2 Tips for Watching Movie Adaptations of Books & “Ender’s Game” Review

enders game movie book adaptation

This essay was written by Williesha Morris.

“Ender, the enemy’s gate is down.”

The double meaning wasn’t lost while reading “Ender’s Game” or watching the movie adaptation.

“Ender’s Game” marks the first time I’ve ever purposefully read a book just before seeing a movie. I typically avoid watching movie versions of books for fear it would ruin my carefully, although not well-formed, visualizations of the story.

Though I have a faulty memory, snippets of books like “The Secret Life of Bees,” “The Notebook” and “Cold Mountain” have not been tarnished by the dramatizations on the big screen, even though many of these movies have been critically acclaimed. I just can’t bear to watch them.

But because “Ender’s Game” was an important novel in my husband’s childhood, and my in-laws enjoyed it as well and were kind enough to get me a copy from the library, I was determined to read it in time to see a viewing the following week.

For me, this was huge. I’m not the avid reader I once was as a child. In fact I typically only read short business e-books. But this time I was determined.

And I finished the book in three days.

Three days!

The achievement alone was more exciting than the opportunity to see it in IMAX.

Here are some tips before viewing a movie based on a book. (Read: Following this section are spoilers. If you haven’t read the book or seen the film, you may want to stop after this section. But come back!)

1) Remember the time frame the book was created: There are several scenes changed or fleshed out based on the cinematic technologies of today. We should all be grateful we live in a time where books from the 80s can be created into something suitable for today.

2) Remember the goal of Hollywood: Filmmakers want a movie with interesting characterization and, for movies like this, increased drama, action and romance. Those equal big box office bucks. Just the implication of those three movie elements is what keeps LA churning out movie after movie, even at the expense of taking creative liberties with novels. So you have to expect this will happen and not be turned off by it.

Given that Orson Scott Card once deemed the book impossible to be filmed but was very pleased with this movie, I dove into both the book and the movie with a very critical eye. Thanks to early versions of the trailer, I had Harrison Ford as Graff and little Asa Butterfiled as Ender in my head the whole time (with occasional flashes of Abigail Breslin as Valentine). But after getting halfway through the novel, I began to understand why Card was so skeptical at first.

Valentine and Peter’s plot to take over the world one Net forum at a time was painfully abrupt, difficult to understand and dragged the momentum of the book to a screeching halt.

While I can understand the negative ramifications of focusing an entire book on one character, it seemed completely unnecessary, the political scene was too complex, and the connections to the siblings’ lives at the end of the novel was not a valuable enough payoff to make it an integral part of the plot.

Peter’s transformation from sociopath to politician was too jarring. Had he and Valentine plotted to find out what was going on with International Fleet’s schooling or get in touch with Ender, that would have been more plausible. But this was really the only issue with the book I had. The exclusion of this subplot in the movie was definitely the most positive element.

Other great elements of the film where it deviated from the book included not calling the aliens “buggers,” but by their official term (used in later books in the series) “Formics.” “Buggers” sounded antiquated and childish.

The lake retreat and battle school scenes in particular were extremely well done, and they were really useful in imagining those moments while reading the book. Card’s details of the flying maneuvers was difficult to follow at times, and the trailer scenes provided a much needed point of reference in my mind. Creating lifelike battle scenes in Command School and having Ender and his teammates together in the same room were also great choices for the filmmakers to make that were different from the book.

Ender’s character was still lovable, complicated and dangerous, just like in the  book. However, the movie decided to soften the edges around his relationships with other characters. While his friendship with Bean was very rocky in the book, filmmakers chose to make their characters like each other almost instantly.

I was also pleased with how they handled the fight scenes. They chose not to kill off Stilson or Bonzo. Instead, it is implied Ender only hurt them to the brink of death. I was also pleasantly surprised Ender did not have a confrontation with Bernard. Instead, their combativeness is non-physical, brief and ends with them being together in battle as friends.

However, the nature of these friendships and Ender’s softer side is where the film failed to reach critics, many of which wrote their reviews as though they were completely unfamiliar with the book’s plot.

There was never a romantic relationship between Ender and Petra. Critics were tough on this element of the movie, and for the wrong reasons. Yes, Ender and Petra did nothing more than occasionally hold hands and look longingly at each other. But it wasn’t because they were children or they didn’t have chemistry.

She was never a critical part of Ender’s life in the book. They were simply friends who helped each other and respected each other in the end. I think if critics understood this, they would have had different complaints about the film, namely Petra’s overreaching role, talking with him before the “graduation” battle and being the last person he sees before discovering the Formic hiding place. None of these elements were in the book, and I was disappointed they attempted to pull something romantic out of nothing.

Movie critics who read the book had the same misgivings that I did. It was also unclear how much time had passed during Ender’s training, but the movie is already nearly two hours long, so it was understandable things had to be rushed. But it did take away from getting deeper into Ender’s complex psyche, and it also made his friendships seem forced.

There may be other book-then-movie adventures in my future, but for now, I’m happy this one turned out pretty well. I went into the movie already with a love and appreciation for the book’s characters, and it made watching it much more meaningful, even when the movie wasn’t perfect.

Let’s talk about book-to-movie adaptations. What are your favorites? Which ones do you hate? Let me know in the comments. (I expect to see a lot of Tolkien fans pop up.)

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Williesha Morris is lucky enough to have two sides to her business: she is a freelance writer and blogger and also is an administrative consultant/VA. She gets pumped when she’s able to meld the two together. When she’s not working, she’s usually spending way too much time staring at Facebook or giggling with her husband. Find her at My Freelance Life.com and on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo: Courtesy of Nerdist

On Going Dark: Why We Read Scary Things

scary stories halloween reading

This essay was written by Chris Ciolli.

