Friday, 29 July 2011

Rhythm in poetry - a touch of the Rhyme Whisperer

After writing one of my last posts (Rhythm of Writing), it occured to me that I could have been neglecting rhythm in my prose because I started out as a poetry writer.

The rhythm in my poetry came pretty naturally, you see. Which is why I reckon I'd gotten the silly idea that such rhythmic prowess would translate instantly to my prose. Didn't happen, of course (big surprise:)).

But I shall not give up! This is merely yet another element for me to craft to perfection from now on. Somehow, I'll do it:)

In the meantime, after a fantastic dinner with a friend who ignited thoughts poetic:), do have a taste of my Rhyme Whisperer side.

'Just Imagine' is one of my favourite poems in the Rhyme Whisperer series (available in both 'As The Moon And The Sun' and the longer anthology 'Just Imagine'). It's only one among a variety of poetic styles and themes in my work, but it employs a particular trick of rhythm that one reviewer was quick to notice and appreciate:)

I hope you enjoy it as well:)

Just Imagine

Just imagine,
Random thoughts, in random tone,
With paintings sure as painter’s own,
Large manor house and servant’s grave,
With battlements and eager knave,
Great forests green, with streams as deep,
As dryads falling to their sleep,
Winged dragons’ snare, and crying wren,
For fallen kings, and fallen friends,
The erstwhile scamp, and roguish eye,
Accompanied by rascal’s ploy,
Steps down the Earth, and through the roof,
Past doorways to Egyptian tombs,
Sweet roses red, and poisoned fruit,
As sharp as note on crystal lute,
Wine amber-shine, and perfect set,
For dining halls and ballroom step,
Fine waistcoats worn with filigree,
To rival dukedom’s ennui,
Of wolves galore, and caves of gold,
Entrancing all with love untold,
Of warlike fiends, brave princesses,
Merry foes brandishing cutlasses,
Then sorcery, and magic lights,
To warm a stranger’s smoking-pipe,
Whose smoke will turn to genie’s flick,
Enchanting all with spell and trick,
Talking trees and moonlit seas,
To frame a merchant’s legacy,
Sorry states of turning fates,
That speak of strange, time-turning gates,
Mirages claiming watering grounds,
With bandits hoarding jewels newfound,
There’s shrinking of house,
And faltering muse,
And portraits with eyes,
That do willingly move,
Knives sharpened with glee,
To fell wrong enemy,
And black capes in the night,
With adventures to find,
Grand visions of wealth,
Tall, powerful elves,
With portals to moons,
And spindle-like spoons,
And as quick as you look,
A sight of gold hook,
Going in circles,
With green barnacles,
Hiding in pirate’s inn,
Just imagine.

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Monday, 25 July 2011

The Impact of the Internet and Social Media on Creativity

For the past month or so, I've been trying to amp up my presence online. As a marketing tool or a means of gaining information on the publishing industry, the Internet (and social media) has been invaluable. But at the same time, I've noticed a marked downward curve in my creative output.

It's tricky, this business of being a writer. Things are moving very fast. Or at least, they seem to be moving fast when you want to get your name out there. For this reason, I think most writers feel the pressure to utilise all avenues and forums which might bring one visibility or knowledge about visibility. And what greater forum is there than the World Wide Web (with its related media)?

I can't say that the Web's negative effects outweigh its benefits for everyone. That won't happen to individuals who are careful and deliberate about the way they spend their time online. But this simply isn't as easy to do as it sounds. Especially if being online is an acitivity that can turn addictive to certain personalities (such as mine).

I was enjoying my time online until pretty recently. Despite the sometimes tendency of online communities to have their moments of tension (blogged about here), I've had good conversations, learned a lot, and gained useful knowledge on online tools for both communication and marketing. This blog is one of the best things that has come out of my time online. Coming across gorgeous blogs such as those featured in my blogroll (and many others) was another great experience.

The problem was, despite the benefits to all these experiences, I became aware of the adverse change to my attention span (it became frighteningly short), I developed the tendency to experience mood swings when I was away from the Internet/Social Media, and the need to establish a strong, unique voice in the online world became absurdly important to me - regretfully, even at the expense of establishing a voice in the 'real' world.

And I shouldn't forget about the fear I developed that not interacting online would make people who'd just come to know me forget all about me. Or that personal & professional connections built might just collapse if I wasn't there to maintain them every odd hour.

Given the above, it's no surprise that this online/social media business began to feel a lot like an addiction to me; an unhealthy addiction.

It was an addiction that was making me spend less time with friends and family, while keeping me up at night when I should have been investing in sleep so that I could wake up fresh the next day to edit my manuscript.

Hmmm, just look at the way I coined that sentence. 'Investing' in sleep. As though sleep shouldn't simply come naturally every night - it should.

Oh, and - this was the one thing I foolishly didn't expect - I began to lose that wonderful inner resource that is the writer's mojo: my creativity.

The imagination is a mysterious and remarkable thing. It stimulates creativity and allows writers to paint the most astonishing and marvellous scenes down in words. But the process isn't a clear-cut one by any margin. For the creative imagination to work, one requires time and effort and well... mojo.

And - for me at least - I know my creative imagination works best when it's given time to breathe and think and just be.

Preferably with some slow music in the background, or even that heavenly nectar that prompts the imagination into life - silence.

You might think that interacting online doesn't equate to noise, but you'd be mistaken. My head has been buzzing with conversations started that have yet to be finished in forum/comment threads, blogs to visit that I forgot to visit and have since been popping up in my mind's eye like unnatural little memory bank reminders, stats on visitors to this blog/readers sampling my books that I simply have to check every odd hour, and sheesh a thousand and one little online items that are totally irrelevant to creativity if I just paused to think about it.

But you see, there is no pause if you're addicted to worlds online. There is just the noisy buzz of continuous communication and interaction trying to capture your attention and your words. Hmmmm, I feel exhausted just typing that, thinking about it...

It's amazing how this can happen to a previously productive and happy writer who could sit down in one place for nigh on 6-8 hours each day for seven days a week (while working full-time) and simply, quietly, WRITE.

