Writing on Wednesdays: (Don’t) Panic Contest

writing and coffee

Recently, Lauren Oliver (one of my most favorite authors) hosted a writing contest to spread the word about her upcoming YA novel, PanicNeedless to say, I am BEYOND excited for the book. Oliver challenged us to write as if we were going through a Panic game/test ourselves. Her advice? Make the stakes as high as possible and be creative. I had a ton of fun writing a short story (ish thing) for the contest, although I didn’t win. The 1st place winner’s piece was extraordinary! I love constructive criticism and post for fun. Here we go!

Ten minutes. Ten minutes between me and winning that money. Ten minutes between me and going to college. I still don’t understand how the judges seem to tailor these tests so precisely to my worst fears. Thirty seconds. Thirty seconds before I choose to shimmy into the coffin in front of me and allow myself to be lowered underground. Buried alive has a strange ring to it. What an oxymoron. Twenty seconds. My palms start to sweat. I take a deep breath. “Buried” goes with words like “cold” and “unyielding” and “death.” “Alive” goes with words like “free” and “well” and “warm.” The crowd is starting the countdown. I step into the coffin and lay down. They close the lid. Darkness. I can still hear the muffled sound of the crowd’s cheers. I feel myself being lowered into the ground. Thud. The first chunk of dirt hits the coffin’s lid and makes my heartbeat quicken. I look to my right and see the glowing button that I can push if I want to end the test. Thud. That button means freedom. Thud. That button means failure. I didn’t invest a dollar every single day for almost an entire year just to fail. I will go to college. I won’t end up like my mom, stuck in this town with kids she doesn’t want and no way out.

My eyes have adjusted to the darkness by now and I see the deep grooves carved into the coffin. I take another shallow breath. This isn’t as bad as I pictured it. I’m probably halfway through the test. Except that I learned in psychology class that adrenaline can make time seem different. Slower. Or Faster. I can’t remember. I could have three minutes left. Or nine. I clench my fists, trying to keep the terror from rising into my throat. Silence. I can’t hear the crowd anymore. All that remains is the sound of my quickening breaths. I try holding these breaths—I don’t want to waste precious air. Oh God, am I going to die here? Is this going to be my legacy? Are my last moments going to be marked by utter darkness in an unmarked grave?

Stop! I chide myself for allowing my thoughts to take such a negative turn. I try to turn on my side but I can’t. I’m trapped in this position. It has to have been ten minutes by now. What if they left me? What if that’s why I can’t hear them anymore? I look at the glowing button. It’s tantalizing now. No. I start clawing at the roof of the coffin. I don’t have enough room to hit anything. My clawing becomes more and more frantic. I swear the coffin’s walls are getting closer. I feel hot liquid running down my fingers as my nails begin to bleed. The button is right there. It’s ridiculous, but I can’t bring myself to push it. Why I choose instead to attempt to claw out of the coffin, I cannot say. I’m beyond reason. I reach into my mind and grab hold of the only lucid thought available: I will win. I must be hallucinating because I feel water soaking into my shoes. I ignore it until it tickles my calves. I feel relief. I feel panic. Water means that they haven’t abandoned me here; it’s the second part of the test. Water means that there is less room for air. Less air. I bite my hand to keep from screaming.

I steal another look at the button. Why won’t it turn red? Red means the test is over. Red means I’ve won. I feel something crawling up my leg. Please let it not be a spider. I close my eyes and take several deep, starving breaths to try and conquer my near-hyperventilation. I force myself to analyze my situation. Fear can’t control you if you don’t allow it to freeze your mind, right? What is the fear being tested here? They never tell us. Is it fear of the unknown? Is it fear of enclosed spaces? Drowning? Or darkness? Or of the underground? Or death? What if fear only holds power because we feel like we can’t control the situation? Well, I control this situation. I choose to not push that button. I choose to beat this test.

As I come to this realization, I smile. When I smile, water leaks into my mouth. I hadn’t even realized the water’s fast rise. I cough and my eyes fly open. I pull my hands up from my sides and find that they are numb and heavy. My whole body feels numb. The water is suddenly freezing. The need to lift my right hand to the glowing button becomes an unintelligible litany. Time seems to slow down and my senses dull. My universe becomes my right hand, moving inch by inch from my waist to the button near my head. I didn’t win. Defeat crushes me like a physical blow.

