Witch of Blackbird Pond: Review

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Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare, HMH Books for Young Reader, December 1, 1958. 256 pages

This is one of my all-time favorites, simple, innocent, yet deep, meaningful, and thought-provoking.

Witch of Blackbird Pond the story of Katherine (Kit) a seventeen year old orphan moving from Barbados to Connecticut to live with her Aunt and Uncle’s family. Her journey takes place during a time when Puritans cities were popular in New England states, where unbelievers were witches, and outsiders were chased from towns.

Kit’s story begins with her travels across the ocean, her interactions with the Captain and his son Nat, and her abnormal behavior, pointing out her foreign attributes.

Once she arrives at her Aunt’s house she experiences a culture shock, the ocean water is cold, their family doesn’t have much, and she’s expected to contribute with the work load and attend their church functions.

Eventually, Kit meets an elderly woman named Hannah − a Quaker living on undesirable swamp land. Hannah has a frequent visitor in Nate, showing up when his ship docked in the area, completing difficult tasks for her.

By the end, the action builds, the romance blooms, and the friendships blossom: resulting in a compelling story worthy of a read…or two.

What I love about this story is the easy connection to Kit and how relatable her experiences are to everyone. Just living the teenage years can be like a culture shock! Always feeling as though no one understands you and finding comfort in the group of people who try.

The romance between Kit and Nate is provoking and sweet. I like the initial hesitation but eventual time taken to get to know each other. Even more attractive is Nate’s willingness to support her when she is practically alone.

I recommend this book to anyone wanting a quick read with intriguing characters and a compelling plot.

Thanks for reading my blog!

A.G. Zalens

The Struggles of Writing a Book

Sitting down to write, laptop open and ready, document on screen, cursor blinking; clearly the perfect time for someone to call, knock on the door, or send an urgent text. For some reason people interrupt as soon as I’m motivated and prepared to write. Yet, during those instances when I’m staring at the screen, mind blank, stumped, feeling useless, wanting an excuse to leave the cursor, mocking me with its steady and cohesive pattern of work, all is quiet and perfect for good writing.

Interruptions and writers’ block: two irritating struggles of writing. And this is how I’ve managed to overcome them – so far.

Interruptions

My schedule can be busy so when I’m on a writing frenzy, interruptions are frustrating; the ones easily achieved can be done without loss of focus, but those requiring my full attention kill my rhythm.

Once I get back to the novel the best way for me to reestablish momentum is to scroll up in the story and read it over; though, this will lead to editing everything until I get to where I left off, another distraction, yet useful so I don’t mind it.

If that doesn’t work then I’ll write another scene I know I’ll enjoy; eventually allowing me to finish the part I stopped earlier. Good flow on one section will transfer over to the part I need to complete.

Blocked

During writer’s block I’ll stop the ineffective process of uselessly clicking keys and do something where I’m forced to listen to my internal voice. It’s easy to get on the internet, turn on the television, or read a book when I’m at a standstill. These rarely help me overcome my writing challenges; in fact, I’m more likely to continue with such distractions instead of moving back to writing.

When I intend to work on my novel again, doing mundane chores or tasks are the best distractions. Anything where I have nothing to think about while doing it; vacuuming, dishes, sorting, filing, etc. The things I don’t enjoy doing, but need to get done, requiring no brain power to accomplish.

This way, I can think about my characters and the scene I’m struggling with as I get chores done, and my mind doesn’t change focus to another subject or story. I can keep my character’s voice in my head and develop the pieces refusing to fit together.

These techniques have been helpful to me in my writing.

I know every writer experiences periods of time when quitting is appealing; these issues have definitely jammed up my progress, for sure. However, what keeps me going is the thought of finishing and sharing my story with others.

Thanks for reading my novel journey!

What are some methods you use to get past interruptions and writer’s block?

Thanks for reading my blog!
A.G. Zalens

A Break from the Book

So I’ve written the first draft of my novel and spend my time editing it; I’m a little over half way through this rough edit. I’m really excited to finish. However, my mind continues to trick me into thinking I’m further along and I have to remind myself there is still a lot to do, changing the excitement to anxiety.