Before I even begin, I have a little confession to make. Since the age of five or six or so, I’ve been as afraid of the dark, as I am enchanted by it. When the sun goes down, it seems anything can happen, but most often what happens is bad news.

After reading Roald Dahl’s Witches and seeing the movie for reading class in elementary school, I had nightmares for months. The settling noises my parents’ log cabin made come evening had me skittish; jumping any time the floor creaked (which was often).

In my 20s, I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the first time, and promptly traveled to Transylvania for spring break where I amused my-then-boyfriend, now husband, to no end, carrying garlic in my purse and sporting cross-shaped earrings day and night.

It’s safe to say that I didn’t grow out of my overactive imagination.

As a fully-grown, mature adult living in a drafty, early-20th century apartment building in Barcelona, with my half-Siamese, Lulu, and a full-blooded Spaniard, I still have to be very careful to read scary books during daylight hours, or suffer the restless nights, waking up in a cold sweat.

Note that scary doesn’t necessarily translate to horror. Science-fiction, dystopian classics, and even true crime can be just as disturbing. Of course when I get far enough into a story, it’s nearly impossible to resist racing through a book to reach a resolution…even if I don’t get there until 3 a.m., and at that point I’m afraid to close my eyes, because I know my mind will continue playing out unsavory scenes in my dreams. So why do I keep picking up these books up?

Because despite it all, there’s something in my mind that’s drawn to the darkness, even as it’s deathly afraid. Some part of me wants to know how the action unfolds in these stories, even as the rest rejects them in favor of lighter reading. It could be that I know I owe it to myself to embrace the existence of all sides of human nature.

Like it or not, we don’t live in a Disney vacuum where singing princesses, forest creatures and townspeople are either inherently good or evil. To overcome the cowardice and evil that are part and parcel of the human condition, we must first recognize and accept that they exist. In the end, reading about them is much easier (and more socially acceptable) than cozying up to serial killers during visiting hours at the big house, or scarier still, exploring our own dark sides first-hand and risking becoming a living nightmare like Alyssa Bustamante, the teenager who reportedly killed her young neighbor to see what it “felt” like or Armin Meiwes, who killed and ate a volunteer he found on the internet.

Scary comes in rainbow-colored hues, vivid shades of terror, evil, and doubt. It’s all around. Ignoring it won’t make it disappear. Facing it full on in written form is terrifying, but in the end, very good practice for standing up to our inner cowards in the sometimes terrifying situations real life presents.  As a writer and a reader, I know that staring down these scary books has made me stronger in a multitude of ways.

But instead of taking my word for it, why not test-drive the concept with the list of five books below? You’ll likely find that a healthy dose of fear and the serious reflection that comes after terror makes for a more well-rounded reader, writer and human being, even if it loses you some sleep.

  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman – Short but terrifying, Coraline is a cautionary tale about parallel realities and how what seems to good to be true almost always is.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – A totalitarian Christian theocracy has taken over the United States. Women are forbidden to read. ‘Nough said.
  • The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding – It doesn’t get much scarier than a bunch of children left to their own devices with no adult supervision.
  • The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski – Footnotes, fonts and unreliable narrators can overwhelm in this strange book, but more overwhelming is the sense of panic at the possibility of being consumed by the bleak maze that grows in the house on Ash Tree Lane.
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – The true story of the chilling murder of a Kansas farmer and his family by complete strangers.

For additional Halloween reading, check out Amarie Fox’s recent post.

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Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer and a translator. She’s an unashamed book and coffee addict that travels every chance she gets. She also spends a lot of time playing with kitchen tools and art supplies. Read about her travels at MidwesternerAbroad.com, and check out her art at TriflesandQuirks.com.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Sean Winters.

Why Reading Should Be a Shared Activity

why you should read together

This essay was written by Julie Bates.

Why Share Reading?

Reading is a one person activity – right? Well, that depends.

Sometimes reading can be a wonderful escape from the real world and the tensions that send you seeking a universe far, far away. Other times nothing enriches the experience of a good read than sharing it with another.  Good shared reads allow you to share the wonder of exploring alien worlds, compare notes on exotic recipes or decide if the book the media suddenly adores is worth picking up or is exponentially overrated.

It Builds Intimacy

My husband and I read each other’s books. He’s learned to appreciate my eclectic taste in fiction and I appreciate his more scholarly interests.  We’ve had some wonderful discussions surrounding the plot of whatever book he has finished after me. Confession here – I read fast, and I tend to stay up late for a good story. He appreciates the need for eight or more hours of snoozing.

We’ve tried exotic foods read about in books and looked up places on the internet. I remember us looking at Turkey’s Hagia Sophia museum online after reading a richly textured description of it in Anne Perry’s The Sheen on the Silk.

You can partially quote a really good line and receive a grin of acknowledgement from your significant other while leaving others baffled. Jokes, inside information, favorite characters become fodder for your moments together.

Good reads promote good dialogue. We’ve discussed the plausibility of whodunnits, physics (which he understood and I didn’t and needed some explanations) and whether or not we would try recipe X. Confession here – I read the cookbooks. He agrees to be a guinea pig as long as I don’t get too weird. He now agrees that kale can be made edible.

Your Children Benefit

Everyone wants their kid to be smart right? Everyone wants that intimate connection that comes from shared moments. Reading builds that seamlessly. From the moment my son was born, my husband and I read to him. We read Dr. Seuss, We read Magic Tree House and the entire Little House on the Prairie Series.

It was the lifesaving component of the nighttime ritual. You know, the one where you say it’s bedtime and your kid replies in that whiny, tired voice, “I’m not sleepy,”  initiating bedtime guerrilla warfare.

