Writing 101: Setting the Scene

A popular way that some people describe lack of scenic description in a story is “white room syndrome.” While I understand the analogy, I want to use my very limited theatre experience to offer a better way to give help for setting a scene.

Imagine, if you will, an empty stage.

An empty stage in a theatre, like this picture of the Globe Theatre in London, has no set. If you ever read Shakespeare plays (as opposed to actually watching them), you might come across dialogue like this:

SIWARD
What wood is this before us?
MENTEITH
The wood of Birnam.

William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Back in Shakespeare’s day, they didn’t have fancy sets aside from the upper level. As you can see, the only “set” here is very minimal, with no extra stuff on the stage. Depending on the scene, of course, they added things to this stage to help convey the scene in the best way possible. Some theaters use backdrops, for example.

So what does that all mean when it comes to writing? In theater, similar to a novel, most of the time the audience can fill in the blanks for themselves. You don’t have to describe every single detail of everything in the room. Instead, I always imagine the settings of my books as being played out on an empty stage.

If you’re the kind of writer who loves to describe a scene before the action occurs, point out what’s important. The characters can also acknowledge the scene in dialogue, but avoid having them just describe everything around them. Example:

OBERON
How long within this wood intend you stay?

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Other factors, such as weather, could also play a role in the scene, such as in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which literally begins with a storm. And yes, the characters in the scene are talking about the storm in the dialogue, but it’s pretty minimal:

ANTONIO: Where is the master, boatswain?

Boatswain: Do you not hear him? You mar our labour: keep your
cabins: you do assist the storm.


GONZALO: Nay, good, be patient.


Boatswain: When the sea is. Hence! What cares these roarers for the name of king? To cabin: silence! trouble us not.

William Shakespeare, The Tempest

The point is that when it comes to putting description into a scene, imagine a stage with enough props, furniture, and a backdrop that can convey just what is necessary. The first minute of this part from Singin in the Rain is a really good example:

Trust that the reader has enough imagination to create a picture in their minds. I don’t even have that vivid of an imagination myself, but whenever I read novels, I can usually imagine enough to create a movie in my head. So, in the words of Shakespeare, “Screw your courage to the sticking place” and get to writing!

Books I can recommend that do a great job at setting scenes:

  • Pride and Prejudice, especially when Jane Austen describes Pemberley.
  • The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer
  • Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
  • Desperate Forest by Cece Louise

Adult Life Ruins Romance!

Tips on Writing Romance Plots and Subplots from a Demisexual

It’s amazing how romantic views can change over time. When I was a teenager, I used to read chick lit and the occasional romance novel. In college and throughout my 20s, Hallmark Channel Original movies were a comforting tradition every holiday season.

But I’m 30 years old now. And a working adult. Recently, I found myself becoming very picky about what I like in romantic comedies, rom-coms, and adult romance stories. Aside from the fact that I work for a living and got introduced to a lot of stuff that comes with adulting, the biggest disclaimer I have is that I am demisexual. Demisexuality is a type of asexuality. The basic definition is that I only develop an intense attraction/desire through strong, emotional connections. I can literally count the number of guys I consider myself in love with on one hand. And they’re all fictional.

Don’t get me wrong. I do find some guys aesthetically pleasing, but the guys I’m attracted to usually have a personality behind them. I feel like I’m the only woman in the entire world who doesn’t feel any attraction to Brad Pitt or George Clooney. Instead, I swoon over Chris Evans, Tom Holland, Matt Ryan from Constantine…you get the idea.

I think my demisexuality combined with a life of actual adulting changed my views on romantic comedies and romance stories as a whole. So with all that out of the way, here are my 5 tips for writing romance stories and romantic subplots, whether you’re writing a romance novel, a contemporary romcom, or a screenplay for a romantic movie/romcom.

1. Make sure the premise and conflict makes sense, plausibly.

There’s only so much suspension of disbelief can allow for, even by guilty pleasure rom-com standards. One of my favorite “guilty pleasure” romcoms had a lot of over-the-top stuff that didn’t make sense, but the premise was grounded on fairy tale archetypes and tropes (true love breaking a spell). So in spite of how ridiculous some of the characters are and some bad editing, I enjoy watching it because the movie still feels like a modern fairy tale.

In contrast, there was this movie that I used to like where the main characters frequented a dog park, but the problem of the conflict was that apparently the dog park would be closing down to break ground for a day spa. One of the characters said that dog parks don’t pay rent, but I immediately thought “Aren’t parks government funded, even dog parks?”

