On Writing and Worldbuilding: Volume I by Timothy Hickson

Writing advice tends to be full of ‘rules’ and ‘tips’ which are either too broad to be helpful or outright wrong. In On Writing and Worldbuilding, we will discuss specific and applicable ideas to consider, from effective methods of delivering exposition and foreshadowing, to how communication, commerce, and control play into the fall of an empire.

ON WRITING
Part I: Prologues
Part II: The First Chapter
Part III: The Exposition Problem
Part IV: Foreshadowing
Part V: Villain Motivation
Part VI: Hero-Villain Relationships
Part VII: Final Battles
Part VIII: The Chosen One
Part IX: Hard Magic Systems
Part X: Soft Magic Systems
Part XI: Magic Systems and Storytelling

ON WORLDBUILDING
Part XII: Polytheistic Religions
Part XIII: Hidden Magical Worlds
Part XIV: How Empires Rise
Part XV: How Empires Work
Part XVI: How Empires Fall

EXCLUSIVE CONTENT
Part XVII: How I Plan a Novel
Dozens of sidenotes and extra thoughts on all these wonderful stories

REVIEW

An excellent fantasy writing resource

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I am an aspiring fantasy writer and world-building is definitely something I struggle with. On some aspects I do a bit too much of it to the point of getting distracted from the story, and on other aspects I do too little when I needed to do more. Not only does this book ground me on the important parts of world-building, but also explain their purpose and how to best apply them. Reading this is also a reminder to me to check out the author’s YouTube channel (“Hello Future Me”) more often as he excels in explaining things with some depth and clarity much like in this book (and also I’m curious about what might come in the next volume). I highly recommend this for aspiring fantasy writers.

*This book was read and reviewed (in Amazon & Goodreads) in December 2019 as part of my participation in the 2019 Indiecember Challenge. Sorry for the late post.

100 Things Successful People Do: Little Exercises for Successful Living: 100 self help rules for life by Nigel Cumberland

YOUR GUIDE TO CREATING A SUCCESSFUL LIFE
This is your guide to realizing your dreams, from the large and audacious to the small and mundane.

100 Things Successful People Do is packed with great ideas for working smart and living well, all carefully chosen to help you achieve any kind of success you can imagine. You will discover the habits that are common to successful people and find out how to use them in your own life.

Every chapter features a new idea that will help you get closer to your goals. Mixing simple descriptions with activities and exercises, you will learn the optimal mindset and habits you need to succeed in work and life.

100 Things Successful People Do is your guide to successful living.

REVIEW

A wonderful guide to a good life

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’ve become suspicious of various life advice because when I was young, I was given a lot of them and grew up realizing they were actually quite ignorant and narrowminded. So I trust my own learning experiences and try to think of their own perspectives and situation when listening to others’ advice and check whether it really helps my situation not. Long story short, I’m not fond of self-help books, unless if they talk about a craft I’m interested in learning (such as writing). But when my sister got this book, I decided to get a copy myself and found time to read it. I’m happy to say I’ve learned some of these already, based on my own life experiences, and agree on others, which I’ve yet to apply in my own life. There’s nothing in here that I would completely disagree with it. The best thing I like about this book is its inclusion of how to put each advice into action. Overall, this is great guide to live a fulfilling life and I hope to achieve habits of maybe 70% of these before I die. (I’m setting realistic goals here lol 100% is too overwhelming, don’t judge me.)

*This book was read and reviewed (in Amazon & Goodreads) in December 2019. Sorry for the late post.

Dear Midnight by Zack Grey

Dear Midnight is a poetic love letter to the darkest moments. A hello to the moon. A break from the idea that love can only be found in the daylight.

______________________

we are a
generation of
almost lovers,
gazing with
gleaming eyes
at the moon,
knowing she empathizes
with our same hearts
always missing each other
by nothing more
than those few minutes
that separate darkness
from daylight.

REVIEW

A precious story in love poems

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A beautiful flow of romantic poetry in shades of love and loss. My favorites were the little touches of symmetry like when he says “you taste like regret and i love how familiar it is” and then later, “you taste like love and i regret how familiar it is”, and the added drama of strikethrough texts, among other things. This is truly and excellent collection.

