ARC Review | Blood – by Tyler Pennock

Pain, anger, confusion, survival–elements all of humanity shares–come into conflict with society’s demands for purity, joy, and conformity in this moving compilation of poems written by Tyler Pennock, an Indigenous LGBTQIA+ individual.

There’s something about poetry that comes from the soul, from a place of vulnerability, from a place of honesty, and self.

Blood has a heartbeat.

In reading Blood, I came to know Tyler, their hurt, their hopes, their dreams, I saw him reach, and fall, and reach again, struggling under the weight of cultural suppression, identity oppression, and heartache. And through it all, I learned something more about myself too.

As a white woman reading this, it made me reconsider my beliefs–my misconceptions–of what Indigenous individuals experience in a colonialist world; the injustices, expectations, limitations, the suffering, how even hundreds of years has not eased the crushing impact of our past, and our present is even more suffocating in many ways for many surviving in a system designed to advantage the few.

I was moved by Blood. It’s eloquent, at times harsh, and the realities of the poet are deeply expressed in every line. It’s raw, powerful, and I was drawn into its rhythm, connecting with its themes and messages, learning to feel the emotional notes. Learning to understand and acknowledge Tyler’s pain. Coming to appreciate and admire Indigenous culture in a way that’s never been presented to me before.

I’m not an expert on poetry. Sometimes I understand what I’m reading, and sometimes I don’t. Some poems just seem to rhyme without any meaning or feeling underneath, but Blood has a heartbeat of its own. Blood is one person’s experience, but it can be a platform for many. There is a message for everyone, both similar and dissimilar, and that is what made these poems so amazing.

If you enjoy poetry or aren’t sure if you do and just want to read something that makes you think, makes you feel, makes you want to be a better human, then I highly recommend Blood. It’s simply beautiful. It’s courageous.

Blood is being published by Brick Books and hits bookshelves 1 September. It is currently available for pre-order.

Inciting Incident How-to

The Inciting Incident is one of the most critical plot points in your story: it justifies why your story is even happening, so it needs to be well developed out and executed for maximum impact.

The Inciting Incident is the transition point between your Introduction, where your reader learns about your main character and what their day to day looks like, and the Rising Action, where your MC is going to grow, learn about the big bad, wreak havoc, make mistakes, and inch closer to that Climax of tension, suspense, and resolution.

The Inciting Incident needs to have a large enough impact that your MC is either willing to leave or change their normal day to day, or it needs to pose a great enough impediment to prevent them from coming back or returning to it.

Try to include foreshadowing for the Inciting Incident somewhere in your Introduction phase, maybe through character dialogue, in something they hear, or even in a thought or behavior. Think of how you can keep this foreshadowed thread active throughout the book to avoid the Inciting Incident becoming a “Convenient Catastrophe”.

Convenient Catastrophe’s are inciting incidents (or other events) that happen for a singular purpose and then are forgotten about or dismissed for the rest of the book. The issue with this is that significant events always have a lasting impact on the world and the MC, especially if it interrupted your MC’s normal day-to-day. So without any resolution, Convenient Catastrophes often feel shoehorned in and disconnected from the rest of the story, and they can take away from the believability of what happened to your MC.

Inciting Incidents and other significant events are going to be memorable to your MC, so as you unfold the Rising Action, have your MC think about it, experience emotions, or change behaviors as a direct result of the Inciting Incident. Doing this will make your inciting incident realistic to the reader and add depth to your narrative and MC. You may even want to include a deeper resolution for the Inciting Incident in your Climax or Conclusion by having your MC come to accept what happened, repair the damage done, or establish a new normal in spite of it or because of it.

I hope you’ve found this helpful!

This video explores this topic as well, I hope you enjoy!

Happy Writing!

~MJ

Monthly Writing Prompt | June 2022

Your lungs are burning, sweat is dripping down every inch of bare skin. The stench, mingled with other subtle and potent smells makes it harder to breathe in the precious gulps of air. Just a little bit more of this, and that’s it. No more. But a small part of you, deep down, suspects you’ll be right back here again eventually.

***

Muse Stimulators:

What is the POV doing?
What do they believe doing this achieves?
Do they want to be done with it?
Where are they?
Are they alone?

Happy Writing!
~MJ

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ARC Review | Musings of the Muses – Edited by Heather and S.D. Vassallo


My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ancient Greek tales are dominated by males: male heroes, male motives, male accomplishments and desires. In 2021, the founders of Brigids Gate Press set out to change things up and opened a submission call for new perspectives on these beloved tales: the untold perspectives, the hidden truths of the myths, the silenced voices of time immemorial. The other side of the story.

Musings of the Muses is an anthology of Ancient Greek mythology stories retold from her perspective: The women who were always present but never allowed to speak to history, never allowed to defend their name against the male hero; sentenced to be judged for eternity through the eyes of the patriarchy. Brigids Gate set out to give them their voice.

They succeeded.

Disclaimer: I have a vested interest in this anthology, as my short story “Before Gods” is included in its publication. However, I know a great story (or collection of stories) when I read it and I’m confident that you will find my honest ARC review of Musings of the Muses to be trustworthy and accurate.

