What I Read in January: Gilead and All the Light We Cannot See

37. Wiener Dogs Reading Books - Scarlet reading Nova's Imaginary Girls by czilka

I have a confession to make, dear readers: I have been a bad, bad writer the last year.

I didn’t carve out time to read.

This is a huge mistake on my part. Reading is SO IMPORTANT for anyone who is seriously trying to be a writer. Regular reading is the second most important thing a writer can do to improve her craft (with regular writing being the most important, obviously). You want to read everything you can get your paws on. Reading good books shows you how other skilled writers tell their stories, helping you learn the tricks of the trade while(hopefully) inspiring you to do better work on my own projects. Reading bad books, on the other hand, shows you what not to do (I’m not naming any names *cough 50 shades cough*) and helps you improve your writing by learning from the mistakes of others.

I could ramble for days on the benefits of daily reading. I genuinely think it’s the best thing ever.

And yet I only managed to read 15 books in 2014. *facepalm*

double facepalm

I know, I’m the worst. But I’m vowing to work on it in 2015, so there’ll be no more shameful facepalming come 2016!

So far I’m off to a slow but acceptable start. I kicked off the new year by reading two fantastic titles that have inspired me to keep picking through my ever-growing book collection.

The first book completed in 2015 was Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gilead. 

gilead cover

I’d picked up Gilead in a discount pile at Barnes and Noble last summer, and, because I sucked at reading last year, never got around to it. I didn’t even think about it until its follow-up novel, Lila, came out last fall and everyone started raving about it. I read that Lila took place in the same universe as Gilead and Robinson’s other Gilead-based novel, Home, and my interest was piqued. I’d never heard of a literary fiction writer basing multiple novels in the same universe and recycling characters in a non-series format; I’d always associated that move with Sci-Fi and high fantasy genres, so a non-genre writer breaking with convention and doing work like this was very interesting to me.

Intrigued, I dusted (yes, dusted) off my copy of Gilead and started reading it before bed. And I am SO glad I did. It is one of the most beautiful novels I have ever read, hands down.

An epistolary novel whose protagonist is a dying Congregationalist minister writing letters to his young son that he hopes will be read when his son is a man, it is a story that at its core is about living life and trying to live it right. As a non-religious person, there were admittedly parts when the prose dragged a bit, so the reading was a bit slower than it normally is for me. But even at its preachiest parts I never lost interest. This is VERY good, because by the time I came to the last page I found myself crying over the realization that I’d just read a near-perfect novel and I was just overwhelmed in general by the experience.

I mean, with passages this simplistically beautiful showing up on page after page, how could I NOT shed a couple of tears when the story ended?

gilead shot

“Well, I can imagine him beyond the world, looking back at me with an amazement of realization — ‘This is why we have lived this life!’ There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.”


After I wrapped up Gilead I shifted gears and moved on to one of 2014’s most praised releases, Anthony Doerr’s World War II bestseller All the Light We Cannot See.


I am not a huge fan of stories set in World War II (they just aren’t my thing), so I started this book with the intention of looking at it from an industry perspective, much like how I approached the Twilight series and 50 Shades of Grey. I wanted to break it down and figure out why it caught on as well as it did and became such a big sensation. I figured even if I didn’t like the book’s content, at least I’d learn something useful about America’s current cultural zeitgeist.

Then I started reading it…and five hours later I finally came up for air, halfway done with the novel.

Needless to say, I was COMPLETELY wrong about not liking this book. It is genuinely fantastic. I fell in love with the two protagonists, a blind French girl and a math savant German boy, in a way that I never expected I would. And the plot is absolutely riveting; I can’t remember the last time I read half of a book in five hours. I literally couldn’t put it down. But what I loved about this book is that at its core is that it’s a story about people being good, even when the world around it is as evil and horrible as the world could be, and Doerr accomplished this so fully and so sincerely that I couldn’t help but have a little bit more faith in humanity once I came to that final page. I can honestly say that All the Light We Cannot See is a story that will stick with me for years to come.


Review for The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.


I recently received an advance copy of Gina B. Nahai’s latest novel, The Luminous Heart of Jonah S., an epic saga that offers readers a unique glimpse into the Iranian Jewish community. It took Nahai seven years to write this novel, and man did her hard work pay off! I’ve been in a reading rut for a while now, starting books and putting them down after a couple chapters out of disinterest and boredom. Then I started The Luminous Heart of Jonah S., and had to force myself to put it down so I didn’t fall behind on my work!

The story begins with the modern day murder of Raphael’s Son, a bitter and cruel Madoff-like villain notorious for conducting a massive Ponzi scheme that preyed on Iranian Jewish immigrants in Los Angeles and who went to great effort to take down the remaining members of the Soleyman family. By the end of chapter one Raphael’s Son has had his throat cut as he sat in his Aston Martin at the gates of his mansion in the Holmby Hills, and his body has mysteriously disappeared before the police arrive at the scene.

