In the Spirit of Getting Ready

Hello and good morning! Can you believe October is almost over already? Many are anticipating Halloween, with its costume parties, trick or treating, and spooky games, but over here in the Writing Corner we’re making the final preparations to begin the first draft of a new project. Exciting, write right?

I think so, too. I have received much enthusiasm concerning ‘what’s next’, and I will very soon be divulging more details concerning it (so don’t stray far!). But today I want to share a bit about a question that was asked me that I believe to be in the spirit of Getting Ready.

I was asked how I centered myself and cleared my mind prior to writing.

An excellent inquiry.

The inquirer stated that they were experiencing trouble doing so themselves, having a hard time clearing their mind to get ideas out and feeling that they waste 10 to 15 minutes just trying to figure out how to begin.

Well, my dear inquirer: join the club.

After giving the matter some thought, I came to realize that my methods differ depending on what it is I’m trying to begin, whether a simple day’s writing or starting a new book. Every time I finished one volume of the TJT series and had to begin working on the next one, I repeatedly and without fail found myself intimidated by the idea of Starting. After all, the opening is an extremely important part of the story. It has to be done well, or who would keep reading? I’ve found myself stalling and (gasp!) procrastinating, struggling to come up with a decent way to start. However, the only thing I can really say that solved that was the inescapable need to just do it. The more I write, the more ideas come and the better they become.

For example: pushing an heavy wagon is difficult, but the initial shove that gets the wheels turning is the most strenuous. Once the wagon is moving it rolls easier and goes faster.

As for the simple, everyday writing, the method is pretty much the same. I would suggest beginning by

  • creating an environment that eliminates distractions. Put blinders on, per se. Turn off the phone and remove it far from your person. Close the door. If you’re like me and have a tendency to stare out the window, put your back to it, or draw the curtains if you must (although I, myself, loathe shades). I like having music playing quietly ─ orchestral, no lyrics ─ but others may not find that helpful.

Then,

  • focus on what you’re working on and recapture the thought train you were on when you left off. Sometimes I read a bit of what I’ve written the day before in order to refresh my mind, but it’s also helpful if you stop at a place where you know where you want to keep going with the narrative. That way you have a starting point for the next time.

Still, I’ve not yet found the infallible cure to the struggle. Not in writing and not in life outside of writing. Starting is hard and slow for me. I have to relocate my rhythm, which flees to the far reaches of the universe every time I let go for the day. My thoughts and words usually ‘buffer’ for a while before I can really get into it ─ but once that is achieved I try to keep it as long as possible.

I won’t lie and say it isn’t frustrating sometimes, but I often say that ‘noting worthwhile is ever easy’. I’m finding this to be true in writing more and more all the time, but the challenge has not yet discouraged me from pursuing it. Starting is hard, but the salvation in writing is that you can go back and make better whatever you began with. Trash can be turned into treasure with a second, third, and eighteenth pass. So just start.

Just start.

Reynwood’s Reviews: The Dragon Business

20607958Title: The Dragon Business

Author: Kevin J. Anderson

My rating: 4 of 5


King Cullin may be known as “the Dragon Slayer,” but he fears his son’s legacy will be as “King Maurice Who Speaks with Proper Grammar.” The boy keeps his nose buried in parchments, starry-eyed at the idea of noble knights and eager to hand royal gold to any con man hawking an unicorn horn. Tonight, though, Cullin will educate the prince in the truth behind minstrels’ silly songs of glory.

Long ago, in a kingdom, well, not that far from here really, young Cullin traveled the countryside as squire to brave Sir Dalbry, along with Dalbry’s trusted sidekick Reeger, selling dragon-protection services to every kingdom with a coffer. There were no dragons, of course, but with a collection of severed alligator heads and a willingness to play dirty, the trio of con men was crushing the competition. Then along came Princess Affonyl.

Tomboyish and with a head for alchemy, Affonyl faked a dragon of her own, escaped her arranged marriage, and threw in with Cullin and company. But with her father sending a crew of do-gooder knights to find her, the dragon business just got cutthroat.