Basically, make sure that the premise and the conflicts of your novel have some semblance of plausibility. This also applies to the interpersonal conflict in the next tip.

2. Hating a person and finding them hot are majorly unmixy things

I literally cannot comprehend how you can intensely hate a person and find them hotter than Hades. There has to be something endearing about the love interest for both the reader and the love interest.

This is coming from the lady who swoons over Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but toxic issues regarding Season 6 aside, I mostly loved Spike from the start. If there’s something I loved about Spike as a whole, it’s that he owns up to what he is and what he does for better or for worse. He’s reckless and impulsive, but there isn’t any pretense to him. He’s a romantic and he’s a bad boy and while he hates his past as William the Bloody Awful Poet, his romantic tendencies still show. He clearly cares for Drusilla and in later seasons, we see him caring for Dawn and for Buffy as much as he is capable of doing without a soul.

What I can’t comprehend is when there’s a standard romance or rom-com and the two protagonists simultaneously hate each other while also wanting to jump each other’s bones. There has to be some kind of common ground here. If you’re gonna do enemies to lovers or some variation on hate-to-love, they need to respect each other about something. I recently read this short romance novella between a writer and a book critic and while it’s hard for me to buy the premise of a critic who’s so scathing over the romance novel genre, I could get behind the idea of the writer using that criticism to fuel her into doing better in her writing.

If the enemies have this sense of challenging each other, if they start out as something along the lines of rivals or frenemies, the hate-to-love becomes a lot more believable because they have something in common aside from being physically attractive.

3. Pretense can only go so far.

This isn’t a criticism against fake dating. When done well, fake dating can make for amazing stories. I literally reviewed a book centered on the premise of fake dating, for crying out loud. What I liked about that book in particular was the two of them finding the truth within the lie of their relationship.

What I mean by pretense is more along the lines of either party in a romantic plot or subplot pretending to be someone they’re not for a long term relationship. I get the initial first date awkwardness, trying to seem cool. But there’s only so long a person can go faking emotions. Unless you’re writing a romance story that involves a genuine sociopath, at some point, the mask is gonna come off, metaphorically.

I am a firm believer in authenticity when it comes to a lot of different things in life. As I have mentioned before, I loved Spike because he owned up to who he was and he was never pretentious about how he felt about anything. I think I developed a bias against men who do nothing but brood and feel guilty all the time because 1) I’m Catholic and I do enough self-guilting already and 2) guys who brood all the time don’t really change and I don’t feel like they’re owning up to whatever conflicting emotions they have.

Pride and Prejudice, one of my favorite novels, has this reputation of being the archetypical hate-to-love story, but in reality, Elizabeth doesn’t really fall for Darcy until she actually sees him for who he really is, where he is most comfortable. And Darcy isn’t worthy of Elizabeth’s love until he comes to terms with his flaws and makes an effort to be a better person, even if it means not having Elizabeth in his life. She doesn’t magically fix him. He changes because of her influence in his life. There’s a huge difference!

Long story short, your characters have to acknowledge the hurt in their hearts, acknowledge their issues, then figure out how to work on healing those wounds. Which leads me to my next tip.

4. Love develops through emotional connection and shared experiences

I love slow burn romances. I love friends-to-lovers. Instalove is a hard sell for me because real love based on big gestures and intense attraction doesn’t really last long in the real world.

There’s a fine line between “shared experiences” and “trauma bonding,” so I advise against putting characters through something that would emotionally scar them for life unless you’re writing dystopia/sci-fi/fantasy, but even then, I advise to proceed with caution and not build the foundation of the romance on something that keeps them in the negative. The kinds of shared experiences I like is when the two people are working together on a project or share in holiday traditions or they go places together.

There also needs to be genuine emotional connection and understanding between the parties involved. By that, I mean that your characters need to be open and vulnerable and genuinely loving to each other at some point. While I realize that it takes time to get to that point, I have seen or heard of way too many “romance” stories where the characters don’t really communicate with each other and spend more time making out and fighting and playing manipulative mind games. (Points to the entire After series.)

Which leads me to the next tip.

5. Manipulation, Mind Games, and Stalking Aren’t Love

While there’s an initial emotional rush towards relationships that are, to quote Taylor Swift “screaming and crying and kissing in the rain,” relationships where people try to manipulate each other and play mind games or do something to trigger some kind of emotional reaction from their partner have major consequences that usually end up with people going to therapy.

