, the tension and stakes are at their highest. The twist might also give the characters the last piece of information they need to complete their goals (though, as we’ll see later, this needs to be done carefully).
Though the diagram above is simple, you can also imagine multiple, smaller rises and falls of tension during the conflict period on the plot. A twist can be placed before one of these mini-climaxes in order to show just how difficult the characters’ journeys will be. It can add a new player to the game, turn an ally into an enemy, or add an element of social anxiety.
Twists should never be in the exposition – they aren’t twists there, just explanations. A twist in the falling action or conclusion might feel like a cop-out, or it will feel like difficulty for no reason. For example: at the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the hobbits return to The Shire and there’s a problem with Saruman/Sharkey screwing it up. It’s a twist and just one more problem that wasn’t necessary for plot (but is 100%, absolutely necessary for theme and allegory, so I don’t knock the decision). Without that thematic importance, the little addition is just like, “What the h*ll? We just killed the guy who threatened the entire world, and here’s this little sh*t screwing around for nothing?”
A twist is, in a way, a betrayal of the reader’s trust in your narrator. Even an unreliable narrator must provide enough information for the world and setup to make sense. When executing a twist, something has been held back from the reader, or perhaps lies were fed to them, in order for the twist to be surprising. Twists expend trust, and every time it’s expended, it’s harder to get it back.
For a short, I’d have one twist (two if they are synergistic). You don’t have enough space to build trust or information after a second twist. Novellas can handle a little more, but not much. Novels, in my opinion, can handle up to one per minor climax, but that still can be tricky.
1. Unexpected, Yet Obvious
The Darth Vader twist was great in that it changed the entire dynamic of the story. It wasn’t great, however, in that it didn’t feel like there was any build to it. Once revealed, you couldn’t look back at the prior movie or the first half of Empire Strikes Back and be able to tell that Vader was the dad. It’s greatness in film history has more to do with the cultural impact of the moment and the movie than it does on the quality of the twist itself.
A better twist would have been built if Lucas had danced a fine line of information that pointed toward the parentage but did not reveal the secret outright.
Now, a great plot twist build: in Kite Runner, Khaled Hossini builds the relationship between Hassan and main character Amir’s was done so well. Throughout the book, Amir’s father wishes Hassan had come with them to America. He pays for Hassan’s cleft palate surgery, and he forgives Hassan when Amir frames him as a thief. When it is revealed that Hassan’s father, Ali, is sterile, there’s enough information that the reader automatically knows what’s coming next: Hassan and Amir are half brothers, biologically. Though I was just “meh” about the book as a whole, the twist was bang on.
Though building information that leads to the culmination of a twist can create the most satisfying reader situation possible, it also runs a major risk: readers could be able to figure out the twist long before it happens. This is ok if you’re going for dramatic irony, but if not, providing information in a different way could be better. Some ways you could funnel the information differently:
Try a more limited narrator scope. If you’re in third person omniscient, try first person. You’ll feed information to the reader differently since the character you’re speaking through may not be aware of every element of the conflict.
Toy with how blatant a clue is or how often you repeat it. I’ve found that it’s best to be very blunt about my clues, but only do it once. If you’re too repetitive, the clue can be too much of a hint. If you don’t speak about it clearly enough, a reader won’t remember the clue when it comes time for the reveal.
Time your clues appropriately. You can give a big clue early if it seems disconnected, then build back around so that clue comes back into play. By that time, the event will have faded some in the reader’s memory, and you’ll be able to help the reader sew together the clues to form the twist.
Read mystery novels! Mysteries are almost always twist-oriented, since otherwise there’s no real payoff for reading them.
Do you like plot twists? Do you have a book you’ve written that’s got a great twist and want to share information in the comments? DO IT!
(Beware – sometimes WordPress eats link-containing comments as spam, so you might want to just provide the name if you’re new to the blog!)
Despite my deep love of political history, I’ve not read any political treatises! Woe, woe is me! This month is intended to fix that gap in my knowledge.
As you may also know, the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic is starting this month! Be prepared at ANY MOMENT for a Sue Vincent book review!
Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand’s philosophy of “objectivism” is one of the most important political philosophies in modern (mostly American) politics. Libertarians, especially, can point to a lot of her writing as essential. She’s cited by famous people such as Mark Cuban, Ben Shapiro, and both Pauls (Ron and Rand). Objectivism states itself to be entirely logical, which makes it really hard to argue against because believers can just claim you illogical to argue against them.
But what really is objectivism, and how did Rand develop it? That’s what this dive into a horrifyingly long book is going to be about. At least there’s supposed to be a fiction element surrounding the political!
The Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
What better way to follow up a libertarian, capitalist behemoth than by reading the Communist Manifesto? Partially chosen because Atlas Shrugged is so long that I worry about getting everything done in the timeframe I’ve planned for myself, the Manifesto is short and entirely focused on talking about… well, communism. At risk of getting myself put on some sort of list, I’m reading this and hoping to learn more about the world in which we live.
The Prince – Niccolo Macchiavelli
The Prince is the 16th-century political treatise on how to be a dangerous mofo and unify Italy. Most kids learn in high-school about this how-to manual for dictators and evil monarchs, but I happen to question the modern applicability of a book written so long ago. Nonetheless, important books such as these are essential to understanding our world, times, and culture.
Do you have a suggestion? Comments? I’m currently filled up for my review slots on the blog this year, but you can always submit a request for potential reviews on Goodreads and Amazon!
A mouse snuffles through A bag of bread crumbs. It seeks grain to chew And sate its hunger. What does my stomach Crave to digest and Break down? I covet Some form of rapture, Like dogs with a bone Or birds with a worm. With this ache grown To its final form, I turn deep inside. Will I starve before I forsake my pride? Of course not. I cling, tenacious, To my misery.
What goes better with poetry than a touch of depression and faking it ’til you make it?
Maybe some cake. Or things that will happen in about 4.5 hours following this post.
Either way, this was written for Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Prompt #192, Tenacious. You should all just be thankful I resisted the urge to write about Tenacious D. Also I didn’t know what picture to choose, so I just slapped some nonsense I liked on there.
Welcome to a brand new year! We’re starting off the year with a sci-fi indie book month. If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can also check out my 2021 TBR on my Review Archive page.
Steel Reign: The Flight of the Starship Concord – Braxton A. Cosby
This book actually came from a reading suggestion/request on Twitter. Not going to lie, space operas are one of my jams, so I totally bit into the premise of this action adventure. The main character is a mercenary with an epic resume, and it screams action. Though I bought the book when it was relatively new, it has since become quite popular on Amazon and sold very well in the sci-fi category. I’m excited to see what happens! Amazon Link
Our Dried Voices – Greg Hickey
This book came up on my review request page! It’s another sci-fi, but this time in what seems to be a dystopian future. The book seems like it will be similar to or have inspirations from Wells’s Time Machine or other classic sci-fi, and I’m excited to see how the author puts a new twist on these old elements.
Another book that popped up on my review request page, Dust & Lightning is the final sci-fi read of this month. Another space opera, this one promises action as well as a side-romance. The author’s style seems very different from that of Cosby above, so I’m looking forward to checking out another way to do one of my favorite genres.
Toward the end of last year, I started getting a lot more review requests from my review request page. Unfortunately, the spots on my blog for review requests this year are already taken (wow!), so I’m actually going to be a bit more selective as to which books I read and especially picky as to which get a blog post. I regret having to make this decision because one of my favorite books last year came from a request I was skeptical of!
“And I gave the other trophy to that giant spider all over the news.” The interrogator laughed and picked up her cans once more. “I fucking ended the Chimera war. I watched Dr. Kim die. I fucking found the American Chimera who, through no fault of her own, was always destined to throw the planet into chaos, destruction, and doom. And you, you pathetic little worm, think you can make me pay for this miserable canned food?”
The woman shook her head.
“You want to know the worst part?” She tucked the pack of cans under her arm. “I’ve had genetic testing since they cut me up. I didn’t inherit the gene.”
The interrogator took her food out of the warehouse and left.