Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Book Reviews

The Assignment

For literary citizenship, one project that we had to do this semester was write a book review and send it out to try and get it published.

The book had to be either just newly published or in the pre-publication stage and by an author who could really benefit from a review as a source of "advertisement."

Basically, the book couldn't be the latest Stephen King novel.

One suggestion made to us by our professor, Cathy Day, was to go onto a site called Netgalley.com where you can browse books and request them.

If Netgalley believes that you are a qualified candidate to review the book(s) you've selected, based on your profile, you'll be sent free books!

I requested quite a few books and was only sent three I believe, Kindle versions of the books, by the way, but luckily, they'd sent me the one I wanted:

Supercell by H.W. "Buzz" Bernard.

The Review

I got the Kindle app for my phone and was able to fly through this book because I enjoyed it so much.

At first, the review process was a bit difficult because I wasn't used to formally talking about a book in such a manner.

What I mean is that when I recommend a book to someone, I usually give a lot of summary and a generic overview of how the plot flows.

That's it.

But for a review, you have to comment on the plot, structure, characterization, theme, etc. It's a lot more intricate.

At first, I of course used way too much summary of Supercell in my review. But with a few tweaks and the inclusion of more novel jargon, I was ready to start looking for places to send it.

The Results

For class, one of the books we had to purchase was The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing by Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards. Fortunately, they had quite the list of potential places to send book reviews to in the back.

I gazed over all my options, Googled a few of the places and finally settled upon the Midwest Book Review site for a couple reasons:

1. They accepted volunteer reviewers (like me!)
2. Even if they published my review, I still retained all the rights to it.
3. They had many different styles of reviews, some short and some long.

I felt I had a chance.

I composed my email to the editor, James A. Cox, and followed the guidelines for submission as he requested.

A few days later, I checked my email and had a response from him.

He said they would be publishing my review in the May 2014 section/issue of the site!

Your Turn

If there's a book out there that you think needs to be more widely known, consider reviewing it! 

Really put some thought and effort into it and then do some research as to where you want to send it.

No harm will come from you trying to promote a book, and I promise, it's super exhilarating being able to finish a review and send it out.

Regardless of whether it gets published or not, it's an accomplishment.

And most of all...you've been one excellent literary citizen.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Follow Up

Bombed It

More than a month ago, I had my fake interview with Erik Deckers on February 21st.

He, and many others interested in helping out students with practicing how to interview for jobs, came to Ball State and sat with a multitude of students throughout the day.

We were allotted thirty minutes to talk, discuss, answer questions, ya know, the typical interview thing.

Erik was a very pleasant man and when I wasn't being asked to answer any questions, I was perfectly fine and enjoyed our exchanges.

I didn't feel like I was going to choke and die, basically. I was nervous, but not frightfully so.

The moment a job related question was asked of me, though, I would freeze.

My body tensed up. 

Air? What was that? I couldn't remember how to get it in my lungs.

I left the interview feeling miserable (read more here). 

I knew I'd tanked it.


Yet, apparently that's not what happened. What I had perceived to be the truth and reality of the situation was in fact somehow false.

I was told in class one Thursday by Cathy Day, my literary citizenship professor, that I was experiencing a disconnect between reality and the world in my head. 

I hadn't done horridly at all.

This was furthered confirmed by an email from Erik himself.

His email read as such:

"Hi Liz

So Cathy Day pointed me toward your blog post about our interview. I was surprised by it. I honestly don't remember interviewing a 'frozen-up moron.' That woman never showed up. She must have been in a different room than we were.

But I remember Liz. Liz the creative writing meteorologist. Liz who works the front desk at her dorm. Liz my fellow Honors Collegian (Colleague?). Liz who understands and appreciates the glory of the Oxford Comma.

I remember thinking Liz was pretty effing awesome.

So awesome in fact, that when we were done, I emailed a friend of mine to ask him if he was still looking for interns. (He wasn't. Sorry.)

