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Short Books for Long (Holiday) Travels

Post by Paige Hua

If your holidays are anything like mine, then you spend a decent amount of time traveling to visit family. Because, admit it, more family equals more presents (or in my case, more red envelopes). However, those hours upon hours of nothing to do can get boring. Here are four books from a variety of genres that are long enough to keep you entertained on your holiday travels and short enough to finish before those dizzying spells hit from endless passages on bumpy roads.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Set in New England during World War II, A Separate Peace takes a bit of a twist on coming of age stories and speaks on what friendships can really be like. Knowles’ writing easily takes you back to your own moments of your youth where sometimes even the best of friendships suffers from envy. At 208 pages, this novel is fitting for any holiday travel as Knowles also beautifully describes New England snowfall during Christmas time. Not to mention, this story is a wonderful reminder to be thankful for the friends you have around you and to take greater care in how you treat them.

The Princess Saves Herself in this One by Amanda Lovelace

A wonderful read for any lovers of Rupi Kaur’s style of poetry and can be easily finished in perhaps a short train ride. These poems hit deep and will resonate with anyone who has suffered the trials of being a woman. Yet, it also goes beyond these trials and tribulations as well; there’s a wonderful poem about the uncertainty that is often intertwined with being an English major. Perfect for anyone who needs some reassurance before settling in with family or with some hot chocolate for the holiday season.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

In my opinion, young adult fiction has a bit of a bad reputation these days, but this little novel is sure to restore some faith in the genre. Although, be warned, you might want to sit in the backseat for this one because it is almost guaranteed to put you to tears. I recommend you go into it as blind as possible, but just know that Sáenz does a beautiful job describing the effect words can have on us and why we as readers can cherish them so much. This is just such a short, sweet, and meaningful novel for any trip and especially warming for the holidays.

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman

This novel was definitely one that took me by surprise. At 110 pages it was no arduous read; however, be willing to suspend your disbelief as Eagleman proposes some wild tales for the afterlife. Eagleman writes of forty mind boggling situations that is sure to not only get your mind working during any long travel, but also remind you to be grateful for the short life you are given. Boredom suddenly seems like a dangerous thing because, as Eagleman so graciously points out, you spend two years reliving it in your afterlife.

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If You Like This Show, You’ll Love This Book

Post by Jessica Magallanes

We all love a good TV show binge during winter break, but sometimes watching just isn’t enough. Here is a list of books that can help curb your super fan appetites while you wait for the new seasons of your favorite shows.

1. American Horror Story: Asylum / One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

This is one of the most popular seasons of AHS, and to any AHS fan this is the perfect book for you (we all remember Kit Walker…enough said). But if you aren’t a fan of the show and are just wanting a bit more of that Halloween spirit, I recommend Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This classic novel shares a lot in common with American Horror Story: Asylum—from it’s setting, to the creepy-psycho employees, to even it’s dashing, and somewhat questionable protagonist. If you loved season two or just want to keep some of that post-Halloween spook, this is a great book to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Buy it here.

2. This Is Us Commonwealth

NBC’s This Is Us has been blowing up the charts recently, and will for the foreseeable future. If you just can’t get enough of the family love and drama that comes with it, then why not pick of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth? This #1 New York Times Bestseller poses the question, “who is family?” and fits perfectly into the drama and tears that we’ve all come to love from watching the Pearson family. Expect some heartbreak and some warm fuzzy feelings with this one, because it’s sure to take you on quite a ride.

Buy it here.

3. Game of Thrones The Name of the Wind

All of us Game of Thrones fans are dying to get our hands on that final season, and, whether you are a #Jonsa fan or a #Jonerys fan, I know you are itching for some more action and romance. To try and ease your anticipation a bit, because let’s be honest, we still got six months to go, I recommend a healthy dose of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. This will be sure to curb your appetite for action, magic and political intrigue. Be prepared though, because winter is coming, and finals week is dark and full of terrors, so you may not be able to handle the pull of this addictive fantasy read.

Buy it here.

4. Riverdale /One of Us is Lying

Is you favorite part of Riverdale the addictive mystery? Well if so, you’re not alone and you’ll love Karen M. McManus’s One of Us is Lying. With teen angst and delicious scandals, this book is perfect when you just can get enough of Riverdale High’s dark secrets. Try to solve the mystery before it’s revealed and see how wrong you were all along. You won’t want to put this mind game down until you’ve read the very last word.

Buy it here

5. Grey’s Anatomy The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Grey’s Anatomy fans live for the medical drama and love a good twist and Rebecca Skloot’s novel, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, has the biggest twist of all. What if you saved a million lives, even after death? What if no one ever knew that it was you? Henrietta Lacks is the owner of the first “immortal” human cell grown in culture, known today as HeLa cells. The book recounts the story of her life and how she came to be the savior of millions. If you love drama (it’s okay you can admit it, we all do) and love a good medical miracle, than this book is sure to hit the spot.

Buy it here.

