Writers on Writing: Anne Rice

Well readers, it’s almost Thursday. Two days stand between us and the weekend. To help you pull through it, I’ve decided to discuss a rather encouraging quote on writing by beloved Gothic and supernatural.paranormal writer Anne Rice.

Image retrieved from Anne Rice’s Facebook page

For those who don’t know, Anne Rice is a popular author best known for The Vampire Chronicles and the iconic Lestat, known lovingly by fans as the “Brat Prince.” She also wrote The Witching Hour and other books about the Mayfair Witches, The Wolf Gift Chronicles, the Sleeping Beauty erotica series, and Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, on which the 2016 film The Young Messiah is based.

I hate to admit this but I have yet to read any of Rice’s books. I know, I know, how can I be a fan of the supernatural/paranormal and Gothic genres in this day and age if I haven’t read The Vampire Chronicles? I could defend myself by saying that I’ve seen both Interview with a Vampire and The Queen of the Damned but I know as well as every other reader or writer that the movies can never hold a candle to the books. I plan to read and review Memnoch the Devil before the summer is over, and my mother is a huge Anne Rice fan.

I do, however, follow Rice on social media for the interesting news articles she posts and her invaluable advice on writing and succeeding in the publishing industry.

I decided to focus on the following quote, advice which she has posted many times and re-posted on her Facebook page the other day:

In your writing, go where the pain is; go where the excitement is. Believe in your own original approach, voice, characters, story. Ignore the critics. Have nerve. Be stubborn.

–Anne Rice

We all know that, at its core, writing is an act of courage. Writers dig deep into their psyche, their emotions, and harness that raw power to create something that, hopefully, someone will want to read. All writers put a chunk of their souls into their work, no matter the subject matter or genre. That’s how all creative types do, whether they’re writers, painters, architects, or even scientists. That’s why we take negative feedback so personally.

It takes courage to experiment in writing and to continue writing what you love. Step too far outside the box and the work will be pushed aside, sometimes ridiculed. Stay too far inside the box and the work will be ignored and labelled “cliché.” If readers have become accustomed to you writing in one genre, stepping outside of it may alienate them (which is why some writers opt to use pen names). If you stick with your preferred genre too long, you’ll be called a one-trick pony and forever associated with that genre, for better or for worse.

People will judge you so long as you’re brave enough to put your work out there.

This Vampire Queen knows very well how to go where the pain is and come back out alive and healing.

Image retrieved from Anne Rice’s Wikipedia entry

That’s why Rice’s words are so potent. Writers must dig deep and go where they have the most passion, whether that passion be pain or pleasure. I know from personal experience that it’s hard–I often freeze up at the thought of going into the more…passionate areas of my psyche–but the effort pays off.

More importantly, writers have to let themselves use that passion without worrying what others will think. That first draft is for you alone. Tap into the pain, pleasure, depression, anger, and excitement and let it lead you where it may. After that, rewrite it into something you would want to read. You will want to keep an audience in mind but don’t censor yourself because you’re worried that some critics will throw their two cents in. Remember, some of the biggest literary classics started as failures during their first run.

With that thought in mind, I release you to your writing endeavors. Just remember the key theme of this blog as you move forward: write for yourself first.

Thoughts? Questions? Suggestions for future “Writers on Writing”? Drop a line in the comments, and don’t forget to follow our new Facebook page.

 

Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Official Writer’s Scrap Bin Facebook Page

I am happy to announce that I have created an official Facebook page for The Writer’s Scrap Bin. It’s pretty sparse right now but I’ll be using the page to connect with readers, make announcements, and, of course, provide links to new blog posts.

Readers can use the Facebook page to message The Writer’s Scrap Bin directly if they do not wish to e-mail or leave a comment on individual blog posts. Have any suggestions for future blog posts or have a cool story you’d like to share with other writers? You can do that, too. More than anything else, I want the Facebook page to encourage a stronger community and more connection among my readers. After all, I started this blog to help and connect with other writers.

Here’s the link, which you can also find on this blog’s “Writing Resources” page: www.facebook.com/thewritersscrapbin.

I hope to see many faces, both new and old, on the page.

Have any suggestions for what I should add to the Facebook page? Other social media outlets on which you think I should create an account for this site? Feel free to contact me through the comments section, an e-mail to thewritersscrapbin@gmail.com, and now Facebook.