*This book was read and reviewed (in Amazon & Goodreads) in December 2019. Sorry for the late post.

Singapore Fling (Carpe Diem Chronicles, #2) by Maida Malby

Their one torrid weekend tryst is not nearly enough. They want more.

French-Filipina Maddie Duvall should be living it up at her challenging new job in glamorous Singapore. But two months after her wild weekend with US Air Force officer Aidan Ryan, she’s still yearning for him. She craves the passion only he can ignite in her.

Aidan’s job takes him around the world, yet he can’t get Maddie out of his mind. When he returns to his assignment in Singapore, he seeks her out with a proposition she can’t turn down.

Intensely enamored with one another, their relationship takes off. But when Aidan’s mission exposes treachery by someone close to Maddie, lines blur and wires get crossed. Can their growing love survive the intrigue?

REVIEW

Singapore delights in a sexy package with a dash of espionage

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Another steamy installment from Carpe Diem Chronicles, this time with a Singaporean flair in the form of food and locale. The recipe at the end was a nice touch. I currently live in Singapore and remember being hooked to chicken rice as well when I was still new here. Well, aside from food, we have career woman Maddie and military man Aidan and their sexy romance which may or may not be just a fling ;) Another fun read to spice up the senses and palate.

*This book was read and reviewed (in Amazon & Goodreads) in December 2019 as part of my participation in the 2019 Indiecember Challenge. Sorry for the late post.

Allegiance (Deity Rising, #2) by Kilian Grey

Pride must be swallowed.

Duty shall be honored.

Loyalty shall be tested.

Warriors must rise to the challenge.

Faust escaped Lathil’s cruelty, but an even greater weight awaited him when Aris, the Deity of Azure, announced Faust as the High King—the being all deities must follow. Lathil’s Blessed, Relan, recaptured Faust and wants to use Faust’s newfound lineage to his advantage.

High King Faust refuses to give into Relan’s demands for information and is faced with a tough decision—talk or die. Faust uses his magic to bring help to him, only to later realize he’s made a deadly mistake. Many in Windilum hold Faust in contempt for his war against them, forcing him to rely on Ignas’s strict orders for the Guild of Smithery to protect and cover for him.

The Kingdoms of Windilum and Roltan need a trustworthy and strong High King to lead them to victory. But a dark secret looms in the past and Faust feels the line between the past and present have begun to meld. Faust must restore the kingdoms to their rightful rulers while keeping Vasil, the Deity of Carnage, at a distance. He is ready to unite the kingdoms and discard his role as the puppet king, but is Faust willing to die for it?

REVIEW

Action, magic, and gay romance

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Faust’s adventure continues in this new installment, not only physically but sexually and magically as well. This was a fun read, full of action and revelations. It also has loads of characters and their various titles, which confuse the hell out of me, but it’s nothing new from the first book and somehow I’ve gotten used to that. Aside from the intriguing world-building, the character dynamics are totally different from my own life as a straight female, given that almost all the characters here are gay (and those that aren’t are probably bi). Here, Faust starts off injured and meets a new acquaintance in the form of Vas, who has a secret identity and a knowledge of Faust’s past life. Overall, it was an enjoyable read despite the confusion.

*This book was read and reviewed (in Amazon & Goodreads) in December 2019 as part of my participation in the 2019 Indiecember Challenge. Sorry for the late post.

Calico Thunder Rides Again by T. A. Hernandez

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to the Most Fantastic Show on Earth…

Three years ago, the Ban changed everything, outlawing certain forms of magic and bringing about the rise of powerful crime syndicates. Now, speakeasies in every city sell illegal charms and jinxes, and bootleggers traffic restricted potion ingredients across the country. But even in this changing world, the magic of the circus still acts as a wondrous escape and provides entertainment for all.​

Jake Strickland owns one such circus, inherited after an accident ended his career as a rodeo dragon rider. He also inherited the circus’ financial troubles, but since the show became his, he’s slowly managed to turn it into a profitable business once more. Or at least, that’s what he thought.

When a dangerous mobster comes to collect an old debt, Jake resorts to desperate measures to get the money before a strict deadline. With lives and livelihoods at stake, he battles the clock, his responsibilities to the circus, and a longstanding personal grudge that has festered for years. Can he pay back the mob before it’s too late?