There are 65 stories included in Musings. Some are more in the classical style, and some have been reimagined in a modern setting with modern concepts and technology. There is a healthy dose of poetry as well, and a wide range of Greek cast members, from Medusa, to Titans, to Olympians, to Monsters. Charybdis and Scylla even featured in the story “Lover’s Quarrel,” by Georgia Cook, which I found fascinating. I was also delighted to read a clever Hera story in “Respectfully Yours, Bridezilla,” by T.L. Beeding. I’ve always felt Hera’s reasons for hunting down Zeus’ illegitimate children were presented a bit poorly, so I found her story in Musings to be exceptionally creative and satisfying. Another one of my favorites was “Thinking Outside the Box,” by Dominick Cancilla, a parody of the horrors inside Pandora’s box that was delightful and crafty.

As with all anthologies, there were some stories that didn’t connect with me as well as others, but every story delivers compelling characters, well-developed arcs, and a fresh female perspective that is sometimes warm, and sometimes chilling. Heather and Steve at Brigids Gate Press have an eye for great stories, and there are so many assembled here. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with this purchase.

My one critique is that it isn’t long enough. Which is odd considering there are 65 stories and 422 pages, but there are some personal favorite heroines in Greek mythology which did not have a retelling in this anthology, and that was a bit disappointing. My hope for the future is that Brigids Gate will open a submissions call for a Vol. 2 sometime in the future.

Musings of the Muses is available for Kindle and Paperback on Amazon.

Happy Reading!

~MJ

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Monthly Writing Prompt | May 2022

A stirring inside of you draws you closer to the noise. Blood begins to pound in your ears as your excitement–and apprehension–grows. As the scene comes into focus, it’s not quite what you expected to find, and the faces you see–had hoped to see–aren’t either.

***

Muse Stimulators:

  • Are the feelings of the POV good or bad?
  • What is the source of the noise?
  • Who are the faces the POV expected to see and who are the ones they find?
  • What was your POV hoping/expecting to be happening?
  • What happens next?

Happy Writing!

~MJ

If you enjoyed this prompt, consider giving Petey a treat for waiting so patiently while I created this post!

5 Critical Tips for Writing Short Stories

In my role as first reader of an online speculative fiction magazine, I have truly been blown away by all of the things that I’m learning about regarding the story selection process. So many well-written stories get rejected because they do not adhere to these 5 simple, but not all-inclusive, standards below.

1) Make everything that happens in your story matter

Eliminate extraneous details, if you say it once, it’s enough. And be concise with dialogue and descriptions, purple language and paragraphs of backstory doesn’t get brownie points if it doesn’t enhance the story/arc.

2) If it’s critical to understanding the punchline, make it clear in the narrative

The most unfortunate thing is getting a really well-written story with a fuzzy/muddled plot. Make it clear what you’re trying to say with your story, don’t veil it in mystery.

3) Foreshadow twist endings

It really sucks to read an amazing story with great characters and action and then BAM! Something crazy happens at the end that comes completely out of nowhere. While this may seem like something clever to do, it’s almost guaranteed to end in rejection. Foreshadowing is paramount to twist endings. Something in the twist needs to tie back to the rest of the story and tension build-up.

4) Avoid a setup that is too convenient or too disconnected

Too many well-written stories move the plot along in ways that feel too convenient to be believable or are too disconnected to make sense, and this eliminates the tension in the story. The solution really boils down to adequate foreshadowing. Anything can be written in a story, especially genres like speculative fiction or magical realism, but just make sure your critical plot points are adequately foreshadowed.

5) Make your character motivations clear early in the story

If I can’t connect with your character, then I honestly don’t care what they’re about to go through in the next 5000 words. Make it clear to your reader what your character wants early in the story so we can view what happens to them from their perspective and understand why they do/think/say/respond the way they do.

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful in your writing and publishing journey! Thank you for being a member!

Happy Writing!

~MJ


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Monthly Writing Prompt | April 2022

The screen in front of you riles so many emotions within you, you’re not exactly sure where to even begin sorting them out. Images of the past flutter up from somewhere you’ve managed to keep tightly locked up until now. And tomorrow weighs heavy on you.

***

Muse Stimulators:

What is the POV looking at?
Where are they?
What is the past event that happened to the POV?
Why are they worried about tomorrow?
What do they do next?

Happy Writing!
~MJ

If you enjoyed this prompt, consider giving Petey a treat for waiting so patiently while I created this post!

Monthly Writing Prompt | March 2022

There’s a whisper on the breeze, and if your heart wasn’t pounding so hard in your ears you might be able to make it out. You fight to calm your breath and look around at where you are, hoping to find out what else might be here with you.

***

Muse Stimulators

Is this place familiar to the POV?
How and why are they here?
What is the whisper on the breeze?
Is something else is here with the POV?
How does this experience differ from what POV expected?

Happy Writing!
~MJ

If you enjoyed this prompt, consider giving Petey a treat for waiting so patiently while I created this post!