There’s no genuine emotional connection when people are playing power games. Love isn’t about dominating or possessing some other person. Why do authors in the YA genre and writers of Netflix romance dramas find that concept so hard to believe?!

Long story short: Writers, stop writing stalking and romances that are founded on emotional abuse. Watch these videos.

In Conclusion

When you’re writing a romance, a rom com, or a romantic subplot, the key theme that ties all my tips together is authenticity. The premise of your story needs to feel real, even when you’re writing outside of the contemporary genre. The people in the story have to own up to who they are and overcome their pretenses.

Authentic love isn’t grounded in manipulation, mind games, or stalking. Real love is about the parties involved being genuinely happy with each other, even if they live in a dystopia. If the parties involved in a relationship of any kind can understand each other and talk their issues out, the relationship becomes all the more endearing because of the vulnerability.

I hope y’all liked these tips. And don’t let me stop you from enjoying your holiday romcoms!

Molly McBride and the Christmas Pageant: A Book Review

As the Christmas season begins, Molly, Dominic, and Molly’s pet stuffed wolf Francis are looking forward to all the fun that only the holidays can bring. One of the things that Molly is looking forward to is performing in the Christmas pageant. At first, Molly thinks that she’s going to be cast as Mary.

When Molly’s teacher, Mrs. Rose, announces the cast, Molly is devastated to learn that she got cast as a sheep and that one of Molly’s classmates got cast as Mary instead. When rehearsals start, Molly pitches a fit about her casting.

If this was a grown-up theater production, Molly would’ve been kicked out of performing altogether for her attitude. However, Mrs. Rose tells our little “diva” about Mary’s life as well as her reasons for casting Molly’s classmate in the leading role. Once Molly understands, she goes into a nice Hamilton pose, filled with determination to do her best in her role.

In theater, there is a saying: There are no small roles, only small people. Mrs. Egolf has told me that this story was partially inspired by her oldest child, who is currently doing theater. Mrs. Egolf also did stage managing in the past, although she never acted.

I really liked this story because of how relatable the whole situation was. I think everyone who has ever participated in a play always wished they were the lead. But most plays can’t be carried by just one person. As someone who has been in a few plays, I understood what Molly was feeling. I was never in the leading role of any play or musical, but I always enjoyed the time I had on the stage.

In the theater, the virtue of obedience takes precedent. Even if one isn’t a Christian, there are still rules everyone has to follow: Listen to the stage manager and the director, be nice to your fellow actors and the tech crew, and leave your attitude at the door or at least channel your feelings into your acting.

I recommend this book as one families should read around the Advent/Christmas time. I’m very certain that many Catholic schools are going to have their own Nativity play or a Christmas pageant of some sort. This story will remind kids to be humble and understanding.

Happy holidays!

The Savior’s Champion Tag

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I am really psyched about the release of Jenna Moreci’s book The Savior’s Champion.
A couple days ago, I found out about The Savior’s Champion tag from Jenna’s YouTube channel. Consider this a #FF and a list of recommendations for anyone looking for something cool to read or something new to watch!

