Book Review: We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

Hello everyone!

For my first book review I am going to talk about We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal. Hafsah Faizal is a Muslim author and a niqabi which is wonderful because she lends a diverse voice to current YA . However, the book is not about Muslim characters but it is an Arab-inspired fantasy.

Which is really, really, cool.

The book!

I’ll try and keep this spoiler free so read without fear!

The first thing I want to say is that this book is full of the most gorgeous writing. You could probably open up to a random page and the first line you read would be an excellent quote. You can tell every line has been painstakingly crafted and it’s amazing.

With that out of the way, let’s dive into the story!

The book is set in an ancient Arabian inspired setting, called Arawiya. I really enjoyed this because while I am not of Arabian descent I caught a lot of the cultural references and recognized many of the Arabic words. I definitely recommend reading if you want to familiarize yourself with other cultures!

The characters! Squee! From left to right: Altair, Nasir, Zafira, Benyamin, and Kifah!

The characters are angsty, to say the least. Which is to say, they have some pretty terrible backstories. Zafira, the Huntress, must disguise herself as a man to be able to hunt and feed her people. She is the only one capable of entering the forest of Arz. Her country has been plunged into eternal snow due to magic disappearing from Arawiya and her family life is a bit sad (or a whole lot sad) which she maybe blames herself for. A bit. Which builds a lot of tension and imo, she’s a pretty tough character. Huntresses are cool.

Nasir, the Prince of Death and the other POV character in the book has probably the most angst-filled inner dialogue. That’s the way I see him, anyway. He’s an assassin, again, pretty cool. (Is it bad that I like characters who kill for a living? Is there something wrong with me?) He’s been sent by his (evil evil evil) father to retrieve the Jawarat to restore magic to Arawiya. Which of course, is the exact same thing Zafira is trying to do. Dun dun dun! Tension!

Sadly, I kinda liked the non-POV characters more than the POV characters. I’m not sure why. Altair got the most on the page time of the three non-POV characters (And I believe it’s hinted he’ll have a POV in the sequel, but don’t quote me on that) which was fun because he adds a lot of humor to the story and is a tease to the others. I like angst but it’s good to have a little relief! I also found Benyamin, the Safin to be really cool. He tried to keep everyone happy even though he was a bit pretentious. He and Altair were a good balance to the rest of the group. And lastly, I really wanted more of Kifah. A warrior woman! I wanted more! While I love huntresses I love warrior women just this much more.

I also got to meet Hafsah Faizal a few months ago which was awesome! She was really nice and talked a lot about writing. I recommend going to an event if she ever tours near you!

A signed copy.

Overall I really liked this book and I’m super excited for the sequel!

Thanks for reading everyone and don’t forget to check out We Hunt the Flame!

An Update!

Hello everyone!

I haven’t been posting very much (i.e. not at all) but I have been writing. Editing, at least. I entered Pitch Wars in September and am nervously awaiting results on November third. Obviously I would love to get in, but I do have a plan in place if I don’t. I applied for a mentorship from We Need Diverse Books ( https://diversebooks.org/ ) (don’t worry, you’re allowed to enter both programs!) and there’s still time to apply for one if you want to do that. It sounds like a great opportunity!

If I get neither (which, to be realistic, is the most likely) I am planning on doing a sixth draft with some beta reader input and then moving on to a first round of queries. I feel like I have a pretty solid query but my book could use a bit more polishing and tightening, and of course that’s just as important as a good query.

In the meantime, I am keeping on top of college and bouncing around new novel ideas in my head, so we’ll see what comes next!

I may try to do some book reviews soon (with pretty book pictures!) so keep an eye out for that.

Thanks for reading!

Flash Fiction: Library

Hello everyone!

I wrote a quick little story as part of a game on the NaNoWriMo forums. We chose five words and wrote a short snippet based on them. I’ll post the five words after the story.

A dream.

Ironically, a dream is what woke me. A dream of something that shouldn’t be there.

A curse. A curse and a book and the dreams of the dead.

I shuddered as I threw myself off the windowsill. I’d fallen asleep in the shadows of the library.

Surrounded by books.

A panicky feeling rose in my chest.