Regardless, I realize my life can’t just be about writing and editing so I took the day off and spent it with my family. It was a wonderful day where I saw this:

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I didn’t get to see this beautiful tiger in the wild but a zoo is the next best thing. Plus, there’s no chance of being eaten by the wildlife we’re viewing.

The downtime was great but now I need to get back to work.

What are the best breaks from work?

Thanks for reading my blog!
A.G. Zalens

The Hunger Games: Book Review

ImageThe Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, Scholastic Press, September 14th 2008. 374 pages

For my blog post I wanted to do something fun and write a book review; yet I couldn’t quit decide which book to start with. So, I decided on the book, which made the young adult genre into a completely new possibility for creativity: The Hunger Games.

For those who haven’t read this book (the few and far between) The Hunger Games is set in the future where one city rules twelve Districts; each sectioned off and required to do particular functions for society. In order to keep the Districts compliant one boy and one girl from each District are randomly selected to participate in the Hunger Games: a gladiator type battle where each child has to fight for his/her life to become the winner.

The story begins by introducing Katniss, a poor teenager with a younger sister and a grieving mother. Katniss spends most of her time illegally hunting in the nearby woods to feed her family and barter with her neighbors. Suzanne starts the book with appeal and interest right away; the illegality of Katniss’ actions keeps the book fast paced and full of anticipation.

With the novel’s body we see Katiniss volunteering as a contestant to save her younger sister, training to defeat the other contestants, and showing off to get sponsors to help during the Games.  We also meet Peeta the boy from District 12 and his potential as a love interest for Katniss.

The climax includes intense battles, strategic positioning, and an unexpected conclusion. A wonderfully well-rounded story, which draws the reader in and keeps them interested to the end.

When I first read this story, I was hooked by the originality and creativity wrapped around characters I wanted to read about. This story has the suspense that I love and the character interaction I adoreIt is no wonder I couldn’t put it down.

Thanks for reading my blog!

A.G. Zalens

The 5 Page Turning Must Haves

When writing my novel I tried to impart my reader-self into my words and ideas. I read somewhere that when asked what we want to read the answer isn’t always congruent with reality. However, we can look back at the stories we’ve loved and those we couldn’t finish, remembering what clenched us verses what bored us. So I thought I would write a list of things I love and explain why the opposite has me abandoning books.

Character Interactions

As long as the characters laugh, conspire, debate, gossip, flirt, tease, or complain together I’ll enjoy them and their friend/villain relationships. Though, if they are constantly whining, being selfish, placating, faking, or always quiet I’ll find a more intriguing book to read. If someone asked me: what is your worst noise?  My answer would be whining, so I don’t want to read 300 pages of it.

Inside Information

A redeeming quality for the above negative character interactions is usually insider information. For example: she whines intentionally as a ploy to secretly swipe his stuff while he’s fixing her problems; he’s being selfish to keep her at a distance because he’s not good enough for her; she’s placating while looking for weak points in his guard’s schedule to break free; he’s faking his enthusiasm to spy without being caught; she’s quiet in public but extremely vocal and fun in her head.

Interesting Life Events

When a character is experiencing something new, different, or unexpected, I am excited for them and enjoy the interaction. However, a book slows considerably for me when the characters are only repeating normal everyday events. For instance, walking in the garden – for the tenth time − where the most exciting incident is a new route back to the house; escaping the tutor to spend the day at a local zoo; or spending the majority of the time in the same room or house; I can live that life – I’m not intrigued enough to read about it too.

Action/Mystery/Intrigue

Something has to happen and often. I’ll read maybe 50 pages before I start skipping − looking for the unusual to enter the book. It can be something huge like natural disasters, murder, theft, or a disappearance; yet, it can also be anything abnormal: a door keeps opening, a character’s emotions spiking from fear or paranoia, the villain shows up somewhere he/she isn’t supposed to be, or as small as being late to work. Even if I don’t agree with the decision to enter the dark abandoned house, as long as the character is doing something interesting I will keep reading.