Plunking a tired, cranky kid in bed doesn’t work. I’ve tried it, got the tee shirt and been back in his room 3 million times because, “I can’t sleep, I need water, it’s dark and I hear a weird noise.”   What saved my sanity, such as it existed, were books.   Bedtime was when we would pick a book, he would lie in bed and I or my husband would read, usually a chapter or less if he dropped off.

I read to my child until he took the book (Despereaux) out of my hands and said “I want to read it for myself!”  He went on to read all the Harry Potter books before fifth grade only to be bummed to discover he could not get AR (Advanced Reader) points, because all but the first volume are considered middle school books.  I discovered we could talk about The Lord of the Rings as well as Hatchet.

Even now that he is a teen, we talk books. We don’t always have the same taste. I’m not into Dr. Who, and he doesn’t really enjoy some of the history I read, but we still have wonderful, literate discussions born out of all the books we read together.

Shared reading experience opens your mind

I belong to a reading group. A lot of what is read is philosophy. which is not my area of expertise. Some of these individuals started talking about what these theories meant, and my mind was blown. What seemed simple on the printed page had interpretations that had never occurred to me.

Listening to my friends discuss subjects ranging from physics to religion made me contemplate deeper meanings that I normally wouldn’t have.  They made me think rather than blindly accept what was on the page. While I will never be a debater, I have benefited from being exposed to many points of view. Who doesn’t want to expand their mind?

Good books increase friendships

I’ve had lovely discussions about books with people I’ve never met before. One of us would see the other with a book and comment about it and conversation would ensue.

Sometimes I’ve had someone say, “If you like this author, try so-and-so.”  Scribbling down the name, I’ve gone to my local library and discovered a brand new read, which I could then share with someone else.

Good books are contagious.

So why share what you’re reading?

If all the reasons I’ve already stated are not enough, think about what it does for you.  You have something to share – your opinion. Some reads inspire passion, others curiosity, others are so excruciatingly bad, we never finish, but they all affect us in some way.

Why not share that feeling? Not everyone will want to listen, but someone will. That could be the start of a beautiful relationship.

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Julie Bates is a writer and former teacher living in North Carolina. She likes to read anything that is well written, entertaining or thought provoking.

For further reading on making reading a shared activity please consider:  Reading and Writing in Relationships: How Partners Encourage Learning and Enjoyment ; How Reading Can Improve Your Love Life.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Michael Bentley.

Supporting Characters Who Deserve Their Own Books

huckleberry finn supporting characters

This essay was written by Chris Ciolli.

Protagonists are fine and good. Protagonists are necessary. But what happens when, for whatever reason, they’re more than mildly disappointing, not to mention less-than-interesting? If we’re lucky, there’s a supporting character (or a few) around to pick up the slack and keep us interested.

Sometimes, if we’re really lucky, the author comes to the same conclusion as the reader, and the said supporting character eventually moves to the forefront to claim his rightful place as a protagonist in future books. Of course even when these literary sidekicks don’t get their due, they manage to steal the show in a big way, helping heroes and making sure readers stay entertained.

Here are some favorite supporting characters from modern bestsellers and literary classics.

Luna in the Harry Potter Books by J.K. Rowling

Often portrayed as seriously strange and something of a space cadet, over the course of the entire series, Luna is revealed as brave and loyal, not to mention more entertaining and less whiny than the boy wizard himself on many occasions. It seems safe to say that many bookworms would happily devour a book that was all about Luna.

Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Forget Romeo. He’s rather fickle (he is after all, in love with Rosaline at the beginning of the play) and boringly tragic (or is it tragically boring?). Mercutio, on the other hand, is bawdy, tempestuous and irresponsibly aggressive. If it weren’t for his death at the hands of Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, Romeo wouldn’t have killed Tybalt, and Romeo and Juliet may have ended up happily married, and where’s the fun in that? Besides, it takes a strong character to carry off a pun as he dies.

Rue in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Rue is a nice compliment to Katniss’ sometimes sullen cynicism in the first book in Collin’s best-selling series. Young but not innocent or foolishly trusting, Rue is kind, smart, and fast and easier to sympathize with than Katniss and Katniss’ affection for Rue is a big part of what makes Katniss leap off the page as a three-dimensional, compassionate protagonist.

Huckleberry Finn in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Even Mark Twain understood that Huck was worthy of a book of his own. He’s way more lovable and interesting than spoiled, selfish Tom. Despite his unfortunate circumstances (poverty, an abusive parent) Huck has a strong sense of right and wrong and buckets of common sense, as evidenced by how he saves the Widow Douglas.

Magnus Bane in Clarissa Cray’s Mortal Instruments series

Clary and Jace, Jace and Clary–they’re so conflicted, so tortured, so in love, and part angel besides. Forgive me for preferring Magnus Bane. Who cares if he’s part demon? He’s one of the most entertaining characters in the series and is exceptional in that he’s a strong gay character written into a young adult series. Plus he’s got lots of crazy clothes, amazing magical powers, and even better one-liners – some serious, some sarcastic, but all entertaining.

Phoebe in The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Phoebe is Holden Caulfield’s kid sister. But more than that, she’s someone we can trust in a book where Holden encourages to trust no one. She’s a surprisingly compelling ten-year-old, a heady mixture of kid and grown-up that instinctively knows her big brother needs someone to take care of him.

Leah in the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer

Forget all the other vampires and werewolves, Leah is the only female werewolf, and one of Meyer’s strongest and most believable female characters. She has her heart broken and has to live with it daily, but manages to stick it out to support her family and friends to the best of her ability.

At the end of the series, her love triangle isn’t magically dissolved and the question of what being a female werewolf means for her future is far from resolved, either. Meyer’s written novellas like The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner about supporting characters in the past. Perhaps in the future she’d be up for letting us know in no uncertain terms what happens to Leah.