The light turns red.

I barely register the coffin being lifted, the water draining out, the sunlight hitting my face, or the crowd’s ecstatic cheers. To them, the test is a game. To them, I am their champion. To me, the test is a way out of this place. To me, I have survived. I do not get the luxury of elation or victory. I feel blood caking my nail beds. I feel sensation returning to my muscles. I feel grim satisfaction because I endured my fears. Not victory, but endurance. I feel…free.

**I give ALL credit for the (Don’t) Panic contest and the Panic novel concepts to Lauren Oliver. I retain rights only to my writing itself.**

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Review: The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

Publisher: Harlequin Teen

Genre: YA, paranormal, post-apocalyptic, vampire

Series:  Blood of Eden

Pages: 485

Release Date: April 24, 2012

Rating: coffee cup iconcoffee cup iconcoffee cup iconcoffee cup iconcoffee cup icon

Summary from GoodReads:

To survive in a ruined world, she must embrace the darkness….

Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a walled-in city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten. Some days, all that drives Allie is her hatred of them—the vampires who keep humans as blood cattle. Until the night Allie herself dies and becomes one of the monsters.

Forced to flee her city, Allie must pass for human as she joins a ragged group of pilgrims seeking a legend—a place that might have a cure for the disease that killed off most of civilization and created the rabids, the bloodthirsty creatures who threaten human and vampire alike. And soon Allie will have to decide what and who is worth dying for again.

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coffee to goCoffee To Go: Go buy the book. It’s so worth it. I will warn you that this is not a light-hearted read*. There is no such thing as a vegetarian vampire–Allie’s world is gritty. You will, without a doubt, fall in love with the characters! They change and grow ever so perfectly. Perhaps my favorite part: the plot is extremely well-paced and natural. Nothing feels forced. I almost couldn’t force myself to put the book down.

Characters—

Allie: Disliked her. Loved her. Can’t put her into a box because she changes so much throughout the novel. It’s so beautifully ironic that she begins to discover her compassion and selflessness as she’s supposed to be discovering her depravity and greed. She’s witty (I might have snickered and laughed out loud more than a few times), she’s brave, she’s fierce, etc. Basically, I would want to count her as a friend because I know that she’d have my back and be super cool while doing so. Very…Underworld-esque.

Zeke: FIN-ALL-Y. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book in which the love interest is not too broody and not too girly. He speaks his mind rather than going through insane mood swings because he “can’t fight his love for her.” Not that I don’t love that, but it gets repetitive. More than that, I love that he’s more than a love interest. He’s a great foil, he’s a whole, dynamic character, and he exists apart from Allie’s universe. No insta-love here (thank GOD). They find each other attractive, sure, but they focus on character qualities. You will LOVE Zeke.

Kanin: He’s so mysterious! He kept me wondering about him, his past, and his future all the way through the book. He gave up enough info to hold my interest, but kept my imagination running wild with “what ifs.”

The World—

So. Gritty. There were a couple of gory scenes that made me cringe, which is hard to do. The vamps in the novel are REAL VAMPS. And the rabids—thank you Julie Kagawa for making the creepiest creatures EVER. Just picture The Walking Dead meets vampires. So choose: live in a vampire city where you can either be a human blood bag or scavenge for your food or take your chances outside of the city and hunt for your food. Don’t forget that it’s smarter to sleep during the daytime because the rabids and vamps come out at night! Never mind that they can see better than your human eyes at night anyway. Oh..and don’t you dare believe that all humans are on the same side. Welcome to The Immortal Rules.

The Themes—

Friendship, sacrifice, and forgiveness show up multiple times. This story also explores the beauty, the faults, and the core of what it means to be human. On top of all of that, I saw some Biblical themes. However, Kagawa does not shove any kind of religion down the reader’s throat. She presents each theme tastefully. Haha. Vamps. Get it…

Final Thoughts—

*gush gush gush*

READ THE BOOK! If I could give it more than five coffee cups, I would. This book most definitely goes on the same shelf as my most favorite series. Originally, I was really hesitant to read these because I was still wrapped up in Kagawa’s Iron Fey series. I thought that anyone who could write the Faery world so exquisitely would have trouble creating an original vampire world. Why I thought so, I can’t explain. But let me tell you—I was proved SO wrong! I hang my head in shame, having read this book.

