Write what you (don’t) know

I recently went to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to view the Ron Mueck exhibit. As I walked in, there was a piece by another artist that consisted of an LED panel scrolling text like you might see in Times Square. I don’t know who the artist is or where the phrases showcased come from, but as I passed, the phrase “A MAN CAN NEVER UNDERSTAND WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE A MOTHER” scrolled by and I had a multitude of visceral reactions that stuck with me as I went on to the Mueck exhibit.

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Book Review: Children of the Darkness

The-Children-of-Darkness-CoverOfficial description: But what are we without dreams? A thousand years ago the Darkness came–a time of violence and social collapse when technology ran rampant. But the vicars of the Temple of Light brought peace, ushering in an era of blessed simplicity. For ten centuries they have kept the madness at bay with “temple magic,” eliminating forever the rush of progress that nearly caused the destruction of everything. Childhood friends, Orah and Nathaniel, have always lived in the tiny village of Little Pond, longing for more from life but unwilling to challenge the rigid status quo. When their friend Thomas returns from the Temple after his “teaching”—the secret coming-of-age ritual that binds the young to the Light—they barely recognize the broken and brooding man the boy has become. Then when Orah is summoned as well, Nathaniel follows in a foolhardy attempt to save her. In the prisons of Temple City, they discover a terrible secret that launches the three on a journey to find the forbidden keep, placing their lives in jeopardy. For hidden in the keep awaits a truth from the past that threatens the foundation of the Temple. If they reveal that truth, they might release the long-suppressed potential of their people, but they would also incur the Temple’s wrath as it is written: “If there comes among you a dreamer of dreams saying ‘Let us return to the darkness,’ you shall stone him, because he has sought to thrust you away from the light.”


David Litwack’s Children of the Darkness offers a lyrical, well-structured, and well-written dystopian story about the power of truth and lies. In the manner of stories like Veronica Roth’s Divergent and Hugh Howey’s Wool, the world has regressed to a  simpler time and simpler style of living without any technology and governed by their religion. At first, it’s hard to determine in what period of time the story takes place in and it’s fun and interesting how the author places clues here and there to let us know that we are far in the future from our normal reality.

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Book Review: Ruby

Ruby by Cynthia Bond is about Ephram Jennings who in his 40s finally finds the strength to go against the sister that raised him and the community that  supported him to pursue his childhood love of the local crazy Ruby who is shamed as a godless whore corrupting the good men in a small black town in Texas during the 60s. Through various character vantage points and flashbacks, we learn the harrowing and complicated history of the central lovers and their community, which includes unflinching accounts of child rape, murder, and physical abuse, set within a spiritual war between Christianity, a form of Voodooism, and simple human decency.

I am so glad that I read Ruby by Cynthia Bond. Given the subject matter of the book, “glad” would seem like the wrong word, but this book fed a piece of my soul, and for that I am grateful and, yes, glad. Given the subject matter of the book, it would seem like a “hard” book to read, something I wouldn’t easily consume, something that would take me a long time to get through. But Cynthia Bond has a way with words and a way with story and she wrapped her words and her story around my mind and my heart and my soul and took me down this path, little by little, until I couldn’t turn away from the horror, but became a witness and therefore part of a possible solution. What is the solution? Hope. Acceptance. Not turning a blind eye. Not shying away from truth.

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The Wonder of Harry Potter Land

It’s summer in Florida; people said not to go. But due to various scheduling restrictions, we had no choice. We had to go to Orlando at the end of July and do Disney and Universal with the mob of everyone else. I think we did it right overall, but the highlight of the trip, hands down, was Harry Potter Land in Universal Studios Orlando.

“Why?” My brother asked, astounded (and possibly disgusted since he hasn’t read any of the books and only saw the movies under familial pressure). “You’ve traveled around and seen real castles and real towns and real beauty, but you act as if nothing compares to Harry Potter Land.”

He was right: nothing compares. I can tell you that Prague is the most beautiful city I’ve been to and still go googly-eyed looking at the Hogwarts Castle in Hogsmeade. They are two completely different things. One is borne out of history and survival. The other is borne out of the imagination.

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Love is Red Book Review

tlc tour hostLove is Red is the story of a serial killer with a mysterious purpose attacking New York City and the woman who becomes his ultimate prize, the one he pursues for his final kill. Told in alternating POV, the story is gripping, scary, thrilling, and very sexy. The writer uses the second-person voice for the serial killer’s POV which is a stroke of genius. It makes the reader culpable by making us sympathize with and understand this monster. From the very beginning, we get the sense that the serial killer is omniscient, he just reads people too well, and while he’s somewhat cavalier and sadistic when he goes in for the kill, it never gets gruesome or graphic or crass.

It’s one of the strongest openings I’ve ever read, a real shot of adrenaline straight to the heart.

The serial killer feels emotions through the senses, much like Death views human souls as colors in The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. The descriptions in Love is Red go beyond seeing a particular color to include sounds, tastes, smells, and feelings.

“Terror is the color of under the bed, it is the color of bone marrow and the color of chalk, it wails like sirens, it hums like wasps, it thuds like an MRI machine, it tastes of sweat, it tastes of metal, it tastes of rising bile, it feels like the scrape of cement against skin, it thumps like a pounding heart.”

Chapter 11 is almost entirely a key to the map of all the emotions: “Love is red…Anticipation is aquamarine…Ambition is orange, the color of a traffic signal…Anxiety is light blue, the color of varicose veins…” It is possible the descriptions could have been trimmed, they do verge on the edge of indulgent, but it is such sensual writing (literally) that it feels like a mini daydream in the middle of a nightmare. Truly exquisite.

