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Sarah's World of Books and Writing

On Leaving

I moved out of residence today. My last exam was yesterday, and campus is closing  tonight. It was a rush to get all of my stuff  packed up into boxes and bags, to mooch rides off friends to get my stuff into the house I’m renting for next year (since I don’t have a car and it’s a pretty decent walk from res to my new house).  All the business and work kept me distracted from what I didn’t want to face: leaving.

But now I’m comfortably seated on my friend’s couch, alone in the apartment, and leaving is catching up with me.

Goodbyes are hard.

It’s hard to part with people who you love, who can make you laugh until your eyes water and your abs hurt. It’s hard to leave a place where there are so many memories, both good and bad. It’s hard to accept that things won’t be the way they were, that I won’t be the same person I was, when I come back in the fall.

Over the past two weeks I have said goodbye to a lot a good friends, some of them only for the next four months, others who I may never see again. I’m not going to lie and say that this year has in any way been easy for me, but it was my friends, the people who were there for me and who let me be there for them that made this year good. And saying goodbye to them is hard.

But on the bright side, I’m now on summer vacation and I get to go home and see my family and friends there. Leaving is not easy, but the flip side of leaving is going. And going means a new adventure, a new place, and so much more to learn and do.

Here is a good parting song, for any of you who may also be leaving (or being left behind): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5rpOXS9O8Q

Lent

Before I dive into this post, if you’re not really sure what Lent is or you want a quick refresher, I’d recommend reading this short article, which hits the main points of what Lent is and why Christians often observe it.

I grew up in the Anglican church, and so from a very young age I knew about Lent, and when I got older I often observed Lent. I really love the traditions, the rich symbolism, and the beautiful prayers that accompany the Lenten season. However, I found that in the small town where I am now living, the Anglican church wasn’t meeting my needs. I had no friends there, and found it hard to integrate with the community.

A lot of my friends who are a part of Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship go to a baptist church a short drive away from town, and I have started to go there as well. For the most part, I have enjoyed it. But, as with every church and every denomination, there are a few things that they do that I don’t 100% agree with. That’s just a part of life and faith, and as we read in the New Testament many times, we must remember the big, important things that bring us together, and not be torn apart by small and petty disagreements (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 1:10, James 1: 26 – 2:13…).

All of that said, there is some antagonism towards liturgical* churches that I find present in almost every other protestant or non-denominational church I go to (and the liturgical churches are just as guilty of judging other denominations, too. We are all fallen humans, all equally sinful and all equally in need of Jesus’ forgiveness). It is not typically said outright, but it is still there in subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ways.

*liturgical, i.e. they follow a liturgy – a specific set of prayers and responses – for each service. For example, Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran churches are all liturgical.

Which brings me to my main point for this post. Today in church, the pastor felt obligated to talk a little bit about Lent. It was not a main focus of the sermon by any means since Baptist Churches don’t typically observe Lent. Since I have found Lent to be a very important time of spiritual growth for me each year, I was happy it was mentioned – the more people who know about it, the more who can experience all the good that can come out it. I did not, however, appreciate the one-sided view of Lent that was offered by the pastor. He said that most Baptists don’t really think Lent is a big deal (which, from what I have seen, is true), and then he said that really we should not just set aside Lent to be living close to God, but already be doing so every day.

First of all, he is not wrong, we should be living every day of our lives lead by the Holy Spirit, dedicating each day and each action to Christ, and daily spending time reading the Bible and praying. However, there was a bit of an implication in the way that he said it that those who observe Lent use it as a way to work hard at being a “good Christian” for about a month every year, and then spend the rest of the year doing whatever they want. Essentially working their way to salvation, which is contrary to the whole message of the Gospel – that Jesus has already paid the price for us, and now He is offering us a free gift of grace if we believe in Him. I think it is unhelpful to assume that those who observe Lent are trying to save themselves through their actions and not through faith.

Second, I think that there is great merit in dedicating some time to intense fasting, prayer, and reflection. It’s actually quite a Biblical concept, and Jesus Himself fasted in the desert for forty days (Matthew 4:1-11), not to mention all the times in Acts where it is mentioned that the apostles spent time fasting before making a major decision, and the many examples of fasting as a way of repenting and connecting with God in the Old Testament. I think that discarding Lenten observations as “something we should already be doing”  cheapens the power that such actions can have. Giving up something you love (like chocolate or Netflix) and/or committing to spend a certain amount of time each day praying, reading the Bible, or spending time with God in some other way, is a way of physically showing God (and showing yourself) how committed and serious you are about Him. When I was in Albania two years ago, I heard one woman put it like this: “When I pray, it is like I am fighting the devil with one hand, but when I fast and pray, I can fight him with both fists.”

