Tuesday, July 31, 2012

3 Books I Want Everyone To Love

Just recently I read a post by the young writer John Hansen that talked about luck and bestseller lists and also illustrated the point that a lot of people feel that popularity equals quality when it comes to books. However this isn't necessarily true. I mean, Fifty Shades of Grey is the fastest selling paperback of all time and it's literally Twilight fanfiction (ugh). And from what I've heard, it's not very good.

A lot of books have hype surrounding them, and the hype just makes people want to read the books more, even if it's just to find out what the fuss is all about. I'm definitely guilty of checking out books because of the hype. But there are so many awesome, incredible, life-changing books that never make it onto any bestseller list.

Anyway, these are some of my favourite books that maybe don't have as much hype as say The Hunger Games or Fifty Shades of Grey. (By the way, I highly recommend you check out 50 Shades of Grey: The Musical, because it is awesome.)

Also, I'm talking about these books in the hope that you'll pick them up and fall in love with them as much as I have BUT everything's subjective, so even though I want everyone to love these books I know not everyone will and I'm OK with that.

1. JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta
Genre: YA contemporary
Goodreads page
My review

I know, I know, I talk about Jellicoe Road pretty much every chance I get. But it's soooo gooood. I love it when books have multiple stories that are beautifully woven together with strong characters supporting the entire thing. If you haven't read this book yet, you should. You should also check out some of Marchetta's other books that I love, Saving Francesca and The Piper's Son. All of these books are really character-heavy so if you like falling in love with characters, go check those books out right now!!

2. KING OF ATTOLIA by Megan Whalen Turner
Genre: Fantasy
Goodreads page

Megan Whalen Turner is a writing genius. Her writing and characters are so intelligent and clever, it blows my mind. Just when I think I know what's going to happen in one of her books, something happens I never, ever saw coming yet the unexpected twist still feels natural. Also, her books are excellently researched and perfectly subtle. I LOVE IT. I love all three books in The Queen's Thief series (The Thief, Queen of Attolia and King of Attolia) but King of Attolia was the most amazing.

3. OKAY FOR NOW by Gary D. Schmidt
Genre: YA contemp
Goodreads page

This book I just recently read and... it was amazing. It almost made me cry, and no one even died in it. It was just completely beautiful and true, and the writing was amazing. Schmidt did this thing where he used paintings of birds to kind of reveal truths in the MC, Doug's life and also just to the reader and it was SO COOL. And the layers to the characters... I have no words for the amazingness.

So what are you still doing here? Go check out those books. ;)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

News: Going to the Philippines!


About a month ago I briefly mentioned that I graduated, but that was all I really said on the topic. Of course the main question that seems to go hand-in-hand with graduation is the dreaded "What are you doing next year?" And, yeah, I've kind of failed to mention what I'm planning to do... that is, until now.

As far as I know you don't really care, but I'm excited so I shall tell you.

So in the US it seems like everyone after high school goes to college right away, and they go away for college. In Canada (or at least where I live), not absolutely everyone goes to university right away or if they do, then they stay in the city or province. (That was your Canadian culture fact of the day).

Anyway! So, I'm not going to university in September... instead I'm going to volunteer at a school in the Philippines from August (yeah, next month) until May of 2013. My aunt and uncle work there and have worked there for a long time and so I'll be living with them. I'm going to be a sort of teacher's assistant in the elementary school. And I'm leaving August 8th! Which is... really soon. I still kind of feel like it isn't real. I bet I'll be on the plane and it still won't feel like I'm going to a country that has a 13 hour time difference from where I live for 8 months.

This announcement is kind of funny, because while my moving to the Philippines affects me and my in real life friends and family, it doesn't affect you. I mean,  to you, I'll still be in the same place - on the internet.

That being said, I don't really know what will happen to my blog when I'm away. I'm assuming I'll be busy but I'm hoping I'll be able to get in at least a few posts about what I'm learning or what life is like there.

So, yeah!

Friday, July 20, 2012

My Personal Recipe For A Good Book

I read a LOT of books. I've always read lots of books, which is good because a) reading is awesome and b) it really helps your writing.

