A Syllabus for Writers

Writerly Wednesday

 

One of my favourite things about going to University was the syllabus. Every fall and Winter semester, I’d excitedly pour over the books on my course lists before running over to the campus bookstore and filling my bag with hundreds of books. Being an English major, there were always a lot of novels to read, which I loved! When I left school, it felt strange—like I’d lost something special. Recenlty, while in a writing rut, I decided to create my own writerly syllabus for inspiration. If you’ve ever been (or are currently) in a rut, consider these titles. Or, better yet, why not add on some new ones?

Honing your craft 101: Inspiration & Other Important Writerly Things

 

  1. Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg & Julia Cameron
  2. The Trickster’s Hat, by Nick Bantock
  3. The Pocket Muse, by Monica Wood
  4. The Art of Character, by David Corbett
  5. Damn Fine Story, Chuck Wendig
  6. Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder
  7. Writing Fiction, Janet Burroway
  8. The Superior Person’s Book of Words, by Peter Bowler
  9. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
  10. Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes
  11. The Seven Basic Plots, by Christopher Booker 
  12. Naming the World, by Bret Anthony Johnston

Bruised Ego 201: a salve for the burn of rejection

  1. Real Artists Have Day Jobs, by Sara Benincasa
  2. The Gift, by Lewis Hyde
  3. How to Get Published in Literary Magazines, by Allison K Williams
  4. Zen and the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury
  5. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert
  6. Daring Greatly, Brene Brown

How Did They Do It 301: Following in the Paths of the Greats

  1. House of Dreams, by Liz Rosenberg
  2. On Writing, Stephen King
  3. Negotiating with the Dead, Margaret Atwood
  4. Jane Austen at Home, Lucy Worsley
  5. The Bronte Myth, Lucasta Miller
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, Humphrey Carpenter
  7. Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, Ruth Franklin

Independent Study 401: Read Widely

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…This one is really up to you. Sometimes, I like to make myself a list of books from the same genre that I’m writing in, or even books that might evoke the same feeling that I am trying to convey in my own book. If that doesn’t work, read what you love and inspiration will follow.

What books do you read to help inspire your writing practice? Why not write them in the comments below?

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The Ultimate Vegan Breakfast Book, by Nadine Horn & Jörg Mayer

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A while ago, I thought I might just try and fit back into my pre-baby pants. First, I decided NO MORE SUGAR. (spoiler alert: I still eat sugar). Then, I bought spandex jogging pants. I huffed and puffed around the block every day and I did the whole “clean eating” thing too. I do not fit into my pre-baby pants. (They went out of style, anyway). But you know what? I did kind of feel a bit…glowy.

Full disclosure: I still can’t wrap my head around vegan “sausage” or “eggs” or “cheese.” I am a cheese-loving, too-much-bacon-loving, sugar-consuming lady. BUT The Ultimate Vegan Breakfast Book has a lot of good recipes that are delicious even for someone who isn’t ready to jump into the full vegan movement.

Smoothie Heaven

My favourite recipes in this book were the smoothies. While the milks are traditional nut milks, the smoothies turn out looking beautiful with the added bonus of being healthy too! In particular, I liked the blueberry almond milk smoothie, because it was flavourful and (if I’m being honest) not all that bogged down in “greens.” (I do realize that “green smoothies” are healthy, but so often they end up looking like disgusting swamp water, which let’s face it–it just isn’t appetizing! In contrast, all of the smoothies in this book are lovely and worth slurping down.

Breakfast Doughnuts Anyone?

I’ll admit it. I eat doughnuts for breakfast. Probably more than I should. If you’re like me and you’d take doughnuts over kale-whatever-whatever smoothies any day of the week, then Horn & Mayer’s “breakfast doughnuts” recipe might just be the answer to your sugar-coated prayers. They actually taste like doughnuts. Trust me–I wouldn’t lie to you, fellow doughnut lovers. These baked doughnuts are delicious and well worth the time it takes to mix up the ingredients (which, for the record, aren’t super hard to find).

The Ultimate Vegan Breakfast Book feels like a win for vegans and non-vegans alike. It is most definitely a DIY DO if you have an interest in trying out some vegan recipes.

The Edible Cookie Dough Cookbook, Olivia Hops

Besides reading as much as humanly possible, trying feverishly to complete my publishing program and write a lot, every once in a while, I like to try out DIY projects. I too, have been lured in by those fabulous Pinterest sirens. There were the glitter shoes (cracked and never recovered), the countless recipes that festered in my crock pot and the knitting projects that just…never happened (because who really has time to knit? Okay, someone out there does. It’s just not me right now. Props to you, knitters of the inter web. I salute you with my non-callused fingers and my long-forgotten knitting needles lying somewhere, someplace in my house).