Could you have done 'better' on the interview? Sure, but we all can. We always have room to improve on any venture. (Actually, the last thing you want to be excellent at is job interviews, since it implies you've done lots and lots of them!) But you did fine and I didn't think there was anything wrong with your performances. 

Just remember, interviews are about making connections. While there's a question-and-answer format to it, it's your chance to tell stories and build rapport with the interviewer. We did that, which is why you are one of only three people who truly stood out to me, and I remember even now. Hell, I even kept your resume so I could remember you.

If you'd like, I'm happy to give you some interview advice for future real interviews. But you did just fine, and you were a very enjoyable person to talk to; I was only sorry we had to stop after 30 minutes.

So tell your 'frozen-up moron' I'm sorry she missed all the fun. I had a good time.



I have read this email about six times now.

Each time, I tear up.

I'll be honest: I'm that kind of person that no matter what I do, it's never good enough.

I'll never be perfect enough, achieve enough, be great enough, etc.

I'm just not enough.

So, to have someone like Erik say all these supremely nice things about me, someone he'd only met once, and for thirty minutes at that, is astounding.

He doesn't know how much it means to me, nor can I properly explain it.


It's something massive to think about.

How can two people, I being one of those two, go through the exact same thing and walk away with completely opposite opinions about what just occurred?

Not sure.

Probably has something to do with the Matrix.

Regardless, it really is consoling knowing that next time, I need not worry as much because, chances are, I won't bomb it.

Take Heed

Not only will this help me in the future, but I hope it helps others who get just as nervous. 

Have some faith in yourself and realize that even if it wasn't a perfect interview, it still probably wasn't that bad.

Don't throw yourself to the side that easily.

You're not a failure, and I found that neither am I.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Research: The Gateway to Creative Writing

"Need more input, Stephanie!"
Lately, I've been really wanting to write an analysis or research paper of some sort. And I'm not sure why. Most students flinch when told they have to do a research paper and yet I often feel a weird sort of...glee.

I like learning. I like looking up stuff. One of my favorite activities is looking up something random on Wikipedia and then clicking on links within the page, seeing where I end up. 

(I also enjoy making typos whilst texting and then researching the words that aren't autocorrected. I recently just learned about rhenium the other day thanks to this method.)

This desire to just know random things comes in handy, especially in creative writing because, believe it or not, I'd say that about fifty percent--if not more--of creative writing is research.

It's True

I know, shocker, right? 

But really, think about it:  if you're going to write about basically anything, you have to know something about it first. If you're writing a war novel or maybe a satricial piece about the moon landing, you're going to have to do a little research first so you know what you're talking about.

For example, I'm currently working on a farcical screenplay for my advanced screenwriting class about Victorian societal standards and etiquette.

In order to make this piece effective, funny, and accurate I've had to do a LOT of research into what was expected of men and women during the later 1880s. I needed to know the rules so that I could break them.

Not only is my screenplay going to turn out a lot better, it will seem authentic. It's so easy to see when someone is faking their way through anything, whether it be a speech, paper, or story. If you want people to take you seriously, even if the piece is comical, you have to prove that you know what you're doing.

Research Methods

I think what really freaks people out about researching is that it seems like such an intense, time consuming endeavor. It doesn't have to be that way, though! It can actually even be fun. 

Here are some ways I like to research or start the researching process:

1. Go to a public place and just eavesdrop. If someone says something I don't understand or have knowledge of, I Google it!

2. Go to the library and just start looking around. I always stumble upon something that I don't know about. I check out a couple books on the subject and start reading and learning!

3. Just Google/Wikipedia something. Anything. I'm always amazed at what I end up learning.

The best thing is that you can learn interesting things that might seem like "useless" information, but you never know when that Wikipedia page about lenticular clouds might come in handy. 

Everything is material. Everything.

Don't Just Listen to Me...

Below are links to blogs and/or articles that discuss researching for creative writing. 