My thoughts:

What fun! I read the synopsis of this story, that it was about con artists slaying false dragons, and thought it such an unique twist on the usual adventure trope that I knew I had to give it a try, and I’m glad I did.

Anderson crafted this tale wonderfully, formatting it so that King Cullin is telling his sheltered son a grandiose tale of his past shenanigans in order to learn him up on the way the real world works. It follows a group of con men who prey upon the simple-minded, gullible, and superstitious peoples of the (many) kingdoms, in a world where con artists, swindlers, and money grubbers abound. It paints a fantastical rendition of the world we live in today.

And yet, even though our ‘dragon-slayers’ are making a living rather dishonestly, selling a service nobody needs, you can’t help but like them. Reeger is rather crude ─ in his humor, behavior, and lifestyle ─ but he’s also very good at what he does (the dirty work), a loyal friend, and in a way charming for his preferences of ‘latrine refurbishing’ to high courtly politics. Sir Dalbry is a victim of his own trade. Swindled out of his inheritance at a young age by a group of con men, he has vowed to avenge his honor for having run away. His current methods are questionable, but even so, he insists on retaining a sense of ‘knightly honor and nobility’ ─ to the point where it nearly costs him his life. Cullin is an apt and clever sidekick. Tempted by dreams of starting fresh in the new land across the sea, fantasizing about someday marrying a princess and gaining a kingdom and riches of his own, he serves as Sir Dalbry’s squire. Affonyl, the newest member of their band, is a runaway princess who faked her own death by dragon attack in order to escape her fate as a princess. She would much rather study alchemy and gallivant across the country  as a person than marry a silver-tongued and sticky-fingered duke as a princess, because as it happens, princesses aren’t people.

The writing is witty, whimsical, and humorous from the first page to the last. Minstrels’ songs go viral, one town’s local Renaissance Faire is ‘futuristic’, newspapers (like the Olden Tymes) are transcribed by monks, purified guano and bone dust are thought the more active ingredients to pain killer than the milk of poppy. On and on, every page is filled with crafty and silly details about life in medieval times that those of us who are more accustomed to the more epic, hard-core fantasy don’t usually think about ─ like hawking seagull guano as a miracle fertilizer.

Yet through the ridiculousness are strings of heart that do more than entertain us, they endear us to the characters, who they are and what they’re searching for. Sir Dalbry wants to regain his honor, following a code of knightly nobility to a fault that nearly gets him killed. Reeger wants to raise enough money to establish his own tavern. Cullin wants a better life, but looks for it in the wrong places. He realizes, after he gets what he thinks he wants, that it’s not what he wanted all along. The meaning of bravery and honor, friendship, and loyalty are all currents carrying this story and the character of its heroes forward.

I hope Maurice gets as much from his father’s tales as we do.

Autumn-ly Awesome and Fall-ishly Fantasticical Treats

Greetings, everyone, and happy middle-of-October! ‘Tis the season for apples, squash . . . and pumpkins! Today I want to share with you a glorious combination of two of my favorite things: pumpkins and Rice Krispie treats. Rice Krispie treats are probably one of my top favorite snackey-dessert things, and I have to say, I don’t make them enough. For years I’ve made them the traditional way ─ in a pan and cut into squares. But then, while scrolling through Pintrest with my mom one day, we came across something that made fireworks go off in my brain: Rice Krispie treats in the shape of pumpkins. My mind was blown. I could hardly believe such an ingenious revelation.

I had to try it.

I looked through a couple of different recipes (because when I look for a recipe for a dish, I rarely, hardly ever just go with the first one that crosses my path). You wouldn’t think there were so many different ways to make pumpkin Rice Krispie treats, but there are, so I took the elements I liked from this one and combined it with that one and came up with my own. I think I might do some minor tweaking in the future, but for a first shot, I don’t think they turned out half bad.