REVIEW

A charming read!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Despite our main character Jake Strickland finding himself in an ugly predicament with the mob, I found this book to be cozy and charming, with likeable characters, wonderful creatures, and fascinating magic. My only gripe is that the title talks about Calico, but is actually mainly about Jake. Jake is not a bad character to follow, though, and I really felt for him struggling to do his best given an impossible situation. Aside from Jake, I also liked Grace Hawkins and the Bruno especially in their support for Jake. The world building is also interesting, and if there were more stories from this world, I would definitely be willing to read them. Overall, Calico Thunder rides again, is quite an enjoyable read!

*This book was read and reviewed (in Amazon & Goodreads) in December 2019 as part of my participation in the 2019 Indiecember Challenge. Sorry for the late post.

Canellian Eye: Prophecy by Caroline Noe

The towering monolith of Erulia’s Prophecy stood for millennia in the watery paradise of Canellia, its warning unheeded.

That time is long past.

In the wake of dying twin suns, this generation faces extinction as the carving crumbles under the onslaught of an Ice Age.

Then, in the depths of despair, a child is born, bearing a singular birthmark: the symbol of their foretold saviour, Jehul’s Eye.

In a bid to find New Canellia, the Chosen youth launch into space, following their Prophet, Quaylan.

But where is he leading them?

Destiny is never simple.

REVIEW

An endearing set of characters from different worlds; a great start to a series

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The pacing starts off a bit slow as we are introduced to characters of a dying planet. Honestly, it took me a while to care about them. But then, as they try to do their best to resolve issues when things go wrong, and end up in dire circumstances on another planet, I became more and more intrigued by the characters, the plot, and the worldbuilding. There were scenes of suspense, difficult heart-wrenching moments, and sprinkles of hope. A solid beginning to a fascinating series!

*This book was read and reviewed (in Amazon & Goodreads) in December 2019 as part of my participation in the 2019 Indiecember Challenge. Sorry for the late post.

Before I start sharing my goals for 2021, let me briefly talk about 2020: it was a bad year for everyone including myself and I found myself dealing with certain personal things and became somewhat overwhelmed and tried to cope. In any case, I lost interest in writing, blogging, and social media for the most part. Now that it’s 2021, have I regained my interest in them? Who knows. But I  was doing okay before, so I kinda want to (regain interest). To facilitate that, here I am setting goals for 2021…

1. New Year, New Name.

Starting 2021, the name I’ll be using for my writerly self shall be Steph Arven. I’ve decided to separate my writing stuff from my Sathepine pseudonym and channel it all to the Steph Arven persona. In case I haven’t mentioned before, Sathepine is an anagram for Stephanie, which is my real name. I’ve used it for other things, not just writing stuff. As for the Steph Arven name, we know where the “Steph” comes from, but not the Arven. Arven is a combination of my grandfathers’ names (Ar = Arceo, ven = Venancio). I hope to use this name from now on, especially in social media, even if it means I’ll lose all my previous followers now (at least, in Twitter and Instagram). But I’m not counting anyway, so it’s all good.

2. Read and review the top ten books in the 2020 Goodreads Choice Awards for: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Poetry, and Young Adult Fantasy/Sci-Fi. 

Not all these books may be to my taste but the challenge is to read what is popular, what is mainstream, what readers in general enjoyed (or at least got hyped up enough to vote for). Then we’ll see if I enjoyed them just as much. 

For books that are part of a series, I’ll only commit to reading and reviewing the first book of that series, although, of course, it would be great if I manage to read up to that book itself.

3. Read and review at least five indie novels.

I do have plans to self-publish in the future (though I’m not in a hurry as my work is a priority right now), and would like to support self-published authors. I have a condition, though, and that is I will not be posting my review of self-published books that I didn’t enjoy. So, for self-published books, at least, I’ll only be posting my review of those that I rate to be 3-stars or more. (My 3-stars rating means I enjoyed it enough to say it’s worth the time and money I spent on the book.)