Since it’s that time of year where Pinterest is exploding with awesome super-mom lunches and costumes that look like they cost a million bucks (but apparently only cost pennies), for the next few weeks, I’ll be featuring some cool DIY books.

This week’s review is for The Edible Cookie Dough Cookbook by Olivia Hops. It’s a fun DIY cookbook that will have you drooling for more…

Clean Layout, Pretty Pictures

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from The Edible Cookie Dough Cookbook, 2018.

Aside from the actual recipes, which are excellent and worth checking out, the actual book is well-organized, with sections for how to make “safe-to-eat” cookie dough and desserts that include various cookie dough recipes. I also appreciated the introduction, which told the story of how Olivia Hops came to invent her delicious recipes and start up her business as well as the beautifully stylized pictures.

How Much Do You Love Cookie Dough?

I was honestly on the fence about the whole edible cookie dough fad before reading this book. Sure, I like to sneak a bite of raw cookie dough while mixing up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, but with the wild assortment of flavours you can find in Hops’ new cookbook, it elevates edible cookie dough to a whole other level. My favourite? The Key Lime Pie flavoured dough. (If you’re looking for a sample recipe of Olivia Hops fantastic creations, The Washington Post recently published her famous recipe for MONSTER Cookie Dough.)

Overall, I’d classify The Edible Cookie Dough Cookbook as a DIY DO!

 

Love Letters to Jane’s World, by Paige Braddock

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I really should read the newspapers more, if only because I might have discovered Jane’s World sooner. (Granted, I was just a kid when Paige Braddock’s iconic LGBTQA comic became popular). Love Letters to Jane’s World is a compilation of the “best” of the comic series and it also features letters from Braddock’s fans. While I may have been too young to be a fan in the early days, I certainly am now!

 

Quirky Jane

Jane’s storylines are fun to read, because her character has such a wild imagination. While there is the tension/love-connection between Chelle and Jane, I also appreciated her wackier storylines, where Jane gets abducted by aliens or dreams that she is on an island of Amazons. The dialogue is witty and the storylines were quick-paced enough to keep me flipping pages.

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The “Best” of Jane’s World

While this compilation won’t give you an all-access pass to all of the moments from Jane’s World, it does sample a lot of great moments from the beginning, middle and later parts of the series. It was interesting to watch Jane and the world that she lives in change across the panels, and it made me want to read more. Some of the transitions between panels were a bit abrupt, which for an uninitiated Jane’s World first-time reader was confusing, but the actual stories were excellent.

 

 

 

Give this collection a try if you’re looking for a quick read with some lovable characters.

Fat Girl on a Plane, by Kelly de Vos

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Any sort of narrative that centres around the fashion world instantly has me hooked, so naturally, I had to pick up a copy of Fat Girl on a Plane by Kelly de Vos. It’s a fun, flirty narrative full of great moments and de Vos’ heroine, Cookie is bold, beautiful and genuinely lovable.

Not Another Cinderella Story

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Right from the beginning, it’s clear to the reader that Fat Girl on a Plane is not going to be a typical “Cinderella” narrative. There’s even a letter from de Vos at the start of the book explaining this! I liked that quite a bit, because it set the tone for what might otherwise have come across as yet another “makeover” story where the already-pretty-girl-gets-prettier and gets the guy. But that is not Cookie’s story and I loved that. In many ways, the narrative does surround Cookie’s weight-loss and rise to fashion awesomeness, but I felt like it was handled in a clever, non-glorified way that still satisfied the reader.

A Clever Structure

A big part of how this narrative succeeds is the clever back and forth structure that jumps in time between Cookie before she loses weight and after she has lost the weight. While it might seem like a “before and after” narrative, I liked that de Vos articulates the pains and struggles of Cookie’s story in both the before and after sections–there is no magical fairy godmother to come and save her and in the end, Cookie’s story isn’t about getting the boy. It’s about Cookie discovering herself as a person and growing into her own ambitions.

Overall, Fat Girl on a Plane is fresh and compulsively readable. I carried this book around with me in my purse, because I just couldn’t bear to set it down. If you love smart, ambitious teenage heroines, this book will absolutely satisfy your cravings!