  1. SP Love: Love for a Self-Published Author This is my shoutout to Erin McCole Cupp whose trilogy Jane E, Friendless Orphan has become my favorite version of Jane Eyre to date.
  2. Fantasy Love: Favorite Fantasy Book The Silver Chair by CS Lewis. I love The Chornicles of Narnia, but my favorite of the 7 books is The Silver Chair. It centers on Eustace and his friend Jill as they journey through Narnia in search of the missing prince Rillian. My favorite character in the book, however, is Puddleglum, a Marsh-Wiggle who worries about everything and yet shows amazing courage in the face of the villain. I wish more worry-warted characters and brooding men could learn from him.
  3. True Love: A Book With Healthy Relationships Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I feel like a lot of people misunderstand this book. People see Elizabeth Bennet as being practically perfect and Mr. Darcy as a dark, brooding, bad boy. In truth, Elizabeth is flawed and Mr. Darcy is actually a man of good principles. Both of them have to learn to overcome their initial perspectives about the world and themselves. You see, Elizabeth prides herself too much on being able to read people when she really just puts labels on them based on her first impressions. Mr. Darcy lacks the ability to socialize beyond what propriety demands and also has to learn to see past his prejudices towards those he thinks are lower class as well as the ability to laugh at himself. It’s a true marriage of the minds as well as hearts and minds.
  4. Representation: A Book With All The Diversity There are three books that I want to recommend for this. Technically, one is a series.
    1. One is The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. The cast of the series is racially diverse and they also have other species within its sci-fi universe. I really loved reading this series and if you’re a fan of fairy tales, I say give it a shot.
    2. The second recommendation is American Panda by Gloria Chao, which centers on the life of a Chinese-American girl trying to figure out her identity as she starts college. It gives a great insight into what it’s like to have traditionally Asian parents and the struggle to pursue one’s individual desires in spite of whatever plans your family has for you.
    3. The third recommendation I have is When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. A wonderful romantic comedy novel about two Indian-American young adults who are technically in an arranged marriage but manage to fall in love anyway. The main character is working in STEM (computer programming/app development) and it also shows a little bit of class/race issues with the Aberzombie antagonists.
  5. Tobias: A Book/Movie/TV Show With a Gentle Warrior. Gorgeous Marvel heroes aside, I want to pick a lady for this one because I haven’t read any books with a gentle male warrior. I have gotten into Xena: Warrior Princess. I’m late to the party, I know, but this is basically my excuse to gush over how much I love Gabrielle. I’m only on Season 2 and I kind of have an idea on what she will evolve into, but so far, she is the gentlest warrior that I know. If not, then just read Lord of the Rings because I also consider Aragorn and his comrades to be amazing warriors with gentle souls.
  6. Deadly Beast: A Book With a Monster Character Dracula, no question. Not only does Dracula brainwash one guy to become his minion, but he also turned Lucy into a baby-killer. In fact, most of the victims in this book were children and virgins. I don’t think it can get any more monstrous than that.
  7. Peaches: A Book with Symbology. Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A play with a lot going on, there’s a lot of symbology in the setting and the situations the characters find themselves in. Captivity is one theme symbolized in Ariel, Miranda, and Caliban. There’s also the theme of forgiveness. The storm itself is obviously a symbolic one. It’s one of my favorite Shakespeare plays.
  8. Brutal Battles: A Book/Movie/TV Show with Awesome Fight Scenes. Gonna have to go with a TV show here. Ahem. The 2012 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. Professional martial artists with signature weapons and yet there are five whole seasons filled with unique fights. Not to mention that each of the characters have a unique style and personality.
  9. Not What It Seems: Crazy Plot TwistJenna Moreci’s Eve The Awakening. I love this book. But one thing I did not see coming was who the actual bad guy was. She was really good at misleading me into thinking that a few characters could have been the leader of the Interlopers and then when I realized who it was, I was all “You son of a *BLEEP*!
  10. Self Love: Talk About My WIP I’m currently planning on revising my contemporary women’s fiction novel Love Notes which centers on an aspiring pianist with Asperger’s Syndrome competing on a talent search reality show while entering into a relationship with the bass-player of a semi-famous rock band. I shared the first four pages with my writing class at Rice University last month and they totally loved it!

Harry Potter and Memento Mori

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By No machine-readable author provided. Kirtap assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1713143

If you’re a fan of the Harry Potter books or movies like I am, you probably remember the Tale of the Three Brothers from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

 

Most Potterheads know that this fairy tale foretold the Deathly Hallows, which served as the MacGuffins in the book. I’m not sure if this was JK Rowling’s intention, but the fairy tale is more than just a plot device. It actually teaches a moral, as all fairy tales do. The moral of this particular tale is that we don’t have to be afraid of death, but we should still acknowledge that it exists. In other words, it’s a tale of memento mori.

In the context of the Potter-verse, the Elder Wand was created by Antioch Peverell, who used the wand to kill a rival wizard, boasted of the wand’s powers after winning the duel, and was murdered in his sleep shortly afterwards. To me, this represents people who act without thinking of the consequences. The people who live and breathe by YOLO, entitled and presumptuous.

The second brother, Cadmus Peverell, was described as an arrogant man who used the Resurrection Stone to recall the woman he hoped to marry back from the dead. The problem was that she suffered, living an incomplete life because she truly belong in the mortal world. This inability to connect with his love drove Cadmus mad with hopeless longing and he killed himself. There are many people who see death as a permanent end, unable to properly grieve their losses.

