Why You Need to Read Books

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I always find it strange that people need to be convinced to read. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books. For me, books have always been magic, gateways to other worlds, other lives. They’re adventures and dreams, knowledge and potential, all packed into conveniently portable packages. Forget apps–no matter what you want or need at any given moment in life, there’s a book for it. How could anyone not instantly see the value in that?

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And yet… According to the Pew Research Center, 26% of American adults have admitted to not reading even part of a book in the last year (and I’m sure the numbers are similar in Canada). Clearly a lot of people don’t realize they’re missing out.

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If magic, knowledge, and adventure aren’t enough to get you interested, maybe I should also mention that:

Yale researchers found that people who read books for 30 minutes a day live longer than those who read magazines or who don’t read at all.

(This reminds me of an old Twilight Zone episode where someone was reading a book in parts to their elderly relative, always leaving the story on a cliffhanger to keep the person hanging on well beyond a normal lifespan. #goals)

Successful people read (and they share some of their favourite books here).

People who read short stories are more open-minded and creative, according to a University of Toronto study.

Need a short story to get you started? How about “Blood Magic,” available free here, and at other online booksellers!

BLOOD MAGIC by Aspasia S. Bissas

You can read more about the benefits of reading books here, or you can just pick up a book and find out for yourself.

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Today is also World Book and Copyright Day! It’s the perfect day to start a reading habit or to encourage others to start one. How will you be celebrating? Share in the comments.

Lastly, the Copyright Act is under review in Canada. The current Act has allowed copying of copyrighted works to the extent that Canadian creators and publishers have had their royalties decline by 80% since 2012. I urge everyone to read more about it here, and to show your support for Canadian writers and creators (like me) by sharing the message on social media using the following hashtags: #IValueCdnStories #CreativeCanada #ValueGap #INDU #cdnpoli #WBCD2018 #worldbookday2018 #worldbookandcopyrightday

Last Meal

I’ve never given much thought to last meals. As something one generally doesn’t get to choose, it’s a topic that, for me, ranges from pointless to depressing (I’d much rather think about my next meal). But others find it a fascinating subject, agonizing in detail over what they would have, or in the case of J.B. Gish over at Quirk Books, what famous literary characters might have.

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Gish has imagined Hermione Granger, imprisoned for identity theft by unknown means, would have boomslang skin, lacewing flies, a bit of a guard’s hair, and the rest of the ingredients for Polyjuice Potion (imagine making that request). Meanwhile Shadow Moon (American Gods) might opt for a more conventional last meal of cheeseburger, fries, and American beer.

In the spirit of pure speculation, I’ve given some consideration to what my character Mara (Love Lies Bleeding) would have eaten for her last meal as a human before she was forced to convert to an all-blood diet. As the daughter of an upper-class English Knight in Medieval Ireland, Mara would have had access to higher quality food than the average person. Her last meal would have been a typical everyday light supper in her household (at least for her and her father–the servants likely didn’t eat as well).

Mara’s Last Supper

  • wheat bread with fresh butter
  • fish stew made with onions, parsnips, trout, bacon, and wild garlic and herbs that Mara foraged
  • baked apples with honey and currants
  • wine

What do you think–is it a good last meal?

And because I couldn’t talk about food without including recipes, here are some modern versions of Mara’s last supper:

soda bread

Irish Soda Bread (Brown Bread)

fish stew

Irish Fish Stew

baked apples

Honey Baked Apples with Raisins and Cinnamon

(Note: I haven’t tried these recipes, so let me know if you do and how they turned out.)

You can read more about Mara in my new FREE short story “Blood Magic,” available for download at Smashwords and other online booksellers. And if you haven’t already, now is a great time to also get a copy of my novel Love Lies Bleeding. Happy reading (and eating)!

BLOOD MAGIC by Aspasia S. Bissas

Should You Write What You Know?

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It’s been repeated so many times it’s cliché: write what you know.

But is it true?

 

Do you agree with William T. Vollmann, who said that you should indeed write what you know, and that you should also have as many experiences as possible in order to expand your knowledge?

