Book Review: The Song of the Lark

So, I had an unforeseen problem in taking a month off of blogging. I can’t remember what the heck I am supposed to be writing about today. *goes to scour notebooks* Aaaah. Got it. Well, before we get to our regularly scheduled book review, I have a couple announcements. (only two, don’t roll your eyes)

I have Instagram!! Why am I acting so excited about it?! Basically, a bit ago I was decided with a loud sigh that I should be more active on social media, and ya know, create an author platform. Woohoo. So now you can find me and either block or follow me with the handle @shainamerrickwriter. I have loooots of book pictures and quotes because, that is what I like! So go, laugh at my picture taking skills! (I will eventually figure out how to put the insta button on my blog side bar, eventually…)

Also, I hate quarantine. Not being able to shop for clothes or hang out with my friends sucks. On the other hand, I have more time to read, and to bang my head on my keyboard while I am pretending to write.

On to a book review!

The Song of the Lark (Great Plains Trilogy, #2)

Perhaps Willa Cather’s most autobiographical work, (isn’t ‘perhaps’ a lovely word?) The Song of the Lark charts the story of a young woman’s awakening as an artist against the backdrop of the western landscape. Thea Kronborg, an aspiring singer, struggles to escape from the confines her small Colorado (finally, a book set in Colorado and it isn’t Denver!) town to the world of possibility in the Metropolitan Opera House. In classic Cather style, The Song of the Lark is the beautiful, unforgettable story of American determination and its inextricable connection to the land. (Uuuh, I don’t know about her connection to the land, she cuts her ties pretty well!)

As much as I love all of Willa Cather’s books, this one imprinted itself on my mind and heart much more than all of the other ones.

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather is the story of an artist. One who struggles to find herself, and where she fits in the grand scheme of things, throughout her entire life.

The book starts when Thea Kronburg is, like, six, and ends when she is thirty something. Yes, it is a very fat book. And yes, it did take me a while to read.

I thought the beginning was slow. Mostly because it seemed to be more about her life, and her family’s life, than it was about who she was as an artist. Though it does lay the important groundwork about her lifelong friends, and how she develops as a musician at first.

Then we hit the middle of the book, and things pick up a bit! Which seems to be the opposite of how most book are written (hello mid book slump).

Some of my favorite characters are in the middle of the book. Including Thea’s piano teacher in Chicago who realizes that her true gift is singing, and her friend turned love interest who introduces her to the finer things in life.

What I found most interesting about the book is her transition from piano to singing. Thea has been trained for most of her childhood to be a pianist. She had the best piano teacher in her little Colorado town, and she gets the bets piano teacher in Chicago, all to help her become a concert pianist. And she is good. Good enough to teach others, good enough that her piano teacher knows that she could have a future in piano.

But she hates it. The farther she gets, the more she dislikes playing. But even so, she forces herself to practice for hours every day. To conquer every challenge thrown at her, to make perfect every song. And she is miserable for every minute of it.

And singing, well, singing is something she has always done, and while she know she is good at it, piano is what she is better at, right?

Wrong.

The first time her piano teacher hears her sing, he knows better. Her true gift, her soul, is in her voice. Piano is something she could be good at, but singing is something she could be great at.

From that moment, off she tumbles into a world of voice. The work is still hard, but it is a different kind of hard. Singing is so much a part of her that the work has become an extension of who she is, and who she wants to become.

How often do we spend hours upon hours chasing a dream, only to realize that we are better at something else? Or how much money do we spend hoping that we will become someone, only to find out that we would rather be someone else?

I would say that the second half of the book reveals how far Thea is willing to go in pursuit of become a great artist. She is willing to give up just about everything, home, family, health, in order to pursue her dream.

She decides that she will become great, or she will be nothing.

Obsessive? Well, some may say so. One may also say determined. She is determined to get what she wants, no matter what gets in her way. Be that happiness or despair.

And does she get what she wants? Well, I can’t give everything away, can I?

Shaina Merrick

The Tales of Lunnoor: One Night

Hello hello! I am back with another tale from the realm of Lunnoor. Not terribly much happens this story. But, well, I guess you will have to read it for yourself.

He turned the helmet over and over in his hands. The one oil lamp in the tent gave everything in the tent a golden glow, just barely keeping out the dark of the night.

Beldon touched the helm to his forehead. Two days of searching with a grumbling Lannie at his side, and this was all they had to show for it. One small bit of proof that Belissa had vanished into the fairy realms. His stout hearted sister, the one who faced every danger with a sword in her hand, coerced away by pixies. He should have been there, his aching heart cried. But he knew better. Someone had to stay to make sense of the chaos his father had left behind him. The elder took on the parents burdens, while the younger went off to war.

Beldon gently put the helmet back on his bedside table. This was all that was left of his family. The once illustrious family of Beldon reduced to a half rusted helmet and one son. And it would end with him. Some glorious battle he would find himself on the front lines, and on that day, he wouldn’t look back. Was else was there to do with a son who had lost everything?

