Writing, Writing Exercise

Writer Igniter Prompt: The Masked Magician

Good morning, friends!

Today’s post is inspired by the diyMFA writer igniter. I have used this tool a handful of times and want to start using it more to build my writing habit.

diyMFA offers tons of info on writing, reading, and building your community. You will love it!

Today I am sharing a short (very short) story I wrote based on the igniter prompts.

My process involves:
1. shuffling the igniter tool
2. spending a minute or two thinking of an idea I want to explore
3. writing for five minutes to help force some words on paper
4. cleaning up the story and adding more details

Check out the video below to see the igniter in action. (Goal for this year: laptop upgrade. What are some good laptops for writers??)

I am starting simple with this practice. You can adjust it to your level – maybe you want to write for 15 minutes straight, or even longer!

After you are done writing, you can critique your own pieces to see what worked well and what didn’t, and also ask a trusted friend (note: this is the community part of the process) what their critiques are. I have put my own critiques below the story.

As I am about to start spring semester of graduate school, I will not be doing this particular exercise every day. Eventually, I do want to do a one-week challenge where I write a mini-story every day for seven days. Perhaps at the mid-semester break!

And remember, the igniter prompts are just that – prompts. If you are inspired to go a different direction once you start writing, who’s stopping you? The prompt police? It’s not a requirement.

One caveat is this: Doing an exercise that includes sticking to the actual prompts can help you branch out your knowledge base. For example, one time I had a prompt about a water polo referee.

My knowledge of water polo is pretty limited; luckily, the situation was that they were running into an ex in a quaint European village. I made the story about how a female referee was facing backlash for a questionable call, which she firmly believes she was in the right for. However, the foul she called was against her secret ex-lover. Fast forward to Europe, and she’s going to run into him at a women’s water polo tournament.

I actually want to explore that story more because I had fun with it. And that’s the goal! Having fun and building ourselves 🙂

Without further ado, on to today’s prompt!

The Masked Magician

This was shaping up to be the strangest party Isaac had ever been asked to work at.

Where even are we? he thought as the black sedan rolled into the “parking lot” – not so much a lot as it was a crunchy, rocky area where trucks and old cars were sitting.

“Boss, are you sure about this?” Isaac said to Bill, who was in the driver’s seat. Bill was a man of great repute; he had been a magician for decades and knew all the best spots.

This barn in the middle of nowhere – that looked like it could keel over at any time – was decidedly not the best spot.

“Of course,” Bill said, but Isaac noticed a drop of sweat on Bill’s upper lip and the way Bill’s hands clenched and unclenched the steering while, knuckles white. Bill unbuckled his seat belt and climbed out of the car and headed to the trunk of the car. “Props won’t unpack themselves, Isaac.”

Isaac nodded, even though he realized Bill couldn’t see him anymore. He sat in the car a minute longer and looked around.

Isaac had grown up in the city. He wasn’t used to the country life. He was fairly certain he had never even seen a real barn before. Maybe the fake one they put up for the Harvest Festival which was really just an excuse for people to party and drink, and he could perform his tricks and make a few bucks and no one would be any the wiser. He sighed and got out of the car.

“Hey, is this your mask?” Bill called.

“What?” Isaac asked as he came around the back of the car.

Isaac didn’t have time to look at whatever it was Bill was holding. Suddenly, a gunshot blasted from nowhere. Isaac dived for the ground. Bill lurched forward into the trunk. Time froze. Isaac heard distant laughter. If it was possible, Isaac also froze even more.

Who is shooting at us?  Isaac thought frantically.

That’s when he noticed it: the mask.

Bill must have dropped it and it fell to the ground. Something about the mask pulled Isaac in. He seemed to forget all about the gunshot and Bill’s dead body above him.

Isaac gingerly reached out to pick up the mask. It was white, perfectly white, on one side. The other side was black, and made him think of charcoal and night. The mask was light in his hands and pliable. He realized this mask was reversible.

Isaac was trying to decide which side to wear when a voiced hollered, “You boy! Are you coming to do the show, or what?”

Isaac looked towards the voice and saw an old man in overalls. As Isaac remembered where he was and what he was doing there, the severity of what had just happened hit him.

“I can’t. I have to take care of my friend.” It would occur to Isaac later that he didn’t ask for medical help.

“What friend?”

“Bill, he was just –“ Isaac turned back to the trunk of the car “-shot.” He grew angry as he faced the man again. “Where is he? What did you do with his body?”

“What body?”

Isaac’s heart raced. He squeezed his eyes, closed tight. Am I dreaming? Please let this be a dream.

“Best come inside before yer supper gets cold. Come on now.”

“I think I should go back.”

“How? You gonna walk 200 miles?”

Jesus had we really driven 200 miles to get to this dump?

“I’m leaving!” Isaac shouted. He turned to get the keys from Bill.

