#WriteClub Battles Have Commenced!

This is just a quick reminder that as of yesterday (4/16) #writeclub battles have commenced over on dlhammons.com! Monday through Friday for the next three weeks, two 500 word writing samples will be posted. You (yes, you!) vote for your favorite. It’s a great way to give feedback to writers and to be a part of the fun.

Rules:

  1. The writing samples are anonymous and each presented under a pen name. You may hype the contest, but if you try to get votes for a specific writer or their pen name, they will be immediately disqualified. The contest is about the writing, not about how many followers a person already has.
  2. You can vote once per battle.
  3. You cannot vote anonymously. The writers are anonymous, but as a way to enforce the “only one vote per person per battle” rule the votes can’t be.**
  4. Voting stays open on a battle for several days. If you have missed the first battle or know that you will miss another, no need to miss out. You can still vote for it when you get the chance.

**Each time you vote you will be entered to win a Barnes and Noble gift card, so you want them to know who you are.

ARC Review: Unanchored by Stephanie Eding

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in advance of its publication date in exchange for an honest review. It debuts next week.

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Cecily Hastings is a Welsh slave to the man her own parents sold her off to in exchange for food. She doesn’t remember what it’s like to be free, but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t crave it. She fears only two things in her pursuit of freedom, the beatings her master hands out at will and the Blood Pirate, the man who burned her village and killed her mistress years ago.

When her master gets drunk and swindled at the gambling tables, Cecily ends up being the payment. She is finally away from her master, but she’s not free. She’s been sold to none other than the Blood Pirate himself. Her worst fear has been realized.

But something doesn’t add up. The pirate who holds her captive treats her better than her master ever did. And she sees him freeing other slaves from around the British Isles as well. How could the man who burned her village and killed her mistress in cold blood be the man who buys her hair ribbons and protects her from harm?

When the British Royal Navy hot on their tails, Cecily has to make a choice. She can go with the soldiers and let them escort her back to her old master and let the fearsome pirate hang for his crimes, or she can grasp the only kind of freedom life has ever offered her and become the thing she hates most–a pirate.

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This book reads as a young YA, in my opinion, but I thought it was fun and adorable. The underlying message of things not always being what they seem is felt over and over again. Sometimes bad guys look like good guys. Sometimes freedom doesn’t look like what you think it will.

It does romanticize piracy a bit, but it does so to make a point and has some fun with it in the process. The biggest drawback to the story is a general lack of diversity. All the characters more or less look the same and most of them blend into the background a little too easily. If you’re going to argue with me about Finnish and Welsh pirates being pretty monochromatic during the general era in question, I’m going to redirect you to the blog Writing with Color that had already addressed the subject (spoiler alert: Europe wasn’t ever actually lily white). 

On the plus side, the book has a clean romance arc and so is great for those teens (or any other age) who want an escapist tale without graphic sex scenes. The main character is a teenager, but her general naivete can sometimes make her seem younger, especially for a girl who has spent most of her life as a slave. In some cases she talks like she has seen things, in others, she seems oblivious. But I think this might suit some younger readers, especially those just crossing over to the YA market from MG, who want to read an older teen protagonist, but aren’t ready for some of the heavier scenes that often entails.

There are references to God and prayer in the book. It is sporadic, and I don’t think it is done in such a way as to be offensive to non-Christians. However, as a Christian myself, I admit that I may have a skewed view of that, since I like the way it was handled.

In the end, I would absolutely recommend this to a tween or younger teen reader (or anyone else who likes fiction for that age market) who likes pirate books and innocent romantic arcs. To be honest, I’d probably read it again myself as a beach read over vacation if my TBR pile didn’t mock me daily. Your mileage may vary.

10 Things I learned from Beauty and the Beast

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Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a tale I have loved since I was a little girl. I could relate to Belle in ways that I couldn’t relate to the other princesses. People thought she was weird, she had brown hair, her mother was deceased, and she read a lot of books. She was my princess (P.S. This is why it should not have taken me as long as it did to understand why representation in media is so important. I’m sorry for that.)

The animated film and its live-action counterpart are beautiful to me. The animated version has sentimental value, the live action version has Audra McDonald. I realize the story on which this particular fairy tale is based is horrific and deals with some triggering issues, but I fell in love with the Disney version and that’s the one I’m sticking to. It taught me many things, so I’ll outline a few of them for today’s 10 things post.

  1. It’s okay to be a bookworm. Even Disney Princesses are bookworms.

  2. It is okay to stand your ground and be a little stubborn sometimes, even if it means you have to stand up to a real beast.