I took off, the library’s loneliness haunting me. I passed shelf after shelf, ripping the books from their shelves and tossing them to the floor. They clattered as they fell, dust flying from yellowed pages.

A cursed book.

Dreams of the dead.

What is a book but an obsolete dream?

Dreams of the dead are useless.

I stopped for breath, hands on knees, panting. My ears roared, noise buzzing along every nerve.

The library rumbled. I’d taken its most prized possessions, sullied them, thrown them on the floor in disgrace.

It collapsed, and took me with it.

*******

Dark, again. I can’t help it. Oh well.

The five words were: noise, books, dream, panicky, and obsolete.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading!

Short Story: Stolen Life

Hello everyone!

I procrastinated on my novel today by writing a short story. I’ll paste the prompt that inspired it below. Enjoy!

Ten minutes.

Ten minutes I wasn’t dead, but I wasn’t alive either. I could feel my heart, a cold, unmoving lump in chest. Its thumping, which I never paid attention to when I was alive, had ceased and all I could hear was the silence of death and the screaming of onlookers.

Both at the same time, I know.

Ten minutes ago I was alive. Not nearly dead. I had stepped out of my car, sunglasses perched on my head and scarf wrapped loosely to cover my hair.

There was a man on the street corner, and I breezed by him like it was nothing. I didn’t recognize him, why should I? But he lifted his fingers in a halfhearted wave and he looked so despondent that I returned the gesture.

Ten minutes later, he stopped my heart.

Ten years earlier. I was fifteen. My parents left me in the care of my older sister for the weekend.

“Are you going to the beach?” I asked. It was their favorite vacation spot.

“No.” my father was acting strange. He had only packed a tote bag’s worth of things. My mother had the same. “We’ll be back soon. It’s just… nothing for you to worry about.”

“Is something wrong?” I asked. My sister glared at me. I could have sworn there were tears on her face, although her glare was one of the perfectly angry young adult.

“Nothing, nothing.” My mother bit her lip and turned away. She was blushing. She always blushed when she lied.

Ten years later, they rushed to my side as I didn’t breathe.

Ten months ago. I was at the doctor’s for a headache that hadn’t left in a week. She listened to my heart and paused.

“What?” I said.

“Nothing. Well, nothing to worry about, at least.” She laughed and her laugh was nervous. Maybe I should have considered a new doctor. Doctors with secrets are the doctors that get you killed.

“Tell me.”

She seemed surprised. Was it that unusual for a patient to demand information?

“Nothing,” she insisted. “I didn’t sleep well last night. I had a moment of fog.”

I pulled on my jacket and left the office in a huff, although my headache had subsided.

Ten months later, I lay motionless as doctors prodded my still chest.

Ten days ago. I went to the mall with my sister. We were behind a young couple that was laughing and sharing ice cream.

I had mischievous look on my face. “Have any handsome young men approached Dad yet for me?” I said, half teasing her and myself, half serious.

Her eyebrows drew low over a sudden glare. “No.” she dragged me into a store, away from the couple.

“What?” I asked. “You’ve talked to men. Why can’t I?”

“It’s not—“ she dragged me further into the store, shoved me into the back between a mannequin and a display stand. She looked around furtively. I smacked her hand off me and pulled away from the wall.

“What the hell is your problem?”

She turned back to me. “You can’t get married,” she said. “Mom and Dad have waited too long to tell you.”

“What? What are you talking about? I can do whatever I want!” Within reason, of course.

She dragged a hand down her face. A curl of hair peeked from under her scarf. “Don’t let them know I told you this. But you just can’t get married. It won’t work.You’re not allowed. Stop thinking about it.” She fled the store before I could gather the strength to follow her.

Ten days later, and it was a man who’d stopped my heart. My sister clung to my limp hand and sobbed useless tears.

Ten minutes. My heart was dead. I hadn’t breathed or moved. But I was not dead. I was still here.

They were hiding something. The man was involved somehow, the man I’d never seen in my life.

He’d simply waved, and my heart had slowed. He pulled back, and my heartbeat went with him. He ran, and I collapsed to the pavement.

To hell with him. And my heart too.