Now, most of my writing seems invested in blog/forum comments (which is fine if I was quick with them, but I really take a long time to compose comments. Mostly because I take a ridiculous amount of time to ensure I don't accidentally offend anyone out there who might be reading my work).

This is a sad state of affairs, and one which disturbs me deeply.

Simply put, my online presence is something I've been maintaining pretty often when what I should actually have been maintaining this whole time is my writing output.

After much thought, I've come to the conclusion that - this blog (and professional material) aside - I should take time off the Internet/social media. Reading others' blog posts and commenting on 'em is fine as long as it's done with thought and care for my writing schedule. But otherwise, I would be an idiot to throw away the gift that is writing for the high that addiction to online tools and material/social media gives me.

Reading the post 'Food For Thought' on Shrinking Violet Promotions was btw one of the deciding factors to make me limit my time online. The post (and its fantastic links) answered why and how addiction to the Internet/Social Media works, and why it can harm a writer's creativity/productivity. The dangers of intermittent reinforcement, not to mention the results of an experiment by a writer which pointed to the lack of any strong, tangible benefits that social media in particular can bring to writers, were brought home with a vengeance.

The Food For Thought post I mention above really made me cringe at the thought of all those hours wasted not writing. Focus and commitment on completing content (the actual stories) simply has to take priority to any other activity online from now on. It's definitely time to reassess my priorities and restructure my daily schedule with the goal of becoming a happy and productive writer again.

To all writers out there, if you're still thinking twice about the benefits of limiting your time online, I can only repeat a pertinent question that Joe Konrath asked his blog readers the other day (and which all writers should in fact be asking themselves frequently if they want to get anywhere in this industry): Are You Writing?

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Friday, 22 July 2011

The Rhythm of Writing

One of the most useful pieces of writing advice I've ever received came in the form of a post on The Writer's Circle site earlier this week. In 'Writing Advice: The Danger of Five Words', Gary Provost was quoted to illustrate the benefits of employing rhythm in writing.

Provost's words were so eloquent in both content and execution that I simply have to reproduce the passage here for you to read:

"This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It's like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals- sounds that say listen to this, it is important."

The beauty of Provost's advice is that it demonstrates exactly what it's trying to say. For me - a writer who often struggles with long-windedness - it was eye-opening to witness the creation of a strong rhythm by the varying of sentence length. It was a kick in the pants moment for me to register just how strongly rhythm can enhance the effects of a particular scene, let alone draw in a reader.

It was something of an ironic revelation. I've written poetry since - well - forever. So, rhythm and its effects were not something alien to me. For some reason though, my appreciation of rhythm didn't translate to my novels. I have no idea why. Maybe I put too much importance on the play by play duplication of scenes running in my head. Whatever the reason, my novels definitely suffered as a result.

Provost's passage had its effect though. The huge influence rhythm has over any kind of writing was something I simply couldn't ignore anymore. I've been editing my fantasy manuscript with new eyes as a result. Honestly, I can say the piece is much better now than it has ever been.

I don't know how rhythm works for every writer though, and would love to get more perspectives on this. Do other writers find that being conscious of creating rhythm has made a huge difference to the quality of their work? And do they think something like this comes naturally or can be developed with practice?

Also, I wonder if readers out there would like to see more rhythm in the stories they read? If so, would this apply only to particular genres or across the board? Does every kind of writing benefit from containing a strong rhythm within its wordplay?

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Wednesday, 20 July 2011

My Latest Guilty Pleasure - ITV's 'Lost in Austen'

Ah, she's done it again... Somehow, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice has found its way into yet another adaptation (on ITV this time). As heretical as this fantastic version of the story is, I'm absolutely loving it!

The show's protagonist, Amanda Price, is a gal living in our totally unromantic modern world. Often curled up on the couch in her small flat, with a deadbeat boyfriend, and a rather familiar obsession with Darcy and the Bennets *ahem*, most of us would find her pretty relatable.

That is, until she finds herself switching places with Elizabeth Bennet via an 'Alice in the Wonderland'-like doorway in her flat.

Courtesy of this remarkable event, Amanda has to adapt to an unexpectedly un-romantic life as a single woman living in the story's 19th century setting. The only problem is, she also seems to be in danger of throwing the original Austen storyline into complete disarray by her very enthusiastic (and hilariously confused) presence.

We're treated to some beautiful decor in the show. But what I'm loving most at the moment is the lovely tongue-in-cheek dialogue that seamlessly switches between the language of the 19th century and Amanda's very 21st century thinking.

Could anyone not adore the moment when Amanda persuades Darcy to re-enact Colin Firth's dip in the lake, remarking that she's just experiencing a "bit of a strange post-modern moment here" as he walks out looking so... sighhhh.... what can one say about that?:)

And her method of rebuffing Mr.Bingley's advances (yes, horror of horrors, he seems to be falling for her instead of Jane) was absolutely hilarious in context!

I suppose that's what makes this production work: it's really very clever in its comedy. Austen's beloved characters have been re-thought with enough tact, rapier wit and intelligent humour that we still recognise our favourite old friends.

The arrogantly authorative Darcy, quiet Jane, the odd couple that is Mr and Mrs Bennet, the Bingleys - and of course the sanctimonious Mr.Collins - still make their appearances, much to my delight. The only character that's really been missing in all her glory is Elizabeth Bennet.

Yes, I thought so too- how can one have any kind of Pride and Prejudice experience without Elizabeth? And yet, it works.

I feel horrified at the effects of Amanda's unwitting machinations on the plot (akin to a hapless train wreck that's somehow so damn funny you want the train to wreck) but I cannot help but stay glued to my seat to see how it all works out.

A lot of the show's success lies in Jemima Rooper's rendition of Amanda. Rooper brings the unlikely storyline alive with her portrayal of Amanda's bewildered, well-meant interference on behalf of Elizabeth (who has left her stranded in fiction apparently).

Amanda's dislike of Wickham is so militant in its ferocity that you can't help but think the story in the book must have been real to have inspired such passion in her. Her awed confusion when faced with the arrogantly annoying (and yet so utterly attractive) Darcy just sweeps one away into Austen's world, no matter the discrepancies with the original story.

Lost in Austen indeed... I only wish there were more than 4 episodes to this show. I'm dreading the upcoming fourth episode, simply because I know it'll be the end of a deliciously entertaining ride.