  3. Sometimes, the most popular guy in town is a total jerk face. A tool. A butthead.

  4. It’s okay if the whole town thinks you are weird. It means you stand out. Own it.

  5. It’s okay to talk to yourself a little, but you should probably be worried when the furniture starts to answer you.

  6. No matter how crazy your family is, there is always someone out there who is crazier (like a beast who talks to a candle, a clock, and a teapot for company).

  7. There is nothing like having your own personal library.

  8. You’re not always going to like what you see in the mirror, but you’ll always have the power to change it.

  9. It’s really better to tidy up the whole house and put things away rather than to make one room (or wing) “forbidden” and try to hide the mess.

  10. The more you love someone, the more attractive they become to you. 

I could have written a post like this for any and all of the Disney Princess line, but Belle holds a special place in my heart. Also, I’ve been incredibly busy lately and got sick to boot, so I wanted to focus on something light-hearted and fun. There’s nothing like a good story to make you feel better.

Book Review: The One Unspoken by Sarah Bryant

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Sidonie Verdier was born in pre-Civil War Louisiana in the middle of a hurricane to a dying mother. Her father long gone to gamble his family fortune away, she was alone in the world before her life began. Her mother’s newly freed slave takes Sidonie in after she sees the tell-tale signs that Sidonie has the sight–she can see spirits.

The freewoman rears Sidonie on the abandoned plantation until her father returns home seventeen years later, determined to marry her off to the highest bidder. In the meantime, though, Sidonie falls in love with Gabriel, the son of the freedman next door.

Their relationship is illegal and could easily get both of them killed, but the ghost of Sidonie’s mother is on their side. When Sidonie’s father finds the perfect suitor and engages his daughter to the man without her consent she realizes that if she wants to be with Gabriel they have to run away to Europe. If they don’t run now, she’ll be married and he’ll be stuck running his father’s plantation–or worse.

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I picked up this book because it is set in the south. I’m a southern girl and like to see how other people see the places that I’ve grown up knowing. The period setting of the book prepared me for some of what I read, but not all of it.

In short, sensitivity readers are important. Sidonie is reared by the former slave Adelis, who gives up her freedom to take care of the little white girl that she grows to love like a daughter. Adelis teaches Sidonie all about how to handle spirits, about zombies, and about voodoo. Sidonie even practices a ritual at one point. And until her father makes her, she wears her hair in braids and dresses like the slaves around her.

Just because the author acknowledges the inherent unfairness and desperation of the institution of slavery does not mean she can’t be guilty of cultural appropriation and romanticization. Adelis’ immediate maternal attachment to Sidonie even after she hated her mother to the core, Adelis and Gabriel’s mother are both voodoo practitioners originating from Haiti, Sidonie is welcomed without hesitation when she wanders into a slave celebration in a poor part of New Orleans and allowed to take center stage with the musicians, and Sidonie’s machinations–with Adelis’ help–is responsible for several of her father’s slaves being free in a twisted sort of white savior tale.

It’s not just problematic racially. Her gay piano teacher who lost his lover to cholera and the moment the ghost is “laid” (literally in the same instant) he moves on to the only other gay character in the book for a relationship. She even describes the light from his dead lover fading into his new boyfriend to try to explain why he falls for him so quickly and out of the blue. His grief over his deceased partner is gone in an instant because now there is another gay man in his life. Poof. Boom. Instant chemistry because they’re both gay. That’s it.

I don’t like to write bad reviews, but I feel like this story is problematic from the start. I found myself skimming over it just to get to the end and find out how deep the issues ran.

The author doesn’t seem to be malicious, or even aware, when it comes to the issues I’ve named. I don’t think it was purposeful. In fact, I get the impression she was trying to show a different side of the period society than most stories offer, but her execution of that desire went awry.

Perhaps I’m wrong about my interpretation of it. It’s possible. In any case, I can’t help but think that if you want to read about slave culture and voodoo that there are better sources out there.

 

Better Than Champions

On Sunday evening the Mississippi State University Women’s Basketball team played in the National Championship game. They lost on a heartbreaking shot in the last three seconds. I won’t comment on the officiating, though I want to. As a Bulldog fan, I have loved watching our team play. They work hard and watching them on the court is a beautiful thing.

Off the court, they’re still amazing. Our starting five included the Homecoming Queen, one of the tallest players in college basketball, one of the shortest, the coach’s daughter, and a single mother. They’ve each faced hardships beyond trying to balance getting a college education while busting it to make every practice, every game, every moment count on the court. Together, they are a national story because of their teamwork. Off the court, they’re just as awe-inspiring.