Since 2011 I've been keeping a book log where I keep track of the books I read and then write a short review, stating either why the book was awesome or why it sucked.

Through these mini-reviews I do, I've discovered a pattern of things that I like to see in books. And this is my list:

Warning: everything is subjective - this list is just what I, personally, like in books. Obviously, other people have different opinions.


I LOVE this cover.
I latch onto new, interesting concepts right away. If the main concept of the book is something like Unpopular Girl Strives For Popularity and Later Figures Out Popularity Is Not All It's Cracked Up to Be, then I won't be as interested because it has been done SO. MANY. TIMES. BEFORE.

I sometimes see writers online asking if they should follow the trends, and as a reader who likes unique ideas I want to say the answer is always, "No don't I want to see something new!"

An example of a book with a unique concept is IMAGINARY GIRLS by Nova Ren Suma.


Characters are SOO important to me. Even if maybe the concept isn't as unique, then the characters have to be real and likable and fleshed out and different and not just types. They have to have other sides to them, and they have to be fun, and they have to be people. I also like when characters develop as people and also in their relationships with each other. An example of a very character-driven book I just read is Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.


If I know what's going to happen next, then that's boring. I don't want to know from the first chapter what the ending will be. I want to be curious about what happens next so I'll keep reading. Insurgent by Veronica Roth definitely did this for me, as did Outside In by Maria V. Snyder.


You know that "show don't tell" rule? Well, I come across "telling" in published books ALL THE TIME. I've realized that some people like telling. I, however, don't. Show me what's happening and bring me into the scene and the book. Don't just let your character talk to me about it.


It puts me off a book when nothing happens in the very first chapter (heck, even the very first sentence). Nope, it's just the MC blabbing on and on in their voice about things that are supposed to be interesting and make me like them, but I don't care just MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN.

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White does this excellently. An example of a book that starts with an MC/narrator monologue is Famous by Todd Strasser (just so you know what I mean - but I do know some people like this style of opening! It's just I don't).


Stupid characters annoy me a lot. I really don't like it when characters just can't seem to be able to think for themselves or have logical, intelligent thoughts. I found Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games to be pretty smart and definitely able to think and fend for herself. She also made decisions and had thoughts that actually made sense.


I am so done with popularity. There are WAY too many books about it in my opinion. And the moral is so predictable and obvious every time: popularity is not all it's cracked up to be. You'd think that adult writers would want to teach teens more important lessons than that, but NOPE.

However, this is also very subjective because I'm not a person to care a lot about popularity, and it's not something that was really prominent in my school. However for other teens I'm sure this is a huge thing in their lives so that IS what they need to read.

A book that depicts "popularity" what I think of as being realistically is The D.U.F.F. by Kody Keplinger (that book is AMAZING).


This is definitely just a personal preference; but my absolute favourite books are the ones that make me think the most. I love when books make me use my brain to figure things out, because it has the effect of drawing me deeper into the story. And I like thinking.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner all made me think. And these are all my favourite books. :)

So what do YOU like to see in books?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How To Journal (In Order To Be Helpful To Your Writer Self)

(Note: the theme for the pictures is "Experiences I Would Journal About". Also, "Here's Some Visuals to Help You Through the Word Slush").

Upon reading the title of this post, you might be thinking: "How to journal? Um, Alyssa, journaling isn't something you tell people how to do..."

Toboganning and beautiful Canada.
OK, yes, I realize journaling is a very personal and independent activity and you basically do what you want and actually I don't really even write journals (and now you're thinking and you think you're qualified to give me how-to advice??? what is this place???).

But... I've decided I'm just going to give you advice anyway.

First of all, I shall tell you about my journaling/diary history. If you've read this post, then you probably already know a bit about that particular topic. Basically what you can gain from my journaling history is that my journals were filled with stuff like hateful thoughts, a few boring sentences about my day, or things that are really stupid and don't make any sense.

"Tire d'erable" at the winter festival.
Maple syrup, basically.
Also, looking back through the entries of the diary I got when I was six, I get frustrated. Because, seriously? I wrote about THAT? ("That" usually being how much I hate/dislike a variety of cousins, friends, and general other people I knew).