Or do you believe Kazuo Ishiguro, who said writing what you know results in writing “a dull autobiography,” and essentially leads authors to stunt their imaginations and potential?

Or maybe you side with Ursula K. Le Guin, who absolutely agreed that you should write what you know, as long as you have a flexible definition of “know” (she happened to know quite a lot about alien planets, dragons, and the distant future).

You might even think Nathan Englander has a good point when he says you should write what you know–emotionally. (This actually is excellent advice–writing about an emotion you’ve never felt might seem like a good idea, but the sentiments will be obviously hollow to readers who have experienced it.)

For me, I think American author Meg Wolitzer sums it up best: write what obsesses you.

And I’ll also add: because writing should be about passion. When I wrote my first novel, what I knew was English Literature, so I wrote literary fiction. And there was nothing wrong with what I produced (I might even still publish it one day), except that the dark, macabre, supernatural things that warmed my geeky heart kept creeping into my early work. Now, it’s perfectly fine for a little para to mix with the normal, but when I realized those were the parts I enjoyed writing (and reading) most, I decided to focus on what obsessed me, starting with vampires, my lifelong fascination. I think my work is better now, and I certainly enjoy it more.

Whether you decide to write about what you know or not, you should always start from a place of passion, obsession, or love. Because if you’re not excited about what you’re writing, why bother?

If you want to see more about what authors have to say on this subject, check out this article on Literary Hub.

Going Solo

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According to a BBC article, recent research has confirmed that alone time is good for your concentration, health, and creativity. Is anyone else not remotely surprised? Any introvert can tell you that spending time on your own is a necessity, particularly when it comes to creative pursuits.

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As much as I enjoy spending time with friends, I seem to never be able to get any writing done when I do. Even if it’s only for a couple of hours, socializing drains me, leaving no energy to think, let alone create. I’m not advocating for isolation (unless that’s your thing), but the more time I spend being social, the more appealing the hermit lifestyle starts to look.

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I’m always a little skeptical of people in creative fields who are extroverts. The extroverts I know are constantly on the run, always social, always busy. When do they find time to create? How do they focus? I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s difficult to picture someone coming home from a party and feeling inspired to do anything other than sleep it off.

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I’m still trying to find a balance between spending time with the people I care about and getting the necessary solitude I need to create. Sometimes I wish texting counted as socializing, or that I could carry on a conversation while mentally working on a chapter or two. How about you–are you an introvert or extrovert? What helps or hinders your creativity? Share in the comments.

When Publishers Pass You By

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When I was much younger and just beginning to realize that I wanted a future as a writer, I had starry-eyed notions of a major publisher recognizing my talent and jumping to offer me a contract (with a generous advance, of course). Yeah, not so much. Instead I have a pile of rejection letters, mostly of the form variety, some with encouraging words about how my writing is good (just not quite right for them). I had to learn the hard way that being a good writer isn’t enough to get published. In fact, sometimes you don’t even have to be able to write at all as long as you have a big enough name to guarantee sales. Depressing doesn’t even begin to cover it.

A recent article in the Washington Post shares how Madeleine L’Engle and other well-known writers have suffered rejection over their careers. So how to deal with it when it happens to you?

Like L’Engle, stick to your vision. Don’t compromise your work to suit the industry’s sometimes narrow definitions of salable. Your readers are out there, even if your book is genre defying and a little odd (something readers are a lot more open to than publishers).

Like J.K. Rowling, keep persisting. Just because 12 publishers reject your book doesn’t mean 13 won’t be your lucky number.

Like Beatrix Potter, do it yourself. Self publishing has been around a long time and is only getting bigger. When traditional publishers have let you down (or you don’t even want to bother with them in the first place), don’t be afraid to go the indie route (which is what I did with my dark fantasy novel, Love Lies Bleeding).

Whatever you do, don’t let rejections get to you. They are common, they are inevitable, and they don’t reflect the quality of your work or you as a person. Just remember: a good story will find a way.

How do you deal with professional rejection? Share in the comments.