The third brother, Ignotus Peverell, was described as a humble and wise man. In the fairy tale, Death searched for Ignotus for many years, unable to find him. The Invisibility Cloak was handed down to his son when Ignotus reached old age. I love the way that the story ends: “He greeted Death as an old friend, and went with him gladly, and, equals, they departed this life.”

Not much is known about Ignotus Peverell aside from the fact that he created the Invisibility Cloak. However, his approach to death is a wise and sobering one. He did not see himself as more powerful than death nor was he consumed by past losses. Instead, death became a friend, an equal. Because death isn’t the end.

TV Tropes summarized the moral of this story best: “If you are unable to accept the futility of escaping death or are unable to accept the death of a loved one, death will be your greatest enemy. However, if you instead accept death as the inevitable and move on with your life, he will greet you as an old friend.”

#mementomori

 

When Dimple Met Rishi-A Book Review

When Dimple Met Rishi

When Dimple Met Rishi is about two soon-to-be college freshmen who attend a summer program for web development in San Francisco. Dimple is passionate about coding and creating an app that’s focused on healthcare. Rishi plans on going to MIT to study computer science and engineering. They are also in an arranged marriage by their parents. Wait, what?

I got introduced to this book through YouTube, specifically through a video from That Bookie. Thanks to my local library, I was able to check this book out. (Get it?) I devoured this book in a matter of hours and I did not want it to end. With Valentine’s Day coming around, this book is a wonderful read to get you in a romantic comedy mood. This could easily be made into a Bollywood rom-com.

Arranged marriages sound very weird to most young adults in the 21st century, but Rishi and Dimple both come from traditional Indian families and as such, their parents decide to have them meet at the summer web development program to see if they can hit it off. Like all romantic comedies, Rishi and Dimple don’t start off on the right foot. When they get partnered up as a team, however, they start to develop a friendship that slowly, but surely develops into an adorable romance.

Dimple is a thoroughly modern lady, geeky and sweet, but determined to not define herself by her looks or her relationships and the last thing she wants is to be married. On the other hand, Rishi is a romantic, very devout in his Hindu beliefs and passionate about something beyond a career in computers or engineering. They’re both hardworking people with way more integrity than the “Aberzombies” in the summer program who act as the main antagonists in this novel.

From a writing perspective, the storytelling is wonderful. It tells the romance from Dimple and Rishi’s viewpoints in a third person limited perspective. The voices are distinctive and I feel very close to both of the characters. Dimple may seem like your typical Tumblr Soapbox Sadie, but she loves her family and genuinely wants to use her passion to make a difference in the world. Rishi comes off as a sweet, classy gentleman, but his desire to be a dutiful son conflicts with his passion for making art and comic books.

My only nitpick with this particular novel is that there’s a small hookup scene. I hope that I don’t sound like a prude, but I would think that the more traditionally-minded Rishi would think to wait a little longer. The good news is that the hookup scene isn’t graphic. It’s a PG-13 hookup scene and it’s a sweet one. But if hookup scenes aren’t your thing, you can just skip over the pages without any issue.

What I love most about this particular novel is that Dimple and Rishi bring out the best in each other. Rishi learns that he can live for himself without disappointing his family while Dimple realizes that finding true love doesn’t mean conforming to the traditional idea of domesticity.

I wish there was an epilogue in this book. I can already see it, actually. Years later, after Dimple and Rishi finish college, they get married and everyone will laugh about how they fist met. Even though Rishi comes from a very wealthy family, Dimple will technically be making more money than him as an app developer while Rishi will go the route of Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman and publish his comic book series independently.

If you’re a hopeless romantic, I highly recommend this book. Some of the vocabulary will be lost in translation, but it’s a lighthearted, sweet read. And seriously, Bollywood, make this a movie!

So You Think You Can Write-Part 3: Creating Characters, Beyond the Cliche

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To paraphrase my favorite novel, Pride and Prejudice, I am a studier of character. Whenever I watch a movie or a TV show or read a book, I want to invest in the people more than whatever happens to them. What do they do? What are they thinking? What kind of people are they?

Even the most basic of plots can be compelling enough if the characters are written well. One example of this is The Guardians of the Galaxy (both Vol. 1 and 2). The plots of both movies are simple, but the characters are what make the movies interesting and compelling. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1 sets up what kind of people the characters are (and yes, I include the talking racoon and the giant tree as “people”). Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 introduces more personal stakes and shows the group coming together as a family unit. The action, music, and humor all contribute to the movie, but what people end up remembering (aside from the catchy songs) are the things that Peter, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot all experience.