Cathy Day, my literary citizenship professor, is currently working on a novel about Cole Porter's wife, Linda. She talked to us about her work with researching the novel back in the Novel Writing course I took last semester with her. In her blog post, found here, she talks about how much research she had/has to do since she is dealing with non-fictional characters. 

And if writing about real people, like Teddy Roosevelt or Bach, is something you want to do, there's nothing stopping you. Research just becomes all the more important so that you can make the book accurate and credible.

Jean Wilson Murray discusses employing research as a means of procrastination in his writing process in this blog post. 

I'll be honest, I do the same. I'd much rather read up on my topic and do research than write at times, because it's easier. But "easier" is usually the path to be avoided if grand results are desired. But we're all human. Knowing this problem and admitting is the first step.

Research is important, just don't let it overshadow the reason you're researching:


Find your info and then pull out a new sheet of paper and put to good use the new knowledge you've acquired. 


I may just be weird, but this aspect of creative writing is probably one of my favorites. I love knowing that I'm going to be able to provide my readers with a well researched story, screenplay, etc. Sometimes it's difficult, but the reward of having a knowledgeable voice in your piece makes it so worth it.

Think about some of your favorite novels, TV series, or movies.

Those projects all take years to make because of all the extensive and in depth research that must be done.

How well do you think Breaking Bad would have turned out had creator Vince Gilligan not researched any of it?

It would have been cancelled faster than you can say "Walter White."

"Mr. White, what are we doing here again?"
"Research, Jesse. We're researching."

So, while it may get tedious at times, just remember that researching is a good thing. You'll better your project and yourself! 

What are some ways YOU like to research? Have any cool methods? Share with me! I'd love to be introduced to even more ways to glean more information.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

February 21st, 2014: A Day That Will Live On In Infamy

Get Jazzed

I dropped my backpack to the floor, tore open a yogurt, and amped up some tunes as I tried to get all hyped up for my practice interview.

I danced like a moron around my room in the hopes of it helping time speed up so that I could just leave for the interview already. (I got back from Spanish at noon something and had to wait until at least 1:15 or so to walk over to Lucina. I had major ants in my pants.)

Somehow, I managed to not go crazy waiting to leave and then I finally trekked across campus in eighty-four mile an hour winds (or so they seemed) to meet my fate. 

Well..."fate." This was still just a practice after all.

Oooohhh, professional-y.

Sweat is the New Oil

I got to the interview about twenty minutes early so I could change into heels and go over things again before having to head to the interview room.

Man, if sweat were gold, I would have been RICH. 

Not only was I sweating from nerves, but also from walking over in blustery/coldish-but-not-really conditions. 

It was gross and not consoling. And the longer I waited, the worse it got.


Polar Vortex

I should have legally changed my name to "Polar Vortex" before this whole interview thing.


That's right, son. Throwin' down them mad metaphors.

But okay, okay, don't beg. I'll clarify.

I'm not one who likes to talk about herself, or often in general, unless I feel comfortable enough.

"What?! But you're a WRITER! You MUST be a good speaker!"


Unless I have some sort of script or prepared speech, I cannot speak to save my life. I'm not kidding. I ramble, I stutter, I don't make sense. I fall flat on my face.

I hear myself saying stupid things that don't make any sense and I can't stop.

And then, maybe even worse than rambling, though maybe just as bad, is the freezing.

Oh yeah. I froze.

At least two or three times. 

Except less bears and more me

I knew I had to think of something, say something but I had nothing. Like, I just sat there with my hands poised, frozen as well, while my mouth and brain did nothing.

At that point, I really just wanted my hands to talk for me. But I sadly know all of ten ASL signs, most inappropriate.

That's when your saddened protagonist, aka me, started to feel utterly hopeless.

Life Was Hard and She Sucked At Interviews

That, ladies and gentlemen, is going to be inscribed upon my tombstone.

If I were going to actually have a tombstone. No, I've got a whole death monument planned. But, I digress...

I don't know. It's not like I haven't had interviews before. I've had multiple ones but this was the worst I've ever done. 