Crap, that’s right. Bill was gone.

And now the car was gone, too.

What the hell is going on? Isaac felt like he could have a breakdown any moment. Why were they playing games with him?

“Son, I don’t like havin’ to ask the same thing so many times,” the man said. He had come up next to Isaac and put his hand gently on Isaac’s shoulder. “Please come inside.”

The way the man said “please” struck Isaac as somehow endearing and threatening. Isaac looked down at the mask in his hands. A surge of anger and confusion went through him.

Isaac turned to follow the man into the barn. On the way, Isaac tried to decide what to do about Bill, their car, these weirdos in the middle of nowhere.

Isaac stopped on the outside of the big barn door and fiddled with his mask. He decided to wear the black side facing out – it seemed a little more mysterious.

Isaac vowed to seek vengeance as soon as he figured out what was going on.

Mask firmly in place, Isaac walked inside the barn.

Critiques: I like a good cliffhanger, so ending on this note felt natural to me. In a second draft, I would add more detail to the setting. What I wrote didn’t adequately explain what I was picturing in my head. Future me would also ask a friend for input. Someone with an outside perspective will have questions that you can answer in your writing; this will help the audience understand your vision. I picture the above scenario as the beginning of a story that would hopefully entice readers to continue reading and learn what happens next and what happened to Bill and the car. Also, oftentimes I like to read aloud what I wrote. This allows you to hear dialogue and now if it sounds natural or not.

Writing prompts can also be catalysts for bigger stories. Explore and enjoy the journey wherever it leads you!

I can’t wait to see what you create! Happy writing, friends!

Book Reviews

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman tells the story of Maria Owens – a young witch, afraid to fall in love, afraid to let anyone have power over her being.

I remember watching Practical Magic with my mom and my sister, thinking – obviously – how cool it would be to be able to do magic.

And did anyone else think those pancakes looked amazing??

I haven’t read Practical Magic, but I did previously read The Rules of Magic (which I also highly recommend). Honestly, I don’t know how I haven’t read PM yet… This will be my one and only 2021 new years resolution.

I digress.

Love is fickle, they say. Love is patient and kind.

I don’t know what I believe about love at this point in my life. I’m grappling with some personal things, so if I may be fully transparent, it was difficult for me to get into Magic Lessons because I did not want to think about love when I started reading it. It’s not a traditional romance novel, but the emotion of love in this story feels very strong to me. Any talk of heartbreak makes me want to bury my head in the sand, yet I persevered.

(I recently did two romance novels reviews and while I only briefly mentioned the above in one of those reviews, my sentiment holds true. It is very difficult sometimes for me to read about love. In a Holidaze was funny and The Right Swipe let me get out some of my online dating angst.)

But my favorite parts of this story would not exist without love – when Maria falls in love, when she is so tormented that she casts the now-famous (dare I say infamous?) curse on the Owens women, when her love for her daughter consumes her.

This tale takes the reader from England to Curacao and eventually Massachusetts and New York, meeting a slew of interesting characters along the way – some good, some bad.

Ultimately, this story reminds us that we must all decide to use our gifts for good or evil, for love or vengeance. Even the gifts that some people can’t see.

Alice Hoffman has written TONS of books that all look simply magical! Learn more about Alice Hoffman and her other works at her website.

Happy reading, friends!

Travel & Tourism, U.S. Destinations

A Morning at the Mobile Botanical Gardens

I recently visited the Mobile Botanical Gardens with my son! We were greeted by one of the on-site cats, provided some fish food for the little pond, and encouraged to head up the hill to visit the chickens. If that doesn’t entice you, it is also leashed-dog friendly!

The Mobile Botanical Gardens are known for their stunning and picturesque camellias. I strongly encourage you to read this article by the Smithsonian Institute Community of Gardens, which explains how camellias got their start in Alabama thanks to Kosaku Sawada, who went on to develop many beautiful hybrids.

A hungry and hard-working bee

The Mobile Botanical Gardens have been around since the 1970s. In 2019, they faced a closure due to lack of funds. I couldn’t find any documents online with details on raising the funds, but the community succeeded in one way or another because it is still open.

Gardens are an integral component of the community experience – many offer classes on gardening or food preparation, hold music events, and overall are an accessible and relatively inexpensive location to rejuvenate and enjoy nature. Where I live, the botanical gardens are located near a popular area within the city as well as within walking distance to a bus stop.

And a bonus – botanical gardens are often not crowded. Family-friendly and socially-distancing friendly!

Explore more at https://mobilebotanicalgardens.org/ and on their social media. This location is also part of the reciprocal admissions program.

Bonus content!

After the gardens, we did a to-go/curbside pickup order from Mobile’s one and only The Cheese Cottage to take home and share with family.