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Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer and a translator. She’s an unashamed book and coffee addict that travels every chance she gets. She also spends a lot of time playing with kitchen tools and art supplies. Read about her travels at MidwesternerAbroad.com, and check out her art at TriflesandQuirks.com.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Robert – Jemimus.

The Ethics of Buying Books

book buying ethics

This essay was written by Amarie Fox.

As a millennial, I often hear from friends that they don’t feel as if they should be forced to pay for art. By art, let me be specific. I am encompassing everything from films, to music, to yes, even books.

Perhaps, it is the false sense of entitlement in the digital age – where everything is free and instantly available for download – which allows for this kind of thought process to dominate. I grew up in an age where I actively witnessed the mentality shift and lose focus.

Music and films became mere things, free domain, ripe for taking, simply because they were hosted on the web. At this point, even books have encountered that sphere. There are websites that specialize in sharing downloads for newly released titles. Of course, this is a legal conundrum in itself, but that should not be the first deterrent for why someone might stop and question what it is they are about to do.

What about considering who is behind the finished product? In a moment of selfishness, fueled by the urge for instant gratification, in the lawless Wild West that is the Internet, no one usually thinks outside of his or her wants or needs, though. For me, that is far more troubling, because the issue takes on additional meaning. It signals a lack of human awareness or connection. Both of which, I deem as contributing factors in choosing to support any type of creator.

Over the years, as a rebellion to this popular and never-ending rapid advancement of rampant stealing (let’s not call it by any other kind name), I have become a strong advocate for upholding the ethics of actually purchasing a physical piece of art. I’ll take the time to say, that yes, I acknowledge that for some people, this may not seem like a life shattering issue, but at the core, I feel it is. Especially if you happen to consider yourself an avid reader or writer.

Writers As Avid Book Buyers

One of the more ineffective arguments I often hear is: ‘All writers should read!’ Okay, this is a perfectly valid (almost obvious), but the truth is, I have known many people who call themselves writers and have not picked up a book in years. That is what I like to refer to as a closed-off, selfish writer, whose motivations are badly misplaced. After all, if you love the act of writing, naturally you should also love other writers. As much as writing is a lone activity, once something is published, it takes on a new communal meaning. It is speaking to a larger audience and begging for feedback and swapped ideals.

However, if you expect your words to be read, but then never absorb any other ideas from anyone else, you’re missing the point. You’re not a writer as much as you’re a lecturer.

In this same line of thought, if you’re a writer and have never purchased a book, or rarely do, you’re not any better than the writer who avoids reading. The two go hand in hand.

In 2010, one of my favorite literary magazines, Tin House, launched a campaign called Buy a Book, Save a Bookstore, which required that all authors to include a receipt for a recently purchased book along with the unsolicited manuscript. The new policy didn’t end there: “Writers who are not able to produce a receipt for a book are encouraged to explain why in 100 words or fewer. Tin House will consider the purchase of e-books as a substitute only if the writer explains why he or she cannot go to his or her neighborhood bookstore or why he or she prefers digital reads.”

Now, this may seem drastic, even slightly dramatic, but let’s consider something vital in this initiative: Tin House isn’t saying they want a receipt of a book you purchased that was published by them. No. They are raising a different awareness and question. Why in the world would any writer not actively be buying books on a regular basis?

The way I see it is if you don’t, you have absolutely zero business publishing a book yourself. Writers should be aiming to support the institution that they, in turn, wish to one day support them financially.

Price of Books

I asked my friend, we will call him Jim for the sake of anonymity, “Jim, why don’t you buy books?” Jim looked at me as if I had grown four heads and said, “I’m not paying twenty bucks for something I’m going to read once.”

Now, I could have said many things to Jim. Most of which would have been curse words. This is because I will never grasp the whole “affordability of books” as an obstacle. Sure, I understand if you are a person who doesn’t write and wants to live a very minimalistic life. I have some friends who just don’t have the space for books, but again, they don’t have aspirations of actually becoming writers. They just love to read and when they can check a book out from their local library, they don’t see the point in buying one and reading it once. That is fine. Different strokes, right?

Humans are smart. When we see an obstacle, the goal is to work our way around it.  The price of a hardcover book should not stop you in your tracks. I have often told people, especially Jim, that I think books should actually cost more than they do. Thirty dollars, tops, for a beautiful hardcover? That is a steal. If you don’t believe me, calculate the number of hours the author actually spent writing the book – probably months and years. Then, add up the art team and typesetting crew, all the people behind the scenes that make a book look the way it does. Expenses of the finished creation hardly rival the amount of time and energy put into producing it, don’t you think?

Personally, a book represents many things. It is a gateway to knowledge, a time machine to the past and imagined future. It is even a mark in my memories, because I associate certain times with whatever I was reading. When I browse my shelf and run my finger across the spine of Milton’s Paradise Lost, I am transported back to a year ago, on the beach, where I was sitting cross-legged in the sand, listening to the ocean and the children building sandcastles.

I didn’t tell Jim this. It is my own personal connection with reading; he wouldn’t have cared to hear it. Instead, I brought up the idea of a book as art. Obviously, not many of us can afford to actually go out and buy an original piece of art. But, with a book, you’re getting that – the artist’s original visual interpretation of a text.

A lot of people refer to this as “book fetishism,” but in all honestly, people should care how a book looks. I condone judging books by their covers, because I have always believed that if anything is going to save the publishing industry, it is the ideal and promise of an attractive cover. Of tapping into our materialistic culture and working with it, instead of against it.

Plus, the publishers should owe us a certain amount of  accountability. They should be held to a standard. A high one. The consumer should not tolerate sloppy work, such as a blurred typeface, due to horrible printing job, or a binding that falls apart after several sessions of reading.