When you’re creating a story, you want to create characters that aren’t stereotypes or cliches. If you’re writing young adult and know about the basic Breakfast Club archetypes, figure out a way to develop beyond the typical athlete, brainiac, princess, basketcase, and criminal. Power Rangers (2017) did this by giving each of the characters a personal stake in the story and characterization that goes beyond their high school label.

Jason starts out as the typical jock, star of the football team. However, he is tasked with the responsibility of being the leader and making sure everyone gets along. Billy is the brainiac, but he’s also on the autism spectrum and is grieving over his deceased father. Through befriending the rangers, Billy learns how to be more social without having to change who he is in essentials and he sees the rangers as his family. Zack seems like the cool high school delinquent, who always cuts class and hangs around the mines and train cars. In reality, he has the responsibility of taking care of his sick mother and fears losing her. Kimberley is the spirited ex-cheerleader, but her past as a mean girl causes her to wonder if she’s worthy of being a ranger. Trini starts out as being a “new kid on the block,” wanting to socialize, but never fitting in. She later reveals that she struggles with stuff relating to her identity. The way that she sees herself conflicts with what her parents want her to be.

All of these characterizations seem simple enough, but anything that goes beyond the norm makes for great writing. If you have a young woman who acts cold and distant, figure out why she’s so standoffish beyond a tragic backstory. Wonder Woman is a great example of female characterization. She has some tragedy in her backstory, but it does not define her as a person. Your young woman might have issues with her parents, like most other teenagers, but it can’t be her only defining trait.

Creating a character is basically like going on an archaeological dig: you start out with the bare bones (personality, physical appearances, likes, dislikes, etc) and have to dig deep to figure out what kind of person your character is. That means figuring out their backstory and what they want out of life at the time that your story starts.

It’s important to create a cast of diverse characters, and I don’t just mean making sure that you have characters of different ethnicity. Each character should have a distinct and unique personality. Even when you use the Myers-Briggs or the Four Temperaments, there are still ways to make two people with the same personality type and temperament unique.

I challenge you to create at least five characters that you think feel unique to you. Who knows, what you create might end up creating the players to a wonderful story.

Eve The Awakening-A Book Review

I discovered Jenna Moreci while browsing for writing tips on YouTube. She’s snarky, funny, and intelligent when it comes to knowing what makes a good story. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before I ordered a copy of her debut novel Eve The Awakening. My copy is autographed!

So what is this novel about?

In the distant future, humanity has discovered a type of mutant that they call “chimeras” or “chimes” (pronounced kime, rhymes with lime). Evelyn Kingston was a girl whose chimera powers manifested after her parents died in a traffic accident. Over a decade later, the world is now dealing with Interlopers who are hunting chimeras and causing destruction for reasons unknown. Wanting to get away from it all, Evelyn goes to college at Billington University. Of course, not everything there is what it seems to be.

I love this novel. It’s not perfect, but the good outweighs the bad.

First of all, I love the world they live in. It feels like something out of the Marvel comics, with chimeras being Moreci’s version of the X-Men. Even as Eve adjusts to life in college, there is always a tension lurking under the surface and by the time I got to the last few chapters, my nails were bitten down to the quick. Chimeras, based on what Eve has shown, are powerful, but not invincible and the Interlopers are equally intimidating, but thankfully not overly powered. Even though I know Jenna hates setting up places, I could easily imagine Billington and all the other places Eve went to, as well as all the fight scenes.

Most of the characters are compelling as well, especially Eve and Jason. I understood Eve as this skeptical loner who emerges into this new role of being a leader against the Interlopers. Jason is equally endearing because he’s sweet and considerate and the best guy to have fighting by your side. The romance that develops between them is genuine and thankfully undeterred by love triangles and stupid misunderstandings.

The supporting characters are definitely unique, with their own distinctive voices and plenty of diversity. My favorite side character is Sancho, btw. Filipino firecracker.

The entire story had me hooked from beginning to end. There are seriously no “filler” scenes. In fact, in spite of the fact that the book is over 500 pages long, I was left wanting more. The story is driven by both character and plot and the underlying tension, as well as the wonderful relationship that Eve and Jason have are basically the fuel that drives it.

Now I said before that this novel isn’t perfect. There’s no explanation for why exactly chimeras are considered the scum of the earth and the reason why Billington is set up doesn’t make a lot of sense, either, especially considering the people they hire to be their teachers. If the founders were pro-chimera, why hire people who are anti-chimera and accept students with anti-chimera views?