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A Closer Look at Video Game Writing

Post by Elise Escamilla

Writing as an art form has transcended all types of different mediums: from the screenplay of a film, the lyrics of a song, to the writing in video games. Yes, video games. For those who play them and know them well, this isn’t news. For those who are less familiar, and only have whatever party games that came with the Wii to go off of, video games are simply games. However, I would argue that there is a bit more writing in the world that they could be missing out on. Just as literature and other pieces of art can tackle philosophy and issues of morality, video games often take the same plunge.

A good example is the game Bioshock. Here is how the setting is described in one of the most iconic introductions ever:

“I am Andrew Ryan and I’m here to ask you a question. Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? ‘No!’ says the man in Washington, ‘It belongs to the poor.’ ‘No!’ says the man in the Vatican, ‘It belongs to God.’ ‘No!’ says the man in Moscow, ‘It belongs to everyone.’ I rejected those answers; instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose…Rapture, a city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, where the great would not be constrained by the small! And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well.”

The underwater city of Rapture is built upon the idea of complete freedom. A utopia, free from the subjection of religious ideologies or corrupt governments.  However, embedded in the language of independence are severe red flags: “petty morality” and “the great would not be constrained by the small.” These phrases foreshadow the truth behind the supposed utopia and imply that, in Rapture, there will be no moral compass guiding right from wrong. Everything will be done in the name of science, progress, or creativity. Real psychopaths emerge (was anyone surprised?) in the exciting forms of a sadistic artist, an insane plastic surgeon obsessed with beauty, and ruthless business men. While these characters wait for you to face them, you, as a player, have to face moral conundrums of your own. The game as a whole confronts morality head on, while also producing an incredibly compelling and heart-felt (depending on your game play) story.

Another classic franchise is Half-Life. Following the chaotic events of the first game, Half-Life 2 begins many years later. Aliens called the Combine have established themselves on earth and are ruling over humanity. A creepy notion, but it gets weirder. The aliens have created a suppression field that prevents humans from reproducing. Elements of dystopia and science fiction are always a good time on their own—but together? You get masterpieces. One aspect of Half-Life that I have always found interesting was the Vortigaunt species. They are an alien species that had once been slaves, before your character freed them.  If you decide to talk to them, one of them tells you,

“The way ahead is dark for the moment. What seems to you a sacrifice is merely, to us, an oscillation. We do not fear the interval of darkness. We are a tapestry woven of Vortessence. It is the same for you if only you would see it. How many are there in you? Whose hopes and dreams do you encompass? Could you but see the eyes inside your own, the minds in your mind, you would see how much we share. We are you, Freeman. And you are us.”

The language of weaving reminds me of the Post-Colonial literature class I took here, at UCLA. The idea of weaving is a domestic, often feminized, action, and in many ways, the Vortigaunts embody classic notions of femininity. They often heal you or your companions when in dire need, and they are very emotionally connected with their surroundings. Their femininity is juxtaposed by the masculinity of the tyrannical Combine, who use violence in their quest for absolute power. Additionally, the Vortigaunt’s words, “We are you, Freeman. And you are us,” reach toward philosophy, in that there is an implication of infinity in the way that we think, feel, and share. I could probably write an entire paper about these wonderful aliens and how well they represent oppression and resilience, but, let’s face it, I’d be the only one to read it.

And yet, video games also don’t have to necessarily be that “deep” to be considered highly for their writing. One of my personal favorites is the Uncharted series. The games follow a treasure hunter, Nathan Drake, who encounters myths and legends that come to life in his adventures, whether that be finding El Dorado or the pirate colony, Libertalia. The writing in the series is on par with anything you see in a good adventure film like the Indiana Jones franchise or Romancing The Stone (1984). The characters are fleshed out, real people (thank you voice acting and motion capture), and there are clear arcs in character from beginning to end. Because of the absolutely likeable cast of characters, the story itself is only bolstered. Each game has a new treasure to find, a new adventure to embark on, and a new story to fall into.

I can’t truly describe the impact these games have had on me in terms of how I write or what I write, especially if you haven’t played the games, but what I mostly want to convey is that the idea of good writing can be extended to video games. It’s different and new, but so are all art forms at one point. It’s difficult to tell a strong story and have an audience emotionally invested—ask any writer. The fact that video games can have the same emotional impact on me as a film or novel, solidifies them as their own form of art.

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Spoken Word Poetry Through the 30 Second Screen

Post by Timothy Calla

Social media is a vast well of untapped and underappreciated talent in the world of spoken word poetry. Even as a term, “social media” harbors a negative connotation as a space reserved for vapid millennials and overly opinionated old people. Even if there is some truth to stereotypical exchanges, such as the older relative who violently comments about politics on all your pictures and the youth who immediately deletes those inappropriate rants, it doesn’t invalidate social media as a platform of expression. That messy and chaotic convergence of social media and spoken word poetry has born many aspiring spoken word poets. I echo a fellow Westwind-er Dylan Karlsson, whose article about InstaPoetry asserts that, for many young writers, social media is their only exposure to the world of poetry. For the spoken word bard, social media allows their work to be experienced anytime and anywhere. This liberty is so massive that it changes the nature of spoken word as a consumable performance.