Hmmmm, I wonder how it will end? I can't help rooting for Amanda over Elizabeth now. I guess all I can say is, the ITV team have certainly converted this ardent Austen fan into a fan of their alternative Austen world:)

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Saturday, 16 July 2011

Elements of Great Storytelling - Character Development

A few months ago, I experienced a writer's watershed of sorts. It all began with the decision to participate in a local writer's group session.

Now, I've never really been to one before - I'm a bit of a loner by nature, especially when I'm into my writing. This time, something made me think, why not?

And thus did chance play its hand:) I met a fellow writer who kindly met up with me later and volunteered to critique a short story of mine.

Our conversation illuminated something. I'd always felt that an important storytelling element has been missing in much of my work, especially in my novels, but I could never put my finger on what it was. Friends and family often observed that I can be very long-winded, just a bit vague, and that my stories aren't gripping enough. But, somehow, I couldn't understand what they meant.

I mean, to me, my stories were beautifully written, elegant, full of little quirks and humour and wit. Why weren't they gripping my readers?

What my writing friend pointed out made a writerly lightbulb in my head go off.

On the first page of the short story he was critiquing, he pointed out two things:

a) I went on and on about what my protagonist thought of a receptionist in the room with her (ie long-windedness)

b) it was unrealistic for someone to expect a receptionist to start a conversation with them in a waiting room (which was what my protagonist expected).

I explained to my friend that the entire scene was meant to convey the protagonist's paranoid and attention-seeking psyche. He, accurately, pointed out that this hadn't come across to the reader. And then it hit me:

I'd over-described the protagonist's environment, and under-described the protagonist herself. And this was a pattern in ALL my stories.

Wow! Talk about feeling bad and excited at the same time! I felt bad of course because I had severely neglected one of the strongest elements of great storytelling - the main character itself. Excited because, hey, this could be fixed!

Yes, I would have to engage in rather massive rewrites, but it was a fixable problem, and character development at this point could only make my stories shine once I got it done.

The short stories were revisited pretty quickly. The novels - not as fast as I'd have liked, but revisions are now going surprisingly smoothly. Once I got down to focusing on the main character instead of her surroundings, what needed to change became extremely clear. The plot holes, the unrealistic moments, the draggy prose - everything was easier to spot and remove/amend because it detracted from my protagonist's motivations and character arc. And solidifying my character's psychological make-up added a wonderful depth to the tale that 'completed' the vision I'd always had of it.

The basic rule of thumb I've drawn from this experience is: writing a story is ultimately about writing a character.

We read Lucas, JK Rowling, Agatha Christie's mysteries etc because we want to know what happens to Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter and Hercule Poirot. Random things happening to a random character just doesn't cut it - we want to read about events happening to the characters we love. And to fall in love with a character, they have to be extremely well-written, holistic - they have to resonate with their human readers.

There's a lot of literature out there about creating and executing a three dimensional protagonist that resonates with the reader. Believe me, after the above hit me, I have been googling and reading like mad, and have been pretty pleased at what I've been learning so far. A great site to check out is of course There's a lot of good stuff there. Though I haven't gone through the 'six core competencies' advocated by Larry Brooks in any detail yet, the series on characterisation is certainly very helpful. Do check out this post in particular for some great ideas on getting the kinks out of your characterisation. Ha nice line that:)

*sigh* I still shake my head at the thought that I had made everything else in my story into the main character EXCEPT the main character itself. I'm just grateful the lightbulb went off before yet another year had passed. Now, to reconstruct my main character so that readers of all ages (or perhaps just my target group:D) can fall in love with her... just as I fell in love with her in the world of my imagination so long ago:)

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Friday, 15 July 2011

Boldly Addressing the War of the Sexes - A Review of 'The Bloody Chamber' by Angela Carter

During the course of my studies, I've had the good fortune to write a paper on an interesting short story/novella, entitled The Bloody Chamber. Written by Angela Carter, a prolific reteller of faerie tales, The Bloody Chamber is a reimagining of the famous Bluebeard story (by Charles Perrault).

Unlike Bluebeard however, The Bloody Chamber's rich prose bravely interrogates complex patriarchal ideologies underlying so much of humanity's gender relations.

By use of symbolism and imagery, Carter successfully exposes flaws in societal systems governing the relationship between the sexes. Such systems are often taken for granted in the approach sexes have towards each other, a situation which - sadly -creates a high potential for abusive behaviour.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead)

19th century 'Bluebeard' illustration
by Gustave Dore
The Bloody Chamber follows the path of an un-named heroine who willingly marries a sadomachistic Marquis for his wealth and status. In return, she is to bear him an heir.

Following their marriage, the Marquis corrupts the heroine's ideals and sexuality. He dominates her view of her nature and role in the world. When the Marquis leaves the heroine to go on a business trip, he provides her with keys to all the chambers in his castle, but forbids her to enter one of them (as depicted in Gustave Dore's 19th century illustration). The heroine of course disobeys the Marquis's prohibition, only to discover inside the bloody chamber the bodies of the many wives the Marquis had previously murdered. He returns, intending to kill her for her disobedience, but she is ultimately saved while he is killed; she inherits his castle and wealth.

There are a lot of layers to Carter's story. What stood out to me was that the heroine's discovery of the bloody chamber ultimately turns her aware of abusive patriarchal roots in humanity's social systems.

The high maternal mortality rates symbolised by the bloody chamber made the original Bluebeard tale tilt towards feminism if read as a warning against the death that marriage commongly brought to the women of Perrault's time (the 17th century). What I found interesting in The Bloody Chamber however is that Carter has gone a step further in depicting just how victimised the male psyche is by abusive patriarchal systems as well.

In this context, the Marquis's evil became understandable to me (his ancestry was one of such violence and misogyny, it would have been remarkable if he didn't turn out the way he did). Carter contrasts the Marquis's worldview with the opposing gentle male psyche of the blind piano tuner, Jean-Yves who - though he supports the heroine - cannot truly assist her in any meaningful way as the Marquis is more powerful than he is.