Third, observing Lent is a good thing to do, but do you have to do it to be a “good Christian”? No! Absolutely not! Salvation is not through our actions, but rather through our deep-down beliefs. These are the beliefs around which we base our whole lives. Our M.O. Our raison d’être.

I’d like to finish with a challenge:

  • To those who are already committed to observing Lent this year, spend time with God today reflecting on why you are doing this. Ask yourself if you are doing it because it’s what you’re supposed to do at this time of year, or maybe you’re trying to get into God’s “good books” somehow (hint: if you believe Jesus died and rose again to forgive your sins and you have accepted Him as your saviour, you’re already in God’s good books). Ask God to show you something new over the next weeks, ask Him to fill you with His love, and thank him for what He has done for you.
  • To those who have never observed Lent before, spend some time today asking God if it is something that you should take on. Maybe it is not right for you at this time, I don’t know, but God does. Listen to what He has to say to you, and thank Him for his amazing love and sacrifice.

Lastly, if you want some further reading on Lent, I really liked what Steve Bell had to say in his blog post last week.

I hope that you found this post helpful and thought-provoking. Please comment below with your thoughts. I’m a fan of good discussions, and this is a topic that I love to talk about. Happy Sunday!

Home for Reading Week!

Happy Monday, readers!

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Keeping up with blogging is hard when I’m so busy with school. But this week is reading week! And I am home for seven whole days! So far it has been very nice to see my family and my dog 😀

Last week was a crazy time at school because we had two huge blizzards, so university only opened for two days! It was kinda like having a mini reading week before the real one started.

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Struggling through the storm. This was not even the heaviest snowfall we had that day!

Stay safe and warm, friends!

Beautiful Books: 2017 Writing Goals

I’m back at university, friends! I had my first day of classes, which is always a bit of a shock to the system after a break, but it went well! And to really kick off the blogging in 2017, I am joining in the Beautiful Books linkup hosted by Cait and Skye.

Let’s get started, shall we?

1. What were your writing achievements last year?

To be completely honest, last year was a pretty rough year all around. I had a lot going on, and university took up a large majority of my time and energy. I was so burnt out and busy that when I did have time to write, I often didn’t, because writing took brain power that I simply didn’t have to spare. So, not much was achieved in the way of words on paper or words typed, but I did write a few short stories and work on the rough draft of a novel, and I did some editing.

2. What’s on your writerly “to-do list” for 2017?

I need to finish off several pieces for a creative writing portfolio that I have to submit in order to take a really cool creative writing seminar that I want to get into next year. The portfolio is due in February, and not much work happened on it over the Christmas break, so we’ll see how that goes. It sounds like a pretty competitive course, so I’m not sure I will get accepted, but here’s to hoping and hard work!

In terms of year-long goals, I hope to re-visit edits on the still-untitled Emily Knight novel, and finish the first draft of Sidekick/Hero.

3. Tell us about your top-priority writing projects for this year!

This is kind of the same as my to-do list. I have several short (very short) stories to polish up, and several novels sitting waiting for me to write them. 😀

4. How do you hope to improve as a writer? Where do you see yourself at the end of 2017?

I always hope to become a better storyteller the more writing I do. Specifically this year, I want to improve my story structures and plots. By the end of 2017 I would like to have a draft of a novel that I feel has a great overall plot and solid structure, even if the surface is a typo-ridden waffle.

5. Describe your general editing process.

I generally edit by re-reading my whole piece of work to remind myself of what I actually wrote, and compare my mental impression and sparse notes from that re-read to what I actually intended to write.

Then I go through all the scenes I have and ask myself if they are helping the story along towards the climax, or if they need to be moved or deleted or changed, and I also ask myself if any new scenes need to be added in.

Sometimes this means that I end up starting a new word document and completely re-writing the story once I have a better idea of how I want it to flow.