 

Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Coping with Mental Illness

Today I’m going on a tangent. I’ve been dancing around this subject for a few days now, perhaps since the beginning of this blog. Because I recently read The Beauty of the Fall and Sherman Alexie announced that he would be cancelling his book tour due to depression, I figured that now is the time to discuss a very fragile but very important issue: mental illness.

A supposed link between artists and mental illness has been a source of laughter, fear, and debate in the creative community, from writers to painters to engineers. I recently read an interesting blog post on the website for Scientific American in which the author discusses a link between creative people and mental illness which most people may not consider.

I’m not going to arguing for or against the link. As the above article mentions, most researchers agree that “mental illness is neither necessary nor sufficient for creativity.” I trust the science behind this conclusion but you cannot deny that many well-known creative people have suffered, or at least seem to have suffered, from some form of mental illness. Van Gogh. Hemingway. Woolf. Plath. Rowling. Many, if not all, of my creative friends have some form of mental illness. I suffer from crippling anxiety and depression.

Does that mean mental illness aids creativity? While it can serve as experience-gathering and inspiration after one has overcome or gained control of it, I would generally say no, mental illness does not help creativity. In fact, as the Scientific American blog post suggests, the opposite is true.

Remember, mental illness can take over your mind and push out everything else, including creativity.

Image retrieved from this Bitcoin forum

I can only speak from personal experience. The days when my anxiety overwhelms me or I can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel due to depression, I can’t write a thing. I doubt that anything I could possibly write would be worth reading and I feel like some invisible force keeps shoving me away from the creative and cognitive functions of my brain.

Perhaps that’s why so many creative types who suffer from mental illness self-destruct. Like anyone else, we’re afraid of the stigma surrounding depression, anxiety, and similar illnesses and want everyone to think that we’re doing fine. We trick ourselves into thinking that so long as we stay busy, so long as we keep writing or engage in whichever creative outlet we prefer, that we will be fine. It’s just another source of inspiration.

We’re wrong.

Eventually, mental illness wins out over creative action if we don’t get help. I know this view is rather pessimistic but it’s the truth. We try and push through our inhibitions but we wear down.

Art therapy can help with mental illness, but what happens when the artist doesn’t address his/her struggles?

Image retrieved from Psychology Today

Daily creative acts can ease mental illness. Still, that doesn’t mean that they will make the problem go away entirely. We can’t ignore the issue and hope it’ll get better.

We have to let people we trust know about our experiences. The stigma is strong but we have to break it. Support from loved ones, therapy, daily life changes, medication, many options to improve our mental conditions exist if only we choose to pursue them. I know that, in the United States, it can be hard enough to get the medical support due to health cost restrictions. Why deprive ourselves from the other options, too, because we’re scared of what other people will think?

Remember, you can’t write if you’re too overwhelmed and not taking care of yourself.

If you find that you’re suffering from mental illness and don’t know where to go (or don’t want to start out locally due to finances and/or privacy), check out this article about 81 mental health resources for when you can’t afford therapy.

Do you have any experiences with mental illness you wish to share? Words of advice, encouragement, or additional resources? Feel free to drop a line in the comments. Remember, this is a safe place. No one will judge you and, if anyone starts to troll you on here, please contact me at thewritersscrapbin@gmail.com.

 

Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Rock Bottom: A Solid Foundation

Good day, readers and writers. I want to start off this week with a note of encouragement to everyone who feels down on their luck. Namely, I want to discuss using rock bottom as a foundation for future success.

Now, you may be down on your luck without exactly hitting “rock bottom.” I know I have felt that way many times. You may also feel as though you’ve stooped that low only to realize later that you had farther to fall. After all, the definition and experience of rock bottom differs from person to person. I, fortunately, have yet to hit rock bottom myself.

Nevertheless, what I’m talking about today will be useful to anyone feeling down on their luck, whether it’s a feeling of hitting rock bottom or just wanting to give up the current path because it seems to be leading nowhere.

Within the last month I have reviewed J.K. Rowling’s Very Good Lives and Rich Marcello’s The Beauty of the Fall. While they belong to two distinctly different genres, they share an important lesson: don’t give up when things look bad.