The narrative then jumps back in time to 1950s Tehran. It introduces the Soleymans, a wealthy and well-respected Jewish family with two sons. Raphael, the eldest, is plagued by intestinal parasites and sleepwalking due to his translucent heart, an inherited trait in the Soleyman clan that causes his heart to glow white at night and attracts moths and ghosts to him as he wanders the streets of Tehran. Because of Raphael’s poor health, his father has decided to bestow the right of heir onto the younger Aaron instead. This causes Aaron and later his young widow Elizabeth to become embroiled in a longstanding feud with Raphael’s Wife, a.k.a. the Black Bitch of Beshehr, who impossibly claims that Raphael’s Son, born thirteen months after Raphael’s death, is the rightful heir to the Soleyman fortune.

The feud lasts for decades, starting in Tehran with Raphael’s Wife and then passed down from Wife to Son, bringing it thousands of miles to Los Angeles where Raphael’s Son and Elizabeth and her daughter Angela relocate after the Cultural Revolution. It evolves and expands as the years go by, resulting in murder, suicide, kidnapping, and general tragedy for everyone caught in its crossfire.

My favorite quote in the book. Did I mention the prose throughout is fantastic?

My favorite section in the book. Did I mention the prose throughout is fantastic?

A lyrical and delightfully intricate book from start to finish, The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. is a remarkable piece of storytelling that defies genre definition and narrative convention. Nahai masterfully combines the murder mystery narrative with the family saga narrative with the Iranian Jewish immigrant experience narrative, all while incorporating elements of magical realism that are beautifully fantastical yet still firmly grounded in a realistic narrative world.

Not satisfied stopping there, Nahai also weaves together the stories of this large cast of characters whose fates are forever intertwined, seamlessly jumping back and forth between time and place to create a complex narrative that is simultaneously cohesive and extremely engaging. Each character is exceptionally well developed, though the real standout of the story is Raphael’s Son. He is one of the most conflicting characters I’ve ever come across, repulsive and reprehensible in every way, and yet you can’t help but pity him as his story unfolds. You understand why he does the terrible things he does, and while you never quite get to the point where you forgive him, by the end you come to empathize with his plight.

A true pleasure to read, The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. is an absolutely stunning piece of literature and one of the best books I’ve read all year. It’s a genuine page turner that I dare you to put down once you start. Two big thumbs up!

A Day in the Life of a Writer: Returning to an Old Story, Choosing a Main Character, and Being Generally Irked (But Also Excited)

calvin block

I have good news and bad news, dear readers. The good news: I’ve started writing my thesis novel again. Yay! I’ve been patting myself on the back all morning for deciding to pick it back up after shelving it almost a year ago (I need all the self-indulgent reassurance I can get. I’m a writer. It’s how we roll).

The bad news: I can’t decide who my main character is. Which is the reason I stopped writing this story in the first place.

Boo city.

The dilemma I’ve run into (and been running into for the past year) is that I have two strong and compelling characters, one male and one female, who are competing with one another for the coveted spot of main character. Now, I am not a person who subscribes to the rule that you can only have one main character in a story (Thelma & Louise being a prime example of a story that breaks that rule), so when I first encountered this problem I decided to resolve it the easy way by just letting them both be main characters. Easy, right?

Well, when your characters are normal, sure, maybe you can do that. But my characters are decidedly abnormal. See, the part that I neglected to mention is that my characters are both psychopaths, and as it turns out, having two psychopaths as your main characters kind of doesn’t work. Like, at all.

better main character meme

I got about a third of the way through the first draft of having these two psychopaths pitted against each other on the page and got increasingly frustrated, because the more I wrote the more I realized that I wasn’t rooting for them. I didn’t want either one of them to accomplish their goals and finish out their quests. What’s more, I didn’t care enough to see if they did accomplish their goals or not; I disliked them so much that I just wanted to get away from them. They were just too unsympathetic, too unlikable, and I hadn’t included a character who was strong enough and sympathetic enough to offset their extreme darkness. And without having a character to root for, I lost interest in the story. I came to the realization that if I, the person who thought up these characters and brought them into existence onto the page, had this kind of reaction to these characters, then readers were going to as well. And so, a little less than a year ago I gave up on the story with the intention of never returning to it again.

The problem is the little bugger’s been nagging at the edges of my brain ever since, refusing to give me any peace of mind and keeping me from working on the other story idea I’ve been playing around with for a few years now. It’s really rather rude.

So, since I’m apparently not allowed to work on any other creative projects until I give this psychopath story another whirl, I’ve decided to return to it with a new approach and an actual plan in place (my god, what a concept. A writer with a plan!). First, I’m rewriting the entire story from scratch. This sucks because I’ve written ~150 pages of it in the first draft, but necessary, because of those ~150 pages maybe 10 of them are good/salvageable. The plot and characters got jumbled around a dozen too many times for me to make any sense of it, and trying to work with those original pages will just confuse me further. So that first draft is getting locked away in my desk and not being looked at until the second draft is finished. Then after I finish I’ll go through the first one and see what if anything I can pull from it and incorporate into the new story.