How scrumptious is that? I am down with almost any charcuterie situation. One day I’d like to eat there in-person to get the entire cheese and wine experience.

Safe travels, friends!

Book Reviews

Vicious by V. E. Schwab

Vicious tells the story of Victor and Eli: college buddies, roommates, handsome and intelligent, and striving for excellence.

And it presents an ultimate question – What will you do to be a hero?

Victor and Eli are ambitious. Their experiments in near-death experiences lead them down a path of no return. Will they go beyond the brink or will it be too late to stop each other?

I like to read on the back patio while my son plays outside.

This story was a fast read. The science-made-relative aspect reminded me a little of Michael Crichton and I liked that the chapters alternated storylines so we got to learn about each of the primary characters.

This book makes you think about what it means to be a hero or an anti-hero. Good vs evil and wrong vs right have a lot of grey area. Something that starts with the best intentions can still turn sour, and the worst situations can prevent interesting opportunities.

I am not a huge “superhero” fan. I like the old Superman movies and the Batman ones with Christian Bale, but I don’t own any comic books. Vicious was still a comfortable read to dip a toe into the proverbial waters of that world.

Learn more about V. E. Schwab and her other works – including Vengeful, the sequel to Vicious – on her website.

Happy reading, friends!

Book Reviews

The Binding by Bridget Collins

Happy 2021 to friends old and new! Oak + River Books’ first post of 2021 features historical fiction-meets-low fantasy novel The Binding. The author, Bridget Collins, has over a decade of published writing under her belt. Exploring more of her work is on my 2021 list of to-dos (note: not resolutions 🙂 ).

I purchased The Binding by Bridget Collins back in October, intrigued by the bookbinder aspect (which I am unfamiliar with) and, as always, lured by a pretty cover.

So purple!

Emmett Farmer is taken to a bookbinder’s home/shop to become their apprentice. The storyline twists and turns as we meet an assortment of interesting characters. The premise of the story is that books are off limits – telling you why would be a spoiler so you’ll have to dive in to find out.

Imagine being told books are bad then suddenly being sent off to learn how to make them. How confusing that would be!

In full transparency – I felt that the beginning had a few slow moments but the plot picks up and before I knew it, I was sucked in!

One of the things I liked about Collins’ writing style was her descriptive language. This quote about the moonlight really stuck out to me.

Collins definitely did some research on the details which makes the story come to life. I appreciated that the characters had very distinguished traits and some I wanted to see more of.

Dare I say it: there is totally room for a sequel and I will not be upset if that happens! I would love to learn more about what happens to Emmett as he emerges from being a young man into full-fledged adulthood.

The Binding is Collins’ first adult novel. To learn about her young adult works, I recommend visiting her author page on Goodreads and exploring from there. Learn more about her adult works – including the upcoming novel The Betrayals (not related to The Binding) – at HarperCollins.

Happy reading, friends!

Book Reviews

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

Two romance reviews back-to-back? Who even am I??

In a Holidaze by the duo known as Christina Lauren was part of my December Book of the Month box. I chose it to be my Christmas day read for obvious reasons. (The holiday theme? The need for romance in 2020? You get it.)

And wow!

I tend to find every romance novel somewhat “cringe” because they make me roll my eyes. This book had a few cheesy moments but it was so not cringe – it hits the notes of nostalgia, old love, what it means to be family, and incorporating change into our lives.

In a Holidaze has all the best parts of your typical Christmas romance WITHOUT the over-the-top cheesiness.

Plus, it’s HILARIOUS! I bust out laughing multiple times.

Maelyn is stuck in a very relatable “what do I do with my life” and “universe give me a sign” mindset. Wish granted, she finds herself reliving the week of Christmas over and over.

Can Maelyn right her wrongs and break the spell? Will she learn how to be true to herself? Dear readers, please go find out!

Christina Lauren’s next novel is about a single mom – and as a single mom, I am definitely looking forward to that!

Learn more about this duo and their other works over on their website.

Happy reading, friends!

Book Reviews

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai

Are you a fan of dating apps? Has internet dating become your bff during covid? The Right Swipe might restore your faith in the dating app scene.

The Right Swipe was in a stack of pink books I picked up at Target.

Pink and I were a vibe that day.

My love life has been less than non-existent lately and sometimes it’s hard to read romance novels because I get all in my feels but The Right Swipe I really enjoyed.

First of all, the main character, Rhiannon, is 37, proud of her success, and not afraid to wear what she wants. (Sweatshirts/hoodies? Can I get an amen!)

Second, Rai incorporates some important topics such as friendship, evolving life circumstances such as having kids, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. (Here’s a helpful link if you are unfamiliar with CTE.)

Lastly, the intimate scenes were wooooh! It makes sense since Alisha Rai has over a dozen romance novels under her belt.