As for the innovation of the e-book and e-reader, yes, it does have its advantages. I won’t downplay the encouraging factors. At the same time, I won’t get into the debate of digital v. traditional: it is a dead end. Something that has certainly been discussed enough.

All that I would ask of you is to acknowledge the lower standards that come with producing e-books. A publisher and bookseller can choose to sell a certain product for a few dollars less than the actual book. This is the equation of robbery and seems outrageous to me, personally. I don’t see the point in paying $12.99 (or higher), when I can go out and get the hardcover for a few dollars more. Convenience? Probably. But, to what end?

No Perfect Reader

Don’t mistake this for something it is not. I am not claiming that there is a “perfect” reader. My real aim is to allow for us to examine our actions when it comes to a human creation. Ask: why did I do this something and not that something else? There is no free lunch, we all know that by now, but there is also no free art. There is a man or woman behind it, who labored away.

If you haven’t been a bookshop in a while, I beg you to go into one. I’m not saying lazily click your mouse and snag something off of Amazon. Leave your house and really browse.

As for the fear of buying something you won’t enjoy, you have to let that go. Take some chances in life; support something that is bigger than you or me.

If you’re interested in seeing some of my favorite “Beautiful Book” starter collections, I have included several links below, if available:

1. Penguin Drop Caps Collection (2012 – ongoing)

2. Penguin Clothbound Classics (ongoing)

3. Penguin Threads

4. Word Cloud Classics

5. Virago Modern Classics

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Amarie Fox is a writer and artist. She recently graduated with a BA in English Literature. She plans of making an origami swan out of her diploma. Her recent fiction work has been published by Little Fiction, NIB, and Literary Orphans. More information at amariefoxart.wordpress.com.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Devon Christopher Adams

Atypical Protagonists: Six Anti-Heroes From Great Works of Fiction

This essay was written by Chris Ciolli.

Everyone loves a hero. Except when we don’t.

Because let’s face it, sometimes heroes are hard to take. In a less-than-perfect world full of less-than-perfect people where right and wrong exist among so many shades of gray, sometimes traditionally heroic protagonists fall flat, even when they triumph against their “evil” foes.

That’s where anti-heroes come in. With fewer redeeming attributes and more Achilles heels than your typical protagonist, anti-heroes show readers another side of human character, however disagreeable.  Inspiring reactions ranging from sympathy to disgust, literary anti-heroes figure among the world’s most famous literary icons.

Who could forget the emotionally fragile but patently obnoxious Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye or creepy but strangely vulnerable Humbert Humbert in Lolita? If nothing else, such characters serve to remind us that it doesn’t take a good guy to go down in history, literary or otherwise.

Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Scarlett is much lauded as a spunky survivor, and a strong female protagonist by a lot of people who didn’t read the book, or don’t remember her racism, greed or generally thoughtless self-serving antics very well. Let’s face it; she’s exactly the type of ambitious, argumentative and social-ladder-climbing woman that most of us love to hate.

Anything goes to further her ends. Pursuing a married man while married herself, stealing her sister’s intended, anything goes when it serves her purposes.

Ignatius in A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

By far one of the most unlikeable book characters I’ve ever read about, Ignatius J. Reilly is a masterfully written, if hard to stomach anti-hero. He’s intelligent and educated but lazy and unmotivated, a sweaty thirty-year-old who hides from his numerous phobias in his room and takes advantage of his mother’s goodwill.

Ignatius is arrogant and judgmental and if you can’t laugh at his antics, this book is not for you because more often than not he’s too loathsome for words. Cruel, arrogant, and judgmental on a regular basis, Ignatius accepts no responsibility for his actions or personality. There’s always someone or something else to blame.

Disclaimer: Despite the fact that A Confederacy of Dunces is set in my favorite U.S. city (New Orleans) and won a Pulitzer, I was so revolted by Ignatius that I couldn’t even laugh at the scathing satire and comedy of errors that make the book shine for so many other readers.

Grendel in Grendel by John Gardner

In this retelling of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf, monster Grendel is the star. Throughout the book, Grendel whines about…. ahem, reflects on the meaning of life, the nature of good and evil, and the power of literature and myth.

Somehow, despite his bad-humor, grouchiness, not to mention murderous and people-eating behavior, Grendel is a sympathetic anti-hero. We feel bad for him. He was raised by monsters, (okay, his mother) but somehow developed the power of speech. Which is all but useless, as his mother is mute and humans want nothing to do with him. Poor, lonely Grendel, on some occasions admiring the humans from afar, and still others killing and eating them.

Gatsby in the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

All that glitters isn’t gold in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece, and the book’s namesake, Jay Gatsby is far from admirable, despite his great wealth.  Of course the great majority of Fitzgerald’s cast of flappers and their male companions are varying degrees of despicable.

Jay Gatsby is the dark side of the excess of the Roaring Twenties personified. After making his fortune bootlegging, this anti-hero sets out to spend it on lavish get-togethers to impress a vapid and selfish woman (Daisy Buchanan) who is already married to someone else. Even so, Gatsby remains something of a mystery, and despite his many flaws, is much easier to like than Daisy’s husband Tom, or Daisy herself.

Lázaro in Lazarillo de Tormes by Anonymous

In this Spanish picaresque classic by an unknown author, Lázaro is born into a poor family and learns to wheel and deal to support himself from a young age.  Banned for a time during the Spanish Inquisition and later allowed to circulate in a censored version, the book describes the title character’s misadventures in the employ of a cast of outwardly respectable but corrupt masters that include a blind man, a priest, a squire and a friar, among others.  In many ways a victim of his circumstances, Lázaro learns the hard way that to survive, he will have to abandon any vestige of honor, scruples or respectability.