Ten minutes was up. The man came back.

He waved again.

My heart started with a crack of thunder and I shot upright. “You never told me!” I screamed. My parents recoiled. The paramedics too.

I yanked off whatever paraphernalia they’d hooked me up to and jumped to my feet.

It was like I’d never been almost dead.

The man was running but I ran after him. My shoes were gone, for some reason. My scarf whipped in the wind. My sunglasses, somehow still on my head, fell to the ground and smashed on the pavement.

“Stop!” I screamed, and he did. His face was less pale already, his tired eyes less tired. Stubble dotted his cheeks, which lifted in a weatherworn grin.

“I’m not from here,” I said. It wasn’t  a question.

“Not quite, but you get the gist of it.” When he spoke, he only used half of his mouth. In fact, half of his body seemed limp.

“You took my heartbeat. It was meant for two.”

“Your family knew.”

“They lied to me.”

“People are changing. The world changes. You were born to help, in your own small way.”

I put a hand on my chest. My heart was still beating, but weaker than it ever had before.

Good. “It stops now, doesn’t it?”

He gave a two-fingered salute. “You’ve done your duty. Forget it and live your life now.”

“I’ll live. But I won’t forget.”

“As you wish. I won’t be seeing you.”

I gave a wave, a mockery of his own.

He didn’t bother running this time, but rather fizzled out.

I felt my life, entirely my own. A smile rose to my lips.

I would deal with my family later, but for now I would count my blessings.

And my heartbeats.

************

The end! Here’s the prompt I used: Go inside the mind of a patient whose heart stops for 10 minutes, which gives the patient the chance to make a shocking discovery that reframes their life. Include supernatural elements, but do not dare use the phrase “the light flashed before their eyes,” or any other near-death experience tropes.

I don’t know how well I did the “reframes their life” but I think it’s alright. The prompt came from this list: https://thejohnfox.com/2016/07/flash-fiction-prompts/

Thanks for reading everyone!

Inspiration From Real Life, Part 1: Events

Hello everyone!

I’ve decided to do a short set of blog posts on inspiration from real life for your writing! Or course, I’m no expert but this is something I find helpful. You may not find it helpful at all, but I hope you’ll give it a read.

When I write, occasionally I’ll take an event and either change things around to suit my story, or draw a general inspiration from it to set the tone of my scene.

For example, my friend once told me about a field trip she went on. Being homeschooled, I have never gone on a field trip and I found the story interesting. My friend said her school took them on an overnight field trip to the woods. They took a nighttime walk to look for wildlife, but they weren’t allowed to have flashlights or cell phones, so that they would develop night vision. She said they couldn’t see a thing!

After hearing her story, I thought that this would be a great setting for the first chapter of my book. I was going to begin rewriting for the fourth time when she told me, and the setting sounded just what I needed. It’s night, so it’s a little more mysterious and spooky, which sets the tone. They were in unfamiliar woods, (with a possibility of bears!) which allows for surprises. It’s also a high school field trip, which automatically gives the reader an idea of the character’s ages without having to downright say it. And they weren’t allowed flashlights, which is both an interesting detail and gives a lot of leeway for mischief. Who knows what was lurking in the woods? What could sneak up on them?

I used the situation in my first chapter. I paired the students off in small groups so I could focus on two characters, and then I added dragons and other creatures lurking around and sneaking up on my characters. In short, the setting was perfect! It was exactly what I needed for my first chapter.

I do want to say this: Don’t base the whole plot of your novel on real life, unless it’s historical fiction. Even writers of historical fiction sometimes only use the setting, not actual events. And other times, they embellish. Keep your scenes pulled from real life to just that- scenes. Otherwise it might start to look a little dull for a novel, unless you have a very exciting life. But then, if you’re writing about your own experiences, that’s a memoir, not a novel.

You can also draw inspiration from real life in a more indirect way. An example of something that could be inspiration is something that happened to me yesterday. I was driving to the mosque with my dad and sister. We got to the street the mosque was on, but we were a couple houses down when we saw this woman. She was half on the sidewalk but she was bowing down, as if praying, with her head on the road. All the cars were stopped on both sides. Then she just stood up and walked down the side of the road. I noticed she had a black mark on her forehead from being on the road.