Spiced Rice Krispie Treat Pumpkins

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 bag regular-sized marshmallows (approximately 40 marshmallows)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 6 cups Rice Krispies (or any off-brand, they’re all the same)
  • Red & yellow liquid food coloring
  • Pretzel rods
  • Green M&M’s
  • Cooking spray

Instructions:

  1. In a large pot, melt the butter over low heat.
  2. Add the marshmallows and stir until completely melted and combined with the butter. Add about 12 drops of yellow food coloring and mix it together, then add about 3 drops of red food coloring and mix until color is uniform. Add red/yellow drops until you reach your desired color. Add spices and mix well.
  3. Add the Rice Krispies and stir to combine. Lower heat on the stove to lowest setting (this keeps the treats from cooling and hardening while you work).
  4. Coat the palm and fingers of one hand rather generously with cooking spray and roll the Rice Krispie mixture into small balls. (I’ve read where one person coated both sides of both hands liberally with oil after each ball, but I found I only had to spray the one side of one hand at the onset and that served to keep my hands sticky-free for the entire batch. I got thirteen pumpkins.) Reoil your hands as needed.
  5. Set each ball on parchment or waxed paper, and while still warm, press a pretzel stick into the top of each wee pumpkin for the stem and add a green M&M beside it to serve as a leaf.
  6. Enjoy immediately (because why wouldn’t you want to?) or cool until firm.

Give it a shot and don’t be shy to let me know what you think! I’m contemplating on posting a recipe once every month, since cooking and baking are my second biggest passions next to writing. And who knows? We may see some book-inspired recipes show up. Would you like that? Let me know in the comments!

National Book Month

October may very well be the best month of the year, for not only is it nestled within my favorite season of the year, autumn, it also happens to be National Book Month.

An entire month, dedicated to the amazingness of books. Of reading and enjoying books. This reminds me of a quote I once saw that still makes me laugh even years after first seeing it:

You go, Batman.

Really, perhaps it is because I’m an incurable reader, but I can’t quite understand how some people just don’t like reading. Books are an incredible thing, both fiction and non-fiction. Reading has become how we pass on information and stories. Without reading, without books, we are a people lost and fallen to the darkness of ignorance and the drudgery of mundane existence.

Books are portals to other places, other times, giving a reader the opportunity to go beyond and see, feel, and experience more. And sometimes, hidden inside these adventures, we find a lesson for our own lives. Don’t give up. Keep trying. Don’t lose hope. The easy road doesn’t always (rarely will ever) lead to a good place. Rise above. Have courage.

That we have a month celebrating books is a great thing, and for all of us readers out there it’s positively spectacular. Spread the love of books this month and share with others just how awesome these blocks of paper and ink really are. That just two simple ingredients can sway a soul is truly something magical.

So . . . what are you reading?

Celebrate National Book Month with a good read! Start your adventure today.

A Hobbit-y Holiday

Today is a special day. Yes, it is the first calendar day of autumn (best season of the year, if you ask me), but did you know that today, September 22, is also Hobbit Day? ‘Best day ever!’ Tolkein fans may say. But what, exactly, is Hobbit Day?

I’m glad you asked.

Hobbit Day is an holiday of inestimable import celebrated on the mutual birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, our two small but courageous heroes from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkein has translated the day of that ‘Long Awaited Party’ in the text as September 22nd, and it may very well be the oldest festival observance in association with Tolkein fandom, celebrated since 1973. It was officially designated in 1978 and has gained a rather impressive amount of legal dignity due to the elected officials who have supported it through a variety of proclamations, declarations, tributes, and similar governmental documents. Hobbit Day has also attracted bipartisan support from the U.S. County Courthouse, the White House, and the U.S. Capitol.

Imagine that!

So, how do you go about celebrating this prodigious day? Well, you party like an hobbit. Observances include going barefoot all day (my personal favorite. So much so that I observe it every day), costume events, games, feasting (or be like a true hobbit and eat seven meals. First and second breakfasts, anyone?), and fireworks. Or gather amongst fellow enthusiasts and marathon the movies. With the three The Hobbit films out to add to the original LOTR trilogy, that’ll prove to be one extensive event. (I’m down. Who’s with me?)