  • * * *

“So what was I supposed to say?” Lannie paced back and forth in front of the kings throne. The lamp light pooled around her feet, she was walking through golden water. “He held the helmet like it was a lifeline, and sorry was not going to be enough!” She grabbed the hair on each side of her head and pulled. “I just stared at him like a loon, and hoped that a faerie didn’t come right at that moment.”

She spun on her heel to face the king, “What would you have done?”

“Some grief is too deep for words,” the king said with a sad smile. An opened letter lay on his lap, momentarily forgotten when his daughter stormed into the room.

Lannie released her hair, but she sighed and nodded. There should have been something she could have done. Hadn’t she seen family after family get the news that there loved one had died in battle? “How was this different?” She muttered and frowned at the king without realizing it.

Again and again she had found the words to say to grieving families. The ones who crowded at the door with smiles to receive a letter, only for their hopes to be killed by a single piece of paper. And then, when faced with one man in the forest, everything left her.

“Did you find the faerie gate?” The king asked. Lannie jolted from her reverie, and in her confusion answered before she thought.

“We did.” She winced and looked down at her toes. The one subject she had been hoping he would not bring up. “Though it doesn’t matter now, tomorrow we will be too far to send scouts, and we can’t spare an expedition.”

The one she and Beldon had been on was only sanctioned because the army needed a rest, and because he petitioned the king every day. Every, single, day. The only person who went to the king more was Lannie. Would that all change now that he had what he wanted?

“So it wasn’t destroyed?” The kings voice was gentle, which made it worse.

“We were close,” Lannie looked down at her dusty boots. “I could hear the whispers. I would bet my sword it was just around the bend in the stream.”

She trailed off. She loved her father, she would do anything for him, say anything for him. She took a deep breath and plunged on. “I drew my sword, ready to destroy the accursed thing. We were so, so close. Except I didn’t dare go alone, and Lord Beldon refused.” Lannie scowled as she pictured his grief stricken face, shaking his head no matter what she said.

“Why did he refuse?”

“He said he wasn’t ready,” Lannie growled. Her anger burned away all her earlier sympathy. “That now was not the time. And he wouldn’t move.”

Despite all her cajoling and convincing, she even yelled, and he stayed rooted to the ground, staring at his sisters helmet.

“Did you command him?”

Lannie squeezed her eyes shut, she didn’t want to see her fathers disapproving face. “I shouldn’t have. I was angry, and afraid that any moment the whispers would take him too.” She took a deep, shuddering breath. “I commanded, and he walked the other way.”

In the space of a moment, her angry words had cost her an ally. As soon as they had left her mouth, the words had tasted of ash, a taste that filled her mouth all the way back to camp. Beldon would never word with her again.

“Royalty is not a right to leadership,” the king began.

“It is an opportunity to serve,” Lannie muttered and slowly cracked open her eyes.

The king was not angry, though his eyes were sad, and that was worse.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I will go apologize.” Though it would nothing but appease her own conscience. Her and Beldon’s alliance was beyond any repair.

“Stay a moment and look over this map with me,” the kings rose from his throne and gestured to the large parchment map on the table. “Where is the faerie portal, do you think? And do the scouts need to be warned?”

  • * * *

Beldon unstrapped his sword and laid it on his cot. Then he paused, staring at it yet not seeing it. Lannie had wished for it to spill faerie blood. She did it every day, marching through the forest as if she could not hear the whispers. Could she not hear the voices that dragged down his geet and made his efforts seem useless?

He could hardly speak because of them in the forest, and she wanted to go farther. Beldon shook himself and began to unbuckle his leg braces. Their alliance was over. She would never consent to work with a man who heard every whisper. Who may someday follow in the footsteps of his father and sister.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer: In Defense of Purple Prose

If you have been writing for any amount of time, you have most likely heard this phrase. Purple prose, the bane of every writers existence. A catch all word for any time an author is writing just for the sake of writing. There isn’t a reason for the paragraph or page (or chapter, looking at you Victor Hugo) of words and description. It is there because the author thought it sounded pretty.

Boring!

Or so they say anyway.

Writing advice now tells us to slash all bits of purple prose out of our writing, to take out anything that doesn’t have three different reasons to exist. Every phrase, every paragraph, must have a purpose other than to look pretty.

On the surface, the advice sounds great! Of course I don’t want to info dump, or to bore my readers with descriptions of characters and places that may or may not have anything to do with my novel.

But then I wonder, what would happen to a classic novel if I did that?

Far From the Madding Crowd would be a short story. O Pioneers would cease to exist. Both are chock full of lavish descriptions that only have loose ties to the story. Do those bits of purple prose have to be in those novels? Absolutely not, the story would go right along without them.

But so would half of their fans. We love those stories because of the descriptions, because of the way they were written, sometimes just as much as what was written. Can you imagine Fahrenheit 451 without the streams of thought and wonderings about the world? It would be a completely different story.

These stories were defined by their beautiful prose, and I think that if we took that out, those stories would cease to be beautiful as well.