It was a strange, surreal experience. I don’t know why she was praying in the road. I assume she had a problem, but to me she looked sad. To get back to the point, I found this event inspiring in a slightly different way. I wouldn’t use the setting- it was just a normal road in an average neighborhood. But the event itself was of note. A woman bending down to pray, she stands up with marks on her face from the road. It touches the main character in some way. And then that can become something the main character dwells on.

Or you can be even less specific. Something odd or surreal happens, and it inspires you to write something odd or surreal or touching. Your written scene may not resemble the actual event at all, but the tone, the inspiration, came from real life.

Anyway, I hope this was helpful or interesting to you and thanks for reading!

Versatile Blogger Award

Hello everyone!

I was nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award by Acacia from https://acaciastorycorner.wordpress.com/! (Thank you, Acacia!) She talks about her writing, does reviews, and posts art!

The rules of the award are:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you
  2. Link to the blog of the person who nominated you
  3. Share 7 facts about yourself
  4. Nominate 15 more bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award

All the bloggers I know have been nominated already so I won’t nominate them again. Unfortunately that means I have no one to nominate but I am very thankful to have been nominated myself!

So, to begin: 7 facts about myself!

  1. I crochet amigurumi as a hobby.
  2. I have a betta fish named Winter.
  3. I love swimming but only learned how last year.
  4. I don’t have a favorite food because I like most food.
  5. I go to community college for math and natural sciences; I plan to transfer into an environmental science program.
  6. When I write I’m pretty much a pantser, although I try to plan the story in my head first.
  7. I am a very amateur coin collector.

Well, that was almost harder than fifty things that make me happy! I hope to have some more writing related posts soon, but for now I’ll leave you with this.

Also, don’t forget to check out Acacia’s blog!

Thanks for reading everyone!

My 2019 TeenPit Experience + Editing My Novel

Hello everyone!

During the month of April, I was a contestant in TeenPit (https://khopkinswriter.wordpress.com/2019/02/05/welcome-to-teenpit-class-of-2019/), and I got a lot of good advice from the contest!

For those of you who don’t know what TeenPit is, it’s a contest specifically aimed towards teenaged writers. To apply, writers send their first page and short pitch to the blog. Those who make it to the next round get a mentor (or two). The mentors help edit the first chapter, and then the entries are sent back to the judges.

I didn’t win the contest, but I did get two mentors and I think I got the best part of the experience!

One of my mentors is an editor and a previous Pitch Wars mentor. My other mentor was a contestant in Pitch Wars and has written a lot of books. This made me extra happy to have them as my mentors, considering that I plan to enter Pitch Wars.

Overall, they were really helpful! Just looking over my first chapter they helped me decide which POV I wanted to continue in and whether my novel was YA or MG. Then they looked at my synopsis and helped me address some larger scale issues, such as the characters not driving the plot and whether I needed to include a romance for it to fit into YA.

With their help, I decided to switch from having an omniscient third person POV to having many third person limited POVs, usually one per scene. This gives me the depth of being able to get in all the character’s head, but it eliminates the confusion of having omniscient POV. The mentors also took into consideration the fact that I want to be published, and said that there is very little (or no) market for YA omniscient POV nowadays.

I also decided to call my book YA and leave out a romance. It had been a concern of mine that most YA books have a romance, even if it’s kinda just thrown in there. However, I wanted to avoid this because I wanted to focus on non-romantic character relationships as well as keeping the focus on the plot, setting, and otherwise (in my opinion) more interesting elements of the story.

Since talking to them, I’ve cut a lot of words from my novel that didn’t really do anything for the story. I cut an entire chapter and replaced it with a shorter version, and I’ve cut countless paragraphs and boring scenes. So far, I’ve cut almost 10k, although it does fluctuate a little when I rewrite scenes or occasionally add one.

I was really happy with the experience and I encourage you (if you’re a teenager, of course) to enter the 2020 contest! It was such a helpful experience and I hope it’s brought me closer to being able to enter Pitch Wars and hopefully, get closer to being able to query!

Thanks for reading everyone!