Narrator in Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

The female narrator in Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters is hard to sympathize with and even harder to trust, no matter how badly her face has been disfigured or how many ridiculous identities she takes on (Daisy St. Patience, really?). Instead of understanding her parents’ grief when they find out her brother died from AIDS, she acts out for attention.  Even after her face is shot off, she plays fast and loose with the lives of others, stealing and taking drugs, setting fire to houses, and doing as she pleases with no regard for the consequences.

Note: I read Invisible Monsters, not the newer Invisible Monsters Remix, which is said to be closer to the author’s original intentions for the book.

As readers, writers, and human beings, we are constantly surrounded by heroes and anti-heroes alike. For few people are purely one or the other. Thankfully most of us are quite the mix, only occasionally embodying either extreme.

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Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer and a translator. She’s an unashamed book and coffee addict that travels every chance she gets. She also spends a lot of time playing with kitchen tools and art supplies. Read about her travels at MidwesternerAbroad.com, and check out her art at TriflesandQuirks.com.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Marya

The Allure of the Traveling Book

travel reading book

This is an essay by Sarah Li Cain.

Exhausted and lonely, I checked into my hostel in Malaysia. I had just gotten off a 10-hour bus ride and was looking forward to some decent rest. Not the one I just had while sitting in a broken chair in a squeaky bus.

I opened the door to my room, threw my backpack on the floor and flopped on the bed. My back lands on something bumpy. No, it’s not the bed I thought. I could have slept on this foreign item I was that tired. Instead, curiosity got the better of me and I flicked on the lights.

There it was, sitting there in the middle of my temporary lodgings was Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It was as though someone has left a gift specifically for me. There was no wrapping paper to tear up, no thank you to be dispersed. I opened up the book and read for a few hours before finally drifting off to sleep.

I will be forever grateful to the person who left me this book. I had many more bus rides before I reached my final destination three weeks later. Gregory David Roberts never left my side. Even though I was alone I never felt lonely. When I was done reading the book, I did the same thing the last traveler did. I left it in the middle of the bed for the next person. It was now my turn to give a gift.

These traveling books are simply not books. They are our long lost friends. They are also our excuses to meet new acquaintances, and a chance to ignite our imagination about the people around us. Some travelers may not understand the impact they have when they leave a book for others.

They may be simply unloading their backpacks because they have too many items. Others do think of the next person staying in the room. It’s weird, there’s an unspoken rule around the traveling community about leaving books. Why throw away a perfectly good book when there could be someone else who can find just as much, if not more value out of it than you did?

Not only are these people sharing a book, they are sharing the love of the written word. It doesn’t matter who the next person that receives the book is, as long as they read it and leave it for others. It’s quite fascinating to think how far a book can physically travel just by passing it along from person to person.

If those books could speak I wonder what kinds of stories they might tell, other than the words between its covers.

These traveling books can help break the ice with fellow travelers. If you see them reading a book in a language you understand, chances are they speak that language too.

You can break the ice by asking them how they like book so far, how long they have until they are finished, and if they want to trade.

Not only will you gain a potentially new book, you will possibly gain a new friend. So the next time you travel, make sure you leave a book for a weary traveler.

Be confident in the impact that you and the book will have.

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Sarah Li Cain is an international educator, freelance writer and blogger. She has a lifelong love of the written word and is an avid reader and writer. She is working on reclaiming her fearlessness at Sarah Li Cain.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Moyan Brenn

Andropause for Thought: Writing to Relieve a Mid-Life Crisis

andropause mid-life crisis writing

This essay was written by Christian Green.

Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.

You see, I’m trying to be a successful writer, but keeping the news to myself during this precarious early phase, so I won’t look too foolish should I fall flat on my face.  Sure, there have been plenty of acceptances. In fact, for two months now I’ve been making a living as a full time freelance writer, having been laid off from my manufacturing job last March.

The Beginning of a Crisis

I’m bursting with pride and an almost overwhelming need to tell the world all about it, but this urge is currently offset by a superstitious dread that such a display of hubris could make the whole delicate structure collapse.

There I was, five years ago, easing into a comfortable middle-age, yet feeling restless and vaguely dissatisfied. There was a nagging suspicion that I was not doing what I should be doing.

The disconcerting realization gradually dawned that what I was experiencing was the legendary male mid-life crisis. The phenomenon for which some wag coined the term, ‘the andropause’.

I proceeded with caution. I’d heard of men reaching this difficult age. Suddenly realizing that the clock is ticking, many panic and start to indulge in reckless or simply embarrassing behavior as they vainly try to recapture a long-lost youth to prove they are still virile and dynamic. Such attempts often seem to consist of chasing after girls young enough to be their daughters, or dressing in wildly inappropriate teen fashions, or acquiring a Honda Fireblade and hurtling off to become another road traffic accident statistic.

Fortunately, my crisis didn’t seem to be advising me unwisely. To my great relief I concluded that I was being nudged in a more responsible and creative direction. The direction that led to my unfulfilled ambition to be a writer. Since childhood I’ve enjoyed writing. Over the years my efforts had appeared in various amateur publications but, held back by a lack of confidence, I’d never tried to climb higher. As the years passed my vague longings had been placed firmly in the background by life and all its attendant responsibilities and distractions.

The Beginning of a New Career

Then, a few years ago, I wrote and submitted an article to a semi-pro journal devoted to my favorite writer. The piece was published and I was paid. It felt good, and something long dormant awoke, yawned and stretched in the dusty recesses of my mind.

I realized I wanted to build upon this unexpected success but didn’t know how. I felt gauche and naïve, lacking any clear idea of how to develop and present my work. With impeccable timing it was then that I happened across a flyer listing a new course at a local college: Professional Writing. It seemed that a benevolent fate was giving me a little shove in the right direction. The prospectus intrigued me and I signed up.