Cheering For a Character

Not caring what happens to any of the characters will have me putting down a book − fast. The worst for me: the character intentionally gets in the situation and then complains about it nonstop. It’s like, hey you stowed away on an all-male ship so quit complaining that the dirty men are aggressively flirting; or you chose to walk through the portal you were warned against so I don’t really care that the green aliens don’t like you.

Let me know what you must have in a novel!

A.G. Zalens

My Novel Beginnings

Starting my new blog is the perfect place to explain how my novel came about – something my family and friends must already be bored with.

Some background: as a teen and young adult I only read a handful of authors and genres: romance, mystery, or classics. At that transitional age I felt anything described as teen, young adult, or childrens were too young; refusing to even look down those aisles at my local bookstores.

When the Harry Potter books began filling end-caps; I placed them firmly in the “too young” category, which I wouldn’t acknowledge. Then the first movie hit theaters − and being the movie enthusiast that I am, I watched it: loving it. Immediately afterwards, I sought any information available about the movie. Discovering the series of books, in which I had already written off, as an avid reader they were intriguing to me. I bought the first book: I was hooked. J.K. Rowling opened up a whole new world of teen and young adult books for me, though I was still skeptical about many out there; eventually falling back into my old favorites.

Now you may wonder what that has to do with my plot, well after reading several Harry Potter books I thought to myself “I can come up with a fun story like that.” Of course, I didn’t – not right away at least. I did imagine a sci-fi idea with potential, but there wasn’t enough substance to warrant a full novel and I didn’t even start it.

Several years later with that small idea in the back of my head, pushing it around my mind, trying to craft enough to write about, continuing to have little to go on; a dream involving a rescue mission by several tough individuals filled my night, remaining vividly pictured until morning. Going over this interesting dream the next day, it occurred to me: a similar plot and characters could provide the material I was looking for to enhance my sci-fi spark.

From there I needed a destination, thinking of a summer trip I went on one year, realizing it would be best to write what I know; I was happy with the results. Then a background idea from ancient stories rounded out the rest of what I required.

I was finally excited about writing my story and telling everyone I knew about this great idea. I received some polite encouragement but mostly confused expressions (mainly from the “light” readers or those unfamiliar with young adult books.) Yet, I wasn’t discouraged.  I was ready to write.

Throughout my life I’ve come to realize I’m a much better writer than speaker so I put fingers to keyboard: a year later I’m close to completion, thrilled about my story, moving forward to finishing it, with aspirations of getting it published.

When it’s completed I hope everyone will love it as much as I do!

Thanks for reading my blog. Let me know what you think.

A.G. Zalens

Let Me Introduce Myself

“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.
Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”
― William Faulkner

How many books have I started? I’m not sure… quite a few; beginning in my teens. I would write, develop characters, give them names, place them in exciting situations, have them interact, and move them forward: only to abandon them in the chaos of life.

If writing has been my hobby than reading has been my profession – well…not really, but it would be awesome! When writing slows picking up a book is the next best thing.

About a year ago it occurred to me: after the many books I’ve read −it’s time to write again.

So here I am in the middle of editing my first novel and blogging to tell about my experiences. For me it’s a difficult challenge; as I’m an introvert at heart, an adventurer through fiction, a stay-at-home social sloth, and busy reader and writer. [ Tweet that ]

Giving pieces of my life to others can be tough (I’m the baby of a large family and I’ve grown accustomed to my siblings providing such information for me.) You may encounter slumps, slow patches, and sloppy places in my posts as I adjust.

In addition to “getting myself out there,” I’m also blogging for the motivation to finish the last leg of rough edits. My novel mixes YA and New Adult with fantasy, mystery, sci-fi, and a little romance. I have about 320 pages written – pre-editing; my word count changes daily (especially when I come upon areas where I must have been sleep-writing.) It’s been fun and rewarding but also hard and frustrating. I can’t wait to finish it!

Now begins my journey through this new phase. I’ll share the process and try and keep it light, fun, and interactive. Enjoy!

Here’s my first bio:

A.G. Zalens was born and raised in the American Southwest where she received a Bachelor’s degree and wrote her first novel. Besides her love of writing and reading great books, she also adores graphic design, movies, music, lightning storms, scanning twitter, and quality time with her family.

Thanks for reading my blog!
A.G. Zalens