Amber Morrell

writer, reader, librarian

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Collaborative Writing

Barmy Drapers writing diligently... or just posing for the photo, which is exactly what I'm doing.

At first glance, writing and reading are inherently solitary acts, often as a way to escape the stress of social activity. I love the idea of curling up all by myself with a good book and a hot cup of tea on a rainy day. I don’t need anyone–just myself and the words on the page. There’s a similar romantic notion about writing: who doesn’t dream of moving to a cabin on the coast of Maine and disconnecting from all technology to write the next great American novel? Even if you’re not that specific, when most people imagine writing they imagine doing it alone. And for the most part, much of it is done alone–even if you’re part of a writing group, or in a public cafe surrounded by people, writing is your hands on your keyboard typing your words.

This is the way I’ve approached writing for most of my life: as something I have to do–to finish–before I can share it with the world. But recently my perceptions of the writing process have been changing. Over the past year and a half I’ve been meeting weekly with my local writer’s group. We’re lucky that we meld with each other so well. We have similar tastes and interests. We exist on the same wavelengths. And we get excited about each other’s work. Every Monday we get together and sit side by side at the community table in the local Panera bread and we put our heads down and we write.

But more than that: we make goals. We encourage each other. We challenge each other. At the beginning of last year we created a communal goal sheet, so we could set our own goals and then encourage each other to actually meet those goals. My goal last year was to read more books: done. Finish a manuscript: done. And to be honest, I only accomplished those goals because of the pressing guilt that I was letting my friends down, not for a deep down desire to finish. Some nights I dragged myself to my keyboard even though I was tired, grumpy, and didn’t want to write–but my group’s encouragement made me continue ever on, and once I got on a roll I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop reading. I couldn’t stop writing. I took their book suggestions and devoured them and suddenly reading wasn’t so solitary: I was talking to people in real life about books that we both loved and didn’t have to read for school. It was–and continues to be–intoxicating.

Writing developed a similar feeling. The more comfortable I got with my writer’s group, the more I opened up about what I was working on. I always had a fear (still do) that saying what I’m writing doesn’t convey what I’m actually writing. That it will sound stupid and clunky on my lips compared to my (obviously beautiful, perfect, poetic) words. But I was met only with encouragement! And genuine excitement! And people asking me, nearly every week, “So how is your gryffin story going?” or “I can’t wait to beta read your novel when it’s done.” Writing left the realm of the solitary. I wasn’t writing just for me anymore. I wasn’t writing for money or fame or any of those things you dream up late at night as you roll around in your bed, not actually writing, but dreaming about once your book is released (and of course it’s always the next Harry Potter). I was writing for all of us.

And then something amazing happened: my writing got better. Whenever I was stuck or needed an idea, I had a group of willing and excited people there ready to banter back and forth about what would work best. Whenever I was feeling discouraged, I had friends who could share their dirty tips and tricks on how to keep going even when the going gets rough (i.e., reading something in a different genre, reading a bad, bad book, or eating a pound of chocolate to keep your spirits up). Beta reading for my friends in my writer’s group has been extremely rewarding, because I help them accomplish their goals while learning a lot about my own writing and style through the critique process. And once I was comfortable enough to talk about my writing to people I could trust, I became less afraid of talking about it with others. With my school friends, with my family, with my professors. And even though I feel like there’s a stigma around aspiring writers, you’d be surprised how supportive and interested people actually are when they realize you’re actively working on writing, not just saying that one day you will.

So when I say collaborative writing, I don’t mean tag-teaming chapters or making a group story. Although that would probably be awesome. I mean finding a community, in person or even online, that you can trust to be excited about your ideas, to encourage you through the tough times, and to hold you accountable for what you want to accomplish. People that are also toiling through their own work that you can encourage too. People that will trust you enough to share their work with you, and vice versa. Writing doesn’t have to be done alone–and who knows what friends you’ll make along the way.

#DiverseReads2016

logo_WNDB_300pwxI’m excited to join my first ever themed reading challenge, #DiverseReads2016. This challenge is hosted by Mishma of Chasing Faerytales and Shelly of Read.Sleep.Repeat. You can read more about the challenge here. The purpose of the Diverse Reads challenge is to read and talk about books that are written by diverse authors and feature diverse protagonists.

Personally, I think it is important to go out of my way to find these books and actively engage with them. I am a very privileged, middle-class white woman. Often I feel out of touch with people from different backgrounds and experiences that do not have the same opportunities that I have. One of the things I want to do in 2016 is to talk less and listen more. By reading diverse books (especially ones by diverse authors) and actively discussing them, promoting them, and engaging with them, I’ll gain more empathy and understanding and also elevate the voices that need to be elevated. This isn’t just with books, either–this is with bloggers and activists as well. In our current media climate, where hatred is spewed based on stereotypes, it’s important to listen, to seek understanding, and to find common ground.

 

As I said, I want to focus not just on books featuring diverse characters, but on ones written by diverse authors. These will be marked with the #OwnVoices hashtag.

I’m still building my TBR list, but look out for coming reviews that feature #DiverseReads2016!