I’d realized that my restlessness wasn’t necessarily about a yearning to write. I was doing that already for my own amusement. No, it was about wanting to be a writer.

To produce work good enough to be accepted and published and to get paid for it. I didn’t want to write for the trunk, hoping for posthumous recognition as a genius. I wished to succeed while still breathing. I wanted the satisfaction of learning a skill, to enjoy applying that skill, and to make money out of it; a secondary income which might, if I was sufficiently hard-working and fortunate, become a primary income. A heady prospect indeed.

I plunged right in, and found to my delight that the course suited me well. It was completely practical, offering an unpretentious nuts-and-bolts approach to getting published. The aspiring writer was given the tools to do the job; how he chose to apply those tools was then solely up to him. Before the course ended I began to place my work.

I found that writing for publication rather than for myself reinforced some general life lessons; patience, reliability, self-discipline, organization, analytical thinking, objectivity.

I learned that, although effective communication is obviously important, the second most vital aspect of writing is marketing; presenting a professional plumage, and displaying to attract an editor. I also discovered, the painful way, why it’s not good practice to pester editors, even when I’m haunted by visions of my submissions yellowing in some dusty in-tray.

I learned to sever any emotional ties to a piece of work after submitting it. After all, you may have carefully raised and tended your flock, but once they’ve been packed off to the butcher their fate is out of your hands and all you can do is get on with raising the next litter.

I toughened up and gained the nerve to offer my work in the marketplace. The results were encouraging. Of the first sixteen unsolicited articles submitted, fifteen were accepted. On the back of these efforts I began to receive commissions. Often the wait for a response is long and frustrating, but I have the satisfaction of knowing that I’m capable of producing work to the required standard. That’s a real confidence booster.

Each acceptance is like an injection of rocket fuel; I can’t wait to get to the next project. It’s addictive.

Looking back over the last few years, I can see that I’ve developed in both capability and outlook. I find that I’m seeing the world in a different way, paying more attention, noting details I might once have overlooked.

The Beginning of a New Future

So I’m forging something useful out of my mid-life crisis. It’s pushed me into attempting something fresh and challenging which can actually earn me a living. Fulfilling and profitable, it’s a useful crisis, a handy andropause. It’s given me a second wind at a time when it’s all too easy to flag.

Soon, when my still shaky business is on firmer ground, when I’ve picked up a few more clients, I’ll feel able to blow my trumpet about what I’m doing, heedless of any superstitious fears about jinxing the outcome. I’m too thrilled to keep it to myself much longer. It’s the excitement of possibilities. The broadening of horizons. The feeling that I’m only just beginning to see what I’m capable of.

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Christian Green is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in a number of U.K. magazines and online.  He lives with his wife in picturesque Lincolnshire, England. Check out his website.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Isaac Torrontera

 

6 Ways to Afford More Books

find books on the cheap

This is an essay by Sharon Rigney.

You can’t put a price tag on the value of reading, yet buying new books can sometimes get cost-prohibitive. Here’s how to pursue reading on a budget.

I don’t know about you, but I like to own a book I’m reading. I like knowing there’s no deadline to when I need to return it to the library or to a friend.

I like the knowledge that if I really love it I can add it to my bookshelf and display it proudly. If I find it would be especially beneficial or relevant to a friend, I can pass it along confidently.

If I didn’t like it, I can surreptitiously leave it behind at the hair salon or doctor’s office. I can donate it to an area shelter or charity no matter what I thought of it. While I am reading it, it’s completely mine. When I am finished, its destination is solely up to me.

Here are some great places to pick up a book or two when other, more costly options are not possibilities:

Shop at thrift stores.

Make it an adventure. Read book jackets. Take chances. You never know what you’ll find. And they’re usually under a dollar a book, even for hardcovers.

Stop and browse at yard sales or flea markets.

Bargains abound here and (especially at yard sales) there’s usually the bonus of a person on site who’s read the book, and can recommend it or offer insight. Bargain prices and personal endorsements make yard sales a terrific option.

Have a book exchange with friends, neighbors, coworkers.

Bring in books you’ve finished reading and exchange for books you’d like to try out. This is a wonderful way to keep your reading options fresh and encourage reading and book-related discussions.

Knowing you and a neighbor, friend or coworker have read the same book offers you both the option to meet over coffee or lunch to discuss what you both thought. You get books, but you may also start great reading-related conversations as well!

Go to community used book sales.

In my community, the local newspaper has one every year. Your library, fire company, church group or parenting group may run one. This is a wonderful way to support your community and also continue your reading habit. If you’re set on keeping your book inventory to a minimum, when you’re finished with your selections, donate them back the following year, or pass them along to another worthy cause.

Look online.

There are many used and half-price book sites out there. For those of us who like a little wear to our books, this is a nice, budget-friendly option that also allows us to find books quickly and efficiently and have them shipped right to our doorsteps. Convenience and lower prices make online used book sites the perfect choice for many busy readers.

Try reading classics that are part of the public domain.

Completely free books are available at several sites and provide an option to fill the gap until when you’re ready to purchase again.

Buying any book, new or used, is exciting! When you can’t buy a new book, however, there are many advantages to purchasing used ones. You can experience a new author. It’s green.

It’s a great way to support the author by passing along your endorsement and recommending it to others. It’s better than not reading at all, of course.

Have you found any great ways to pursue reading that involved buying used books instead of new?

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Sharon Rigney is a Bucks County, Pennsylvania-based writer and reviewer. She is a current contributor to several websites and even a blog or two. She loves to travel, really enjoys her morning coffee, and tries not to offend anyone with her snarky sense of humor. Read about her travels here and here or follow her on Twitter or Google+.

