Book Review: The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus

 

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The Cover Artleaving the sea

Its not a good thing when after reading a book, I’m most excited to talk about the cover art (see above), but the story was mediocre and the cover stands out. I love the simple, eye-catching design and colors. My first impression was that the design looks like flames which makes sense with the title. When I showed my boyfriend the cover, he thought the design resembled the letter A which is also representative of the title! A great cover in my opinion, especially when I found out the design carried over to another of Marcus’s books, Leaving the Sea, whose cover design resembles waves (see right).

Summary

Language is power/life. Even in our own world, I don’t think many people would disagree with that statement, but Ben Marcus flips that saying upside down in his novel The Flame Alphabet. In that world, language is death. A middle-aged father of one named Sam opens the book by describing how spoken language is making everyone in the community sick. Everyone except children, that is. Although experts know that language is the cause, no cure is known. Soon, the written word becomes deadly as well. Families, including Sam, his wife, and his daughter, limit their speech to the bare essentials. Every night, Sam turns his kitchen into a laboratory, desperately trying to find a cure for this disease as his wife sits silently beside him as his test patient.

As the deadly illness spreads throughout the world, language is slowly eliminated. Children, who are not affected by the illness, are taken away by the bus load by parents who can no longer survive in their presence. Sam is forced to leave his wife and child and finds himself in a silent community of scientists individually trying to cure this epidemic. As the entire world has fallen into complete silence to survive, Sam redirects his research to test every ancient, modern and imagined script that might allow humans to read without physical torture.

Tone

The novel is written in a first-person POV by our main character, Sam. He tells the story with an informational tone which fits the story because he is a scientist trying to record a world-changing event that most people are unable to document because they can’t write or speak.  Near the end of the book, Sam hints that he expects future humans to use his perspective to study and understand how this language epidemic transpired.

Characterization

Although the informational tone of the narrator was successful in helping get the message across, it distances the reader from the characters. I had no emotional connection with any of the characters and a large part of that was due to the fact that very little of the characters’ emotions came through in the writing. Another reason for my lack of connection to the characters was that we knew very little about them. We assume our main character, Sam, has some kind of science background because of all the research he pursues but we are never told what his job or background is. We know nothing about his family outside that he has a wife and daughter, and besides their first names, we don’t know much about them either. We don’t know what they love or fear, we don’t know anything about their past, they only thing we are told through the 300 page book is how the characters dealt with this epidemic. The story is written in facts.

The Bigger Picture

Although I did rip the characterization above, I realize Marcus (as well as his main character) are trying to tell a story that is much bigger than the present characters. It’s a story about the power of language and how humans’ ability to communicate sets us apart from the larger, animal world. If humans couldn’t communicate, how would we share our feelings or our knowledge? How would we progress in the world? Would community be possible? Is it possible to love someone without sharing language? These are a few of the questions The Flame Alphabet makes you ask, and if that was Marcus’s desire for writing the book, he succeeded.

Overall

Although this book was not my cup of tea, it was well-written and had a strong message. I didn’t hate the book, but I can’t think of anyone I would recommend it to. Maybe someone interested in how language affects community. 2 stars.

creativity

21st Century Fairy Tales

fairy tale

Turning classic fairy tales into modern stories is an entertaining trend in literature right now. In two different creative writing classes I took in undergrad, we had sections focused on fairy tales. If your idea of fairy tales is limited to Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, you need to expand your horizons! There are so many exotic fairy tales out there and they come from every culture on the planet! Rent a few books from your local library and although the Brother’s Grimm is great, venture past the typical into the unknown.

Successful Retellings of Fairy Tales

Lauren Sarner of the Huffinton Post recently posted the article “7 Fairy Tales Adults Will Love” listing adult and YA novels with elements taken from classic fairy tales.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman made the list which I read earlier this year and enjoyed!

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Write Your Own Fairy Tale

If you have never done so before, you need to re-write or create your own fairy tale! The options are endless and the magical worlds create endless opportunities for plot twists, evil characters, magical beings, hidden worlds, and anything else you can imagine!