Memorable Quotes—

“Did he teach you how to bore your opponents to sleep? Because I think I missed that lesson.” – Allie

“What are you doing to me?” he whispered. (Who, you ask? *evil snicker* You’ll have to read it.)

“… [he] finally did what I’d been fearing and hoping and dreaming he’d do from the very start.”

“You will always be a monster; there is no turning back from it. But what type of monster you become is entirely up to you.”

I’m on Facebook now!

I would be so highly honored [insert deep bow here] if you would like my Facebook page, and thus keep up with my blog more easily from there.

You can do that here.

A large “thank you” from a grateful blogger,

-Angie

Espresso Expressions: Times and Places and Stories

black espresso

Is there a time and place for everything?

…in literature?

This week’s spotlight!

Okay, the basics: what is your name, how old are you, and what is your life in a nutshell?

My name is Tyler-Marie & I’m 17 years old. Describe myself? I’m about to begin my second year of university life. I love everything & anything English (hardcore Doctor Who, C.S. Lewis, and tea fan)…Yet, getting on a deeper side, I’m sort of in a love affair with story. I want to watch great stories, read great stories, write great stories, and live great stories. This probably explains why I’m an English & Journalism major.

Real and Fantastical stories—they all fascinate me. I’m also a believer of Christ. He is truly my reason for everything. I could only hope to incorporate Christ like truths into everything I write and do. Well, here’s a quote that describes me a little better: “She quietly expected great things to happen to her, and no doubt that’s one of the reasons why they did.” Zelda Fitzgerald.

What’s your blog name, what’s it all about, and what’s been your biggest challenge?

Livingwithfrecklesandwords. It’s quite a vague name—I mean what kind of blog is that? But, that’s sort of the fun part about it. The readers have no idea what to expect when they read the blog. It’d be the same thing as if they met me. All they would see is my freckles and hear my words. Yet, that’s just at a first glance. Once they read my blog, they see so much more. So, that’s basically what my blog is—it’s getting to know me.

My biggest challenge has been building up a community via cyber space. I sort of feel like the new girl who just moved in a completely new house in a completely new neighborhood in a completely new city—it’s intimidating. At first, you just sit by yourself at the lunch table, wondering if anyone is really hearing you. I’m sort of at the “new kid at the lunch table” phase.

Favorite book? Worst question EVER, I know.

Jane Eyre. Sort of a funny answer. I absolutely adore the moral center of Jane though. She makes one of the toughest decisions, since she has to turn down her love and do what is right. Jane Eyre isn’t just a good book to read, but one that teaches lessons. Jane’s the kind of character that gives you something to yearn for. Alice in Wonderland is also a close second.

Currently reading?

Divergent! Yes, I have been reading classics for a while and decided to hop onto the Young Adult Lit train while I could. I already love it so much. It’s nice to read a novel whose author isn’t dead.

Lastly (and most importantly), what caffeinated goodness can we find in your hands most often?

Earl Grey tea with French Vanilla creamer. Yes, there are many Starbucks frappes that I love, but nothing beats this drink. In the morning. In the afternoon. Or at night. I love Earl Grey tea. A perfect companion to any story.

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          Tyler-Marie suggested that we explore how time periods affect literature. I absolutely believe that time periods affect literature. But how? It’s one of those things that we pretty much take as a fact when someone says so without stopping to wonder why. Then I got to thinking that the greatest novels—the ones that many a high school student vetoed in favor of Spark Notes—communicate themes and ideas that are universal. These ideas don’t expire or become less applicable in changing cultures and periods of time. Yet, their novels rely heavily on the culture of the time. One of my most favorite novels, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, falls into this category.

For such a timeless story, I still couldn’t see it taking place in, say, 1973 or 2013. Only the Roaring Twenties, with its ridiculously lavish parties, vast gap between the wealthy and the poor, ever-loosening morals, and gilded carelessness could handle this story. Gatsby works diligently towards his wealth so that he and Daisy can build a life together. Their love burns ever so brightly…and then burns out quickly, affecting everyone around them. The Twenties was a decade of extreme prosperity that lasted for just a blip in time and burned out just as quickly and just as terribly. I know that this has been a very condensed comparison, but my point is that the novel mirrors its time period and the country’s mood.