Eve initially checks off a lot of boxes on the Mary Sue Litmus test: meaningful name, gets special treatment,  is described while she looks at herself in the mirror (even though this novel is written in third person), and doesn’t get along with other girls. Aside from Eve, most of the female characters are two-dimensional. They all start out hating Eve or being fake. Madison especially didn’t make sense to me. What exactly were her motivations in this story? I knew her purpose to the plot, but her motivations were all over the place.

Regardless of the flaws, I still recommend Eve The Awakening to fans of sci-fi and comic books, especially if they are fans of X-Men, Buffy, or Agents of SHIELD because there are a lot of elements of all three things here. I especially like how Jenna wrote out the third act of the novel. She was able to play around with a very familiar movie trope and still have you going “That sneaky *bleep*!”

If you are a writer, check out Jenna Moreci’s channel on YouTube. If you’re interested in the book, click the link here to get it on Amazon.

Shadowmancer: A #ThrowbackThursday Book Review

I first read Shadowmancer back when I was in middle school. On the surface, it seems like this novel that takes place in a sleepy little English countryside fishing village would be the last place for an 18th century apocalypse to occur. In fact, Shadowmancer is similar to the gospel of John or the book of Revelations in its rich complexity and imagery. There are layers upon layers of metaphor and subtext as shown in this passage:.

The sky grew darker and darker and the full moon was blotted out by thick black cloud as streaks of lightning flashed from sky to sea, exploding in the water. A lightning sword hit the ship. The mainsail cracked, then crashed to the deck, sending startled crewmen bolting from their hammocks.

As they rushed on deck, another sail crashed down, splitting the deck in half and sending shafts of splintered wood into the air. The ship lifted and dropped with each wave; a crewman was thrown through the air and into the cold sea, never to be seen again.

“A direct hit,” shouted Demurral, laughing and rubbing his hands together in glee at the sight. “One more strike and the Keruvim will be mine.”

He raised the statue into the air and chanted more magic. “Wind, hail, lightning, thunder and wave.” The sea rose at his command, each surge growing higher and higher. Breakers like black fists smashed against the ship, almost engulfing the vessel.

Two local villagers, Thomas Barrick and Kate Coglan join up with a mysterious African man named Raphah to stop the main villain, Vicar Obadiah Demurral, from destroying the world. Demurral rules over the local villages with an iron fist, but the power he lords over the villages isn’t enough for him. He dabbles in dark magic that gives him the power to raise the dead, creating creatures called the Glashan, and steals the Keruvim (the MacGuffin of the story) with the hopes of using it and its other half in a ritual that will bring on the apocalypse.

Thomas starts out as your typical village street urchin. With his father dead and his mother in the hospital, he calls the vicar out on his hypocrisy and greed, lamenting his own poor status. He gets pulled into the action when Raphah rescues him from drowning. Although he is uncertain, Thomas is resolved to help Raphah on the mission to get the Keruvim back from Demurral. A young village girl, Kate Coglan gets thrown into the adventure when she tries to kill a Glashan, a zombie that Demurral raises from the dead, using the power of the gold Keruvim.

Raphah, the mysterious African from Cush, arrives in this small English countryside village to get the Keruvim back to his people. He’s the oldest of the trio and helps exposit important information regarding the dark magic and otherworldly creatures shown in this story. Prejudices towards Africans are prominent and he even gets branded as a slave, but his determination to do God’s will makes him a compelling character.

What makes Shadowmancer compelling to read is the attention to detail and the overall atmosphere. Whenever I open this book, I find some new detail I missed, another piece of the puzzle that adds depth and it entices me to read the book again in search for more. Most of all, I love why this book was written. In an interview with Christianity Today, GP Taylor said:

“I was out there talking to a church group about the threads, the dark and sinister threads through children’s literature. At the end of one of these nights, this woman came up to me and said, I think you should write a children’s book, but have the main theme of a God who’s triumphant. On the way home this stuck with me.”

Shadowmancer is a complicated, challenging read that fantasy fans will definitely find intriguing because of its dark atmosphere, threatening villain, and the timeless storyline of three unlikely heroes who, despite overwhelming odds, help to defeat the dark forces that were bent on destroying their world. I recommend this book for fans of dark fantasy and young adults who love a good Gothic atmosphere.