I left the room completely shaken, rattled, and rolled.

After filling out an "after interview survey" or whatever you want to call it, I changed back out of my heels and called my mom, basically nearly crying the whole walk back to my dorm. (The only reason I didn't cry was because I was in public. Otherwise, I would have sobbed until mascara trails were burned into my cheeks.)

I was just so frustrated, pissed at myself.

It's talking. TALKING. Not rocket surgery. But, I can't do it. I suck at it.

And I guess that's kind of the conclusion I've come to:  it's just one of those things for me. Like math or physics. I just don't get how to do it. 

Sure, I can eventually bullshit my way through a calculus or physics problem, so hopefully the same applies to interviews but I'm not so sure.

I honestly would rather sing in public than go through another interview. And that's one of my worst fears.

Sadly, I can't just opera my way through an interview.

Super Rad

Now that this blog post is long enough, I'd just like to say that my interviewer was a wonderful man. He was very relaxed, laid back, and talked to me about some really cool things that weren't even a part of the interview.

That being said, I really hate that I'm going to leave him with that impression of me. Because the girl that was in that room was not who I really am. She's a moron. The one typing right now may also be a moron, but at least she's lively and hides her moronic tendencies.

Interviews are hard. I know they're hard for everyone, but man, are they difficult for me.

It was a learning experience, no matter if what I learned was positive or negative.

And now, I'm just going to go back to quietly hiding, enjoying the fact that I don't have to worry about this interview anymore.

My spirit animal

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

New Age Book Reviews

The Next Generation

For those of you who don't know, the picture you see above is known as a "meme." They hit the internet sometime in the recent past and have continued to be used for all types of situations, mostly to make fun of other things on the internet or to emphasize a certain emotion.

Philip J. Fry from Futurama is emphasizing my confusion as to whether or not memes and their video brothers, GIFs, should be included in book reviews.

Yes, include these often times sarcastic, overly dramatic, and misunderstood by many memes and GIFs into a book review.


I read about it in this article for my literary citizenship class. At first, I didn't believe that it was a serious thing. I only knew memes from Facebook or Tumblr. I didn't think it should be in something as serious as a book review.

My main reason is because I know that I, as the reviewer, would want to be taken seriously. I feel like the use of something as casual as a GIF or meme could be misconstrued as a mockery of the book, not taking the job of being a reviewer with as much weight as it should be.

I wouldn't want to work hard on a review, toss in a meme, and then be discredited.

Others, though, saw the value in memes. 

Some classmates/Twitter acquaintances said that it would depend on the type of book being reviewed.

For instance, a YA book might lend itself to using a meme or some kind of reaction GIF in the review to help convey an overall feeling about the book or to portray what kind of humor might be within the pages whereas a thriller novel for adults would not.

To Use or NOT To Use

That is the question.

The jury is still out on GIFs and memes, therefore, use good judgment, Hamlet. 

Really think about whether the meme will be distracting and take away from what you're trying to say...

Or if it will really help you get a point across. 

The most important thing is that your intended message in your review get across. 

What Do You Think?

So what do you think about the inclusion--or exclusion--of memes and GIFs in reviews?

The review of the future....or just a distraction from the "prestige" of review writing?

"Condescending Wonka"

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Moon Landing and Writing: How They're Basically the Same


A writer who doesn't know how to write? That is indeed ironic.

A blog post, that can't be that hard, right? I mean, what do you really have to do besides rant on about what you think about things, you know what I mean?


There's so many components to a good blog that it's actually intimidating. 

For example, having an eye catching title. It's the first thing people see! You've gotta impress them right away or, honey, you've already lost your potential audience.

Not only drawing people in, but keeping them with you is another challenge bloggers face. 

Luckily, sites such as this one operate to help you make sure you know just what things to try and work into your blog to make it as appealing as possible.

It's one of the many readings that I've had to do so far for my Literary Citizenship class that's beginning to help mold me into a more conscious citizen of the literary world.