ARC Review | Edgewater Road – By Shelley Shepard Gray

Edgewater Road by Shelley Shepard Gray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


When Jennifer Smiley, a work-from-home introvert, moves into her late grandmother’s home, she’s unsure what to expect. Going through all the boxes, she discovers there’s more to her family’s past than she thought. Her ex-con neighbor, John Lincoln Bennett, seems to know a lot about it, which she soon learns has more implications for her heart than she ever could have imagined.

I received this book as an ARC, courtesy of Edelweiss. Light romance books hold a special place in my heart, as they were about the only thing available to keep a homeschooled adolescent growing up in a conservative Christian house during puberty sane. It’s been a while since I read one, so I was excited to be approved for this one.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It’s very well-written and both Jennifer and Lincoln’s character voices are very strong and engaging. I can identify with Jennifer’s character a lot, as I find myself exhibiting introverted tendencies and both dreading and craving the opportunity to go out and meet people. Jennifer is cooped up alone during the snowy season (reason enough not to want to venture out), but her neighbor, Lincoln, makes it his duty to make sure her driveway is shoveled, and no one bothers her or threatens her, and of course friendship, and then a romance, blooms from there.

There are some very endearing moments and some fun humor as well throughout the book. Shelley delivers a powerful message in that even ex-cons deserve second chances, and there is good to be found in people who have made mistakes. There’s also a nice dose of the opposite too, that there can be a lot of bad in people who have never gotten caught for theirs.

There’s even a cat named Clyde who I firmly believe is evil, but the author captured a strong character voice for Clyde too that managed to exert itself in the best of places, just like a cat would, with no apologies.

While I definitely see the good neighbor aspect of Lincoln’s actions, I felt on multiple occasions in the book that Lincoln was a bit pushy and condescending for my comfort, invading her personal space uninvited multiple times and just making her life his business without her consent. He even thinks a couple times that her naivete is attractive to him, which just screams misogynist. While we see from his perspective that he is very caring and has all the best intentions, he came off a bit controlling for my tastes.

There were a few threads in here too that didn’t seem fully fleshed out. Jennifer’s family is definitely a bit dodgy, there are a few things Jennifer finds as she is cleaning out the house and barn, and there are a few people who come into the story that are very brow-raising. These things seem to foreshadow some major reveals later on, but then they just kind of fizzle out and don’t go anywhere, which I found a little disappointing.

All in all, though, this book was very engaging, the characters are both strong, and it’s an immersive read. If you enjoy light romance with the protector/damsel trope, I think you will enjoy this one.

Edgewater Road is being published by Blackstone Publishing and is available for purchase tomorrow, 1 March!


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Happy Writing!

~MJ & Petey

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ARC Review | The Mozart Code – Rachel McMillan

The Mozart Code by Rachel McMillan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This book follows two former Bletchley intelligence operatives, Simon and Sophia, as they navigate their way around the spy-ring in cold war era Vienna and Prague. Both from aristocratic upbringing and sharing a complicated past, their secrets, and the dangers that pursue them will be the ultimate test for their bond of friendship, loyalty, and love.

I received this as an ARC, courtesy of Edelweiss, and was very excited to read it. I really enjoy reading historical novels, especially WW2 and spy novels.

Rachel McMillan has done a brilliant job painting the historical setting, weaving in lots of authentic imagery, culture, and political tension for these locations and times, and she has given us two main characters with backstories that fit really well inside this arena.

The story is well written and engaging, but I found myself a bit lost trying to keep up with all of the secondary and tertiary characters; at least five of which contributed very little to the story or plot in my opinion and could have been eliminated entirely to recover some word count to flesh out the two main characters a bit more. There were so many names and small “side quests” that it was hard to pin down what was important and what wasn’t, so by the end when everything started to get serious, I wasn’t as connected with these characters and invested in their safety and well-being as I wanted to be for this lengthy of a book. Especially Sophia, who is renowned for finding rare objects, but then we never get to see how she does that, she’s just asked to find an item and then she magically has it within the next few pages. I didn’t feel really grounded in what was happening, who was making moves, or what the stakes were.

The relationship between Simon and Sophia was interesting and complex, and I really enjoyed the flashbacks into their past and the little clues revealed there that played into the present tension and what they were doing there together. I thought that was done well and gave us a really nice picture of how lives can be completely upended by war.

There was a lot of exciting suspense and buildup to the main romantic entanglement that got me really turning the pages to see what happened next, but the culmination of that tension was a bit underwhelming. I can respect that an author wants to write a clean romance, but this one could have gone a little further and still remained well within those boundaries. Their relationship for the rest of the book followed that vein. These two went through one challenging ordeal after the other in the last 40 pages but Simon and Sophia’s response in each case was a bit underdeveloped for me and hard to connect with.

Rachel McMillan is clearly a very talented author who knows how to weave a very complex narrative with lots of players and create a beautiful, authentic setting to immerse the reader in, but this one wasn’t as engaging for me personally, but for readers looking for a well-researched historical narrative and light romance, this is a good read.

The Mozart Code is being published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing and hits shelves 15 March 2022.

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Happy Writing!

~MJ & Petey

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