The woman he’s ultimately after, Katherine, shows up in the second chapter with her first-person voice telling us about the date she’s on. It’s so relatable and she’s a bit on the sarcastic side, which I personally love. She finds herself drawn to her new boyfriend’s best friend, who is dark and distant, and is clearly the serial killer. She tries to ignore all the hysteria about the serial killer’s latest kill, how no one knows how he gets in, how there’s not a trace or a clue to his identity. She wants to live a normal life, she wants to find a man to love, but even in that she fails as she’s torn between the good, sweet, funny, respectful David and the enigmatic, boundary-crossing, lustful Sael.

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Double the Writing Wednesdays! Black Moon Review

Have you heard of this book Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun? Go read it. Right now. Yes, I mean right now. It’s about how insomnia becomes a viral plague spreading across the world pitting those effected against the few remaining who can still sleep and dream. It makes you wonder how real is your reality.

Written in some of the most beautiful prose I’ve read in a long time, this poetic, haunting, exceptionally told story follows three main characters in a end-of-the-world saga that feels so real, so subtle, so scary without any zombies, vampires, or otherworldly creatures to blame.

In the end, there are no answers, and that was fine with me. The ideas sparked by this book rang so true and while I want to know more, to know why, to know what will happen after “the end,” I am thoroughly satisfied with this book. And that’s a hard thing to accomplish.

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Writing Wednesdays: The Last Book Ever Written Review

tlc tour hostThe Last Book Ever Written is a cautionary tale that reads like a 1950s noir novel. Despite its thoughtful and well-thought-out characters and plot, it suffers from the earnestness of its social commentary. The writing itself is very formal and straightforward and reads like a report. While this is functional in terms of relaying the action and information, it lacks poetry and makes the reading itself tedious. It reminded me of reading Ayn Rand’s Anthem, but I have to admit I appreciated Anthem more than The Last Book Ever Written in part, I think, because the main character in Anthem has no knowledge of the past, and that past seems very very distant. Whereas the main character in The Last Book Ever Written does know his history, yet he remains a very naïve character and I had a hard time sympathizing with him. The book’s themes too – that creativity is needed, that we should talk to each other more than look at our iPhones – felt overly simplistic to the point of patronizing. I applaud the author for writing the book because it is well done overall, I just wanted to like it a lot more than I actually did.

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The Ballad of a Small Player is vivid in the way a dream is when you first wake up, before it disappears from consciousness. A novel about the thrill of losing, and the impenetrable wall between opposites that sometimes vanishes in an instant of luck. RATING: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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Writing Wednesdays: Back to Screenplays

After the HBO Access Fellowship debacle where Withoutabox.com crashed in the mad rush to upload applications before the 1000-entry cap was met, I got so upset and depressed about missing an opportunity that I realized I was still searching for some kind of validation and permission.  Well, screw that.  One of the best things I walked out of USC with was an ability to pick up a camera and make a film without a need for anyone’s permission.  It was liberating, because I had needed this external approval for so long.  A day or so after, I received an email from the Writer’s Store about a screenplay contest where they provide the logline and you write the first 15 pages.  I thought – this sounds like fun.  I’m currently finished working on my novel, awaiting feedback from my Beta readers, so I wasn’t actively writing anything and I need that in my life.  I also decided I would write the full script for this logline and set it in Houston and write something that I could reasonably produce as an indie feature.  I don’t need no permission.

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Maya Angelou: Tribute

I don’t remember exactly when I first read Maya Angelou’s autobiography I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS.  It wasn’t for school, but it was sometime in high school.  I was moved and inspired by many African American writers at the time, particularly James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, but Angelou’s series of autobiographies captured my mind and my heart and stayed with me.

I have nothing in common with Ms. Angelou.  I am a white girl, born with a certain amount of privilege, who grew up in the frustrating/stimulating and education-dominant Washington, DC.  I was a vanilla suburbanite in the chocolate city.  There are many powerful perks to growing up in that region.  Even if you don’t care about politics, you’re immersed in it.  The power, the money, the ambition are everywhere and shape what you think of the world.  Even before I went to the President’s-kids-go-here school in 10th grade, when I was just a public school kid, I went to one of the best public schools in the country.  I saw Presidents get inaugurated as a child and went to the White House Egg Roll for Easter.  When I danced the kid part in the annual The Nutcracker, it was for the Joffrey Ballet at the Kennedy Center.  Books and movies and television shows were about my home town.  These are things I didn’t realize were inside of me until I left.

And by the time I was in high school, there were things about DC I wanted to escape.  Things I hated: the classism, the racism, the elitism.  The fear of living in a city with a large amount of crime.  I didn’t want to let that fear rule me.

I also didn’t want to be what others expected of me, and DC felt full of that.  My parents weren’t easy (still aren’t), and expectations are a family tradition.

Maybe this is typical of teenagers who feel so “other” in their own lives.  Who want to shed their skin and distance themselves from what they know in order to find who they truly are.  But I felt a deep connection with Ms. Angelou’s words, and they helped shape how I approached the discovery of who I wanted to be.

It wasn’t the differences that drew me to Ms. Angelou’s life story.  It was the similarities.  If you read Ms. Angelou’s biographies, you will see a life full of love, and pain, and disadvantage, and unexpected meetings, and surprises, and choices that lead from one point to the next.  It’s crazy to think about the different roles she played in her own life.  I identified with her, not because of shared experiences, but because of shared emotions.  Analogous situations.  Do I believe Ms. Angelou cultivated her story into something thematic that became more literary than the standard autobiography?  Sure!  But I identify with that too.  I want to shape my own story into something that makes sense.  Storytelling has become my religion.

And that too, may be a lasting legacy of Ms. Angelou’s influence on me: to tell stories, to write.  She was an insurmountable spirit, woman, human being.  I will miss the wisdom she still could have shared, but I will remember and cherish what she has already given to this world.