Dan in The Beauty of the Fall loses everything that matters to him. When things start to look up, he either self-destructs or has the rug pulled out from under him again. Regardless, he doesn’t give up. With the help of loved ones, Dan forces himself to soldier on even when things appear their most bleak.

Similarly, Rowling explains how she did not give into the desire to end the struggle when she hit her all-time low. She had contemplated the worst but, due to the love she had for her daughter, she pulled through. More than that, she created one of the most well-known characters in literary history and now lives as a multi-millionaire author and a household name. As Rowling claims, she used rock bottom as the foundation on which she built her success.

That’s what everyone must do. When life seems to be throwing you its worst, you have to hit back with your best. Only then will you thrive.

       

I’m not saying that it’s easy. Far from it, actually. You most certainly can’t do it alone. Dan relies on his friends, colleagues, and therapists to make it through his darkest times. Rowling needed her daughter. Laying a foundation and constructing a building is rarely–probably never–a one-person job. Why should we expect to build a strong future from a rock bottom foundation without some help?

Many issues complicate this matter. Motivation, for one. Mental illness is another. (Although that subject is best reserved for another post.) Time, energy, obstacles thrown at us by outside forces, even our own stupid mistakes and self-sabotaging behavior. Regardless, with the help of loved ones and colleagues you can make a solid foundation out of your hard times.

Have any experience pulling out of rock bottom? Wish to share advice or stories with other readers? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments.

 

Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Book Reviews: Sister of Echo: The Making of a Villain by Ameel Koro

Trigger Warning: The book reviewed contains scenes of violence and gore as extreme as dismemberment. Sex scenes are also depicted, though not in great detail. Brief discussions of sex-related human trafficking occur and slavery serves a pivotal role in the plot. If you’ve had bad experiences with any of the above or otherwise take offense to these topics, proceed with caution.

Epic fantasy fans may want to check this one out, especially if you like your fantasy with a side of romance, mystery, and a touch of gore. Today I’m going to review Sister of Echo: The Making of a Villain (Part One) by Ameel Koro.

Set in Dacia during the time of the Roman Empire, The Making of a Villain (Part One) follows a convoy of merchants, their slaves, and the guards guiding them to Panonni. One night the convoy runs into a problem: a young woman, muddy and naked save for her horrific-smelling cloak, has been found sleeping on the side of the road. Dardanos, the leader of the guards, has a bad feeling about her and wants to leave her. Cotiso, a kind-hearted merchant, refuses to abandon her in the woods on a cold winter’s night, and so offers to buy her as a slave. Dardanos agrees but on the condition that she remain locked in the wagon in which she will travel.

As their travels continue, people warm up to the girl, Alina, with the exception of Dardanos. Unfortunately for the soldier-turned-guard, the one whom warms up most to her is one of his own men, nineteen-year-old Sinna. The young man can’t keep his eyes off of this beautiful woman, and the feeling is mutual.

What unfolds over the entire 237 pages is a whirlwind of romance, mystery, gore, and a splash of revenge. The biggest question on everyone’s mind (including the reader’s): who—or what—is Alina?

Image retrieved from Amazon (ad included below)
The plot interested me and the setting grabbed my attention immediately. I typically enjoy books which take place around the time of the Roman Empire (Black Horses for the King is one of my favorite books) and the mystery of Alina’s identity kept me on my toes. Even when it seemed that part of her secret had been exposed, Koro approached it in such a manner that I questioned if it was the truth—at the least I knew it could not be the whole truth.

However, the use of setting disappointed me. I did not feel truly immersed in the time or place until they arrive at Artucia. Names of places, gods, and cultural groups are used but I never got a real feel for the location or the time. The forest, the village, and the first mansio feel as though they could have been anywhere; only the weather gives the reader a real idea of geographical setting beyond the names used. More should have been pursued in the cultural and religious aspects of the setting. Koro explores some of the cultural views of slavery and the characters repeatedly refer to a god named Zalmoxis but beyond that the story very well could have taken place in a parallel world or the modern day (if technology were added).

In fact, the dialogue and the terminology throughout the narrative seems far too modern for a book set in Roman times. The characters frequently use the word “yeah” and the narration includes words such as “boyfriend” and “pimp,” neither of which would’ve been in use back then. (“Pimp” did not enter colloquial English until at least 1607.) I can usually suspend disbelief in this regard because it would be impossible to account for all of the differences caused by time. In this case, however, it really bothered me that the writing had such a modern feel to it. I expect a far different kind of writing with historic fiction, even historic fantasy, and I felt as though I could have found this sort of writing in something like Harry Potter.