Second, I’m putting my foot down and limiting my story to one psychopath/main character. This is turning out to be harder than I thought, because like I said above, both characters are strong and compelling in their own rights. I’ve polled fellow writers and friends for their opinions on whether they’d rather read a story about a male psychopath or a female psychopath, and the results were a 50-50 split.


At least now I know that a.) I’ve got two cool characters and b.) I’m insane for having trouble choosing between them (fun fact: I care more about point b right now).

So, I’ve decided that I’m going to be ambitious and write BOTH versions of the story, one told by the male psychopath and the other by the female. Since writing two novel-length manuscripts of the same story told by two different characters doesn’t sound all that appealing to me (shocking, I know), I’m planning on condensing the story down into either a long short story or a novella. Then I’ll see which one turns out stronger and proceed from there. And I’m choosing to not think about the possible scenario where they both turn out strong and I find myself in the same position I’m in now, because that can’t happen, right? Right? (Ugh.)


ryan gosling novel

Why I’ve Been M.I.A.: Fighting Broke’s How Hollywood Works: Television


Happy Friday dear readers! As you may have noticed, I’ve been pretty inactive as of late (read: I completely disappeared from the face of the planet). To make matters worse, I then reappeared only to disappear again. It was sucky of me, and I’m sorry. Very sorry.

Would it help if I said I have a legitimate reason for being M.I.A.?

The reason I’ve been such a bad blogger lately is because I’ve been busy working on a project over at Fighting Broke called How Hollywood Works: Television. Long story short, Chris, a former boss of mine from my stint down in LA, and I have spent the last few months putting together all the information you need to know about the television industry. We know that there are a lot of people out there who are looking to break into television or just want to know more about the industry in general, and we wanted to make it a little easier for people to go through and process the massive amounts of information spread all over cyberspace about how to do it.

It’s been a massive project, much more massive than either of us initially anticipated when we first got started, and the first two sections–Pilot Season and Creatives–are finally up and running. I’m super happy with how they turned out. Like, over the moon proud mama bear happy, because they are legitimately awesome resources that I REALLY wish I’d had when I was down in LA working in the industry. I didn’t know even half of the stuff we talk about while I was working there (which, by the way, is more than a little bit depressing) and they would’ve helped me so much.

So, since I’m such a proud mama bear about this project, I figured I’d share it with you, dear readers, so you can see what I’ve been doing instead of blogging here and can check out these awesome resources.

Here is the main page: http://fightingbroke.com/hhwwtv/

They’re worth checking out even if you aren’t looking to become a TV writer, if for no other reason you can get a better foundation knowledge of how television and the television industry work. For example, do you know why the top primetime shows (think Scandal on ABC, and football on CBS) always air on Thursday nights? No? Well, you can find out here.

If you like them as much as I do, make sure you subscribe to our mailing list so you don’t miss our upcoming updates.

So now you know, dear readers. Hopefully I’ll be able to start posting more regularly on here soon, but at least you’ve got this to tide you over in the meantime!

Back, and Still Bewildered


Long time no see, dear readers! Have you missed me? I know, I’m a terrible, horrible, evil blogger–the worst there ever was, really– for abandoning you all these long months. I have no excuse, apart from real life interfering as it is wont to do and whisking me away in its flurry of pressing matters that needed attending to: looking for work, meeting a Boy, kind of finding work, trying to write my novel(s) (yes, there is more than one now…maybe), using work/Boy/insertnounhere to avoid writing.

You know, the usual order of business for a Bewildered 20-something Writer.

But I missed blogging through all of that, and so, dear readers, I’m back. Hopefully for good this time. If for no other reason because Boy is starting to get annoyed at having to hear me whine about how hard and bewildering writing is all the time.

Publication Rights for Freelance Writers

Dear readers, I’m afraid I’m still trapped in the special circle of hell known as job hunting. It’s a hard market out there for a bewildered 20-something writer! Many of the jobs I’ve come across have been freelance writing gigs for startups and blogs, which got me wondering about what rights I have regarding any content I’d publish doing these jobs. So I did a little digging and found this nifty little infographic over at freelancewriting.com by Brian Scott that I found extremely helpful. Seeing as I’m sure at least a handful of you, dear readers, have considered doing or even done freelance writing work, I figured I’d share the knowledge and pass this on. Enjoy, and if any of you with experience in this line of work have any input on the information here, please write me and let me know!

A Bewildered 20-Something’s Goals for 2014

Happy (very) belated New Years dear readers! I hope all of your holidays were fantastic and filled with plenty of quality time with your loved ones. I know I’ve been a terrible blogger recently and have been slacking a *lot* when it comes to posting, but there have been reasons I swear!  Namely, I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m going to do with my bewildered 20-something self in the new year, which was surprisingly more difficult to figure out than I thought it would be. Is it possible to have a quarter life crisis before you’re 25 (rhetorical question, please don’t say no)? Well, either way, I *finally* put together my list of goals for 2014, and seeing as I’ve owed you a post for weeks now, dear readers, I figured I’d share them with you.

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