Other times, the settings within books trigger the “what if” questions within the said time period. Entering the 21st century, less and less people—especially teenagers—care about what goes on in the world around them. I find myself (as an adult) trying to shy away from current events and politics all the time. Dystopian novels, such as The Hunger Games and Delirium show us pictures of what our world could be if we ceased to care about the happenings in the world around us. I know that dystopian stories have been told decades previously, but the mood in the 21st century seems to be asking these “what if” questions more than any other generation.

Even Shakespeare, whose iambs will never come easily to me, communicates themes in plays like Hamlet and King Lear that have remained relevant for centuries. However, his time period inspired him. Obviously today’s society is completely inadequate for these Shakespearean plays. Creative as we are, we do not have the glory of the Renaissance enriching our work.

Call me crazy, but THIS is why I love Hemingway and Lauren Oliver, Fitzgerald and Veronica Roth, C.S. Lewis and Julie Kagawa. Each author, of stories both realistic and fantastical, finds themselves influenced by different time periods, different cultures, and different backgrounds. Oh, literature.

How do YOU think time periods affect literature? Quite a bit or not at all?

Don’t forget to send me an email with an Espresso Expressions topic at coffeeshopreads@gmail.com!

Writing on Wednesdays

writing and coffee

Alright, guys, here’s the thing: I’m a reader and a writer. I can’t explain my love for writing at this moment; it’s just inherently a part of me. I don’t expect everyone (or anyone, for that matter) to like my writing, but I continue to do so anyway. OKAY. SO. I’ve decided that, as a “kick in the butt” to make time for my writing a few times a week, I would start publish a “Writing on Wednesday.” I’m excited about it. Hopefully you’ll find some enjoyment out of it. I am looking for minor critiques (nothing crazy, as I’m not planning on writing a novel…yet), but I do welcome constructive feedback. This particular scene is based off of what I thought would be happening in the picture beneath it. Here goes!

**This is first draft**

I lean my head into the space between his shoulder and mine and sigh. He turns his head and places a kiss on my forehead the same way he’s done it for almost fifty years. I smile as I think about the implications of that number. In love for half of a century. If that isn’t an epic love, I don’t know what is. We’ve been sitting like this for hours now, his arm wrapped around my shoulder, our hands intertwined. I look down at our hands and think about how each deep wrinkle signifies some trial or success we’ve conquered together. Our hands. Both the same, yet so different. His, callused and worn from years of performing the sacred duties of a husband and later a father. His hands have killed every insect that dared cross the threshold into our daughter’s room. They’ve put out stove fires many times over after I had burnt yet another meal. They’ve fixed leaky roof shingles. They’ve brushed my hair out of my eyes and squeezed my trembling fingers as he said “I do.” My hands once bore the marks of motherhood, but those have been washed away by months of cancer treatments. Only translucent skin and brittle bones remain; I am in my final days.

As if sensing my thoughts, he squeezes my arm lightly and tells me that I look beautiful to him. I sigh. God really has been good to us. I don’t deserve the man next to me. I don’t deserve to spend my last days sitting with him, contentedly reflecting on the beautiful life we’ve had. The afternoon light is fading and a light mist starts to fall, casting a soft glow over everything. The maple tree to our right that wedged deep cuts into our daughter’s arms as she fell from its branches one childhood summer doesn’t seem so vicious anymore. I suppose every bad memory loses its sting when you realize that its impact has long since vanished. As the light wanes, my life wanes too. I soak in the breathtaking view of my house for half of a century; I turn my hand over and relish the tickling sensation of the mist as each minuscule drop touches my palm; I allow the maple and pine scented air to waft through my nostrils; I listen to the music the air makes as it swirls around us and moves through the trees; I begin to fall asleep to the strong rhythmic heartbeats thrumming from the chest next to mine. “I love you,” I murmur. “You will always be alive in me, darling,” he answers. “Don’t prolong your pain for my sake. I love you too much.” I close my eyes.

Old Bench

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