The behavior of the characters strained my ability to suspend disbelief as well. I appreciate the strong women in this narrative; in fact, I love them. Still, the dynamic among the slaves and the freed men did not match the social hierarchy and accompanying mannerisms of that time. Slavery in Roman times did follow different rules than Europe’s African slave trade we learn about in the Western World, but I doubt that the slaves would have been allowed to speak quite as informally with freed men as these characters do. I understand why Corina and Tati act the way they do and I would not expect any different from fatherly Cotiso. I also think that Sinna and Alina’s interactions could have carried on the way they do as well. The other interactions, such as Maria shouting at a guard like Sinna, seem unrealistic.

A diverse cast of characters populate this historic—yet fantastical—world: Cotiso, a kind-hearted, fatherly merchant; Tati, a skirt-chasing merchant in Cotiso’s convoy; Corina, Tati’s sassy, sexual, and jealous (perhaps even insecure) female slave; Maria, Cotiso’s tough and practical but mischievous and dirty-minded slave and Alina’s mentor; and Dardanos, the military-roughened guard with nothing but suspicions, orders, and a temper. Of course, we also have Sinna, the sweet but rather naïve and romantic (yet also, clearly, hormone-driven) guard, and Alina, the quiet and obedient mystery woman whom no one can figure out.

Even with such a wide range of personalities, I felt that the characters left something to be desired and that many do not reach their full potential. Several are stereotypes, such as Corina and Tati, and others do not really develop into realistic people at all, like Tsiru. Besides following Tati around because he himself is bad at business, Tsiru is a blank slate which Koro could use to his advantage in future installments. Tati and Corina, while a fun dynamic to watch and certainly revolutionary given the setting, fall under stereotypes that I have seen many times before: the man who should be in charge and his woman who is actually in charge.

Despite Alina and Sinna being the center of the plot, I am more interested in Cotiso. He is a very kind man, even to his slaves, and refuses to become a slave merchant. However, he also has no qualms with entering Maria and Alina into a slave contest in Artucia. If he’s fine with the idea of them being degraded in a slave contest, is Cotiso truly driven by kindness? Or by greed? He proves not be entirely pure-hearted by the end of the novel, which I think Koro pulled off well. After all, every human has the ability to commit some mean act against another human, no matter how good they seem, especially to get information that they want.

Speaking of the slave contest, the twist involved in that event—which I will not discuss in detail to avoid spoilers—humored me initially. It was too much like a plot twist in a sitcom to fully fit my tastes. As it continued, however, my blood pounded and then my heart broke. I loved seeing more of Alina’s abilities revealed—and, thus, more of her identity exposed—but the sacrifice behind it saddened me, which is the mark of a good scene. I think the slave contest revealed more about the main characters and more masterfully handled the action and Alina’s secret than any other part of the novel.

Sinna and Alina’s relationship, while sweet and playful, had me thinking much like Cotiso. Sinna is so young, how could he take of her? He thinks he loves her now because she is so beautiful, but does he truly love her beyond her beauty? This doubt caused me to not root for the relationship very strongly. At the same time, I liked Alina and felt that she had been through too much already, so I found myself hoping the relationship would last so that she would not have to experience more heartache.

On a more technical side, there are several proofreading errors, but not so often as to be too distracting. The overuse of exclamation marks, the word “intoned,” the word “nagged,” and comparisons to children, on the other hand, annoyed me. These issues can easily be fixed with more editing and feedback.

Overall, The Making of a Villain (Part One) has a lot of potential: the plot is engaging, the setting piqued my interest, the character interactions are fun to observe, and the mystery and magic behind it all compelled me to read to the very end. I want to see where the next book takes the series but I am hesitant because of the pitfalls in the writing. I just don’t think that the writing matches the setting and should have been workshopped and refined more before publication.

As usual, don’t take my word for it. Check Koro’s book out for yourself by following the ad below.

Do you have any books you think I should read and review? Published a book of your own and want me to post a thorough, honest review of it here? Contact me at thewritersscrapbin@gmail.com or look me up on Fiverr.

 

Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011