The point of purple prose is to be beautiful. And when it shows up, it makes a story beautiful as well.

No no, I am not advocating info dumps, or random descriptions thrown in at random times. Unless of course you are Victor Hugo or Thomas Hardy, who can do whatever they want and still become famous.

What I am trying to say, is that prose is worthwhile. Writing for the sake of words is why we became writers in the first place. In essence, to write is to have a love affair with words. Prose is what makes our bare bones of a story into a work of art. The color in the picture.

Prose is where the voice of the writer comes into play. How you write descriptions and explain characters is uniquely your own. If you follow the bare minimum, your story will sound like a million other stories out there. Prose is what makes it stand out from all the rest.

So don’t be afraid of it. Throw in a bit of purple prose. Write because the words are pretty. If it ends up being too much, there is always the backspace.

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

Welcome to my latest review *cough* obsession *cough*. This is the next book I am going to buy if I ever have spare money. *Looks to the future*. That is going to be a while.

In the meantime, I will tell everyone and their cousin that this book is amazing and you should go read it.

‘Nuff said.

Okay okay. Here is the actual review of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

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Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? (Really? This is not the question you should be asking. The answer is given by chapter two, and hinted at right off) The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, (the creepiest thing in the entire book) armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.

The classic dystopian novel of a post-literate future, Fahrenheit 451 stands alongside Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World as a prophetic account of Western civilization’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity.
(Um yes. And I think a better prophecy than the other two. This is a future that is scarily possible)

Bradbury’s powerful and poetic prose
(drool) combines with uncanny insight into the potential of technology (less the potential of tech and more the impact of media) to create a novel which, decades on from first publication, still has the power to dazzle and shock.

First, let’s talk about the fact that this book somehow managed to avoid being a love story. At all. A dystopian book that doesn’t have a love story! Do you realize how momentous this is?

Ray Bradbury crafted a tale of awakening and danger that doesn’t have any romantic love in it at all. *happy dance* Instead, you have father and daughter love, you have the love between two friends, and you have the aching memory of love in a marriage doomed to failure. So it is possible to write a compelling story without a romance side plot. Duly noted and filed away for later use.

The main theme of Fahrenheit 451 is the power of books. And what makes them so powerful. The answer may surprise you.

It begins with a fireman, Guy Montag (can we take a moment to appreciate the fact that his name is Guy?), who is lying to himself. He says that he is happy with his job, his wife, his house. Until he meets a random girl walking home in the dark. This girl, young enough to be his daughter, has interesting ideas about life, and is not afraid to share them. Honestly, she reminded me of a home-schooler, it was great.

She is the one who opens his eyes to what he really feels about life, and she is the one who gives him the courage to open the books he has stashed away in his house.

From there, it is a quick road to disaster. Guy loses everything, his house, his job, his wife, in his quest for knowledge. All he wants is to understand. Why is his job to start fires instead of stop them? Why are books banned? What is so important about these books? I won’t give the answers here, because you need to go read them for yourself. But suffice to say that the answers are not simple ones. They make you think more than the questions do.

I loved how Bradbury spoke/wrote about books. His love for the written word, and the ideas they contain, bled from his heart, onto the pages, and into my heart. This book, about burning books, made me love books even more. And yet, his definition of a book is also not the one you would expect. This is a hint to go read the book.

Guy Montag is the main character of the novel, and the entire thing is from his perspective. We are inside his head, seeing and feeling things as he sees and feels them. Other characters come in an out of the story, but none even come close to the time we have with him. By the end of the book, you know Guy as well as you know any friend, perhaps better.

I would not say that the book is a stream of consciousness, been there, read that, and I am glad Fahrenheit 451 is not one of those books. However, the book is very deep inside his head, and you might need a minute to adjust to normalcy when you come up for air while reading it.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the prose. The beautiful, lyrical prose that swells from one scene to the next. It is really hard to describe that kind of prose, because you can’t quantify it in grammatical rules. It was beautiful, and I would have read the most boring story ever if it was written in that prose.

I would recommend this book without hesitation to anyone who enjoys the dystopian genre. Also if you like classics, if you like beautiful writing, and if you have a love affair with books. So basically, just about everyone.

Though I would hesitate to give it to anyone under fourteen, because of the content. There is absolutely nothing explicit, but the book does deal with things like murder and an overdose of sleeping pills.

If I could give this book ten out of five stars, I would. Five will have to do for now I suppose.

I hope you pick Fahrenheit 451 up and enjoy the read!

Shaina Merrick

The Tales of Lunnoor: Lannie and the Brownie

Welcome back to the dangerous world of Lunnoor. Where Lannie meets a brownie, and hates him immediately. Enjoy!

“There’s a brownie in Lord Gabriel’s tent.” Lannie plopped down on the bench beside Emmy. Her friend paused with a forkful of pancakes halfway to her mouth. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

            Lannie drummed her fingers on the rough wood of the tabletop. “Nope. Lord Gabriel was wearing all of his clothes inside out and had no shoes on.”

            Emmy stuffed the forkful in her mouth and glowered at the rest of the mess tent, sparsely filled with a few early morning risers. The sun had just peered over the treetops when Lannie had seen Lord Gabriel. Emmy would have laughed at the ridiculous sight. Lannie just felt sick to her stomach.

            “It’s too early in the morning for this,” Emmy grumbled around another bite of pancakes. 

            Lannie rolled her eyes. “The sun is up, time to get to work.” She leaned around her friend to check for her bow. Good, Emmy was armed.

            “Breakfast first,” Emmy said. “Want some?” She held out a plate with a few pieces of pancake drowning in maple syrup.

            Lannie shook her head. “Eat fast.” They didn’t have time for this. Their only hope was that the brownie was alone. A whole family of them would drive the entire camp mad.

            “Considering how fastidious he is, the brownie must have been there for a while,” Emmy said thoughtfully before taking another leisurely bite.

            Lannie almost snatched the plate away from her. Could she eat any faster? “The creature has been in Lord Gabriel’s tent a month at least. He just joined camp a week ago.” That was her excuse for not noticing it until now. She had never been so close to swearing as when she had seen Lord Gabriel. Pixies, naiads, dryads, fine. She could battle them all day, warn against just obvious evils and people would listen. But brownies? Lannie scowled down at the table, scarred from countless meals.

            As soon as the danger was over, she was going to strangle Lord Gabriel. She stood up. “Come on, we need to go before our whisper-spelled lord decides that a sword sticking out of him is a good fashion choice.”

            Emmy shuddered, but she stood up. “Don’t make jokes like that, Lannie. It’s not funny.”

            Lannie bounced from one foot to the other. Why was Emmy moving so slow? “I wasn’t joking.”

            Emmy stretched, then rolled her eyes as she picked up her bow. “If you are in such a hurry, go get Lord Beldon.”

            “I tried, he’s still out on guard duty.”

            “This job wasn’t enough?” Emmy made a face. “That man is a glutton for punishment.”

            Lannie decided not to her tell her what she thought about him.

            A man with a familiar round face hustled up to clear Emmy’s plate. He beamed at the two of them even though Emmy had dripped syrup all over the table. “A brownie showed up today,” he shared cheerfully. “He is doing all the dishes for me! I haven’t had such a relaxing morning since I don’t know when.”

            Emmy’s jaw dropped. Lannie almost cursed for the second time that day. “You do know what they do to human hosts.”

            “Help them?” the man said hopefully, his smile fading a little.

            “First, they drive them mad; second, they convince their hosts to kill themselves.”

            The man leaned back, his round face looking more like a moon every second. “He would never,” he spluttered.

            “We will drop by your kitchen later,” Lannie promised and led Emmy away from the still spluttering man. No matter how attached he was to it, it was a faerie bent on his destruction, and it had to go.

            The sun had climbed above tree-covered hills. The new rays of the morning warmed the earth underneath it. Lannie took a deep breath of the invigorating, cool morning air. She was going to miss the foothills.

            “Now we have two,” Emmy sighed as they strode in step towards Lord Gabriel’s tent. “This just isn’t my day.”

            Lannie snorted. “Make it your day. Two brownies, patrol, and we have to pack. Tomorrow we break camp.”

            “Glorious!” Emmy’s fist pumped the air. “Goodbye, naiad infested streams! Where are we going?”

            “Two days into the plains,” The King had only just told Lannie this morning. “The Rebel has captured a strategic town.”

            “He has a name you know.”

            Lannie glanced at her friend. “His actions have made him unworthy of it.”

            Emmy was staring at her, compassion in her eyes. But she didn’t say anything else, just squeezed Lannie’s arm.

            Lord Gabriel’s tent was on the opposite side of camp from the mess tent, as well as about as far away from the King’s tent as you could possibly get. The walk gave them ample time to watch the beginnings of the breaking of camp. Boxes and barrels appeared out of nowhere to be stuffed with all the worldly possessions they had. The tents left unoccupied by the last battle would be taken down and distributed by their neighbors.

            Lannie turned her head away. She had already delivered too many condolence letters. There were enough tears in her memory to drown a dryad.

            There were two guards around Lord Gabriel’s tent, distinguishable even without its flag. Where had he bought such a bright orange cloth? Slouching guards with crooked helmets and half undone armor. Brownie work. One of them was eying his dagger in a way that made Lannie shiver inside.

            “Pull yourselves together,” she barked. The guards just eyed her warily, until the one in the center saw her badge. Then he snapped to attention. Lannie glared at the other one until he followed suit.

            “Messenger Lannie!” the one with the dagger greeted her. “Lord Gabriel is out at the moment, but I can pass along any letters.”

            He sounded too cheerful for someone with bags under his eyes.

            “No letters!” Emmy chirped from beside her. “We are here to fix your brownie problem!”