I basically repeat that process until I either:

a) feel satisfied with the story

b) never want to think about that story ever again (i.e. it’s not worth the time and effort)

c) run out of time and have to return to *real* life AKA I go back to school/uni

6. On a scale of 1-10, how do you think this draft turned out?

Seeing as I didn’t do NaNoWriMo this November because I like to keep up my impression of a vaguely human person, it either went great or terrible! Either way, it doesn’t exist. So we’re just going to skip over the next few questions about the novel I didn’t write and jump straight to…

10. What’s your top piece of advice for those just finished writing a first draft?

My top advice for those writing a first draft is: don’t be afraid to make mistakes! The first draft is never perfect, and that is ok. The most important thing for first drafts is to get all your ideas and words out onto the paper. Then you can start to work with them to make your rough draft into a smooth draft.

 

Do you have a writing goal or a goal for one of your other hobbies/passions for 2017? Tell me about it in the comments below!

Book Review: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick features two deaf characters and their stories, one told entirely through gorgeous hand-drawn pictures, the other in prose. The pictures make the book very fat, which looks daunting on a shelf, but it only took me about three hours to read.

It is beautiful and sweet and heartwarming, and the type of book that is better to dive into knowing very little. I can say without spoilers that is one of the best books featuring a deaf character I have ever read. And not just one, but two deaf characters!

