Write About it Wednesday: The Berlin Wall

“Then the East banned the sale of rope and twine that was strong enough to hold a human being.”

The Berlin Wall is a staple of recent history. The day it came down was celebrated around the world and many families and friends were reunited for the first time in close to thirty years. I knew very little about the wall going into reading A Night Divided, so I decided to dig deeper. As I was reading, I started to develop opinions about our current wall endeavor in the United States. This isn’t some far off history.

The biggest thing that stood out for me was the Allied involvement with Stalin. I do not know a lot about him, but I know he wasn’t a great guy. I’m guessing the United States chose the lesser of the two evils when it came to the division of Germany. Although the division was meant to be temporary, it took 44 years to reunite. Also, NATO was created as a defense alliance in peacetime. The split of East and West Germany led to violent revolts and the loss of freedom for East Germans. Soviets ruled with an iron fist and shot many who tried to escape. The plan for the wall was kept secret until action was taken at 15 minutes past midnight on “Barbed Wire Sunday.” The Allies wanted negotiations instead of military intervention to solve the division. Meanwhile, methods of escape were formulated. Many chose to jump, climb (most dangerous), go through or under the wall or swim across the water. One couple even tried to use a hot air balloon to cross over. If you were unsuccessful or caught by the guards, you were likely shot. Would you risk your life for freedom?

Once the Cold War ended, talks to reunify began. There was a distinct move toward democracy. When the wall came down, families were reunited but the problems did not stop there. The German reunification agreement was 1,000 pages with many details still to be decided. The government needed to decide the fate of the Stasi (East German secret police) files, amnesty for spies on the Western side, restoration of property to original owners, and who was to pay for all the updates necessary in East Germany. The West felt burdened by the drain of the East. The Germans began selling off the wall, watchtowers, even the guard dogs to pay for restoration projects.

That this wall ever existed is beyond my realm of understanding. It screams misguided ignorance. Fear of a German take over led to a physical barrier but what did it achieve? No one thought, hey people might try to escape? A barrier is an obstacle to stop an enemy. Was the enemy intellectual freedom? The right to pass freely? This was a power play by a government that was encouraged by others including my own. No one stepped up to say this is wrong and offer a solution. We watched as families were torn apart, people were shot for trying to escape, and people were starved and brainwashed.  What will happen with a new wall?


Book Review Saturday: Akata Witch

“Free agents are the hardest to understand, predict or explain. Learning will not come easy to you. You are a Leopard person only by the will of the Supreme Creator…”

I have been a bad book blogger recently. I have been reading piles of books but haven’t sat down to write and share them. Life gets busy, work gets overwhelming and my writing and reviewing falls to the wayside. I want my reviews and writing to be a priority, but life gets in the way. If only I could win a million dollars, right? Or the house would clean itself? My paperwork for work would fill itself out? My reflections for grad school would write themselves? This is wishful thinking so it’s up to me to reevaluate my priorities. How do you make time for the things you love? I would love to hear from you!

I had been on the hunt for new Podcasts for my commute and stumbled upon 88 Cups of Tea. I tell myself that listening to writers, book reviews and writing advice will keep me in the loop. One of the episodes was an interview with Nnedi Okorafor about her many writing endeavors. I knew that I wanted to pick up one of her books but had trouble deciding which one. Akata Witch happened to be on the recommended shelf at my local library in the young adult section, so it seemed like fate.

I read this book in two sittings and that was solely because I needed rest in between a recent lupus flare up. Akata Witch is about Sunny and coming of age in Nigeria. She moved from New York City and has a hard time fitting in with her peers until she finds Orlu, her classmate and his friend Chichi. They all share the common bond of developing magical powers. I do not usually read this type of book, so it’s a testament to my love for her interview that I picked it up. What I found was that it didn’t read as a science fiction fantasy, but almost realistic in nature. Sunny is thrown into this new world of magical history and spells and dimension travel but must keep it a secret from her family. She has to learn how to maneuver her new abilities quickly as she is tasked along with her group of friends to track down a criminal and save the world. Again, that sounds a bit cheesy, but it isn’t. Okorafor does a fantastic job of blending the magic with real world experiences.

I have recommended this book to my students and to fellow teachers. It pulled me in early and never let go. This is the first in the series and I hope there are many more books to come! I’m happy that I found the interview and stepped out of my comfort zone for this one. It will probably stay high on my rated reviews for this year.

Write About it Wednesday: Graphic Novels

“We must die on this godforsaken island.”