My Plain Jane, by The Lady Janies

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If you’ve already read My Lady Jane, then you know the kind of tongue-in-cheek humour that you’re in for when you pick up My Plain Jane, the newest instalment in the “Jane” series written by The Lady Janies, or Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows and Brodi Ashton. To be sure, this is another win for this trio of YA writers, who re-write historical or literary narratives in creative ways. Full of literary jokes, ghosts and plenty of excitement, My Plain Jane is another fun ride through a literary classic.

Let’s Hear it for the Girls

What I liked most about My Plain Jane was the characterization of Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre as strong, smart heroines. Charlotte is clever and always finds inventive ways out of the well-executed situations that the characters find themselves in. I appreciated the meta-fictional nature of having a writer in the narrative and one who was so endearing. She was probably my favourite character. Jane Eyre was another good character, although I felt that for the majority of the book her character was tied up in a feminist critique of the original Jane Eyre that has been written about quite a lot in academic publications (i.e. here, here and here.) My favourite is Kate Beaton’s take on the brooding Bronte suitors, though. Some arguments have even been made that the original Jane Eyre is actually a feminist narrative… so these critiques fell a bit flat.

Lit Crit 101

I love a good meta narrative, especially when it interrogates the original story in a new and exciting way. There were some neat, original additions to this iteration of Jane Eyre, such as the ghost hunting aspect. However, I felt that My Lady Jane was a bit more inventive, while My Plain Jane focused on the common criticism that yes, Jane Eyre is way too young for Rochester and that is bizarre that she falls in love pretty immediately with some dark, brooding guy who isn’t all that nice to her. That, in a nutshell, is a lot of the Bronte literature. (I mean, hello, Heathcliff anyone? That guy is a piece of work).

Love Boat

Speaking of all the “dreamy” love connections that are commented on, there was some light romance between Charlotte Bronte and one other character that I won’t name to avoid spoilers. I liked this aspect of the narrative and thought that it added some good intrigue when the story departed from the Jane Eyre plot. While Jane Eyre’s love connection was mostly the but of some literary jokes, it was enjoyable to also get absorbed in a romance that I felt like I could root for.

If you fell in love with the original Rochester and feel like Heathcliff is super dreamy, stick to the classic. But if you love reading about quirky heroines and ghostly adventures, check out My Plain Jane. 

 

Ruthless Magic, by Megan Crewe

 

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When I heard that the upcoming YA fantasy Ruthless Magic, by Megan Crewe was a cross between The Hunger Games and Harry Potter I was pretty darn excited to get an advanced reader’s copy. I have to admit that there were some fascinating aspects of this new magical YA story, although I didn’t feel like the connection between Suzanne Collin’s page-turning thriller and J.K. Rowling’s classic series entirely did Ruthless Magic any great lip service.

Let me explain.

The Skullduggery Effect

Ten years ago, a series came out called Skullduggery Pleasant. In our local bookstore, the marketing copy read “Pick up the new Harry Potter today!” I was initially intrigued, but what I would later discover was a fantastic series in its own rite just… didn’t “do it” for me, because the truth was that Skullduggery Pleasant is not Harry Potter. It’s true that book marketing teams frequently use “comp titles” to help place their new books in the market, sometimes I think that choosing the wrong title to compare a fledgling book to can ruin what might otherwise be a great reading experience. I call this “The Skullduggery Effect.”

Okay, now back to Ruthless Magic. 

A New Magical World

I liked it. I did. The beginning set up a unique, magical world set in New York City. I thought that it was interesting to read about the hierarchy of magicians and the need for the main characters to fight for a spot at the prestigious magical school. Along with some beautiful prose and tantalizing intrigue in the first few chapters, the characters were likeable and felt genuinely “real.” This is a well-written book on many accounts.

But Where’s the Tension?

While the narrative does create a similar feeling of competition between young individuals like in The Hunger Games, the narrative urgency that had been building for such a good, long time at the start of Ruthless Magic is broken when the characters just decide to work together. (You could argue that some characters work together in The Hunger Games too–especially in later instalments of the series–but there was also other intrigue building that tempered this release of tension between previously “warring” characters. As in, my all-time-favourite will-Katniss-and-Peeta-get-together already storyline). While there was some light romance building, the white-hot tension wasn’t quite there. Or maybe, it just didn’t feel the same…

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Is Ruthless Magic a victim of The Skullduggery Effect? I’m not entirely sure. It’s a well-written narrative with some solid moments that were fun to read, but do yourself a favour and ignore the comp titles for a more enjoyable reading experience.