What Would Buffy Do?- A Book Review

What_Would_Buffy_Do_(Buffyverse)

To say that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a unique show that ended up changing my life forever would be an understatement. Much like how the Doctor from Doctor Who has two hearts, I have two great loves in my life: My Catholic faith and my obsession with fandoms, especially Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So imagine my surprise when I found out that a book like this one existed.

What Would Buffy Do: The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide is a collection of essays by Jana Reiss, a Mormon writer who specializes in writing things relating to religion and spirituality. It really boggles the mind that a show like Buffy, created by well-renowned atheist Joss Whedon, would have spiritual and religious themes that would lead to a Mormon writing essays on it, among other things.

The essays in Spiritual Guide are split into three sections: Personal Spirituality, “Companions on the Journey” (Interpersonal aspects of spirituality), and “Saving the World” (broad spiritual themes).  The essays in the first section are the most accessible to understand. “Be a Hero, Even When You’d Rather Go to the Mall” looks into the theme of self-sacrifice, using the characters of Buffy, Angel, and Xander as examples. This essay ties self-sacrifice with the Buddhist concept of the bodhisattva, “beings who are more concerned with the welfare of others.”  Although it includes the prayer of St. Francis as a quote (the same prayer also used in the end of the Buffy season 6 finale “Grave”), it neglects to mention the Christian aspect of agape and altruism, especially this verse from John 15:13 “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

“Change Makes us Human” looks into how vampires were originally conceived in the show: as metaphors for the selfish tendencies we have and the obstacles we have to deal with in the process of growing up. Spike is used as an example of this inability to change. In the episode “School Hard, Angel confronts Spike, saying “Things change.” Spike replies “Not us! Not demons!” The essay goes on to show how Spike becomes one of the most dynamic characters in the show, starting with the fact that Spike was the vampire with the most humanity. He cared for Drusilla for over a century and it’s through love (his love for Dawn and Buffy) that compels Spike to get his soul. Willow, Xander, and Giles’s character arcs are also examined.  What makes Buffy unique is that how slowly the show changes and evolves and the characters (and the audience) are forced to adapt and adjust to the change.

One aspect of change that this book looks into is death, examined in the essay “Death is Our Gift.” Death is shown as  something to be feared initially in Buffy and gave rise to the running joke of Joss Whedon killing off everyone the fans love. However, the darkness that death brings is one of the themes in season six. Sarah Michelle Gellar said that she felt uncomfortable with Buffy’s story arc in season six as it didn’t feel like the character she knew and loved. Marti Noxon, one of the writers and producers, called seas on six Buffy’s “Dark Night of the Soul.” Sadly, that’s the only mention of the Dark Night of the Soul in this entire book.

There is an essay on darkness in the third section of the book entitled “Taming the Darkness Within Ourselves,” but it looks into darkness from a more thematic and psychological perspective and not a spiritual one. Given that Spiritual Guide was published in 2004 and Mother Teresa’s struggles with her interior darkness wouldn’t be published until 2007, it’s somewhat understandable why the idea of spiritual darkness wasn’t fully examined in this book. The essay on humor “The ‘Monster Sarcasm Rally,'” also neglects to examine the ties between humor and faith. Then again, humor and religion have only recently shown to go hand in hand.

This book is a wonderful read as far as examining the various themes and the complexity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the spiritual roots are soaking in shallow water, probably so that the book would be accessible to a general audience. I would love to see a follow-up to this book, some kind of anthology with essays from people of all denominations. On the other hand, maybe it’s a good thing that this book has me asking more questions than answers, leaving me wanting to dig deeper and continue down the path towards integrating my favorite show with my belief system.

In the last episode of Buffy, “Chosen,” the power of the Slayer is given to every girl in the world and ends with Dawn asking Buffy “What do we do now?” When I finished watching the show for the first time, I was left wanting more and eventually found a community of fellow fans who love Buffy. To my surprise, these friends are also people whom I can discuss my Catholic faith with openly. I think the Vampire Slayer Spiritual Guide serves a similar purpose. It’s not meant to give straightforward answers, but to act as a conversation piece for people like me who have both faith and fandoms in their lives. It might be a good way to introduce the show to those who wouldn’t watch something with horror and modern themes.

Tl;dr: Read this book and have a good discussion with your fellow philosophy and theology majors. And then watch Buffy. It will make you laugh, cry, and change your life forever.