Interstellar Movie Review

Produced by Christopher Nolan. Written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan.

Produced by Christopher Nolan. Written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan.

Last night I got the opportunity to view a special IMAX viewing of the movie Interstellar before it opens in theaters on Friday and it was the best movie viewing experience I have ever had.

It is the most mind-blowing, revolutionary, engaging film I have seen. I recently saw Gone Girl in theaters which blew me away and is still an exceptional movie but it simply does not compare to Interstellar. The circular plot line, the un-linear structure, the emotion-driven characters, the never-before-seen special effects, and the unmatched intelligence that populate this film are unlike any story I have ever read, seen, or heard. Viewing the movie on the oversized IMAX screen is worth the extra money. The space scenes and special effects on the IMAX convey the story in the way it is meant to be told; larger than the universe.

As a current participant of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), this epic story made me want to throw my novel in trash because comparatively, trash is all it is. After another hour of thinking of nothing but the movie, I was even more rejuvenated to push my own writing forward. I write with the ultimate goal of being able to astound readers like Interstellar astounded me.

An hour after the movie ended, I sat down at my keyboard and had the most productive hour of NaNoWriMo so far! I know my story will never compare to what the Nolan brothers have written but I reminded myself that their first “masterpiece” was likely a story no one ever praised.

No matter where our stories end up they all begin at the same place, the blank page. 

Interstellar_6      interstellar-movie

*I don’t claim the rights to any of these photos. Now, go buy your tickets for Interstellar!

Scary Two-sentence Story

At the same time the screams started, demons whipped their hands around the ouija board. Tom was so terrified he didn’t realize the screams were coming from his girlfriend as her eyes filled with black blood.

I entered the above in a two-sentence scary story contest to win concert tickets from my local radio station. I didn’t win but I still wanted to share the story with you guys! I hope you had a spooky Halloween and…

Happy NaNoWriMo!!!

You should be writing, not reading blogs! :P

(Can the above count as 36 of my 50,000 words?)

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Halloween Photos!

If you feel like writing, use one of these photos to spark a spooky short, short. I’m going to limit you to 500 words. (Unless the creepiness simply can’t stop, then by all means keep writing!)

For most of you, I hope you enjoy a few spooky pictures on HALLOWEEN!!!

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grave

halloween

skeleton

spooky

spooky graveyard

NaNoWriMo: My Writing Plan and Adjusted Goals

Photo taken from deviant art.com

Photo taken from deviant art.com

This will be my first year participating in NaNoWritMo. As I am in the middle of writing my first novel, I am going to use NaNo to punch through to the end of it! I am not a fast writer. I’m constantly worried about getting the facts right, the plot and characters staying consistent and that slows me down, a lot. To get out of this groove, I have set up some rules for myself for Novemeber.

As a writer with an unrelated full-time job, finding time to write can be difficult. When I do sit down to write, its typically only for 2-3 hours. These rules will help me make more time to write than I usually do. A lot of time that I usually spend reading (like my hour-long lunch breaks) I plan to switch to writing time.

My Plan for NaNoWriMo:

October:

  1. Finish the editing of my manuscript so far so I can move forward with confidence
  2. Do a little research on ideas
  3. Create “Facts” list on my story
  4. Write down vague plot plan/ideas

November:be writing

  1. Do not read any books
    1. Unless it is a writing book for prompts/ideas/advice
  2. Write no blog posts (although I do have a few saved up that I will post)
  3. Write every single day
    1. Even if its just 1 paragraph!
    2. Write every day after supper
      1. If I can’t, either wake up early to write or do so before I go to bed
    3. Write on my lunch breaks
    4. Weekends: wake up early to start writing
  4. If my novel plot has me stumped…
    1. Make a list of possible next moves
    2. Write an unrelated scene that might happen in the far future or a past scene I previously skipped
    3. If I get stuck, the quote poetry would be a good prompt
  5. No editing. Period.
  6. Resist going back to check facts of the story. If its not on my facts sheet, make a note and move on
  7. Keep moving forward!