Spoken word is a performance art–a performance poetry–where the actions on stage, the intonations of the voice, and the social surroundings play a role in the experience and interpretation of the poetry itself. Once a single performance is captured in a recording, that single act exists in a distinct realm different from the clones of its future or past selves. The act of rehearsing a poem for the stage is less about mastering the words, but about capturing the spirit of the poem in the performance. Thus, the poem and performance are synonymous to the identity of the work. And those small qualifying differences in performing the same poem then creates different versions of that poem. If I get on stage and perform a spoken word poem a hundred times, each time emphasizing different words, gesturing differently, with changing tempos and speeds, the poem, by the nature of the performance, will be different than its other ninety-nine counterparts.

That’s why social media and spoken word poetry tango so perfectly. They match each other’s steps, social media swings around the hip of spoken word poetry and spins it to new heights (Okay, I don’t really know how to tango). Social media creates opportunities for spoken word poets to be experienced beyond the stage or the open mic. Don’t get me wrong, to experience spoken word poetry live is still far more gratifying than through the screen, but it matters immensely that there is an avenue for poets to be experienced even if they can’t, or aren’t ready to, get on stage.The first performance of a budding, spoken word poet may be the recording posted to Instagram, where they perform in their room. That same poem will then be experienced on the stage once they are ready. And each recording of that poem, from bedroom to stage, will be distinct in identity. Social media allows those thirty second snippets of spoken word poetry to exist as its own form of art.

If you’re interested in checking out or supporting spoken word, I recommend a group on Instagram called Buttonpoetry. They post short clips of spoken word events, some of the poets are well versed and well known such as Rudy Francisco, and others are up and coming spoken word poets shedding themselves on the same stage as the pros.

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A Beginner’s Guide To NaNoWriMo

Post by Anayib Figueroa

NaNoWriMo, which stands for “National Novel Writing Month”, is a creative writing project that takes place over the course of the month of November, starting November 1st and ending at 11:59 pm on November 30th. During this month, some writers attempt to write a 50,000-word novel, while others choose to pursue other creative writing projects, like finishing a script or writing a series of short stories.

So what makes NaNoWriMo appealing?

Part of its charm is the sense of solidarity that comes with it, especially in knowing that there’s a larger writing community undergoing the exact same process you are. It also gives you a solid deadline to help hold you accountable and even if you don’t finish in time, it encourages you to write more than you normally would.

That being said, if you decide NaNoWriMo sounds fun and want to give it a try, here are a few tips I’ve learned through my own trials and tribulations, regarding how to not fail.

1. Set a realistic daily word count goal. Stick. To. It.

The standard daily goal for NaNoWriMo is 1,667 words (assuming you’ve chosen to tackle the 50,000-word novel, which for the sake of this tip, we are). If you stick to 1,667 words per day, then by the end of the thirtieth day, you’ll have a total of 50,010 words. While you can modify your goal based on your writing availability (because some days leave more room for writing than others), you need to stick to it so you can stay on track. Be honest with yourself. Are you really going to do better and write more tomorrow? Or are you just procrastinating and hoping that tomorrow will bring more inspiration on what to write?

2. Prepare ahead of time

Simply put, know what you’re writing. Thirty days is already a very limited amount of time to begin with, so taking a chunk of that time to try and hash out what your novel will be aboutits plotline, conflicts, and twistswill set you back if you don’t do it quickly and efficiently. That being said, if you’re struggling to figure out what the story you want to tell is, get back to the basics and ask yourself: Who are your characters? What do they want? What is standing in their way? That should give you a foundation to start off with and just take it from there.

3. Schedule Time to Write

If possible, set aside a couple of hours every day during the month of November and dedicate that time exclusively to writing. Physically block out that time in your planner or your calendar and respect that writing time. That would be the best case scenario, but at the same time, I’m very aware of the fact that NaNoWriMo does not align itself well with the quarter system since it falls in an awkward middle ground between midterms and finals. So if you can’t afford to block out entire hours at once and you have to schedule your writing time around studying for exams, then so be it. Just be honest about when you will actually have time to write. Early morning, before you start your day? If you have the willpower to get up earlier than absolutely necessary, then why not. At the end of the day when you’re tired? Sure, so long as you aren’t too tired to form coherent sentences. Like I’ve said before, just be honest with yourself and find what times work best for you.

4. Find a support system

Writing is hard (duh), but it gets easier if you have people around you who are also taking on NaNoWriMo or who encourage you to keep writing because they want to know how the story ends. Find those people. It makes a world of a difference.

5. Use Your Available Resources

If after all of this, you still want to try NaNoWriMo, then here are a couple links to use along the way.

For more information on NaNoWriMo itself, go to their website. It answers FAQs, has a community of fellow writers, and also works as a source of inspiration to keep you going.

For a step-by-step outline to guide you during your month-long journey, check out Better Novel Project. They make writing a novel seem less intimidating.

All in all, good luck and may your inner muse be present, pleasant, and ready to work.