The ultimate hero of the piece is the heroine's mother, who rides to her daughter's rescue and dispatches the Marquis with a single bullet. To me, this was a powerfully variant feminist ending to the tale - when have mothers ever ridden to the rescue of their children in any faerie tale, despite many doing so in real life?

Indeed, when have mothers ever been portrayed in traditional storytelling as powerful and strong figures who successfully combat evil?

I couldn't help reading Carter's ending also as a reinterpretation of traditional (and arguably patriarchal) views of the Biblical 'original sin' event. Instead of being a one-dimensional and painful punishment, woman's ability to give birth becomes also a gift to true wisdom from love (by creating the parent-child bond) instead of fake/meaningless wisdom from the cold-blooded motivations of the intellect (or mind-centred curiosity, which ultimately led Eve to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden).

There may be flaws to this view of the world - that considerations of the heart should supersede those of the intellect. I've always thought that a holistic person is one who embraces both mind and heart. But perhaps the point is that compassion and kindness distinguish the thinking human from the merely intellectual.

From this compassion-friendly vantage, there is an attractive humanism in Carter's approach. She doesn't balk at considering the abuses suffered by both genders under patriarchal societal structures; she neglects neither masculine nor feminine genders in her exploration of society's abusive gender role-playing.

For this reason, The Bloody Chamber (and Carter's other faerie tale retellings in her short story collection The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories) have truly been a stimulus for my seeing the way genders are constructed by illusory systems that cause us to abuse each other for the benefit of man-made motivations: the bartering for power.

I only wish that I had had the pleasure of reading stories like these in my younger years, so that my eyes could have been opened all the sooner to the manipulative power structures that have been so coldly entrenched in our world for so many generations. It is stories like Carter's which shed light on why men and women behave the way they do. More importantly, such stories remind us that structures which violently influence gender relations can be re-thought and changed, if only by one's individual courage and compassion to challenge the abusive status quo.

Prominent blogger Nathan Bransford wrote recently on how we make sense of the world around us through our interpretation of narratives/stories. Like him, I believe stories are powerful mediums through which we can reimagine our world in clearer (and perhaps more truthful) colours. Books like The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories only strengthen my belief in the power of storytelling to expose narratives that are built on abusive - and false - premises.

I am hopeful that the more writers write about such issues, the more arbitrary man-made systems may one day be transcended to achieve fairness and equality between all human beings.

In the meanwhile, if gender studies/narrative studies is something you're interested in, Carter's excellent collection of stories might be something you'd like to have a look at. In any event, I'm certain you won't be disappointed by her richly crafted stories:)

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Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Ebooks and Print Books - Can We Have Both, Please...?

I was at a big bookstore earlier today, browsing its shelves. I could get that 'fresh pages' scent when I flipped the pages of some new arrivals. You know, that 'this is a brand new book sent out for you to love and enjoy and read until dawn' kind of scent.

Tall racks of books surrounded me as I walked down the aisles, and I loved how solid they were, those racks of multi-hued books. Thick or thin, tall or short, I loved seeing tangible representations of storytelling all around me, almost as much as I enjoyed the solitude that envelops one when you're reading - the kind of solitude that is merely peaceful, not lonely.

For some reason though, I began to feel sad. I couldn't understand why at first. There didn't seem to be any reason for me to turn depressed when I was somewhere I loved, doing something I loved.

And then, it hit me - I really, really adore print books. Only, I was afraid they would disappear in my generation, along with the brick and mortar stores that housed them.

It was an awful thought. Printed books might be unwieldy, inefficient, take up too much space and start turning 'yellow-old' too fast, but I love everything about printed material. There's a particularly lovely texture to printed pages - the sight of black ink impressed onto white/cream paper - that I can't find anywhere else.

It's something I definitely can't find online/in the ebook experience. In a bookstore, I can feel the book in my hands just as much as I feel the story in my mind. That feeling is lost online.

Let's put it this way: I'm the kind of person who buys a book twice simply to possess an edition with a lovelier cover than the last. That's just something I do. I'm a sucker for art anyway, but on books, it's like a double whammy when you get a great story with a cover to match - it's like a gift with oil-painted wrapping or something. Who could resist something like that? Er, well, I can't anyway:)

The way I look at it, if the book's a good one, I'm happy to donate my earlier copy to a nearby children's home/the general downtown Oxfam-like organisation, while savouring the one with the cover I can gaze at every so often. It's win-win all around then:)

I did that today- buy a book twice for its cover, I mean. The book was Angela Carter's 'The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories'. It's a collection of faerie-tale retellings (in an adult style) that I've loved since I first read it earlier this year. Unfortunately, I hadn't been able to get my hands on the cover I liked, one with an intriguingly caped Red Riding Hood figure scurrying towards the book's spine.

Today, when I saw this particular edition on the shelves, I simply couldn't resist it. My copy with a red wolf on its face will find its way to readers elsewhere. Later, I think I actually went pale at the thought of not being able to smooth my fingers over book covers I like before buying books in the future. It's a petty thing, I suppose, but I'm tactile by nature, and this is one of life's little pleasures for me:)

Another book I saw sitting pretty on a shelf was Slyvia Plath's 'The Bell Jar'. So much for not judging a book by its cover. This was a simple cover that caught my eye, of a woman in an old fashioned but elegant off-the-shoulder white dress that was sculpted to her body so that she formed a kind of gorgeous hour-glass figure that suggested grace and elegance but also enforced captivity within her attire. Her face was turned to the side (judging from the angle of her throat) but couldn't be seen. She stood almost carelessly against a cream backdrop, with a relaxed demeanour that contrasted oddly with the sense of captivity I mentioned earlier.

To cut a long story short, it was an enticing shot that made me wonder if Sylvia Plath was as staid a writer as I'd gotten the impression she would be. For some reason or another, I'd never gotten around to reading her work and debunking this impression. The cover staring at me from a random shelf made me pick the book up though. And I was glad I did.

Flipping through this gem of a tale was like playing in my very own personal playground. The passages spoke to me. And something about the weight of the book in my hand, the shuffle of the pages as I read it, the smoothness of its simplistic cover as I thumbed my way absently through its pages... it was an experience all its own.

Just those few minutes... was an entire experience. And the writing was only a part of the experience, though of course it was a big part, no quibbling there. Needless to say, I bought the book:)

Btw, I'm all for the ebook revolution and the opportunities it's affording to readers and writers alike. I can't possibly be against it, can I, seeing as my own stories and poetry are out as ebooks?;) But today, I found myself hoping that print books on bookshelves will somehow survive what's happening in the publishing industry.

I don't mean at the expense of the ebook world, or self-publishing world etc, but just to co-exist somehow. I'm not sure how this could happen but I've been racking my brains thinking of workable solutions.

The obvious solution is if print becomes cheaper. I'm pretty sure books would start flying off shelves if that were the case.

Or... if bookstore shelves in later years are rented by publishing houses/writers to stack their print books as a form of sellable products cum advertising material.

Do you think that's possible? Would this be one way for bookstores and print books to survive the deluge of electronic goods out there?

After all, bookstores are beginning to store electronic items for sale (like ereaders and so on) because the profit ebooks make exceeds print books. But if print books have (instead of meagre profits) the benefit of paid rental space, would that be something to help both bookstore and author? Hmmm, or would it only help the bookstore? That, I'm not sure...

But in the future, when print becomes as much advertising as it does an actually saleable product, shelves just might be worth renting out. And if there is a worry of money being the sole, valueless arbiter of what ends up on the stores, I would think that making prices compulsorily equal per shelf would mean that the bookstore would still be able to choose which book it wants to shelve.

The only problem I can see here would be the price of rental, but since a contest between the price of cheap rental vs profit of expensive books would probably be won by rental, bookstores might be better off renting space out even at low rates.

I dunno, this may not be a workable solution for the future. But it just might be. In the far future maybe.

For now, bookstores are definitely not going anywhere fast where I am (Asia). Ebooks simply haven't proliferated here at the rate they have in the US or Europe (no doubt in part due to Amazon's current set-up, as mentioned in this informative post by David Gaughran).

Despite wishing I could get my hand on Kindle ebooks for various reasons (all the way from convenience to pricing), I'm kinda thankful for this state of affairs. As selfish as it must sound, I'm glad I'm getting the best of both worlds for just a little longer. Print books when I need their comforting weight in my hands, and ebooks (via channels other than Amazon) for when I need to try out something new and (mostly) cheap:)

I don't think that's a bad deal, is it?:)

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'This Rough Magic' by Mary Stewart - A Book Review

This week has been a long one, full of unexpected happenings and the tiring travails of moving house. Fortunately for me, one of those unexpected happenings was the discovery of a new, brilliant author! Mary Stewart, the author of suspenseful romances, was a gamble when I bought her book, 'This Rough Magic'. How surprised I was when I finally began to read it and was swept away to Greece and the island which might well have been Prospero's in Shakespeare's 'The Tempest'.

'This Rough Magic' (in itself a quote from The Tempest) begins with Lucy Waring's arrival in the Greek island of Corfu, a place rich in myth and tradition. Lucy joins her sister, Phyllida Forli at one of the three houses the Forlis own. The other two houses have been tenanted out, one to a photographer named Godfrey Manning, and the other to thespian Julian Gale. Lucy herself is a down and out actress who is in awe of Julian Gale but almost immediately on arrival at Corfu, she locks horns with his brusque son, Max, a musician.

While Lucy and Max's relationship is rocky at best, their interaction provides a stimulating background to the odd happenings at the island, with drownings and dead bodies ultimately leading Lucy to stumble on a conspiracy that might well cast Max as the villain of the piece.

Needless to say, 'This Rough Magic' is a testament to Stewart's mastery at melding together the two genres of suspense and romance. The mystery in the story did not take second place to the wonderfully subtle courtship between hero and heroine - neither did Stewart neglect to paint a remarkably effective portrait of the island with its patron saint, St. Spiridion.

It was all those little touches of the romantic (not romance, but just a subtle appreciation of aesthetics and beauty) - together with a keen appreciation of the cruel, the eccentric, and the sometimes just unexplainable quirks in human personalities - that brought the whole novel together so very well.

As I was reading the book, I couldn't help drawing comparisons between Mary Stewart's work and that of the more well known mystery writer, Agatha Christie.

The exacting, keen sense of deductive reasoning that that wonderful creation of hers, Hercule Poirot, embodied has always been a delightful feast for my mind, albeit more when following the old TV series than reading the books (my sis was more a Poirot reader than me unfortunately). Having just got off a Christie binge of sorts though (purely books this time:)), Poirot's stoic adherence to Reason was becoming a tad monotonous - which might be why I was a grateful recipient of Stewart's rich detail and lush imagery in 'This Rough Magic'.

Stewart definitely emphasises description over dialogue in her writing, quite in contrast to Agatha Christie, but her descriptive tone is often delicate and nuanced and atmospheric, inviting her audience to fully appreciate the surroundings she depicts without resorting to painting the island with an artificially exotic veneer (though there were some elements of this).

A different animal too is Hercule Poirot's genius intelligence when compared to the stumbling amateur efforts of Lucy Waring. Though Poirot's intelligence and skills of observation made him uniquely suited for solving those mysteries which made Christie famous, it was more relatable somehow to think in terms of the amateur Lucy, to have to follow a girl who was neither qualified nor inherently suited for solving mysteries, as she in fact solved the mystery in 'This Rough Magic' and unmasked the villain.

It was the lack of neatness in Lucy's detective work perhaps that was oddly endearing, and which made the story all the more suspenseful.

I followed Lucy's footsteps through the story as she tries to get to the truth of the mysterious and deadly occurences on the beautiful island of Corfu, and couldn't help feeling an enjoyable sense of partaking in the uncertain life of an individual walking strange paths in a foreign country - only to form within a sense of understanding and appreciation of such otherness.

Well, now that I'm done with 'This Rough Magic', all I can think of is the next Mary Stewart, and I have just the one in mind: my recently purchased 'Nine Coaches Waiting' is, er, waiting on my bedside table, ready to lure me into Stewart's imaginative vision and beautiful wordplay. What a gorgeous bedtime read to look forward to!

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Saturday, 9 July 2011

Why Fantasy Will Always Find Its Many Readers

Elf Markwoman by Kathrin "Kitty" Polikeit, taken from Wikimedia Commons
As I was reading a forum thread earlier today, I came across a topic close to my heart, on people feeling ashamed to be reading fantasy.

Oh no, I thought. Not that again!

How can anyone be made to feel ashamed of reading a genre as gorgeous and provocative as fantasy?

But I suppose this is a common enough occurence in every fantasy reader's life:) I've personally been accused of not being mature/grown up, of being overly-escapist, of not appreciating 'real' literature... all that silly stuff that's pretty much myth:), simply because I've chosen to enter worlds of magic and enchantment instead of dry reality.

As I was reading through the thread comments, I was reminded of an old post on my personal blog, written to explain my fascination with fantasy. I'm reproducing the post here (with some tweaking) as it may help those who are dissed for reading fantasy to remember why this is as powerful a genre as it is.

As I write this post, I am reflecting on the dismay/bewilderment of many readerly and writerly friends who can't understand why one of my all-time favourite genres to write in is fantasy. Yup, it's a literary genre that's seen its fair share of disapproving frowns or raised eyebrows. There are those who categorise fantasy as formulaic, cheap, gimmicky or downright absurd.

But - though many don't like this fact - it's a genre that's survived the centuries with no trouble, evolving and recreating itself all the time in one name or another: myth and legend, fairytales, science-fiction (blasphemy to most SF fans, but I do think SF is fantasy at heart, 'else I wouldn't like it so much:D), dystopian fiction, romantic fiction, horror, poetry, paranormal fiction... The list goes on.

Most would recognise The Lord of the Rings (duh) as the archetypal fantasy masterpiece. Many fantasy writers still stick to the tropes that JRR Tolkien established (high fantasy tropes involving quests, heroic battles etc), but many people aren't aware that these tropes were based in turn on elements of existing myth and legend, notably those of Norse and Germanic origin (one of Tolkien's most famous influences was the epic Beowulf btw).

With this rich literary base on which to build, fantasy writers since Tolkien have gone on to create many different types of fantasy works, exploring new ideas and worlds with enthusiasm. Though the essential style remains the same - one of either grandeur of setting or character, sometimes both - high fantasy now has within its home precocious sisters and brothers.
The more notable fantasy categories now include urban fantasy (the City of Bones series by Cassandra Clare for eg, or the famous Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer) ,YA/middle-grade fantasy (the two examples above would qualify, as would JK Rowling's Harry Potter and Christopher Paolini's Eragon), romantic fantasy (Sharon Shinn's Twelve Houses stories for eg, or the gorgeous Crown Duel/Court Duel set by Sherwood Smith) and of course faerie tales galore, including their retellings (such as Robin McKinley's Beauty (a take on Beauty and the Beast)).

Many stories that are termed 'literary' also fall under the categories above. Cormac McCarthy's The Road- dystopian fiction. Yann Martel's Life of Pi - urban fantasy/contemporary fantasy. Angela Carter's beautiful collection of short stories that re-tell faerie tales from a gender-interrogative perspective, The Bloody Chamber and other stories, are truly fantastical in the best sense of the word. And who could forget the brilliant, utterly unforgettable The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde - that paranormal/fantastical work still gives me delightful little chills.

There are too many pieces of literature to list here, though I'm tempted to give in to the urge to list 'em. Suffice to say, from HG Wells to CS Lewis to George Lucas, fantasy is pretty well-represented as a literary genre that can change the world... for the better:)

Frankly, I think most - if not all - fiction writing is fantasy. It amazes me that so many people sing the praises of so-called literary fiction (most of which bores me to sleep btw) as being distinctly not fantastic when it is merely a variation of writing theme and style, and is in fact no more 'real' than any other fantasy is (in that it is ultimately a creation of the writer's mind).

You'd be surprised (or not!) at how often fantasy readers and writers get charged with being in denial of the world around them, of being escapist in the stories they tell. I'm not going to totally deny some denial and escapism here, but I think it's a fair amount, an amount present in all writers - you have to escape something when you write, even as you embrace a whole lot more than what you're escaping.

On top of all this though, fantasy goes beyond denial or escapism - it's simply a whole different animal.
What is the nature of fantasy, you ask? Why do writers write it?

Well, why do writers write anything?

To escape, yes, lots of times to entertain. But also to make sense of the world.

And what better way to make sense of the world than to include elements of our world in the backdrop of something totally different from it.

That's one of the main reasons I write fantasy. It's liberating. By altering the contexts of my characters' lives from my own, I can push the limits of my understanding of this world by use of another. My perception of a setting on Earth as we know it is so corrupted by those everyday things in life that we're all so used to (exhaustion, frustration and downright boredom come to mind) that I see clearer when my characters are put into an unusual environment/are unusual themselves. Fantasy enables me to explore the workings of philosophies, concepts, personalities etc in situations or environments that cannot be found on Earth. At the same time, my characters, situations etc are somewhat similar - have a connection enough - with our 'normal' lives, to make the story meaningful.

It's for these reasons that the charge often levelled at fantasy writers - that they are trying to escape the world around them - is absurd to me because it's a charge that can be levelled at absolutely any writer, with equally absurd results. The point is, the process of writing allows writers to explore/identify the elements that make up human nature and behaviour. This is an element of writing that remains true regardless of the genre one is writing in. If fantasy writers weren't able to retain bits of humankind in their stories, if they didn't put something recognisable or believable about human nature into any other world they create it would become hard to maintain the illusion of that other world in the reader's mind. A fantasy reader would know in an instant if my fantasy isn't 'real', the same way a reader of supposed literary fiction would know if the story they're reading doesn't ring true to life.
Not everything's about making a philosophical/experimental point of course. I do also write fantasy simply cause it's fun and requires a lot of imagination. Can't deny something as visceral as that, can I?:)
Painting by Russian artist
Elena Konstantinovna Gorokhova (b.1933).
Taken from Wikimedia Commons.
Ultimately though, fantasy's magic lies in its versatile, beautiful nature. It is curious, mysterious, unknowable, never-ending and challenging (it's harder to write a believable fantasy than it is to write a believable anything else, believe you me, because you have to construct the entire internal logic of a fantasy story, its own uniquely fantastical parameters).