Honestly, I can’t think of any other books I’ve read with a deaf protagonist. I tend to stay away from “issue books” and contemporary novels, and disabled characters are not very prominent in sci-fi/fantasy novels. It was also nice to read a well-written MG* novel with a simple plot and complex, thought-provoking themes. I read it over Christmas break, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

~~~Minor Spoilers Ahead~~~

One of the things that I loved about this book was how Being Deaf was not The Main Problem of the book. It’s more about family and friendship and grief and self-discovery than it is about not being able to hear.

I also liked that learning sign language didn’t come easily to the characters, particularly Ben, just because he became deaf. I know from experience that it is not easy to learn a whole new language, especially ASL since it is so different from verbal languages and has its own syntax and grammar separate from other languages. It would have been easy for the author to have Ben instantly learn how to communicate perfectly with the hearing population, but Selznick takes the harder, more realistic route, which I really appreciated.

As for things I wasn’t a huge fan of, I did find that I had to employ suspension of disbelief a bit more than I would have liked during the book, particularly with how easily the characters could sneak around without getting caught, and the odds of all the characters intersecting how they did at the end seemed pretty low to me. But then again it wouldn’t make a very good story if everything was still confusing and inconclusive at the end, would it?

This book even made me get a bit misty-eyed at the end, which doesn’t happen often for me in books. Overall, this is a book that I will continue to think and reflect on for a long time, and I strongly recommend it to everyone. Especially those looking for a short read with a unique format and complex, realistic, and sweet characters.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

 

*MG – Middle Grade. Typically features pre-teen characters, aimed at children aged 8-12 (ish). Think The Chronicles of Narnia and the first three Harry Potter books.

Dear 2016

Dear 2016,

What a year you have been!

I got to visit my sisters in Prince Edward Island in February for the winter term reading week.

I sold flowers at a plant stand with the nicest bosses ever! They periodically bought us hot chocolate (or coffee) on cold, rainy mornings, and Iced Capps and Powerade on the hottest days. Plus on slow business days I could just sit among the flowers and read books, which was amazing.

I worked in a camp kitchen for three weeks, which was very hot and a lot of hard work, but it was also a lot of fun.

I helped out with orientation week for the first years at my university, which was like camp but with 18 year-olds.

I saw the little children’s choir I accompany double in size.

I wrote 18 midterms, 9 final exams, three major lab reports, one paper, and countless small assignments and quizzes.

I learned how to program in Java.

I became the proud owner of a baritone ukulele.

I became a die-hard fan of two book trilogies (Red Rising by Pierce Brown and CS Lewis’ Space Trilogy) and one amazing book series (The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch).

I became addicted to Brooklyn-99 and Grey’s Anatomy thanks to my next-door neighbour in dorm who has Netflix.

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You haven’t been the easiest year or the best year, 2016, but I do have a lot to be thankful for! The list above is a small snapshot of all the great adventures I got to have and all the things I got to do in the past 366 days.

May the Lord bless us and keep us in the next 365. May His light and love fill our hearts, and may we grow closer to him in the coming days, weeks, and months.

Here’s to 2017!

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Magical Creatures and How to Become a Hufflepuff

Blog friends!!! I am back home from a very busy semester at university. In celebration of exam survival, I splurged and bought myself the official screenplay of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them in the Toronto airport on the way home. It was a fantastic read (pun intended), so I figured I’d do you all the benefit of reviewing both the book and the movie right here on my blog.

Le Film:

I watched this movie with friends on opening night in the old fashioned one-room movie theatre downtown. The Vogue Cinema is an experience all by itself, but perhaps a post for another day. Anyways… I had mixed expectations going in. I wanted it tfantastic_beasts_and_where_to_find_them_postero be amazing and awesome and perfect in every way, but I was also very nervous about the movie just being a money-grab for the already massive franchise. I also was well aware that though it is set in the Potterverse, none of my beloved characters were likely to show up.

Despite my trepidation, Fantastic Beasts met all my wild expectations. It was sweet, heartwarming, intense, fast-paced, hilarious, and sad. The cinematography was beautiful, and the acting was awesome, especially Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Newt. I can hardly find words to describe how happy I am with the score. James Newton Howard did an amazing job of tying in the familiar motifs from the Harry Potter soundtracks with his own sweeping new themes. I’ll admit I got a bit teary-eyed when Hedwig’s Theme started playing over the Warner Brothers’ logo at the very beginning.

Overall, I’d give this movie a solid 4 stars. As far as Harry Potter movies go, it is one of my favourites. I’m also not complaining about the planned 4 more films in the Fantastics Beasts series. After seeing the first movie, I have confidence that they can pull the series off without the ideas getting old or cheap.

Le Book:

As I said earlier, I bought the screenplay of the movie in the Toronto airport when I was flying home for the holidays. It was a great investment, even though it was a fairly expensive impulse buy. The cover is gorgeous, and under the dust jacket the cover has a little golden niffler, which is absolutely adorable. I, like Ron, wish I had a niffler.giphy

Reading the screenplay was a lot of fun. It was like watching the movie all over again, except this time I could pause and go back and re-read things. I also picked up on a lot of really cool details that I didn’t even notice the first time I watched the film. I found the style a bit abrupt and distracting at first, since I don’t read a lot of scripts or screenplays, but once I was a few scenes in I was able to forget the format of what I was reading and become happily lost in the story itself. I’m glad I bought the screenplay, and I really want to read it and watch the movie again.

Les Spoilers:

DON’T READ PAST THIS POINT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE YET!!!

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Consider yourself warned.

First things first, the big reveal that Mr. Graves was actually Grindelwald was not super surprising to me, partly because I’d already heard a theory that Grindelwald was going to be a main antagonist in the film. My suspicions that Graves was Grindelwald were pretty much confirmed when he gave Credence a deathly hallows pendant. Who else would give a kid a hallows necklace? Aside from maybe Xenophilius Lovegood. I wasn’t a fan of his overly pale appearance and bleach-white hair, since in the books he’s described as being reasonably handsome, but that is a pretty minor complaint.