The Book Riot Read Harder Challenge is FULL of graphic novels. This was intimidating for me because I have never read one, nor did I know how. Anyone can read a book, right? Wrong. I felt like a book lover fraud with this new endeavor. I believe interest is a major factor in success when trying something new. I picked Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths which is a fictionalized memoir set in the South Pacific during World War Two which appeals to my inner history nerd. I opened the first page, which is actually in the back. This was as far as my knowledge of graphic novels went. I read the introduction and turned to the second page…only to find that I was already confused. Why are the pages backwards? I’m now going to tell you the truth: I had to YouTube how to read a graphic novel. After several useless videos, I finally landed on one that taught me something. I’m feeling confident at this point, only to turn to the first page of the novel. I start reading, and then I’m distracted by the pictures. I look at every picture before reading the dialogue which completely ruins the presentation and design. I start reading, but then I’m reverting to my old habits. At this point, I’ve made it three pages and have no idea what is going on. It’s time to regroup.

I have a solid obsession with Post It notes. I decide to write a game plan on reading: Start at the top right-hand corner and read from right to left. Then, continue to the next row and repeat. This lasted until I closed the book when life interrupted. I would open the book again to continue reading and completely forget how to read every single time. This seems ridiculous looking back but I would have never made it through the novel without the Post It reminder. My brain just could not process the information. I read all the time, but the moment I changed the routine and expectation it was a full-on breakdown.

I enjoyed what I comprehended of OTOND. It is a personal story and gives insight into the experiences of soldiers during this portion of the war. There is dark humor, vivid imagery, and the illustrations blended for a comic-like experience, but this was a true challenge for me. I’m sure there are scientific studies well beyond my range of knowledge about routine and comprehension that explain how this change in pattern completely threw me for a loop. My hope is the next novel will be a bit easier on me.

Have you read graphic novels? What was your experience? I’d love to hear some other novels to try!


Write About it Wednesday: Rubio Murders, Brownsville, TX

“If the building stays behind, it will always be a landmark of three children who were never given an opportunity to live, to see the sun rise one more time, to see the moon.”

The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts dives into the city of Brownsville, Texas and the repercussions of a horrendous murder of three children and what happens to the building where a crime of such nature is committed. This true crime novel is written in a unique way that focuses outside the murder itself and shows what is left behind. The author was asked to cover the potential demolition of the site of the murders but saw a story that went much deeper. This led to a six-year journey into the effects on the city in the aftermath, the larger significance of such crimes and an exploration of social issues such as poverty and mental illness. John Allen Rubio, with the aid of his common law wife, murdered his three children after voices told him to. These were not simple, point and shoot murders but were gruesome in nature. These children suffered at the hands of their parents. My first question is always: Could this have been prevented? Were there signs?

Rubio had a rough childhood. His mother would use his disability checks to pay their rent instead of providing therapy and assistance. He was pushed into prostitution and moved in with girlfriends to get away from the abuse. He had dreams of going into the military after high school but failed the aptitude tests required for entry. He became addicted to drugs and was homeless on and off. He could not hold down a steady job. Tillman spoke with past teachers, coaches, neighbors, shelters that Rubio visited about his childhood and disability. She left no stone unturned. She even corresponded with Rubio through letters and visits to the prison. He sent her pictures and school reports and painted a picture of a loving father, dedicated to his children. So, what went wrong?

The neighbors believe the building where the crimes were committed is cursed, it has a bad energy that passes to those that come near. Tillman made countless visits to document the changes occurring in and around the building, but didn’t truly grasp the murders until she walked into the Rubio apartment. Her description of not being able to wear the shoes she walked through the apartment in anymore shares how deeply involved she became while covering this crime. She spent six years of her life on this project and it shows. The research is impeccable. As she describes the building, the community, the neighbors, the reader can truly feel the effects of the murders and begin to question their views and opinions on major issues such as poverty, mental illness, the death penalty and many more. These are uncomfortable topics that she doesn’t skip over but instead brings to the forefront and makes you think. He murdered his children. He is a monster in the eyes of most because that is how the media portrays him. Who could kill their own children? He deserves to die. What if you had to look him in the eye? What if you knew his whole story? Would it change your mind…?

I have been lucky in my nonfiction choices lately. I would easily add this book to my favorites list, not only for the content but the writing is something to learn from. As always, I did further research and considered various aspects of the story, the city itself and the coverage of the crime. It made me reflect on issues that I’ve always felt my mind was made up on. Isn’t that the power of good writing?

Cheers to another year of reading, writing and continuing to fly through a million pages…


Special Sunday Edition: Christmas Reads

“It’s curious how a few lines can cheer one so greatly over a cup of tea and a slice of toast.”

I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Lori Wilde- This was a quick read that I picked up when I saw Twilight, Texas on the front cover. I’m a native Texan, and a visitor of Wilde’s real hometown which made this a cozy start to the Christmas season. This is a spin off the movie “The Holiday” but Texas style. Gabi is a runaway law student. She wants to spend Christmas in a small town, like the one in the snow globe her brother gave her before he passed away. She trades places with a woman that she speaks with online but has never met. She finds herself living in a yurt on a Christmas tree farm in Texas. Of course, this wouldn’t be a romance without a hot man that she finds irresistible so in walks Joe. Gabi finds herself and her love along the way. It was cute and worth the read around the holidays. The descriptions of the town were perfect and there are some elements of intrigue scattered throughout.