What Is Literary Citizenship?

I can't tell you how many times I've been asked that. I'm still learning myself just what it means to be a literary citizen, but this is the general gist I have so far:

Reaching out into the literary community and helping other writers by promoting their work, being interested in what others are doing, so that you may make yourself known. When the time comes for you to need similar backing, if you've done your outreach right, you should have some connections to at least help you get started.

In one of the readings that we had to do, Chuck Sambuchino's "12 Principles of Platform," a main point of his was that "in giving, we receive."

That means we, as comrades in the literary community, must give recognition to others and their hard work in order to hopefully receive that same attention one day.

Being in this class will improve my own literary citizenship.

I'm in this class, honestly, because it is a mandatory class for my Creative Writing major. But the fact that it's mandatory does nothing to change the fact that I'm not excited to learn.

Making your way into such a competitive field that is only getting tighter and more selective is extremely hard. But I feel that at the end of this course, I'll be able to find the ways to make connections with other writers and find that elusive tunnel out into the writing world.

So How Do I Get Out There?

Well, you can start with something really simple:

Just give.

Read a book and then write a review of it and post it online.

OR if technology still rocks your boat in all the wrong ways, review it the old fashioned way: by word of mouth.

I love being able to talk about a good book I just read. Or any of the books I have read.

And, although I am a meteorology minor, sometimes I like to talk about things other than the weather with people.

Some Stuff That's Helped

Last week, we had to read Austin Kleon's Steal Like An Artist. The book was not only original in its square, smaller pages, but in the fact that it was a very visual book. 

What I took away from it, and will remember most, is that when we learn to write, we emulate our heroes. (Hence, we steal). 

We copy styles, word choices, maybe even genres from our favorite authors until we learn to write ourselves. They are our grand stepping stones into the world of book writing.

I know that I stole from Dean Koontz and learned how to write from him. I even wrote to him on multiple occasions and he responded! Not just a standard, pre-written letter, but he actually took the time to physically write a response himself.

And that meant the world to me.

So, as Kleon says, steal like an artist and use their knowledge to help find yourself in the writing world...but then give back! Send them a letter telling them how much you loved a book or something along those lines.

You're killing two birds with one stone.

We Do These Things Because They Are Hard

Yeah, that's a little JFK action in there for ya. 

But his famous quote fits in perfectly with not only trying to land men on the moon, but also writing.

How can you compare space travel to simply writing?! 

Easy: with words.

The point is, in Betsy Lerner's book, The Forest for the Trees, she discusses the writer's most feared thing: rejection.


And while, yes, it may be a horrifying, crippling thing, she spins it in a more positive light.

She compares each stage of rejection as being just another stepping stone in the writing world.

You start out with informal letters; move onto informal letters with something scrawled on it, maybe an actual (although illegible) signature from an editor; then you get a letter with more comments; and finally the personal letter which may tell you to "try us again" or "give this a try" and so on.

That final personal letter, while still a rejection, is what Lerner compares to landing on the moon. 

It's a GIANT leap and means that you're almost there! Keep up the faith, good writer. Don't settle for anything less than not only going to the moon, but returning home safely (hopefully with an offer by a publisher).

I completely love space beyond almost anything else in this world, and when she used this analogy, it really helped me to realize that rejection is a long, scary road, but eventually, with persistence and determination, success can and will be achieved. 

We DID make it to the moon after all. 

I want to not only emulate my favorite authors, but also my heroes of space travel.

To Disengage

The most important things to remember are that in this world of writing, you aren't alone. There is a whole big ocean of writers struggling to have themselves be known.

We all need to help each other.

Give, and ye shall receive.

Learn from your heroes and tell them so.

Reach out! Don't be silent. Talk to others, make yourself available. Make your own little writing community.

And most importantly, shoot for the moon. Because, c'mon, who doesn't want to go to the moon?

Apollo 11 Astronauts
Neil Armstrong
Michael Collins
Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin