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Post by Abigail D. Hernandez

There is no doubt that the world of publishing is drastically changing, foregoing its traditional publication routes and instead, replacing its techniques with more modern and up-to-date approaches to publishing and marketing books. The introduction of digital media such as Amazon and E-books has made it possible for the business of publishing to flourish at such a rapid pace, that in many instances, traditional publishing houses seem disarrayed in trying to keep up. Present-day modifications are altering the ways in which readers interact and purchase their daily doses of novels and textbooks. They also bring major changes to the ways in which writers and publishers try to present their works in the best possible light.

For hopeful writers and artistic creators, this modernized change may seem overwhelming with an endless array of options presenting themselves for the sole purpose of publishing and marketing books and creations. Yet, from an optimistic standpoint, many hopeful creators can learn and adapt to these changes in order to take advantage of the plethora of opportunities that digital media has paved in the art of modern publication.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of interviewing my Alumni mentor, Jules Hermes, who has worked in publishing and marketing for well over 25 years. With ample experience in publishing, she has generously provided me with helpful advice for any future writers who are hopeful about seeing their work published. I have categorized her advice into three main points that all writers should be aware of, especially if they want to navigate and conquer the world of publishing.

Courtesy of Pexels

1. Self-publishing is the Future

Long ago, self-publishing was considered a risky move that would inevitably lead to debt with mediocre success. Now, the whole realm of self-publishing has been restructured with rising media platforms, such as Wattpad, taking center stage and dynamically changing the ways in which people seek to publish their own works. Hermes reveals that most big publishing houses now look on such media platforms to identify the most popular digital works, many of which are published and sold in popular bookstores, including Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Self-publishing also allows the writer to have more control over their work by cutting out the middleman or literary agent. Many writers are now seeing a rise in their income due to a much bigger turnover for each copy sold. Hermes wants young authors to understand that publishing on free sites such as Wattpad can actually result in many benefits. As a free marketing tool, it can propel authors to outstanding heights without them having to shovel out money from their own pockets to buy ad space and advertisements online. Self-publishing may seem like a daunting task, but nowadays, creators can instantly access digital platforms that allow them to jumpstart their writing careers—with a lot more control in the hands of the writer.

Courtesy of Pexels

2. Always Write for a Specific Audience

It’s no secret that writers should be aware of who they are writing for and what specific audiences are attracted to their style of work. First-time authors probably won’t have the necessary cash to shell out mounds of advertisements for their works. In which case, the best form of advertisement comes from word of mouth, where readers recommend works to other readers. Word-of-mouth recommendation is made easier by such sites as Goodreads, where it is easy for an avid reader to match a genre of writing they enjoy with specific authors or various book recommendations that fall under a specific category.

Since book recommendations play a big role in what type of books are generally successful, future authors should be aware of what specific genres are the most popular within a certain category. However, Jules relayed to me a hard truth: if you can’t convince people to buy what you write, you’ll have to write what they want to buy.

In general, certain genres seem better suited for self-publishing. Genres of self-help and nonfiction books are usually an easier sell since they can tap into a market need that is almost unquenchable. If future writers want to work in the genre of fiction, works that appeal to a built-in fan-base are usually more pampered for success. Trilogies and duologies in science fiction or fantasy tend to sell better than strictly literary titles since the arc of a story can slowly progress between two to three publications, giving it a greater chance of attracting a fandom.

Writers should ultimately focus their attention on one specific genre instead of switching back and forth between different styles of writing. Strictly sticking to one specific genre will actually help an author in advancing and crafting their writing style to suit that genre. Writers should also have a clear sense of what an audience expects to read within a certain genre and what trends or clichés need to be refreshed in order to really grip the audience’s attention for the full length of a novel.

Courtesy of Pexels

3. Be More than Just a Writer

The last piece of advice I received from my mentor was to become more than just a writer.

Inspiration for writing can bestow itself in many forms including inspiration from digital outlets like television, movies, and music. Hermes emphasizes the need for people to step out of their comfort zone and confront everything life has to offer. Hopeful authors need to network, go to events, listen to speakers, travel to distant places and interact with different kinds of people in order to broaden their viewpoint on life. Getting out of your comfort zone will not only gain you valuable contacts and networking, but it could also lead to new ideas or a new path that could lead to some additional success. Author events and conferences are great ways to connect with like-minded people in the industry and to also receive publishing or writing advice from experienced industry professionals. Becoming more than just a writer will definitely take some time since there is much more to experience than there is to write about. Yet, being a writer is one of the most important professions that utilize all kinds of experiences to retell a story through the eyes and control of an author—a job unlike any other!

The world of publishing can seem scary and confusing at times, especially for new and aspiring authors. Nevertheless, it is possible to conquer such a business and succeed while still having complete ownership and control of ones written work and creative compositions. Writers need to remember to be confident in their own work and after that, almost anything is possible.

 

 

Post by Kalysa To

Los Angeles is renowned as a hotspot of fame and culture and offers activities that cater to many diverse interests. Events for those who love literature and reading are no exception. Throughout the year, L.A. offers many opportunities for avid readers to see their favorite authors in conversation and get their books signed.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

1. Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

This weekend-long festival offers free admission and takes place locally at the University of Southern California. During the festival, many authors congregate to speak about their works, as well as provide book signings. Over the years, the LA Times has invited many well-known authors including Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen, young adult novelist John Green, and chef and cookbook-writer Giada de Laurentiis.

Courtesy of Pexels

2. Leimert Park Village Book Fair

The Leimert Park Village Book Fair celebrates the works of African American authors including Yvette Heyliger, Mimi Washington, and Dennis Haynes, among others. Admission is free and the event takes place not too far from UCLA, just in Baldwin Hills!

Courtesy of Pexels

3. The Literary Women’s Festival of Authors

The Literary Women’s Festival of Authors, which takes place in Long Beach, celebrates women authors and their works. Many successful female writers attend and share their inspiring stories.

Courtesy of Pexels

4. Latino Literacy Now

Latino Literacy Now, a festival that honors the works of Latino authors, has previously invited renowned authors like Isabel Allende. The festival is not only educational but also a way for readers to get inspired as they meet and listen to their favorite authors.

Courtesy of Flickr

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5. YALLWEST Book Festival

This book festival for young adults occurs right in Santa Monica High School. Attendees have the chance to meet with their favorite authors. In the past, authors in attendance have included Rainbow Rowell, Ransom Riggs, Marie Lu, and more!

Not only are these book fairs and festivals educational, but they are also opportunities for attendees to get a sense of LA’s culture. With many different events that suit people of diverse backgrounds, Los Angeles is the perfect place for you to find the writers you love and to get inspired!

 

Post by Jovanna Brinck

At times, writing can be an arduous task, especially when the thoughts in your head don’t seem to translate into words on paper. Sometimes you might need to step away from your writing and take a nice walk. Sometimes you might need to change the location where you’re getting your writing done. The mind is most stimulated when work is done in places that are unfamiliar. If you find yourself stuck with your work in your usual writing spot, perhaps it’s time to explore a new one.

Whether you’re attempting to finish an essay or simply searching for a new place to free write and de-stress, UCLA has many different spots perfect for writing. Here are a few that might be perfect for you.

On Campus

Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden

If you like to be surrounded by nature when writing, then this is for you. The ambiance of the garden is quiet and serene, with the occasional chirping bird and plenty of benches throughout to sit on and conjure up creative stories.

Most people don’t take advantage of the environment offered by the Botanical Garden. If you haven’t been yet, you should most definitely check it out!

Night Powell/Reading Room

Some writers do their best work at night. If this is you, Night Powell located in Powell library is a good option for late-night writing. It is open on weeknights from 11:00 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. and can only be accessed with a BruinCard. Therefore, it is a quiet, safe spot for you to get your writing done. This room is also open during the day to everyone, but be aware that there is more traffic coming in and out so it can get a little noisy.

On the Hill

The Study at Hedrick

If you live on the hill, The Study is a great place to write. With different rooms according to the noise-level you prefer, there’s something for everyone. For example, if you like a little noise, you can sit in the lobby area by the fire and write away. However, if you like it absolutely quiet, there’s a study den that stays dead silent all-day long. The Study is open for 24 hours and serves food, coffee, and drinks from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. If you prefer to get your work done around smaller crowds, I find that the best time to go to The Study for writing is weekdays during the morning and afternoon. If you try to go on the weekend, you might find it difficult to find a place to write as it gets packed.

Cafe 1919 Patio

Another place that students don’t take advantage of enough is the patio that is located up the stairs from Cafe 1919. Hardly any students are ever up there so it’s a good place to write if you want to be outside but still have a little quiet. It’s a nice break away from being surrounded by other students on the Hill when you’re trying to make a lot of progress in writing.

In Westwood

Elysee Bakery and Cafe

If you’re looking for a small getaway from campus, this lovely cafe is perfect and more akin to something you would find in Paris, France than L.A. It’s less than a fifteen-minute walk from UCLA, and probably even closer if you live in an apartment in Westwood. It can get a little busy on weekend mornings but you should have no trouble finding a spot on weekdays.

There are many places at UCLA to explore for writing. Take note of the places where you feel the most inspired to write. Most of the time, you will find yourself getting more work done in certain locations than others, due to your writing methods. Wherever you can find solace when you’re writing is definitely going to be the most productive place for you. Good luck!

Post by Christine Nguyen

Courtesy of Goodreads

Strong, independent women have often had their narratives excluded from the standard historical record. An absolute tragedy, considering that so many accomplished and powerful women have their stories go untold due to the global cultural emphasis on the stories of straight, cisgender, white men. Jason Porath’s Rejected Princesses aims to lift the dust off the legacies of history’s best, boldest, and bravest women to bring attention to their achievements.

As a straight, cisgender, white male himself, Porath seemed like an unlikely advocate for such a diverse, multicultural feminist book. But as a former Dreamworks animator, Porath grew frustrated with the safety of the stories told by modern princess movies. To Porath, these women, though wonderful in their own ways, were not an accurate representation of all the different things women could be. After leaving Dreamworks, he started a website, rejectedprincesses.com, which updates weekly with profiles of amazing real-life women who don’t fit the traditional ‘princess’ mold. Once his website gained notoriety, Porath landed a book deal and launched his novel, Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, & Heretics.

The book took the seeds of what the website had sown and grew them into a beautiful garden of stories, each unique in its own way. Like the website, each woman’s profile is accompanied by a spectacularly illustrated portrait that aims to capture the very essence of the woman it portrays while still remaining culturally accurate. However, unlike the website, which is typically in bulleted fact format, the book does exactly what it aims to do: tell the stories of strong women. Though it still remains factual, the book weaves magic in the way it unveils the lives that history has tried so hard to erase. From big names like Florence Nightingale and Harriet Tubman, to those lesser known like Khutulun and Petra Herrera, every woman has a tale too complex for mainstream media to comfortably show in theaters. Each one is an inspiration and easy to fall in love with.

The best quality of the book is the sensitivity with which it treats its subject material. Some of the female figures it documents do not have happy endings, some have tragic pasts, some aren’t necessarily on the side of good, and others are just too complicated to talk about in the censored world of mainstream media. The book does not pull any punches when it comes to telling these stories, but it is careful to include ratings for maturity levels as well as trigger warnings for violence, abuse, and other topics that could be harmful to the mental health of the reader. Rejected Princesses does not cast judgment on the women it presents, it merely sets aside cultural differences and misogyny in order to celebrate a multicultural group of women who stood up for themselves when the people around them tried to shut them down.

Post by Shannen McKee

Los Angeles remains a vast cultural hub for film, music, art and evidently, literary and arts nonprofits. Having interned at an LA-based literary nonprofit, I’ve gained a lens into the LA nonprofit community and experienced how vital this group of organizations truly is. From mentoring young people in their artistic and academic pursuits to helping journalists escape persecution, these five organizations work diligently to ensure everyone has the freedom to create.

Courtesy of PEN Center USA

1. PEN Center USA

PEN Center USA, the west coast branch of PEN International, is one of over 140 PEN branches around the world. Through four different programs, PEN Center USA works to protect imperiled writers and freedom of expression while maintaining a vibrant literary culture. Their Emerging Voices fellowship sponsors writers otherwise isolated from the literary community, and their Freedom to Write Advocacy Network supports writers and artists enduring persecution domestically and internationally.

Courtesy of 826LA

2. 826LA

826LA focuses on strengthening the writing skills of students ages 6 to 18. Through in-school and after-school tutoring, workshops and field trips, 826LA offers rewarding programming and helps educators inspire their students to write. With locations in Echo Park and Mar Vista, this nonprofit dedicates itself to developing Los Angeles’s next generation of skilled writers.

Courtesy of Get Lit—Words Ignite

3. Get Lit—Words Ignite

Get Lit—Words Ignite addresses illiteracy with poetry, utilizing this creative medium to inspire and empower young people. Introducing classic poetry to students, each student chooses a poem that resonates with them and writes their own response, which they also perform. This literacy and confidence building method of teaching can now be found in nearly 100 schools. The organization also hosts open mics and drop-in classes, further immersing young people in the world of slam and spoken word poetry.

Courtesy of DSTL Arts

4. DSTL Arts

DSTL Art’s mentorship program, publications and artist workshops deliver creative guidance to at-risk youth in Los Angeles. Founder Luis Antonio Pichardo, a first-generation Mexican-American, received his Master of Fine Arts at California Institute of the Arts. Pichardo, along with writer and artist Jennifer Fuentes, launched DSTL to assist emerging artists in developing their craft. The organization strives to eliminate the term “starving artist” in favor of helping young people create lasting creative careers.

Courtesy of WriteGirl

5. WriteGirl

WriteGirl has worked to inspire young girls to write and express themselves creatively since 2001, providing mentorship programs and workshops from professional female writers across Los Angeles. 100% of high school graduates enrolled in WriteGirl’s mentorship program enter college, many receiving full or partial scholarships. The organization’s workshops encompass poetry, creative non-fiction, songwriting, screenwriting and more, all with the goal to help young girls become more creative and further their education.

Although this list only details five of Los Angeles’s notable literary arts nonprofits, Avenue50, Beyond Baroque, LARB and countless others bring immeasurable good to the creative community that is Los Angeles. And whether you wish to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector, volunteer or simply donate, awareness of local nonprofits provides a greater understanding of the social, political and economic gaps they seek to fill.

Post by Elizabeth King

You’re sitting in front of your laptop with fingers poised just above your keyboard and you come up with a big, fat…nothing. All those ideas you’ve been storing in your mind-bank while in the shower have disappeared; all the small combinations of a sentence you’ve been saving are gone–into thin air! Well, you’re not alone. As a student, I have spent many a night in front of my laptop with once-hot cups of coffee to accompany me on my unfinished papers. Before throwing in the towel, remember: writer’s block affects all writers and is totally common!

Here are some simple fixes to get out of that rut:

Courtesy of Max Pixel

1. Take a quick mental and physical break

Set aside 15 minutes and move away from your desk. Actively put your mind off the assignment at hand by doing small chores around the house you’ve been meaning to get to but just haven’t. Go for a walk. Take a bath. Brew some tea (or buy Boba tea!). Play a little Plants vs. Zombies. Make a vision board even!

2. Create an outline

Picturing your writing as a finished product when you still have a blank page can be daunting which may be preventing you from even starting. Tackle the issue by breaking it up into smaller, more manageable pieces. Write ideas and sentences that you’d like to incorporate into your writing and reorganize them from top to bottom.

Courtesy of Pexels

3. Talk your idea out loud by yourself and/or with others

Being stuck in writer’s block can feel like all the fresh ideas have been sucked out of you. Try voicing everything out and following your train of thought. Hearing your thoughts aloud may bring new insights and help you better understand what it is you truly want to convey.

4. Start with a sentence

As difficult as it is to get the ball rolling, there are times when the only thing left to do is start. It doesn’t matter if nothing sounds “good” yet because you can always revise it later. The goal is simply to pick yourself up and forge on.

And lastly, my personal favorite tip that I do for everything…

5. Create a to-do list

To organize my writing and even my actions, I write down everything I need to accomplish within the day before falling into bed. When writing, I prioritize the research I need to conduct beforehand, the tentative outline I’ll have to make, a predetermined and timed break, and lastly, of course, the final piece of writing. Creating a list of daily objectives not only forces me to prioritize my responsibilities but it also creates extra motivation to complete the list before a deadline.

Before sending you off, just know that writer’s block is entirely normal and happens to all writers. Writing is a process which really means it needs to be in a continuous state of development, so the point isn’t to feel discouraged but to push on regardless. No one ever said it would be easy but I can guarantee that once you’ve got yourself in that can-do mindset the words will write themselves!

 

 

Post by Yumei De la barreda

Courtesy of Goodreads

While literary giant Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” is in name a short story, it would more accurately be described as a thought experiment on the concept of Utopia. The story revolves around the fictional city of Omelas, a place which has achieved a perfect existence. There is no war, theft or crime in Omelas. Instead there are only grand festivities and indulgence. There is even mention of a drug, drooz, that ostensibly none of the citizens of Omelas feel compelled to use since they already feel as if they are in paradise. However, in the end, things are not as perfect as they initially appeared. More specifically, what Omelas’ perfection is predicated upon is revealed to be questionable. This turns out to be something the nameless townspeople of Omelas don’t seem to know how to deal with, even though they have been aware of it all along. This is juxtaposed against the reader’s own unawareness.

Le Guin’s greater concern with exploration over any sort of narrative progression is most representative. That is, Le Guin’s primary aim is clearly to persuade the reader to believe in the world that is being woven, to seduce the reader toward Utopia. This is seamlessly done from the get-go as she introduces the reader to Omelas via her description of the city during a festival. Being that the city is the only character in the story until the story’s end, the rest being faceless masses, it takes center stage throughout as Le Guin details the merriment the citizens of Omelas are participating in. From the youths racing horses to an old woman handing out flowers, to a child joyfully playing flute on the sidelines. Everything is almost absurdly idyllic.

As the reader begins to identify with “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”, the story’s conclusion begins to infiltrate him or her. In other words, the more the reader merges with the enticing city of Omelas, the more disturbing the ending becomes and the more parallels to reality are able to be drawn.

Le Guin effectively executes this crucial mechanism through her intelligent dissection and introduction of Utopia. She opens with a depiction of Omelas at celebration wherein she asks the reader to actively participate and invest in the creation of the celebration. She presents one with suggestions but she never claims that one detail is more accurate than another. Thus, rendering it, in some sense, one’s own Utopic vision and not her own. Moreover, Le Guin understands that a truly enticing vision of Utopia necessitates the suspension of judgment. As such, her framework for a Utopia includes decadence and is, by her own omission, “not puritan”.

Le Guin’s guidelines for the reader’s vision of Utopia, in service to her overarching allegory, entail a necessary complexity. This complexity about Omelas as Utopia is taken one step further as the conditionality of Utopia is taken into consideration as well. Le Guin accomplishes this through her juxtaposition of Utopia against Dystopia. The result is a commentary on how they are products of one another and at least, according to Le Guin, unable to exist independently of each other. Once the story begins to turn darker, it is revealed that something dwells in the darkest corners of Omelas. Le Guin gives the reader less leeway in interpretation at this point, she seemingly desires to make the revelation a distinct thing in the reader’s mind as it is what is truly important about Omelas. As it is Omelas’ foundation, so it is that of the story’s ideas.

While the minute methodology to Le Guin’s metaphor is successful, the overtness of it all does give her entire piece a sententious after-taste of sorts. Its obvious parallels to the state of the actual world we live in only underscore that. However, Le Guin reels herself in enough that Omelas does not fall into the cliché—primarily because of the way the story’s largest revelation is handled at its culmination. All of a sudden, the reader is pulled from the joyous festivities of Omelas and, from the perspective of nameless citizens, is introduced to the ritual wherein the price for Omelas’ paradise is revealed. Grotesque descriptions of the only distinctly human character in the story rinse away the pretty picture of Omelas. Once again asserting that this is a story of ideas first and foremost, as it culminates in implication.

All in all, Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” is filled with intriguing ideas. The story aims to make its readers think and is ultimately successful in doing so through various techniques. At that, “Omelas” brings up ideas highly pertinent to the state of the real world and hits as close to home as possible. While occasionally imperfect in tone, “Omelas” is, as a whole, a strong story for those unafraid of self-reflection.

Post by Jessikah Diaz

As a new member of the L.A. community I have actively tried to find a sense of home, and home for me is always in close proximity to creativity. I, much like you, am partial to anything deemed literary, but I have found that it’s hard to find people who feel the same. Personally, I’m passionate about spoken word poetry because those who participate are often like me, and probably like you: enthusiastic about fiction, poetry, and writing but often do not have a space or an outlet with which they can all share a common interest. Most people will tell us to start a book club, but Friday night book clubs are not as sexy as they used to be, and you can trust me when I say, I’ve found something better. . .

The review said to get there an hour and a half early. Assuming the statement was hyperbolic, I was confused how a weekly poetry open mic night could have become so popular. Most of the weekly spoken word performances I had attended had been tucked inside some coffee shop, poetry in between acoustic sets and a cappella groups. I’ve found that most people are unfamiliar with this type of poetry. By definition, spoken word is performance art categorized by its use of rhythm, wordplay and voice intonation. Its roots are in oral tradition, often storytelling, and is typically centered around issues of politics, race, society, and community. Most spoken word participants will tell you they enjoy being a part of this community because it is intimate; moreover, they enjoy the cathartic experience of being around relatable and uninhibited emotion.

I had never seen such a large spoken word circle until I witnessed Da Poetry Lounge in West Hollywood. The venue opens its doors every Tuesday night at 9:00 p.m.; most nights are for open mic but the 3rd Tuesday of each month is reserved for slam poetry. The theatre is situated on a high school campus, so its parking is plentiful (and I learned so is its crowd). My first time attending I decided not to challenge the multiple Yelp reviewers who had suggested arriving early. As I drove up to the venue at 8:00 p.m., I was greeted by an already lengthy line of 20 people. I spent the hour talking with the others beside me: a girl from Costa Mesa who attends any time she’s in town on a Tuesday, and a man who takes the bus from Inglewood every week. Both were such dedicated attendees. As they began ushering us through the doors at 8:50 p.m., I managed to snag a seat in the back of the small theatre. People began piling on the stage, sitting on the ground with their legs folded. They were making room for as many people as possible. A single mic was centered at the front of the stage, and behind it, an absent space which would soon be filled by artists. Not 10 minutes later the host came running out, a clipboard under his arm and a list of names that had signed up at the beginning of the night. His personable energy immediately filled the room as he talked casually about his weekend, as if the 100 of us had asked the question at once. He quickly but intently listed the rules for the evening: no use of phones, no leaving the room, no talking, no taking pictures, no recording, and if you violate any of these house rules you will be asked to leave immediately. This moment was about being in the present.

The first girl was nervous. She walked on stage, introduced herself, and tried to perform from memory. After she anxiously opened her reference notebook for the third time—her voice began to crack. The room echoed with the sound of snaps. The sound of support in performance art. The snaps of confidence seemed to restore her courage as she finished her piece. This string of support continued throughout the night, regardless of performer or topic. Ultimately, it is a beautiful thing to witness a community of strangers being bound by art and appreciation. Spoken word is made wholesome by watching performers weave raw material into nourishment. I spent $5 on a ticket to attend that night and what I experienced has fed me more than $5 spent ever has.

Post by Lauren Finkle

It’s Halloween and there’s no better time to dive into spooky stories! For those that prefer gothic mansions and paranormal happenings to slasher movies, here are five classic ghost stories to get you in the mood for All Hallows’ Eve.

Courtesy of Goodreads

1. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

A favorite of many, this novel details the exploits of Dr. John Montague, a paranormal scientist who recruits three young adults with hopes of finding empirical evidence of the supernatural at Hill House — an ancient mansion with all the gothic trappings of a perfect ghost story. The inhabitants experience increasingly strange phenomena that they cannot explain away, leading them closer and closer to madness. Much like a Hitchcock film, Jackson utilizes the reader’s imagination to create a terror more visceral than any explicit horror story could. In case that’s not convincing, Stephen King has called this book one of the greatest horror novels of the twentieth century.

Courtesy of Flickr

2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier, a brilliant twentieth-century writer, provided much of the source material for Hitchcock films like “The Birds” and “Jamaica Inn.” Rebecca, one of her most spellbinding tales, recounts the sudden marriage of an unnamed young woman to a wealthy, mysterious Englishman named Maximilian de Winter. At Manderley, his estate in Cornwall, she meets the nightmare-inducing housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. Rather than making the new bride feel at home, Mrs. Danvers continually compares her to Rebecca, the deceased Mrs. de Winter. Rebecca becomes a specter that haunts both the novel and the couple as they attempt to understand each other and the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death. The terrifying atmosphere of Manderley, another classic haunted mansion, becomes a character in and of itself in this spooky novel.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

3. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

This Henry James novel is one of the original ghost stories that paved the way for the modern psychological horror genre. To this day, it continues to baffle readers and academics alike with its strange ending. It’s the story of a young governess who moves to the countryside to care for two recently orphaned children who are being provided for by their uncle. The eeriness begins when the governess is instructed never to bother her employer under any circumstances—she is essentially to fend for herself in the isolated country, with only the children and the housekeeper as company. After beginning her job, the governess begins seeing ghostly figures on the property and starts to unravel a terrifying tale of murder and paranormal phenomena. Think of it as the Victorian version of “I see dead people.”