            “We don’t have a brownie problem,” The other guard said. Then sneezed, his helmet sliding forward over his mop of curly hair. “Ever since that brownie showed up, our job has been as easy as pie!”

            “You mean other than the nightmares?” Lannie asked blandly. “Or the incessant muttering in your ears that comes from nowhere and everywhere all at once?”

            The guard with the dagger shifted from one foot to the other.

            “I suppose you have also neglected to see Lord Gabriel’s outfit this morning.” The guards exchanged a look. “As well your friend here’s unfinished suicide note.”

            The guard with the dagger blanched, though his voice was angry. “How did you know about that?”

            The other guard gaped at his companion. “What?”

            She hadn’t wanted to be right about that. “You have a brownie,” Lannie said, though she tried to keep her voice gentle. It didn’t work well. “The rest comes from the territory.”

            “Let us do our job and your problems will be solved in no time flat!” Emmy cut in.

            The guards didn’t move.

            “Are you sure the brownie is the cause of our nightmares?” the guard with the dagger asked. His eyes glittered with hope. Good. A talk with the King and he would be alright.

            “Positive.”

            He stepped aside. The curly haired guard grunted, but the other shot him a look, and that was the end of that.

            When they stepped inside, the multiple open boxes of neatly folded clothes, as well as the made bed were just as Lannie expected them to be. Not a speck of dust anywhere inside the orange tent. Unless you counted the crumbs on the brownies face.

            The fat brownie stopped stuffing a roll in his mouth just long enough to squeak in surprise before darting under the bed.

            Lannie drew her dagger and marched to the far side of the bed. Emmy nocked an arrow to cover the near side. Months of working side by side took over. They didn’t need to speak to know what the other one was going to do.

            Emmy nodded to Lannie. On a silent count of three Emmy strode forward while Lannie dove underneath the bed, going headfirst into a nest of thread and food. Once inside its nest, the so-far-silent-to-her whispers began. The whisper song you could barely hear, but somehow still knew the words to. A haunting lullaby begging her to listen.

            Lannie ignored it and stabbed at the brownie. With a nest so close to Lord Gabriel’s head, Lannie almost felt respect for a man who had avoided insanity for so long. Almost.

            The brownie’s red eyes gleamed in the darkness. It hissed and batted away her outstretched dagger.

            “Get out!” she snarled. The brownie bared its pointy teeth at her. Why did all faeries have pointy teeth? Gurgling something, it took a swipe for her face. It was rewarded for its efforts with a gash on the arm.

            The brownie jumped away from her dagger’s range. That point happened to be just inside the range of Emmy’s bow.

            A solid thwack came from above. The gleam in the brownie’s eyes faded, and it slumped over, an arrow protruding out of its back. The whisper song ended.

            Lannie wiggled out of the nest. Emmy helped her to her feet.

            “Disgusting,” Lannie made a face and tried in vain to dust off the smear of frosting on her tunic. “Why anyone would want this thing in their house is beyond imagining.”

            Emmy shrugged and glanced around the pristine tent. “It would be nice not to have to clean my tent.”

            Lannie just stared at her. She couldn’t be serious. Under her fierce gaze Emmy threw her hands in surrender. “I was joking! You know what a joke is, right?”

            “I don’t joke about stuff like this.” There was no reply.

            On their way out, Lannie gave the guards instruction on how to dispose of the dead brownie. Her least favorite part; she would pull rank on it whenever she could.

            “Go talk to the King right afterwards,” she added at the end. “It will help with the nightmares.”

            The guard with the now-sheathed dagger nodded, his back already straighter now that the whispers had ceased.

            The curly haired guards looked away from her gaze, muttering something under his breath. One dream free night and they would both thank her.

            “Patrol?” Emmy asked hopefully as they walked back to the center of camp. “I think I prefer shooting naiads over brownies. They aren’t as round and furry.”

            “The kitchen brownie first,” Lannie said. She was going to cut off the infestation before it started. “I’ll stick it this time though.”

            Emmy sighed. “And then patrol?”

            “And then patrol.”

The moral of this story being if you see a brownie, run in the opposite direction. And don’t ever, ever feed one.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer and World Building

Conventional writing wisdom comes in many forms. What you read in articles, writing tips you find on Pinterest, and the advice you heard first hand from your writing partners. Put it all together, and you are told something like this.

‘Show, don’t tell. Unless it’s the backstory, then don’t show any bit of it. Though you have to plan the backstory, down to what your protagonists three year old self preferred for breakfast. You also need to plot out the backstory for all of your other characters down to the same excruciating detail. During this process, don’t forget to figure out the world while you are at it. Include as much history as you have time for. Typically at least five generations back.’

It goes on and on like this. ‘More is better’ is stuffed into every new writers brain. Detail is praised to the heavens, and if anyone dares to argue, a dozen authors swivel their heads around and glare at you. ‘Don’t you want to be a good writer?’ Uuuuum. Yes?

I could tell you that I have a naturally inquisitive mind, and like to consider all of my options before settling on one thing. In reality, I am rebellious. When conventional writing wisdom tells me I have to do something, I say ‘Ha!’ And go try to find my way around it.