Whether you’re a die-hard fan or simply enjoy any excuse to celebrate, Hobbit Day is the perfect holiday to break out your festive best and make merry like they do in the Shire.

How are you celebrating?

Reynwood’s Reviews: Tarzan of the Apes

Hello, everyone, and happy middle of September! The weather this past week has really turned around from what we were anticipating — it’s gorgeous up here, like summer is giving us its last ‘hurrah’ before forfeiting his place to autumn’s graces. There’s only one week left before the calendar autumn commences (the 22nd), and school has already begun (this is week two for us, I believe). But instead of pining over that finished season and mourning the coming cold, why not remember with fondness all the great memories this summer has held for us? What people did you see and spend time with? What projects did you undertake and accomplish? Any milestones reached? What good books have you put under your belt while basking in the sunshine or taking refuge in the shade, hunkering down next to the livingroom lamp on balmy, black nights just to find out what happens next?

For myself, the latest one was Tarzan of the Apes, a classic story from the early 20th century (first appearance, 1912), and it truly was a great read.


20308032Title: Tarzan of the Apes (#1)

Series: Tarzan

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs

My rating: 5 of 5


In 1888 Lord and Lady Clayton sail from England but to West Africa and perish on a remote island. When their infant son is adopted by fanged, great anthropoid apes, he is Tarzan of the Apes. His intelligence and caring mother raise him to be king. Self-educated by his parents’ library, Tarzan rescues genteel Jane Porter from the perils of his jungle.

My Thoughts:

As I’ve mentioned before in a previous review on one of these stories, I LOVE Tarzan. My first exposure to this fantastic tale was Disney’s cartoon adaption, which we all know tends to vastly rewrite the original. I fell in love with that story and, years later, fell in love with the original, too. But they are very, very different in many respects.

In this story we get to know Tarzan’s human parents far more before they perish, making sure we understand Tarzan’s exceptional breeding as an English lordling. However, it isn’t at the hands of a leopard that they die, but by the hands of Kerchak the King of Apes. Yes, apes. Not gorillas. I’ll admit, I was a little sad to note this, plus the fact that the creatures were represented far more like animals in their natural light than Disney’s tendency to humanize them, but Kala was still a devoted mother. She was the only one in all the tribe ─ largely the entire jungle ─ whom Tarzan actually loved, and you felt for him when she was killed by the newly arrived human natives.

Tarzan proves rather indifferent when it comes to killing and a bit devilish when tormenting his mother’s killers, and yet we see that he can be noble and very loyal. He is clever and ingenious with a mind that learns like a sponge. He likes to spend as much time as possible in the cabin on the beach built by his human father (John Clayton, Lord Greystoke) whom he never knew, playing with all the curiosities of human civilization stowed there, but mostly the books. Now, Burroughs has Tarzan learn how to read and write English through these books, and while I could condone perhaps some basics with word/picture association, I found it odd that he could grasp the language to the extent that he did without any teaching. But that was my biggest issue. He understands that he isn’t an ape after all, but a Man, and so when a party of his paler complexioned people arrive on shore he is very curious and hopeful of meeting them ─ but shy ─ and he can’t understand a lick of spoken English in which to readily communicate with them. These people include, of course, Jane and her father, but no gorilla hunting madmen. This is when the story really veers from the more familiar Disney version, involving treasure hunts and kidnappings and rescues and a wee bit of romance. Tarzan loves Jane on first sight, and when he rescues her from a bull ape she loves him, too.

Happy ending, right? Nay!

Tarzan’s nobility and love are both tested when he must safeguard an injured French officer in the jungle instead of returning immediately from the rescue to the beach and his beloved. (He befriends the officer who teaches him to speak French). Then, by the time they get back to the cabin, it’s deserted! Tarzan has to travel up the coast of Africa to civilization and on for his love, but not to England. To America. Tarzan finds Jane in the foreign land of Wisconsin, rescuing her from a forest fire.