Courtesy of Flickr

4. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

This novel gets extra horror points because it is a true story, unlike the others on this list. The novel documents the murder of the Clutter family that occurred in Holcomb, Kansas, by two ex-convicts recently released from the State Penitentiary. In order to write the book, Capote conducted interviews with the townspeople and the murderers themselves, whose relationship with each other during the murder is intensively and uncomfortably discussed throughout In Cold Blood. One of the first novelizations of an actual murder, this book paved the way for true-crime novels and documentaries like the ones we are accustomed to today.

Courtesy of Goodreads

5. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Set in a small town in October during the arrival of a traveling carnival, this is the perfect Halloween novel. Two best friends, Jim and Will, become enthralled with the carnival’s strange ringleader, “Mr. Dark.” He seems to be able to give the townspeople everything they have ever wanted but Jim and Will start to sense something sinister approaching. Full of witches, sorcery, and autumn carnivals, readers will love everything about this spooky book.

Now you’re all set to curl up with a mug of hot apple cider, a warm blanket, and some spooky stories. We hope these books make your Halloween a little more ghoulish!

 

Post by Winston Bribach

Courtesy of Design Enterprises of San Francisco

Biographical novels tend to use, as their starting point, a defining moment in a historical figure’s life. This allows the author to create a fictionalized window into the subject’s life, be it Michelangelo in The Agony and the Ecstasy or Paul Gauguin in The Moon and Sixpence.

Ruthanne Lum McCunn falls in line with the genre’s conventions throughout Chinese Yankee, the story of one of the few early Chinese immigrants to fight in the American Civil War. Much to the disappointment of the reader, the novel only has a few passages that carry life and intensity, namely the passages where minor white characters are projecting their racist impressions onto the main character, Ah Yee Way (later rebranded Thomas). Otherwise, the novel’s episodic structure and unwillingness to delve into concrete details leaves the reader with a mediocre narrative. Moreover, attempting to cover the entirety of a person’s life in a compelling fashion in 260 short pages—less if you remove the maps—is next to impossible. The result is a tale told in broad strokes with almost no images that readers are likely to sear into their minds. There are almost no avenues to bring the audience into Thomas’ psyche. We cannot feel his growing blindness. We cannot see what he sees. We cannot understand the brutality of the war, the racism, or imprisonment in Andersonville. Thomas carries only what becomes a superficial flaw.

To put it plainly, McCunn is much too nice to her subject. History is not pleasant, especially where minorities are concerned. Chinese-Americans were dehumanized in the extreme, vilified for their inability to assimilate into the dominant culture. Yet, many soldiers in Thomas’ unit treat him like an equal. And somehow, he manages to get a fair shake in a lot of his undertakings. Not to say that all aspects of immigrant life for Chinese men were negative, but the struggle endured by Chinese-Americans was much more severe than depicted here. The novel does not engage with the dirt. Rather, it seems to brush it under the rug.

That said, Chinese Yankee’s heart is in the right place. Chinese-Americans have historically been without a voice and using the novel form to shed light on an obscure moment in history and encourage readers to uncover more details deserves recognition.

These stories need to be told, but they need to be told well. These stories are open spaces for authors to shed light on the largely uncovered ground, and thus, readers are disappointed when they fail to do so.  They need to have a strong focal point, a smaller time frame. Maybe that means starting with Ah Yee Way’s escape from enslavement. Maybe that means cutting out his first wife’s all too familiar ambitions and adding color to the equally commonplace soldiers in his unit.

In short, Chinese Yankee bites off more than it can chew. As such, the novel fails to live up to the promise of its interesting subject, giving us the pedestrian when it could have given the extraordinary.

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