So yeah, I stopped writing journals except for on trips pretty much because I hated how they showed me how much of a stupid young child I was.

But the other thing I want you to note about all those journals and journal entries is that they did not -and have not- helped me with my writing (aside from helping me with an entertaining blog post, o 'course).

So I'm kind of piggy backing off of this post. That post (the one I just linked to) talks about truth in fiction and how to inject ourselves into our writing in order for our writing to come out more real and true and, ultimately, more beautiful and relatable. This requires a very, VERY different kind of journaling than the kind of journaling I did from ages six through 14ish.

Mt. Rushmore on choir tour... of all days to be foggy.

  • Whenever you find yourself comparing how something feels in your life to how something is commonly presented in books/other fictitious media, write down what YOU are feeling.

  • Note what you notice. You are going to notice things in different ways than characters in books, but what YOU notice matters more, because you are real.

  • Don't just talk about the things you did in a day when journaling. You can talk about stuff you did, but also talk about how you felt, or thoughts you thought or opinions you realized you had while you did stuff.

  • Use detail when describing anything: what you notice, or what you did, or how you felt.

  • Remember that when you experience something yourself, and then write about it, THAT is when your writing will feel (and be) the most real and that realness will then help readers to connect to your work.
So, now I'm going to give you homework. Here's what you have to do:

Go out and do something, even if it's just something really simple. Go to the park, go for a bike ride, play with your cat, even eat cereal... anything, just do something. Pay attention to:
  • your thoughts
  • your feelings
  • what you're noticing
  • detail

Then, after you're done doing whatever you did and paying attention to whatever you paid attention to, write about your experience.

Hiking in the desert with my friends.

And THAT, my friends, is how you journal.


I really hate to ruin a rare awesome blog post ending like that ("awesome" because my usual endings are along the lines of "so... yeah"), but I really would like to get some feedback from you!

I want to know if you do end up doing the writing exercise and if so what came out of it. In fact it would be cool if you even did it as a post on your blog, and then you can post the link below and I'll check it out. :)

Also, I want to know what you think. There may be other things I haven't thought of while forming these opinions, and maybe you see a hole in my logic. Do you think this is a good way to journal that would be helpful to your writing? How do you journal?

I would also love if you could go here to check out that truth/reality in fiction post I talked about above, and I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the opinions I present there. I really love discussion so please don't hesitate to comment, e-mail me (kazuntai101[at]gmail[dot]com) or even tweet me @AlyssaSherlock.

So... yeah. ;)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Truth in Fiction

I just finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, which yes, is a good book. I think the thing that strikes me most about John Green's writing (other than the fact that he writes beautifully) is how achingly real what he writes feels.

OK, now is the part where I try and tell you what I'm talking about.

There are lots of books about death, and I've read a lot of books about death. After a while, they start to seem the same. The characters always go through the same motions, act the same way, deal with the same issues, and after a while I get sick of it, and it seems fake.

I don't know, maybe these people draw from their own experiences, but when I read these kinds of books it doesn't seem like they do. I think a lot of writers end up falling into the same old stereotypes and ways of presenting things because that's what they know, and that's what they've read all the time. I know I've done it. When I was in middle school, I started a bunch of stories centred around popularity and yup, there were those typical Mean Girls and Best Friend Group of Three that pop  up in YA ALL THE TIME. I wrote that stuff because that's what I read and that's what I knew.

But it wasn't real. Popularity in real life, at least I find (or at least in my school), is absolutely NOTHING like it is in books.

I think in order to avoid falling back into the regular stereotypical fluff, we have to draw from our own experiences, but in a way that you put all or almost all of yourself into what you write.

Sometimes when I do things like go to a funeral, or  spend time with my family, or even go bike riding, or anything in real life I'll be taking notes in my head of what I'm experiencing and what I feel like at that moment. I try to remember every detail. And I don't dramatize or anything, I just bring to focus what I'm thinking at those moments, what I'm experiencing. (These kinds of thoughts are also usually present in journals and diary entries). One thing I always find is that I'm noticing and experiencing things a lot different than characters in books usually do.