Yes, there's some denial, some escapism, but most of all, there's lots of exploration, and for that I'm increasingly thankful.
Thank you, Fantasy, for brightening my mind and broadening its borders. May you do so always and forever.

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Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Short Story Collections Galore

From my last post, you'd know that I've been planning to upload reader-friendly collections of all my Amaris Shorts. Grouping the short stories by either genre or theme felt like a good idea. What I didn't think I'd be able to do was to get four collections up and running in one day!

Ouch, my wrist hurts right now... Make that my wrist, my shoulder, my neck... Hmmmm, I'm beginning to get more and more fond of the idea espoused at Joe Konrath's blog with respect to estributors and forking over 15% profits for an agent to handle admin tasks.

But enough grousing about my unhealthy limbs! On to the story collections...

Please be introduced to my very cool array of Amaris Shorts collections!

[Note: Prices for collections have been discounted for the Smashwords July 2011 Summer/Winter Sales Specials. Just key in discount coupons as stated before checkout for a fabulous deal:)]

Fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal short stories

Worlds Fantastic: A Collection of Two Amaris Fantasy & Sci-fi Short Stories

A collection of two Amaris fantasy and science-fiction short stories, ‘The Story-Catcher’ and ‘Amnipur’.

In ‘The Story-Catcher’, a girl accidentally enters the magical world of a mysterious wizard who might have his own reasons for her presence in his realm.

In ‘Amnipur’, an imaginative Amnipurian is at a loss as to what he can contribute to a copycat world built on the theft of other species’ evolution.

Sample or purchase this ebook at:
Amazon's Kindle Store

Of Magic and Mayhem: A Collection of Three Amaris Fantasy, Sci-fi & Paranormal Short Stories

With three Amaris short stories (‘The Story-Catcher’, ‘Amnipur’ and ‘The Devil’s Advocate’), this collection will entertain, thrill and confound readers. A girl stumbles upon a mysterious wizard; a civilisation persistently copies the worlds of others instead of creating its own; devilish whispers might persuade a willing listener to betray their better judgement.

Sample or purchase this ebook at:
Amazon's Kindle Store

Suspense short stories

The Therapist & I: A Collection Of Two Amaris Suspense Short Stories

A collection of two related suspense short stories. ‘The Shoplifter Never After’ pitches a therapist's wits against the guile of a client hiding the truth behind her thefts of random odd objects, in a psychological thriller with an unexpected twist. In ‘Dreamer’, a woman has an unusual malady that only a certain, rotund therapist might be able to understand...

Sample or purchase this ebook at:
Amazon's Kindle Store 

Dancing With Darkness: A Collection of Four Amaris Suspense Short Stories

A collection of four Amaris suspense short stories, 'The Shoplifter Never After', 'Dreamer', 'Junction' and the delightfully fiendish 'The Devil's Advocate'.

Sample or purchase this ebook at:
Amazon's Kindle Store

[Note: The above collections are available at discounted prices during the Smashwords July 2011 Summer/Winter Sales Specials. Just key in discount coupons as stated on the Smashwords page for each collection before checkout and you'll be getting a fabulous deal:)]

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Sunday, 3 July 2011

'The Devil's Advocate: An Amaris Paranormal/Suspense Short Story'

It's time for the final Amaris Short that you'll be seeing for some time:) Yes, I'll finally be working full time on my fantasy/romantic fantasy novels after today.

But don't fear - if short stories are your thing, do note that I plan to release collections of all my Amaris Shorts in some fun combinations. Readers who've been waiting for something heavy to sink their teeth into, you'll soon be able to purchase sets of short stories that promise an entertaining ride indeed!

Do watch out for the Amaris Shorts collections, which will be out very soon:)

Till then, feast your eyes and mind on my mysterious 'The Devil's Advocate: An Amaris Paranormal/Suspense Short Story' and may you walk away wondering if he's been whispering in your willing ears all this while without you suspecting a thing:)

When a devilish minion starts whispering sweet, fatal nothings into a weary ear, there seems to be only one bloody way out of the mess that Penny’s life has become.

And the Devil’s Advocate is absolutely convinced he’ll make her take it ...

Sample/purchase at Amazon's Kindle Store
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Why the online world would greatly benefit from that singular invention - the Chill Pill:D

The pit-falls of being an active writer in an online world have become clearer to me this week. From the fiasco that heralded a certain writer's (admittedly defensive) response to a review online earlier this year, to the arbitrary banning of commentators on a certain online writing forum, to the absurd amount of time I've been spending online to research marketing and promotion and all things self-publishing - it's become pretty obvious that the Internet holds traps for the unwary that can easily leak into one's personal and professional life.

Put simply, my time online - once useful and motivating - has turned akin to a psychic vampire.

I cannot get enough of surfing sites on publishing and writing, but ironically have reduced my writing output as a result.

The addiction to surfing interesting sites to the detriment of writing time is a topic that deserves its own post. Today though, I'm thinking of the impact that cyber bullying can have on one's online experience.

My often introverted self has lately made a push to participate in the active online communities and forums out there. But though my experiences online have been pretty positive, I've noticed a disquieting urge building in me to cater to the mood of others, to stay wary of inviting incidences of cyber bullying that have been popping up on the blogs and forums I enjoy the most.

I was reading a post recently on the effects witnessing/being involved in intances of cyber-bullying can have on online personalities. Natalie Whipple's post 'On Egg Shells' was a thought-provoking read. She seems to have a fun, witty and interesting take on life. That the negative atmosphere that sometimes builds online might inhibit her freedom of speech is a disturbing thought.

In such situations, every reader loses out because of the intense negativity of a few. Surely, this is an absurd and wasteful result of what should be the great, wonderful experiment that is the Internet.

The fact is, the greatest cities and civilisations are built on simple tenets of civility and freedom of speech coexisting. Without the reassurance of dialogue remaining civil, how can freedom of speech possibly rein strong?

I know that it seems like a contradiction in terms - to be free and civil. And yet, this is what prevents the greatest enemy to freedom from holding sway: self-censorship.