 

2015 Favorite Reads

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I’ve had about a week to recover from the start of the New Year, but I still can’t get over some of the great books I read in 2015. I figured since I didn’t post all my reviews here for those books that I could do a small round up of my favorite books from the past year. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t like the other 34 books I read–on the contrary, I read some amazing stories and I’ve been taken to wild, thrilling worlds. I read more this year than any other year in my life, and consequently I think I learned more about the world–and about myself–this year. Some of the books that might have made this list are actually 2016 releases, so it felt unfair to include them.  These are the absolute BEST books I read, in no particular order.

 

A Darker Shade final for IreneA DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V.E. Schwab

Okay, I know I said these books were in no particular order. But ADSoM is easily my favorite book published in 2015, and it’s the only 2015 release on this list. I love the worldbuilding the most. A Darker Shade of Magic encompasses four parallel Londons–although we only see three of them, they each have such definitive and beautifully crafted character that I was so enthralled with every detail of them.

The magic in this novel follows a set of rules that are simple but make perfect sense. By the time we get to the climax, it is believable and exciting because the magic system is so solid.

Schwab is also a master at crafting a compelling plot. The characters get into trouble, make a plan, but then everything goes wrong. Super wrong. The worst things that can happen DO happen. I was constantly excited and honestly scared, because there is so much mystery entwined with the worlds. I felt on the edge of my seat to the very last page.

11235712CINDER by Marissa Meyer

Cinder completely blew me away. I’ve been hearing about this book both online and through word-of-mouth from some friends, and it absolutely met the high expectations.

Cinder is a strong, caring, and relatable character, and I love that she uses her skills and her wit to get her out of (and in to) perilous situations. She’s not afraid to do what’s right, even when faced with crazy challenges and an abusive family. In fact, Cinder impressed me time and again with her strength even when her “family” mentally and physically abused her.

I thought the love story was trite at first, but it really does develop to be believable and honest. I love the mishmash of Cinderella and Anastasia and CYBORGS!

While there were some plot points I totally saw coming, the ride getting to them was such a thrill.

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THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE by Neil Gaiman

I’ve been citing THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE as my “favorite novel ever” for a while now. It’s always my go-to recommendation for someone that likes fantasy but wants something thoughtful and different. It’s short and sweet and absolutely brilliant. Neil Gaiman knows how to craft an emotional and meaningful story. A beautiful, magical journey that really captures the contrast between childhood and adulthood and the way our memories can play tricks on us. It’s a very uncomplicated story, almost like a fairy tale, but it sticks with you.

REVIEW: QUEEN OF SHADOWS by Sarah J. Maas

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QUEEN OF SHADOWS by Sarah J. Maas
Release Date: Sep 1, 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Format: Purchased
Purchase: Amazon

I recently finished Queen of Shadows and I wanted to share some thoughts on it. I read the first three books at the beginning of 2015 and I fell in love with them, even though some aspects of them were problematic, and I eagerly awaited the release of Queen of Shadows. Of course between school and life I wasn’t able to finish it until recently even though it was released several months ago–and for many reasons, I was ultimately underwhelmed. I know that Queen of Shadows is a few months old at this point and that it’s already been reviewed to death, but I wanted to share some of my thoughts on it.

My first issue is more with Maas’ plotting technique. I think she does a great job keeping readers in suspense by hiding information that the characters know but don’t divulge. This is what made learning Celaena/Aelin’s secrets so fun, because even though we were in her head, we didn’t know the whole story. She creates really complex strategies and plans for the characters in this novel, and I love how cunning they are when they try to figure out how to solve their problems. BUT. Everything always works out for them without a hitch. Even in situations where they are going against all odds, where failure seems certain, they succeed–and they don’t just succeed, but they do it with minimal losses and setbacks. I found myself rolling my eyes whenever characters talked about how they couldn’t believe this plan or that really worked, or when they were being all angsty about the possibility that they would die, because their plans ALWAYS work out. I wish Maas would throw a wrench in things every once in a while to make things interesting. And while she does have some interesting plot twists, everything just fits together much too simply.

That was my biggest problem with the book. My second issue is the direction Rowan and Aelin’s relationship goes in this novel. One of the things I loved about the two of them in Heir of Fire was that they counted on each other and trusted each other wholly and completely, but it didn’t need to be romantic to be such a deep bond. Well, all that character building goes up in flames in this novel, because the two of them finally take the plunge. And it’s… cringey. Maas tries to make it sexy, but it’s just awkward.

Now, all of these problems together would have made this a two star book, if it weren’t for… the WITCHES. Manon Blackbeak is by far the best part of the novel. She develops as a character more than any of the other characters do, and her development is awesome. Every time I reached a Manon or Elide chapter I got excited; yes, even Elide, the new character, who at first made me groan because I thought it was going to be another boring, dumb Sorscha, is totally awesome. There’s a point in the novel where Asterin, Manon’s second, divulges a dark secret to Manon, and I CRIED. Another moment of note was when Manon and Aelin have the best most epic and badass fight scene of the entire series. It was probably my favorite part of this book.

I love the witches so much, and they are the whole reason this book has three stars. If it weren’t for the witches, I probably wouldn’t continue reading this series. I mean, I do want to find out how it all ties together, but… mostly I just want more witch action.

three-star

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