My only quibble with the movie was how dark it was. Mary Lou’s abuse of her adoptive children was really disturbing, as was the stuff about obscurials. The idea of a dark force overtaking a child and causing them to murder people is truly horrifying. Also, the death chamber was seriously messed up. Graves’ ability to sentence someone to death without a trial is very bad. And yes, it was the 1920’s, and yes, Graves was actually Grindelwald so of course he wouldn’t have any qualms about killing two innocent people, but the two executioners who just merrily went along with it shows some serious corruption in the American magical government.

On a lighter note, my absolute favourite part of the whole movie is the scene where Newt and Jacob go inside Newt’s case. It is so wonderful, and all the creatures are super cool, and Jacob and Newt become friends and asdfasdfasdf it’s just so awesome! Does anybody else want to have a thunderbird? It’s like if Buckbeak could start thunderstorms! SO COOL! House Thunderbird for the win!

And now for some theorizing! Do you guys think that Credence was destroyed along with his obscurial at the end? Personally I think he is still alive somewhere. And that he is somehow related to Tina. Her son, maybe, or her nephew. Also, do you think that Ariana developed an obscurial? And how come Harry wasn’t one? He was abused and had to repress his magic just like Ariana and Credence.

On a slightly unrelated note, does Canada have a Ministry of Magic separate from MACUSA? I know Ilvermorny is THE North American wizarding school, which raises all sorts of questions about visas and immigration and studying abroad for Canadian witches and wizards, but surely Canada has its own M.O.M.. As a Canadian these are things I would really like to know.

Overall, Fantastic Beasts is a great story. An easy 4/5 stars, and a movie I highly recommend to any and all Harry Potter fans.

The Writer’s Life Tag!

I was tagged to do this by the ever-amazing Tracey Dyck. I love doing tags during the school year because they are so easy to put together, which is a huge time-saver for me. Speaking of time… on to the questions!

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Write-fuel: What do you eat/drink while writing?

Nothing! I find that I get too distracted by the food or tea or whatever and can’t get any words down. Plus once I’m in the writing zone, I tend to forget about the outside world, and then my tea gets both cold and over-steeped. I also have a fear of clumsily spilling it all over my laptop and loosing everything. It happened to one of my friends at school this year and it was really bad.

Write-sounds: What do you listen to while writing?

Anything and everything! I listen to whatever I feel like, and I usually put on a playlist of songs I already know or love, or a movie soundtrack. For example, I listened to Chicago by Sufjan Stevens, In My Arms by Jon Foreman, and Yellow and Clocks by Coldplay while typing up this post.

Write-vice: What’s your most debilitating distraction?

YouTube! Or really anything on the internet. It’s a distracting place, and I procrastinate writing more than anything else. Is that a cat video in the sidebar?

Write-horror: What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you while writing?

Writer’s block. I know it’s not a physical thing, but there is nothing worse than sitting down to pump out some awesome words and ending up staring at the screen in defeat for half an hour.

Write-joy: What’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you while writing, or how do you celebrate small victories?

I love finishing things! I love finally writing scenes I’ve been envisioning in my head for months. I love those writing sessions where I get completely wrapped up in my own story and I almost forget that I’m the one writing it. I usually celebrate things by doing a little victory dance.

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Write-crew: Who do you communicate with or not communicate with while writing?

While I’m writing, I tend to talk to nobody, because it’s hard to multitask holding a conversation and writing. When I’m not writing, I usually bounce ideas off of my writing friends  online, but whenever I happen to be in the same province/country as them I love talking face-to-face with real-live friends (it’s a rare occurrence, I know).

Write-secret: What’s your writing secret to success or hidden flaw?

Define “success.”* My hidden (or not-so-hidden) flaw is that I am a perfectionist, which makes it hard for me to even start writing a lot of the time, because I’m afraid of not getting it “just right.”

*We spent a whole week in my philosophy class this semester discussing what success was. It was painful to say the least. The answer? Who knows! : /

Write-spiration: What always makes you productive?

Nothing makes me more productive than a random bout of inspiration on a day where I have time to write. Inspiration could come from anywhere, but I find it usually comes from interesting books/movies/news stories that get me thinking “what if…”

Write-peeve: What’s one thing writers do (or you do) that’s annoying?

Over-dramatizing the writer’s life. I find that on a lot of writing blogs, my own included, we writers tend to over-emphasize how weird and crazy we are. I’ll be the first to say that writing is awesome, but being a writer doesn’t justify being rude or anti-social because you think you’re a Fancy Introverted Writer with Magical Writing Powers and everything must be Just So for those powers to work so magically. Like I said, I’m guilty of doing this myself, and really it’s my own insecurities and self-doubt showing through when I think that I need to emphasize how Writerly I am because I do x, y, and z. Really we writers are just people. People who like telling stories, a lot.

I tag:

You! Go forth an be tagged!

 

Thanks for stopping by! What write-things do you do when you need to get some work done? Tell me below in the comments!

Life and Other Crazy Things

Hello dearest readers!

Sorry for the long silence here on the blog! Turns out second year of university is much busier than first year (I honestly hadn’t thought it was possible to be more busy than I was last year, but turns out I was wrong).

But I have finally got my act together (aka I don’t have midterms for a solid two weeks) and have found some free time to ramble at you all for a bit. 🙂

Since we last talked, I have read Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett (which, by the way, is a sidesplittingly hilarious work of art), developed a mild addiction to Brooklyn-99 (not helped by my neighbour’s Netflix account), and done a LOT of studying.

As for writing, it just hasn’t been happening lately. I find that by the time Sunday rolls around, which is the one day that I tell myself I am NOT ALLOWED to do work, I am often too tired for the critical thinking writing requires, or I am out having fun with friends, or a hundred other things that aren’t blogging or working on my various writing projects.

And honestly, that’s ok. Life is busy, and blogging regularly is something that I just have to accept won’t happen this year.

 

Let’s chat! How has the start of your “school year” been? What great books have you read lately?

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