The pressure to conform can become intensely strong when one is alone in one's views, especially so when hordes of virtual (often anonymous) commentators decide to descend on one like starving vultures on a hapless piece of meat. I know this feeling well in reality, but to see situations disintegrate to farcical name-calling or malicious strings of hate-comments online... it kind of makes me angrier than I am when faced with a similar situation in real life.

My reaction's probably as strong as it is because I see the online world as one of greater freedom and liberation than anything previously seen in reality - and I can't quite mix online cruelty into this paradigm with any success.

Make no mistake, the Internet is a great, wandering civilisation of its own, one that's growing larger and more varied as days go by. And like all civilisations, it's annoyingly vulnerable to dark moments of persistent bullying, with negative voices clouding discussions instead of encouraging rich dialogue.

It would be a cruel joke though, wouldn't it, if the new and liberating frontier of the online world falls prey to negative traits that would inhibit the liberation it stood for to begin with?

But I'm hopeful that commentators will grow to see the value that being civil can get you, the validity it gives to posts and comments, and the progress a civilised discussion can bring to important issues that need such discussion.

Most of all, I'm hopeful that those of us who do believe in the value of civility will speak out loud and clear when a string of comments begins to degenerate into a hate-fest of absurd proportions.

Until the worlds online draw back from a 'Wild, Wild West' vibe though, and simply chill and enjoy the multitudes of voices that are now open for us to experience, I might just limit my online forays and invest more of my time on my greatest love: writing:) All with positive vibes upfront in my writerly mind:)

Happy writing (and reading) to all!:)

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Friday, 1 July 2011

'Amnipur: An Amaris Sci-fi Short Story' - for the spark of creative imagination that lies within us all...

This is a weirdly 'coming full circle' moment for me. The first short story I ever wrote was 'Amnipur':) Can't really remember where and when I wrote it, but I do remember being hugely excited over penning down this crazy story that kept spinning around in my head! I'm so glad I did.

A heady mix of SF and Fantasy, 'Amnipur' is a gorgeous foray into the conflict between reality and the imagination - a nod to just how important it can be to realise one's nature as a creature of imagination before creativity slips you by forever under the dull demands our real world can thrust on us.

Only, I was a pretty inexperienced a writer when this story first came to me - though I loved the idea behind it, I could never quite get the vision in my head down on paper with the right atmosphere...

Until now:D

Ah, I can't wait to launch this bit of glorious storytelling out into the world and hope it finds its appreciative audience. I really love this particular Amaris Short and want it to travel as far and wide as it can:) So, here it is, my lovely 'Amnipur: An Amaris Science Fiction Short Story'! I so hope you love it as much as I do:)

In Amnipur, cities and science and libraries are built on the theft of other species’ evolution. But when everything you do is a mere echo of someone else’s hard-won culture, what can an imaginative Amnipurian contribute to his quiet and efficient copycat world?

Perhaps the newly discovered species called ‘humans’ holds the answer ...

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Writers and Depression - overcoming darkness with light

When I recently received a compliment that likened me to the poet Emily Dickinson, many stars were shining in my eyes... But I couldn't help dwelling for a bit on Dickinson's reclusive tendencies (she famously did not leave her bedroom even for her brother's funeral, though she did open her door a crack that day - no doubt a monumental gesture for her to make at that point in her solitary world)....

The reasons behind Dickinson's introverted/reclusive personality have been debated umpteen times, all the way from agoraphobia (an anxiety disorder) to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Dickinson's fascination with death and suicide - not to mention her gradual withdrawal from the world outside her bedroom door - however seem to suggest that Dickinson was suffering from extreme depression. Further research confirmed that depression/bipolar disorder could indeed have been behind Dickinson's eccentricies.

The results of the study I've linked to above can't be all that surprising, hmmmm?  If you have friends who suffer from depression, you'd probably notice a startling similarity to what Dickinson went through - creativity coupled with a melancholy soul, resulting in a far-too-sensitive appreciation of the effects the darkest of thoughts can cast on all of us.

I hate the thought that my creativity might come packaged with its very own, hard-wired potential for self-destruction. But the link between creativity and depression has always seemed crazily strong to me, no pun intended:) 

It would be hard to pin down though whether it is the writer's solitary nature that enables depression to gather a stronghold on their personality, or whether inherent depression in fact causes a writer's need to be solitary from the start. How frustrating is that? As a writer with potentially depressive tendencies myself, I'm crossing my fingers in the hope that the link between the imagination and depression will be explored in greater depth in the future, if only to stave off the spectre of macabre melancholy for some moments longer:)

This leads me to the most troubling thing about depression - other than turning reclusive (which I do tend towards hmmmm). Sadly, suicide is a scarily real alternative for those suffering from depression. Writers are certainly not exempt from this dangerous aspect to the dark well of nothingness that depression can cause, as a certain letter from Kiana Davenport to JA Konrath shows. You might want to have a look too at a few other articles/posts on this correlation between writers in particular and depression:  Writers and Depression, Writers 'at greater risk of depression' survey finds, and a personal piece by Nancy Etchemendy.

The important thing to remember though is that - no matter the uncertainty, anxiety and downright confusion that surrounds this issue, anyone (and I mean ANYONE) who feels inclined to give in to depression/suicidal thoughts mustn't ACT on such thoughts without giving professional help a chance. Please do not assume that there is no one to help you. With rates of depression going up all over the world, and new treatments being developed all the time, there is help out there for those who seek it.

I really daren't imagine what it would have been like for someone in Dickinson's times not to have had a way to reach for help when she needed it. Writers in this age should ensure they're aware of the many therapeautic and medical options available to them now in the fight against depression - we shouldn't be sacrificing creativity and individuality and simple happiness because of wonky chemicals in a brain not created by us, not when there's a chance to keep illnesses like depression at bay.

And hey, if it's the thought of never being published that's driving you down a spiral of negativity, don't forget that you now have the option to self-publish! Yes, you can actually unilaterally find an audience and continue that dream of writing for a living right now - all this without sacrificing monetary gain, professional recognition and - most important of all - your life.

On that note, much prayers and good wishes to all writers, big and small, depressive or melancholic or euphoric or anything-in-between. May our dreams of starry nights come alive with the knowledge that we can live very long - and very healthy - lives alongside our creative impulses if we seek help when we need it. Goodnight to all, and God Bless!:)

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