I’m excited and a little nervous for NaNoWriMo. Because of my full-time job and my haunting quality as a slow writer, I’m not expecting to reach the 50,000-word goal. Instead, I have set up my own goals.

writing

My Goals for NaNoWriMo:

  1. Finish the very-rough first draft of my novel
  2. Create a habit of spending more time writing
  3. Improve my ability to keep writing and letting go of the need to double check and edit my work so often

If I reach the 50,000 words that’s great! But I feel the goals above are more important than a word count and will be things I can carry with me past the month of November.

 

What’s your plan for NaNoWriMo?

Or are you completely winging it? :)

A book that might just change your life… a big little life by Dean Koontz

Trixie Koontz 2

A big little life is a story of a dog that loved, inspired, entranced and spread joy to everyone close to her. Just as Trixie, the soulful golden retriever, changed the lives of those that loved her, this book has the power to change the lives of its readers. A big little life is so much more than a story about a dog. It’s a story about life, love, and loss.

This memoir highlights not only the wonders of loving a dog, but the wonders and magic of life itself. It opens the reader’s mind to the beautiful complexities of life and how a dog can help us enjoy the simple pleasures that are always around us. Unconditionally loving a dog and receiving that unconditional love in return can soften the heart and open the mind.

When death takes someone whom you love to the very core, whether family, a friend, or a dog, the pain reflects the joy that came before it. The more you loved that soul during their life, the more painful it will be to say goodbye but never will the pain outweigh the previous bliss. Koontz’s enforces this in the book’s dedication, “…the pain was so great because the joy before it was even greater.”

Koontz’s personality shines through in this novel. Not many books make me laugh out loud (and I am quick to laugh) but this book provided me that pleasure. I fell in love with Trixie. She made me laugh, she made me cry and though I never knew her, I love her because I cherish what she left behind; a better world.

Trixie Koontz

Some will say, “She was only a dog.”

Yes, she was dog, but not only a dog. I am a man, but not only a man. Sentiment is not sentimentality, common sense is not common ignorance, and intuition is not superstition. Living with a recognition of the spiritual dimension of the world not only ensures a happier life but also a more honest intellectual life than if we allow no room for wonder and refuse to acknowledge the mystery of existence.

Trixie Koontz 3

 

**All photos taken from DeanKoontz.com/Trixie 

Science has spoken! Reading a paper book is better than e-reading!

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As an avid reader of paper books (its crazy that I even have to specify that) I love hearing this kind of news! Reading sharpens my mind, pumps up my creativity, as well as calms my mind and body. When I read as a writer, I’m not only enjoying the story but picking it apart, studying it, learning from it, and I believe that works my mind harder than the average readers.

This article by Rachel Grate, published by Mic.com, summarizes a recent study that proved readers of paper books showed better comprehension than readers of e-books. The first paragraph of the article is below, see the full article here. Enjoy!

It’s no secret that reading is good for you. Just six minutes of reading is enough to reduce stress by 68%, and numerous studies have shown that reading keeps your brain functioning effectively as you age. One study even found that elderly individuals who read regularly are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their peers. But not all forms of reading are created equal.

Do you read paper, e-books, or both? Do you find it more difficult to understand/remember the story when reading e-books?

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” ― Charles William Eliot

Writing Prompt based on Grace (eventually)

I hope you enjoy this nonfiction writing prompt based on Grace (eventually) by Anne Lamott.

Think of a situation when you had no choice but to relinquish control. Write about it. In whose hands did you leave the power and why? Were you reluctant to do so? How did you feel and what did you do immediately after?

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After you’ve written about your no-control situation, think about a time you escaped from your daily routine or a busy/stressful day. What did you think about or realize during this time away? Weave this moment into your original piece of writing. How does it affect the mood/theme of the piece? Do you like the changes? Are the moments related? If not, what makes them work well together?

*Please share your writing with me if you complete the prompt! :)

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