Victoria Vivians is the MSU Homecoming Queen from a tiny interstate town. She wrote an article last year for The Players’ Tribune in which she admitted to being incredibly shy. Being recruited for college athletics, playing on the national stage, and this year being crowned student body royalty hasn’t been easy. Yet, she has handled it with strength, beauty, and grace.

Teaira McCowan is 6’7”. She is a beautiful and talented lady, but she has been open in interviews about not always being comfortable in her own skin. She was 6’4” in middle school. When her brothers would go play basketball outside, she would stay indoors and watch because she didn’t want to be ostracized for her size by other kids. She also talks about being bullied because other kids wouldn’t believe she was their age, believing instead that she had been held back several grades because of her height. McCowan could be a poster child for not letting the bullies get you down. Her teammates jokingly call her a diva, laughing along with her when she gets caught making faces or striking a pose behind them or her coaches during on-court interviews. Now, she’s not just comfortable in her own skin, she’s the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year.

Morgan William, whose official height is listed at 5’5”, isn’t tall. When she told her father she wanted to play basketball, he didn’t sugar coat it for her about how hard it would be. But she didn’t give up, and neither did he. William’s father would start her day with extra practices at dawn. Drills, sprints, grueling work. It paid off when she was recruited to play for MSU, but it was a payoff that her father would never see. William unexpectedly lost her father during her senior year of high school. She had to take the court in college knowing her father would never be in the crowd, but she carried him with her anyway. Now, she has played in the national title game twice. And has dedicated a legendary Final Four buzzer beater shot to her dad’s memory.

Blair Schaefer is the daughter of head coach Vic Schaefer. Her father has been voted Coach of the Year by the WBCA. That’s a lot to live up to. And it hasn’t always been easy. As an underclassman, she thought seriously about transferring. She wasn’t getting the playing time she wanted, despite her numbers. Coach Schaefer told her she needed to come to his office just like any other player. He separated his role as her coach from his role as her father. No special treatment. Which is what Blair had to remember as she sat in his office and listened to her coach, her father, tell her that she had work to do. He cited her turnover rate, among other things, as reasons she wasn’t getting the playing time she wanted. It lit a fire under Blair. She took a break after the season was over and came back ready to play. Since that moment, Blair has busted her tail and worked her way into the starting five. Off the court, she scored an internship with Entertainment Tonight last summer. Her teammates have witnessed her work ethic first hand and have no doubt about her chances of success. The team says they can’t wait to see her on camera in the future. Her dad might be her coach, but Blair is a stand-out all on her own.

Roshunda Johnson is more than a college athlete. She’s a mom. Her son, Malaki, turned two last week. It’s a struggle and Johnson has said it isn’t always easy, but she has the support of her family and her son’s father. Stil, there are times, especially when she is traveling for games that she only gets to talk to her son on the phone while he stays with his grandmother. An article from earlier this month in the Clarion-Ledger, the leading newspaper in Mississippi, quoted both Johnson and her son’s father when talking about how difficult it has been to come back to basketball. She’s dealt with pain, both physical and emotional, but that hasn’t kept her from success both in the classroom and on the court.

Each of these women has dealt with their own share of obstacles and struggles. They lost the national championship, but every one of them is a winner. More than that, each one of them is a role model for what determination and hard work can do.

So when or if you see Mississippi State fans, like me, wishing our seniors well and giving the team our support and respect even after coming in second, you know why. Trophy or not, these women are champions. We’ll see them as nothing less. The cry of my alma mater is Hail State. It’s a simple phrase, but it can serve as a greeting, a salutation, a cheer, or that thing to say among ourselves when nothing else seems quite right. Our five starters–four seniors and a junior–have bright futures ahead, but they let us be a part of their journey and it has been awesome. To each of them, I say thank you and Hail State.

ARC Review: Girlish by Lara Lillibridge

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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in advance of its publication date in exchange for an honest review. It debuts April 3rd and is available for pre-order.

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction. Reading is my escape and I like to stay on the fiction side of the aisle the majority of the time. However, every now and then something will catch my eye that has me putting down the make-believe in exchange for the real. Truth, after all, is sometimes stranger–and often funnier–than fiction.

I wasn’t sure about this particular book at first. On the surface, it didn’t look like I could relate to it. I didn’t grow up with lesbian parents. I’m younger than the author and our childhood references differ. I’m not from New York. We have seemingly nothing in common. However, a friend of mine suggested I read it because she couldn’t put it down.