Sometimes, I admit defeat and follow the advice. There is a reason some of it has been around for as long as it has. There is no way around those grammar rules guys. I tried, I succumbed, I am now teaching myself the secret language of grammar.

However! Story rules are not set in stone, and they are broken all the time!

For example…

There are those who say that you have to world build forever before you start writing. And by forever, I mean you have to know what has happened in your world for forever. Plan the legends, the races your characters will never see, and find out why the grass is green.

They have a point. Great epics like Lord of the Rings, and The Wheel of Time, have extensive world building. Those worlds are big enough to house multiple civilizations, and histories that are longer than ours. The hours and hours of world building I am sure they spent on their novels paid off. The world is breathtaking.

Here is the part where I raise my hand and say, ‘Wait!’

While world building is all well and good, you don’t have to do hours and hours of it to have an epic story.

Where are the legends of old in Narnia? There are some, a story here and there, but no where near the epics of the Wheel of Time.

What about the Prydain Chronicles? I don’t think the constellations are even mentioned, and as for legends. Not so much.

The world building in those two epic series is nowhere near as vast as the other series. And did the series suffer? No! Narnia is one of the classics we all study, and the Prydain Chronicles is called one of the founders of American fantasy. In fact, it is one of my favorite series ever.

They don’t have so much world building because they don’t need it. It wasn’t necessary to the story.

In The Wheel of Time, where every event is tied to the past and every character aware of the prophecies, not to have all that figured out and squared away would be silly. This series needed the lush, intricate world. Narnia did not.

More detail is not always better. If all the details given in Lord of the Rings was given in the Prydain Chronicles, the magic of those stories would have been lost.

Sure, you will always need some world building. You should decide if the grass is actually green in your world after all. But your story may not need pages upon pages of your worlds history.

You are not trying to make another Middle Earth. You are trying to build your world, where your characters will live and breath and have adventures. What does your world need?

Are your characters delving into the past to find a cure or a historic document? Then figure out your worlds history! Are your characters running for their lives in the mountains? Then by all means figure out in excruciating detail what plants grow there. After all, one of those plants might come in handy when you need to defeat the villain.

But if you are in the mountains for the whole novel, do you need to map out the eco system of the ocean? Or decide what the architecture is of the villages in the plains? No, no you don’t.

More detail is not better. Rather, the right detail is better. This isn’t going to stunt your novel, it is going to give it room to breathe.

Shaina Merrick

What do you think of world building? Do you do a lot? A little? I’m curious, am I the only one who dies inside everytime she looks at those sheets upon sheets of world building questions? (writer problems) Let me know in the comments below!

The Precarious Balance of the Writing Life

Writing. A career path only for those who wish to feel guilty every moment of their life. Every moment of every day becomes a choice between writing, and not writing. If you aren’t writing, you feel guilty because you should be writing. If you are writing, you feel guilty because there is a whole family outside of your novel who could be talked with. Or an email to be sent, or another hobby to be practiced. But if you don’t write at this moment you won’t at all, and you worked an eight hour shift today dang it!

Yup. It kinda sucks.

On the one hand, we know that if we don’t write we will never get better. On the other hand, if we commit to writing for so many hours every day, won’t we become kinda, well, like a hermit? The stereotypical author who spends all of their days writing, and only ventures out into real life when their groceries run low. If they haven’t decided to get all their groceries shipped to them already.

And that was all before the internet. Now, we have Facebook, Instagram, blogs, and countless other ways to be ‘doing the job of writing’, without actually writing. Now there is one more thing to juggle, one more thing to feel guilty over.

And here I almost forgot the infamous day job that every writer slaves away at, all the while hoping to someday break free and only write. Never mind the fact that their day job is the one place they never feel guilty at. They have to be there, and that is that.

The thing is, I am not about to give you some momentous advice about how to balance it all and still keep yourself sane. This is something I am not good at. In fact, you could say I am tremendously, awfully bad at it. Even when I have a schedule.

But sometimes those who are so terrible at it that any step is a step in the right direction, have more to say than those who have done it perfectly their entire lives.

Like this momentous realization that was probably obvious to the rest of you.

Multitasking doesn’t work.

Ever.

I can’t write an interesting scene and write a blog post at the same time, or color and try to teach myself grammar. The best I can do is listen to very, very tame music and write a blog post. But even then I have to pause the music if I really want to concentrate. I realize that some of you are wizards of multitasking. I ain’t. So I keep the tabs low and the projects one at a time lest I overwhelm myself and get nothing done.

The other thing I realized after a long time of trying and failing is that I can’t get everything done in one day. It isn’t possible. Unless of course I decided not to sleep, or eat, or talk with anyone. But that isn’t a good idea (though don’t think I haven’t considered it.).

I have tried to do everything in one day. And at the end of the day I either had a finished to do list and no energy whatsoever to read or be nice, or I had a half completed to do list and loads of guilt to go along with it.