Photo: Some rights reserved by 401(K) 2012

Resources for Writers

writing resources read learn write

This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.

Being a writer is tough. For most of us, it’s a solitary profession or calling, and while we need time alone to write, we also sometimes need guidance. Starting a writer’s group or even exchanging writing for comments and critiques with fellow writer friends can be helpful, but some of the best resources out there are published in paper and digital formats.

Of course, not all references are created equal, and not all resources are equally useful for all types of writers. While some general references about grammar, composition and publishing can be beneficial to pretty much every kind of writer, others focus on a specific type of writing. For example, Carolyn See’s “Making a Literary Life” focuses on novels and nonfiction books, whereas Linda Formichelli’s “The Renegade Writer” focuses on writing for companies and magazines.

Here are some of my favorite books for writers, organized by type of writing, plus a couple of books about getting what you write published and out into the world.

For Long Format Prose Writers

  • Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers by Carolyn See

Ms. See gives common sense advice about writing daily (1,000 words) and improving your karma in the literary world by sending out charming notes, short missives to authors and writers you admire. She’s also pretty funny, which makes for a better read.

  • Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life by Natalie Goldberg

This book is full to overflowing with writing exercises and sound advice about the creative process—keep your hand moving, lose control, be specific, and don’t think. That said, it’s also packed with the author’s ramblings on religion, philosophy and life, and if you’re not interested in zen, can become tedious at times.

  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Many writers consider this book therapy and it does a good job of encouraging insecure writers with anecdotes and writing tips. Anne Lamott is pretty hilarious but some readers may not appreciate her particular sense of humor, or use of swear words.

  • The Writer’s Adventure Guide by Beth Barany

Beth Barany takes would-be writers in a step-by-step journey through a long-format writing project, from brainstorming to final edits. This is an ideal reference for someone just starting a book.

  • Bullet-Proof Book Proposals by Pam Brodowsky and Eric Neuhaus

Over 200 pages of user-friendly advice and examples of proposals that have gone on to be published. This book will help would-be-authors write a non-fiction book proposal with a real chance at publication.

For Magazine and Copywriters

  • You Are a Writer: So Start Acting Like One by Jeff Goins

This is a quick, no-nonsense read about why (and how) you should suck it up, internalize your identity as a writer, and get to work not only on the business of getting words on the page, but also on building a platform and growing an audience.

  • The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell

Linda and Diana focus on the business of writing more than writing itself, but give useful tips on how to get better-paid gigs writing for companies and magazines as well as helpful advice on query letters, time management and deadlines.

  • 102 Ways to Earn Money Writing 1,500 Words or Less by I.J. Schecter

The short-form writer’s guide to making money in 1,500 words or less, this book highlights traditional and nontraditional streams of income for writers. Among the more surprising suggestions are writing copy for fast-food tray liners and restaurant menus.

For Poetry Writers

  • The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems by Frances Mayes

Who knew the author of Under the Tuscan Sun is also a published poet? Mayes explains the nuts and bolts of how poetry “works” and includes a selection of poems and writing exercises that help readers to write and comprehend their own poetry.

  • The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux

Two poetry teachers communicate the elements of poetry, technique and subjects for poetry as well as writing exercises, descriptions of the ups and downs of the writer’s life, publishing and marketing tips, and share a good selection of contemporary poetry in a series of well-written essays.

  • Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry by Kenneth Koch

Although Koch includes writing exercises, this is more a manual on types of poetry, and how to read them than how to write and publish poetry. Of course, the argument can be made that reading and understanding poetry is absolutely essential to writing your own.

  • In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit

Kowit uses excerpts from over 100 poems to illustrate what can seem like abstract or hard-to-understand concepts in poetry writing. If you complete the activities as suggested by the author, at the end of the book you’ll have drafts of 69 poems, more than enough for a chapbook.

  • The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets by Ted Kooser

This former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner shares his insights on the unique relationship between readers and poets, as well as writing and revising poetry, gained from decades of experience.

For Children’s Writers

  • The Encyclopedia of Writing and Illustrating for Children: From Creating Characters to Developing Stories, A Step-by-Step Guide to Making Magical Picture Books by Desdemona McCannon, Sue Thornton and Yadzia Williams

For all intents and purposes, this is a practical guide to creating loveable characters and telling a story in pictures that young readers will enjoy using examples from renowned children’s literature to inspire would-be writers and illustrators. Advice on tailoring to specific age groups and about a wide variety of genres, as well as promotional tips.

  • Writing Children’s Books for Dummies by Lisa Rojany Buccieri and Peter Economy

Two children’s publishing veterans share their expert advice on writing for children, and understanding the ins and outs of the publishing industry and promoting your book.

Getting Published

  • Writer’s Market

This phonebook-sized resource is published annually. While it usually includes some articles with advice on pitching agents, finding funding, and promoting and protecting your work, the main purpose of this book is found in the seemingly endless listings of book publishers, literary agents, consumer and trade magazines, contests and awards with submission and contact information. The deluxe edition usually includes a year-long membership to Writer’s Digest online where you can search for markets for writing projects and book ideas.

  • Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents 2013: Who They Are! What They Want! How to Win Them Over!

The title pretty much says it all. This is a very complete guide to navigating the publishing industry for all kinds of writers, but is directed at people who want to write books, as opposed to shorter pieces for anthologies or magazines.

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Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer and a translator. She’s an unashamed book and coffee addict that travels every chance she gets. She also spends a lot of time playing with kitchen tools and art supplies. Read about her travels at MidwesternerAbroad.com, and check out her art at TriflesandQuirks.com.

Photo: Some rights reserved by mpclemens.