Happy ending now, right? Nay!

Tarzan is not the only one vying for dear Jane’s love, but so, too, is William Clayton (evidently Tarzan’s cousin) and a certain Mr. Canler, who is of a rather unsavory character, but is prevailing due to financial stresses on the part of the Porters. I could hardly bear to see how this was all going to go down, seeing as this original story is so different from the one I’ve been so familiar with, but then the story ends with a cryptic message and never says just who Jane is going to marry.

I just might have thrown the book were it mine and not already falling apart with age. Is Tarzan going to keep quiet about his newfound identity as the true Lord Greystoke and defer to his cousin or is he going to claim his title and his woman? I am sincerely hoping that the next volume will tell me, otherwise I might turn inside out.

The characters were awesome and the frank humor was great. I can certainly see how Burroughs became so popular a writer in his day, for his narrative and storytelling are engaging. I haven’t finished a book in so short a period of time in a good, long while and this one is definitely going on my list of absolute favorites.

Reynwood’s Reviews: The Prince and the Pauper

Title: The Prince and the Pauper

Author: Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain)

My Rating: 4 of 5


This treasured historical satire, played out in two very different socioeconomic worlds of 16th-century England, centers around the lives of two boys born in London on the same day: Edward, Prince of Wales and Tom Canty, a street beggar. During a chance encounter, the two realize they are identical and, as a lark, decide to exchange clothes and roles–a situation that briefly, but drastically, alters the lives of both youngsters. The Prince, dressed in rags, wanders about the city’s boisterous neighborhoods among the lower classes and endures a series of hardships; meanwhile, poor Tom, now living with the royals, is constantly filled with the dread of being discovered for who and what he really is.


My Thoughts:

I have heard of this story and seen variations of it done for years, but I’m the kind of person who likes to find the original of a classic in as unadulterated a form as possible (outside of original foreign languages, that is). So when I found this copy, copyrighted in ’69 and published by Grosset and Dunlap (who, as it happened, also did my copy of Jungle Tales of Tarzan) I knew I had to have it and find out the ‘true’ story of the Prince and the Pauper.

I loved it. Set in medieval England just before the reign of King Edward the VI, it follows the misadventure of a certain poor boy by the name of Tom Canty and a certain Edward VI, Prince of Wales, who, had they been born identical twins could not have looked more similar. A seemingly chance encounter wildly reverses their positions, and we get to follow along and see how each copes with their drastically foreign environments, learning valuable lessons along the way.

The image of sixteenth century London is vivid, picturing both the opulence of the royal world and the dire straits of the plebian community, who suffer perpetually under the unjust English law ─ which is ragged on often enough. The hardships young Edward endures, and the troubles suffered by those who endear themselves to him along the way, reveal to him the truth of wonton tyrannical rule. Meanwhile, the lavishness of royal life nearly blinds Tom Canty of his good heart, but in the end realizes all the posh and pomp is meaningless and empty.

The dialogue is chocked full of ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s and ‘for sooth’s and whatnot (like I said, unabridged), but the writing is clever and speckled with rather frank humor. The characters are well portrayed, insomuch that I felt frustrated for both Tom and Edward when they insisted on their reversed identities and everyone around them persisted in assuming they were mad. Suddenly and inexplicably so. For the length of it, Edward expressed resentment toward Tom and what he must be doing, usurping the throne, and throughout all the story I felt fear for what might befall the pauper boy.

And then there’s Miles Hendon. Dear, dear Miles Hendon. An escaped POW, he comes into town in time to save the mistaken Edward from Tom’s abusive father and proceeds to take the lad under his wing. He is an extraordinarily kindhearted and noble soul who gets abused both physically and emotionally, but he takes it like a man with endearing stoicism for Edward’s sake and you can’t not love him for that.

This story is yet another example that goes to show that just because it’s old, doesn’t mean it can’t keep up with the bullet train of this present era.