So I decided to request it through NetGalley. I have an account there and have gotten a few ARCs (advanced reader copies) of books that are coming out soon so I can provide honest reviews to be available for potential readers by the date of publication. Seriously, after getting the copy of the book, I have no contact with the person sending it. There is zero pressure for me to love a book or to lie about loving it.

By the middle of the next day, I received my ebook copy of Girlish. The author is a name I have seen on Twitter and we were both interviewed for the Winterviews series on K.J. Harrowick’s site, though I have not ever actually met her. Still, I felt the slightest trepidation as I opened her life story. What if I hated it? How would I ever tell this poor woman that I couldn’t even finish her book?

For the record, that’s not a problem. She is so raw and real that I laughed, I cried, I cringed. The author tells the story in third person to give herself a bit of distance from it. I don’t blame her for a minute. I said before that from the outside looking in, I have nothing in common with this author, but as I read through her life story, I found myself nodding along with her feelings. Her struggles. Her heartbreak.

There were chapters that I could not stop reading, much to the detriment of my sleep schedule. There were chapters that I had to put down because I could not handle them and needed some distance myself (Be prepared for this, there are a few scenes that could be triggering). The book is an emotional rollercoaster. She doesn’t leave anything out. Even the ugly, hard stuff. She is so open about her experiences that you feel connected to her from the beginning.

It is a beautiful and also heart-wrenching account of a real person’s life. To me, it is proof that we are all more than the labels life hands us. Lara Lillibridge is labeled the daughter of lesbian parents, but that’s not all of who and what she is. Yes, it had some bearing on her experience, but it was not the sum and whole. Her parents are lesbians, yes, but there is more to each of them than that identifier.

And she is honest about the times in her life when she went through phases of being anti-lesbian because of what she went through. She admits the problematic thoughts she had at the time and that it took a few months, or sometimes years, to see things in a different light. She was, after all, a child trying to sort out who she was in life.

It is both painful and hilarious, but most of all it’s honest. She’s not perfect. Her parents weren’t perfect. Her childhood was messed up, but that seems to have less to do with her parents being lesbians than it does with the other factors in her life.

I would recommend this book to others with the caveat that there are some moments that can be triggering. I don’t want to set anyone off here, so if you need more information, head over the Contact Me page and send me a message. Otherwise, you can pre-order Girlish today or you can wait until April 3rd when it officially hits the market.

 

How to Find (and Join) the Writing Community

I have said it before, but I’ll reiterate it now. I’m still new in the writing world. In the last year, I have learned so much about crafting a story, but it wasn’t all through traditional writing resources. Some of what I learned came through trial and error. My errors were kindly and constructively pointed out by the wonderful people I have as critique partners, and am fortunate enough to call friends.

But how do you find these elusive critique partners? You get involved in the writing community as a whole. Maybe for you that means using the MeetUp app to look for writer groups that meet face to face in your area. Honestly, that was not only a bit inconvenient for me but also intimidating. I’m a closet introvert. I seem really outgoing, but the truth is that people often make me self-conscious and after meeting up with a group–even people I know and like–I sometimes need a recovery period. So for me, the online writing community held a lot more appeal.

So where is this elusive online writing community? Where everyone else is hanging out in these crazy modern times: social media. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Basically, if you can think of a platform that has a tendency to eat away your productivity, writers are probably on it. There are tons of hashtags and groups to join.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Okay, but I don’t want to just jump in out of nowhere. That’s scary. I have nothing in common with these people.” Everybody starts somewhere. Yes, it can be scary, but the community is welcoming. You do have something in common with these people. You’re a writer. They’re writers. Boom. Connection.

If you’re still not convinced, why not look into some writing contests and competitions? Most of them have their own groups or hashtags that participants use to get to know each other and bond over the emotional rollercoaster you’re on together. Some of them don’t even require a full manuscript. For instance, the submission window for #WriteClub is open until April 1st. The only requirements are a 500-word submission and a pen name. That’s right, you can (and must) be entirely anonymous on the competition front. But that doesn’t mean you can’t join the hashtag (#WriteClubDFW) as yourself and bond with the other participants.

Don’t believe me? Check out the competition info.

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It’s that easy.

Or hard. I admit that I spent more time figuring out how to fit a whole scene into 500 words that I should have. It was a good exercise for me even if I don’t make the competition.

So find a competition, a hashtag, a group, something on whatever platform you are most comfortable. Connect with other writers. Make friends. Swap chapters, queries, synopses, anything. Critique. Get critiqued. Interact.

Don’t be afraid. We’re writers. We don’t bite. We just write about it.