4. Write at least one poem per month.

By doing this, I could hopefully ensure there’s at least one post in this blog per month. I’d really like to keep my blog active from month to month, and not just have a ton of posts at the end of the year or something (which I fear might happen). I also have some past poems that are not posted (or are privated) but I’m not sure yet if I want to post (or un-private) them. (Also, can “private” be used as a verb? lol)

5. Watch and review at least one movie or show based on a fantasy or science fiction novel.

I was planning to do this for The Witcher last year, but, well, I didn’t. This year, I could still do The Witcher (before the new season), or I can do The Expanse (I’ve been wanting to read the books and watch the show for some time now), or Dune (I’m not sure how much of the first book I’ve read but I haven’t finished it that time and hoping to read from the beginning before the movie), or Shadow and Bone (I’m excited! I didn’t really like the main character but I love the world building in this series and I hope the upcoming Netflix show does it justice!)

6. Post at least one instagram photo, and one tweet per week.

I’m gonna populate my Steph Arven social media slowly but surely… with nice things of course! And for sure I’ll be following a bunch of nice accounts too. 

7. Complete plotting the outline for my next NaNoWriMo project before November.

As I’m going the plotting (rather than pantsing) route, an outline is a must. My pantsing gets me everywhere but the ending so I feel that plotting — with a little bit of pantsing — would provide much better results for me. Ideally, I would like to finish the outline early so I can send it to someone for feedback (like I did in 2019 — thank you for the helpful feedback, Jennifer Jarrett!)

8. Win NaNoWriMo 2021.

It’s been a while since I wrote 50,000 words in one month. I’d like to do that this year. I haven’t lost in Nano yet! (Unless you consider 2020, which I didn’t even participate in — though I’m sure I would have lost it if I did — I was quite busy at work and dealing with personal issues…)

8. Turn my zero draft of COTC into a first draft.

COTC stands for “Claire of the Corpses”, which is a temporary title so I’m simply gonna label it COTC from now on. This was my project for NaNoWriMo 2019 so I have roughly 50,000 words on it. There are missing scenes, descriptions, worldbuilding elements, etc. so my goal is to fill in all of those to complete the draft. (Of course, once I have a complete first draft, I’d still have to revise that.) I plan to use Camp Nano in April for this activity.

9. Rework my TMM outline.

TMM was my project for NaNoWriMo 2018 and it stands for “The Moonseeker’s Medallion”, which is a temporary title, so, like COTC, I’m just using it as a label. It’s a huge mess. Well, it’s a bit less messy now… but still a mess! So it’s not really a priority, but I still enjoy this world so I’ll try to get it a bit more organized for Camp Nano in July. 

10. Go on a one-week “writing retreat” by myself. 

Most likely, it will be a staycation at some hotel, where my activities will only be writing, eating, and sleeping. (And some other stuff for hygiene.) We are anticipating that work will be busier this year so I probably won’t have that much energy or mood to work on my writing on normal days. So this “writing retreat” shall be my answer to that.

To be frank, I have no idea right now if these goals are modest or ambitious. In theory, I feel like they’re totally doable, but then again, I had planned to do some of them last year… yet I didn’t (grr, 2020!) What I am sure of, though, is that I’m definitely feeling hopeful and have a much brighter outlook for 2021. 

Happy New Year!

Entangled Lives by Imran Omer

Raza, a poor orphan trapped in the slums of Pakistan, is sent to a strict madrassah where he meets and falls in love with Perveen. They attempt to flee the city to escape their respective fates but fail. Perveen, pregnant, is sent back to her family, and Raza is sent to Afghanistan to fight as a Taliban solider. American journalist, Rachael Brown, travels to Afghanistan to cover the political unrest. When she meets Raza for a brief interview, she sees for the first time the true face of the Taliban: poor and desperate young men with nowhere else to go. As the war unfolds, their paths cross again, and each must decide what they owe the other.

REVIEW

Eye-opening and bittersweet

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The novel follows the heartbreaking story of Raza who lives a life of hardship and sacrifice in Pakistan. Although we do follow a journalist Rachael who has her own struggles, this is very much Raza’s story. His story is quite compelling for me especially that I don’t live and definitely can’t imagine living in the circumstances and environment he lives in. The glimpses of politics, societal dynamics, human interaction, and relationships are eye-opening and thought-provoking for me, albeit depressing. I love that it ends on a sweet note, even though I do wish things had turned out better for both Raza and Rachael.