But what I'm experiencing is real, and the books are not. I know fiction books are just that: fiction. But that's not an excuse to not write things that aren't real and clear and truth.

Here I shall insert a John Green quote that I've used before:

Lies are attempts to hide the truth by willfully denying facts. Fiction, on the other hand, is an attempt to reveal the truth by ignoring facts.

Fiction is an attempt to reveal the truth.  If us as writers are trying to reveal the truth, then why are we so quick to fall back into the old stereotypes and clich├ęs and why are we as readers so willing to accept them?

I know pouring yourself into your writing is hard, REALLY hard. Walter Wellesley Smith got it right when he said, "There's nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."  Opening veins is painful and difficult but also, I think, necessary in a way in order to reveal the truth.

So, yeah, that's what I mean when I say that John Green's writing is "achingly real", and if you want to learn to write like that or you just want to read a good book, go read The Fault in Our Stars. Please.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

I Am Not A Walking Pictionary

So I'm going to talk about something kind of removed from what I usually talk about. According to all blogging advice websites, I am really bad at blogging. They say you're supposed to have a focused topic, and I do not. I mean, unless you count "writing, reading, and life" as a focused topic...

So, I'm going to take the most open-ended of those three: life. One of my favourite group game to play in life (wow that was a horrible transition...) is called Talking Pictionary. Oh, and if you haven't figured it out yet, I'm not really a normal teenager. I mean, normal teenagers do not spend time with their friends playing awesome verbal word games. :D

Now, if you're bored with board games/group games, you can peruse my tumblr here instead, and come back for my next post, whenever that may be.

Anyway. Talking pictionary. You probably don't know what that is. When I looked it up on Google, the results were just articles or blog posts where people used improper expressions like "People say I'm a walking pictionary." (DICTIONARY, people, DICTIONARY).

Talking Pictionary is actually a game that I learned from my grandparents. It's an awesome group game and can also be a Theory-of-Knowledge, philosophy-esque game because it gives you insight into how people think. Also, funny quotes. I wanted to teach you how to play because a) it's an awesome game, b) WORDS. You guys like words, right? I mean, assuming most of you are reader/writer types, and c) not many people seem to know about it outside of my family and friends.

All you need to play is a timer and a pack of pictionary cards.


So you split up your group into two teams. Then each person on each team takes turns trying to get their teammates to guess the words on the card by describing them verbally. Hence, talking pictionary. Once the timer runs out, you count how many words you got your teammates to guess correctly and add it to your team's point total. Whatever team has the most points when you decide to stop playing wins. 

  • You cannot use actions. (Do not follow the example of my grandpa. Grandpa: What's this? *drops pen* Us: Grandpa!! You're not supposed to use actions!!!)
  • You cannot say any part of the word on the card. (Ex: If the word is snowblower, and you say "snow" or "blower", you don't get a point).
  • You cannot say "it rhymes with" or "it starts with the letter" because c'mon, that's just cheap.
  • Oh, and you can't just say it another language either.
  • If you get your teammates to guess all the words on a card and you still have time left, you can move on to another card. HOWEVER, if you messed up a word (saying "snow" when the word was "snowblower") then you can't continue onto a new card.


...from playing pictionary with my family members. :) People say funny things under pressure when they are trying to describe a word with limited vocabulary.

Grandpa, describing rain: "Melted frozen snow that's wet!"

Cousin: What do you get when you throw a pile of glue on the floor?
Answer (apparently...): A blob

Friend: "You know when you say I love you in sign language, he's a superhero and he does that."

Emily: Uh.. I think it's something you either spit or pee into.
Answer: Urn
Everyone else: NO!! Haha. :)

Grandpa: Peaches!
Uncle Harold: Apricots!
(and Uncle Harold got this right... they have strange minds)

So. I hope next time you're looking for a group game to play, you end up playing Talking Pictionary and I hope you are amused by what people come up with to describe things!

What's your favourite group game? Do you like learning about how people think?


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