It would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention that the love interest, Samson (former pro football athlete), sounds like a total dreamboat! Like Rhiannon, I don’t know much about who the professional athletes are these days (or any days), but also like Rhiannon, I’m secretly very interested in a hunk with intuitive hands.

I wish I was more like Rhiannon in one aspect – not forgiving ghosters. It gets better as I’m getting older but always a work in progress. So when Samson ghosts her and they end up meeting again, will she forgive him?

Check out The Right Swipe and let me know what you think!

To learn more about Alisha Rai, check out her website.

Happy reading, friends!

Book Reviews

My first audiobook! Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

I first heard of Matthew McConaughey’s memoir a few months ago and mentioned it in my post of anticipated releases of late 2020/early 2021. Looking for something different to listen to on my morning commute, I recently downloaded Audible. Greenlights was my first audiobook choice.

Audiobooks have quickly become a godsend, and Greenlights was a reminder to live my life. My life. Explore my passions and seek my truths.

One theme I enjoyed that particularly resonated with me was being involved in your success. What does this mean to me? Am I putting in enough effort? More importantly, am I putting effort into the things that actually matter the most? What does success mean to me?

McConaughey welcomes us into his life, sharing stories from all ages and imparting how to be our most authentic selves.

Have you read or listened to Greenlights? Let me know what you thought!

Learn more about McConaughey’s current role as a faculty member at The University of Texas at Austin here.

Happy reading – and listening – dear friends!

Book Reviews

All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace

“One more hour until I prove to Visidia that I’m meant to be their heir… Two more hours until I’m engaged to a man I’ll never love… Three more hours until I give the command to ready a ship to set sail tomorrow, and demand to know every secret about this kingdom that’s ever been kept from me.”

In what I can only describe as a magical turn of fate, I happen to work with one of Adalyn Grace’s brothers. Upon learning of my obsession passion for books, he informed me that his sister was the author of All the Stars and Teeth. Within the past year I have been developing an appreciation for young adult/fantasy books so I decided to add it to my list.

I ended up forsaking everything else I was reading to finish this one first.

All the Stars and Teeth is a high fantasy novel that explores the very real boundaries of curiosity and corruption, and the choices we make when caught between power and the desire to do what’s right.

(What is high fantasy, you ask? Click here for Goodreads’ description.)

I was captivated by the mystical Kingdom of Visidia and at least a little jealous of the adventure that Amora, Princess of Visidia, embarks upon as she sets sail to save herself and her kingdom – and not just because she finds herself in the company of the handsome rogue Bastian! Who hasn’t daydreamed about going on a heroic and life-changing quest?

Amora’s character really resonated with me. She has so many qualities I wish I could see in myself: brave and adventurous with a self-confidence I fail to muster on a regular basis. She is unafraid to go after what she wants most.

In this interview, Grace describes Amora’s character as “morally grey”. I liked this about Amora; it made her realistic and relatable. No heroine should be pristine; I would argue that our “flaws” are often what make us the most human.

The story itself was fresh yet comforting because it reminded me of things that I already liked. While reading, I got vibes of Children of Blood and Bone, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Hunger Games. But don’t be misled – this story stands alone, too.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the characters continue to develop in the next installment, All the Tides of Fate, set to release in February of 2021.

Have you read All the Stars and Teeth? Let me know in the comments!

Learn more about Adalyn Grace at her website and on her Instagram.

Happy reading, friends! ❤

Book Reviews

Review: The Enchanted Sonata by Heather Dixon Wallwork

Winter is approaching quickly! The last part of 2020 seems to be flying by and the holiday season is almost upon us.

The Enchanted Sonata by Heather Dixon Wallwork is a perfect addition to this winter’s TBR.

It’s a music-laden and intriguing twist on the nutcracker story. I was going to wait until December to read it – but I couldn’t help myself! Once I started, I didn’t want to stop.

This magical tale follows young pianist Clara as she experiences not only the bewitchment of her first crush on another piano protégé, but also the enchantments of Prince Nikolai Volkonsky’s kingdom of Imperia.

In an article on NPR, we learn that the original author of The Nutcracker was E. T. A. Hoffman, and at the time he titled it Nutcracker and Mouse King. At one time, Hoffman also wrote that music “reveals an unknown kingdom to mankind: a world that has nothing in common with the outward, material world that surrounds it, and in which we leave behind all predetermined conceptual feelings in order to give ourselves up to the inexpressible.”

In The Enchanted Sonata, music literally reveals an unknown kingdom. Music plays a very special role in the story so I won’t give away everything. Just know you’re in for a treat. 🙂

(There are a couple grisly moments that I would be hesitant to share with very young readers but all-in-all The Enchanted Sonata is a family-friendly story.)

What are your favorite holiday and winter reads? Let me know in the comments!

Learn more about Heather Dixon Wallwork at her website and view her adorable artwork on Instagram.