Last Christmas in Paris by Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor- This was hands down one of my favorite reads for 2017. I couldn’t put it down! First off, back to the hopeless romantic in me: there is nothing like a well written letter. We live in a digital age of text/type/email that has lost that grand gesture of time spent pining over what to say, how to say it, and then sending the envelope waiting for the response while you stare longingly out the window as time passes. This book takes you back in time to World War One staring out your own window waiting to devour the next letter. We follow the correspondence of strong willed, ready to spread her wings, Evie Elliott as she deals with the war and its repercussions for her friends and family. She longs to be a part of the war but must serve her roles at home until the time arrives. As the years pass, her growth as a woman is seen through her letters and the hardships she and so many others are forced to face. The love and loss make this a must read for historical fiction fans. I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed some tears. I needed 100 more pages of letters, and then 100 more because it would never be enough. These authors did an amazing job of blending the characters and stories and providing perspective on the women’s views of the war. Besides the romance, the coverage of the newspapers and how the media reported on the war was enlightening. I hope to do research on this subject soon.

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas! Enjoy your holidays and curl up with a good book!


Book Review Saturday: Lincoln in the Bardo

“That stillness seemed the most terrifying thing of all. He was on his own now. None could help or hinder him on the profound journey which, it seemed, had now begun.”

I did not know what to expect with this book. I checked it out from the library previously but did not get around to reading it until the Man Booker finalists were announced. I love historical fiction, but this falls into a category all its own. I have never read a book like this. Saunders wins the award for most creativity, but the book did fall flat in some regards for me. The research is impeccable and presented in a new way that grabbed my attention. The history is entwined in the story with direct accounts from people who witnessed the events. It shows the discrepancies in what is remembered and how history can be misconstrued.

With a cast of 166 narrators, the book can be overwhelming at first. Saunders grabs your attention right away with stories from characters in the mysterious Bardo. It reads as a ghost story with historical elements. You will laugh, blush and feel sadness for the President in what must have been a heart wrenching experience. I do not have children. I can’t imagine having to bury one while still maintaining leadership of an entire nation. The weight of the world on his shoulders and watching his every move.

Unfortunately, the afterlife consumes most of the novel. I was more interested in the historical elements which left me a bit disappointed. I was ready for the ending about 50 pages before it came. The people trapped in the afterlife provide insight into the struggles of self and humanity, but I wanted more of the historical side of Willie’s passing. I am curious where the inspiration for the ghosts originated because they are so diverse. Their stories are well developed, and every detail was captured. It begs the question; do we really know we are dead once we pass? If there is an in between, why must we wait? Saunders tackles these issues and more with a book that is worth the read. I believe it will stand the test of time and be read for many generations to come.


Write About it Wednesday: Start Writing Your Book Today

“Most successful authors began their writing career in the margins of their normal life.”

I thought I would cover a few books about writing in honor of #nanowrimo. Although I am not participating this year because of graduate school, I still have been writing here and there and planning out my ideas. This book helped me get over the fear of sharing that I want to write a novel one day. Why is it so hard to say that out loud to people? Are we afraid of their judgement, afraid that we will never accomplish it or just lacking confidence in ourselves? I’m over it. I know this is something that I want to do and I don’t want to wait until I “have more time,” “all my research is complete,” or “when I become a better writer.” This book is 103 pages of pure motivation with excellent advice and easy to follow steps.’

The most important first step is writing your WHY. Why is this book important to you and why are you writing? This should be written down somewhere for you to return to when you lack motivation or feel like giving up. It is an excellent reminder. Setting weekly writing goals and tracking word count progress is vital to completing the project. If the book truly matters then you will make time in between your daily life to meet the goals. The author suggests using Pomodoro sessions working in small chunks of time with short breaks in between. Intention for the writing should be set along with a timer so the writing is meaningful and not wasted. She outlines a seven-week process for completing your first draft. At first, I thought this seemed way out of reach but I believe if her system is followed it would be possible. She even allows time for free writing which will eventually become the basis for the rough draft. After the rough draft, she describes ways to deal with criticism, revisions and helps you develop good writing habits.

I like the direct approach of this book. She is straight to the point and provides easy to follow steps to becoming the writer you want to be. She includes several resources in the back that assist with tracking your progress to stay accountable, advice on the creation of a reverse outline, and guides to developing the habits that will get you closer to your dream. This book was worth the money and just what I needed to get in gear. There are so many books out there for writers and it can be overwhelming trying to decide which ones will help you. I wasn’t disappointed, in fact I was quickly developing my why and creating outlines for future work.

Good luck to everyone who is typing away at their word counts. I’m proud of you! I hope to join you soon. If you have any books that have helped your writing career, please share! I would love to hear from you.