Well. I don’t like feeling guilty, and I also like being able to read. So I stopped trying to do it all. Most of the time.

It’s called a weekly schedule, and I am still trying to figure it out. Turns out they don’t write themselves, and writing down the things you did after you did them doesn’t work. Also, it doesn’t really count if you never look at it during the week.

I still have a long ways to go before I can properly consider myself good at scheduling my days.

Till then, I will muddle through and do my best to have my blog posts done on time.

Shaina Merrick

Since we are one the topic, got any advice for the scheduling writing? Things that worked for you? I’m telling ya, I need all the help I can get!

Book Review: O Pioneers!

I have to talk about ‘O Pioneers’, or I am going to go crazy. Let me rephrase that. I already have talked about this book to anyone who would listen, now I need to again or I am going to go crazy. Yep. It was that kind of book. I mean, how could you not talk about a book that has these kinds of quotes?

‘People have to snatch at happiness when they can, in this world. It is always easier to lose that to find.’

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O Pioneers! (1913) was Willa Cather’s first great novel, and to many it remains her unchallenged masterpiece. (I think I like it better than ‘My Antonia’, and I really liked that book) No other work of fiction so faithfully conveys both the sharp physical realities (to be honest, there are not that many of these harsh realities when you get past the first couple chapters.) and the mythic sweep of the transformation of the American frontier—and the transformation of the people who settled it. Cather’s heroine is Alexandra Bergson, who arrives on the wind-blasted prairie of Hanover, Nebraska, as a girl and grows up to make it a prosperous farm. But this archetypal success story is darkened by loss, and Alexandra’s devotion to the land may come at the cost of love itself. (have you read the book? Obviously not, because her cost was not love, not really anyway)

At once a sophisticated pastoral and a prototype for later feminist novels,
(Yeah, right.) O Pioneers! is a work in which triumph is inextricably enmeshed with tragedy, a story of people who do not claim a land so much as they submit to it and, in the process, become greater than they were.

Don’t you love how there is an exclamation mark in the title? It makes the book sound so cheerful and upbeat. To that I say Ha! No no. It was not a tear jerker. But it wasn’t a enjoyable lark through the countryside either.

What I first noticed about this book was how I wanted to write everything. Every quote, every line. I wanted all of it saved forever it my notebook. But if I did that, I would just be copying the whole book word for word, and I already have the book so… The writing was beautiful, no, it was achingly gorgeous. Honestly, I would have read the whole book just for the prose alone.

But the prose wasn’t the only thing worth reading in this book. There were also characters.

This is the book that I want to shove underneath all writers noses and say, ‘This is how you write realistic characters.’

Willa Cather created characters underneath her pen that almost jumped off of the page. I could see them move and breath in my minds eye. Their strengths, weaknesses, foibles and pet peeves. They were all there for the world to see. What I think made each and every character so imminently real was their weaknesses.

While I can not read the authors mind, it seemed to me that Willa Cather did not set out to make you like her characters. She seemed to care less really. It was more like she was focusing on showing you her characters in all of their glorious mistakes. Did it matter that they were all people with blind spots and foibles? No, it didn’t. Despite every failing, I loved them anyway.

The character that the entire story is woven around is Alexandra Bergson. She inherits the farm from her father because he knows that she can run it better than her brothers. And she does. Her farm becomes the most well off in the entire county. She is hard working, diligent, cool headed, and smart. But in the novel what characterizes her most is her love for the land. She loves this Nebraska land that is so hard to farm, and after a while, you wonder if the land knows it, and so blesses her in return. She loves it, and so it loves her.

The other characters in this novel act out a play of love and loss on the backdrop of her steadfastness. She has one love, the land, and one goal, to live on the land. The rest are action to her stillness, the passion to her calmness.

Plot wise, I would not recommend this book to anyone who must have an action plot where things are happening all the time. For one thing, this small book reaches through decades of living to tell its story. For another thing, there is much introspection allowed to the characters. Things happen, and sometimes things happen quickly, but there is always ample time for the characters to think about, and react to, that particular action.

Inside the book events build and become more intense, everything is straining at the seams, until the world snaps in a single moment, and everyone is left stunned.

I will let you read the book to figure out what that event is *evil laugh*

On the whole, I would recommend this book to anyone who liked ‘My Antonia’, and to those who enjoy slower stories with rich characters. Though I would hesitate to recommend to anyone younger than thirteen, because while nothing is explicit, a couple of the things the book deals with are not for the young.

Enjoy!

Shaina Merrick

Favorite Reads of 2019

Fine. Since everyone else is doing it, I will to.

I have been keeping track of what I read, and how much I liked it, since I was… In Middle School? And all of those lists are around here somewhere. Heh. Thankfully, the list for this year is not in the depths of some journal, and easy to get to and finally organized according to month and year. (don’t ask)

I read a bunch of good books this year, so this list is not going to be short. Sorry not sorry.

The Chestnut King by N. D. Wilson

The Chestnut King (100 Cupboards, #3)

The only reason the rest of the 100 cupboards series isn’t on here is because I didn’t read them in 2019, and I had to cut myself off somewhere. This was the finale to end all finales. The perfect wrap up to the series, and a scene at the end that left me crying happy tears. You must read this series. I don’t think I can put into words how much I love all of these characters and the relationships between them. Also, this series is the reason I now like baseball. Thanks Henry.

A Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. Drews

A Thousand Perfect Notes

This, this is the book that I will fangirl over with anyone, anywhere. I was not expecting this book to bowl me over, but it did. Every scene left an ache in my heart, every word made me fall in love with the main character even more. Beck was so, so wonderful, all I wanted to do was hug him and give him a cookie. Also, there was piano. My other great love in life. This book combined my two favorite things. The way the author explained playing piano was something I knew. This was an experience I could share with Beck because I have done that. Played the song, had the nerves, hoped the soul I was bleeding over the keys would be liked by others. So yeah. It was great.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater

The Scorpio Races

I will shove this book at almost everyone in existence. I will admit, I avoided it for years because it seemed to be a combination of things I didn’t like. Ha! I was wrong, and I have never been so happy about it in my life. Scorpio Races has the most beautiful prose, and her way of describing left me in awe. All I wanted was to learn how to write like that. Well, I also wanted to figure out what happened next. But ya know, priorities.

Romanov by Nadine Brandes

Romanov

I know I have done a review on this book somewhere on this blog. But I am too lazy to look it up and link to it. Anyway. This is one of the few historical fiction I read this year, and it was also a fantasy. Two of my favorite genres! What I really loved about this book was the way she handled the Romanov family itself. I loved the relationships between them all, and how they were compassionate even in the midst of cruelty. The father showed forgiveness in the face of men who hated him, and even though in the terms of the world he ‘failed’. I think the story showed how such acts of compassion and forgiveness change people, and the world. Go read it! And bring a box of tissues with you.

Fireborne by Rosaria Munda

Fireborne (The Aurelian Cycle, #1)

Enter tears, chills of awe, and a stupid grin. I don’t think my heart will ever recover from the emotions of this book. Up and down, and down some more, and then back up we went as I followed the characters around. I literally stopped in the middle of an intense scene and started trying to figure out why I was feeling so much emotion. (yay logic) I might have figured it out. Sorta. I couldn’t believe all the things this book covered when I stepped back and looked at it. Love, friendship, politics, family, this book covers it all. Yet never feels overly full or preachy or that things are going at a breakneck pace. I adored it.

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

Taran Wanderer (The Chronicles of Prydain, #4)

The best word I would give this book is melancholy. The whole book was melancholy. But I loved it. Every melancholic word of it. Somehow, Taran’s journey became a rippled reflection of mine this year. Trying different things and hoping that one of them will work out. Only to realize that the one skill I ache to have may not be within my grasp at all. Can we discuss the ending for a moment? Where everything is answered and yet nothing is at all? There is inward screaming right now. I wish more books could pull off that kind of ending.

The High King by Lloyd Alexander

The High King (The Chronicles of Prydain, #5)

Yes, I am allowed to have a two books by the same author, and both in the same series, in my list. It’s my blog. Anyway, what would a list of 2019 favorites be without the last/best book of the series that made me rethink everything I thought I knew about fantasy? It wouldn’t be a list, that’s what! This book perfectly wrapped up every loose end in the whole entire series, yet still reminding you that there are more adventures to come. Every question was answered, yet there were still questions. But good questions, the ones that make you think about the book long after it has finished. The characters all came to their poetic justice, though mercy was shown to those who didn’t deserve it, yet you were glad they got it anyway. I better stop while I am ahead.

There you have it folks! A by no means complete list of my favorite reads of 2019! What did you read, and love, this year?

Shaina Merrick

Grown Up Christmas List

Since I grew up, it has become harder and harder to find things for my Christmas list. My mom, or grandparents, tend to start asking me around the end of November, and my mind always draws a blank. ‘Um, clothes? Money? I dunno…’ I like what I have, and there isn’t too much that I need or want. Which is good I guess? But it can be hard when all your relatives are staring at you, waiting for you to reply.

Perhaps it is so hard to think of things because the things I truly want for Christmas can’t be bought, by any average income anyway. But if I could write to Santa and ask him for something, this is the list I would give him.

  1. A months worth of gas in my car. Do you know how much money I would save if I didn’t have to fill my car?
  2. A new computer. One that doesn’t die as soon as I unplug it, or warn me about imminent death as soon as I turn it on.
  3. To eat anything I want during the holidays and not gain any weight. I may have had a few too many cookies…
  4. A walk-in closet dedicated to books. My bookshelf is overflowing, and so is the box in the closet.
  5. An unbreakable phone screen. My poor phone, that is all I have to say about that.

A couple of these may happen someday, a couple of them, not so much. (when will someone invent calorie free sweets that still taste good?) But hey, it is always fun to wish!

Shaina Merrick