The Artist’s Way Book Review

Creativity is like a ball of energy. Without a vessel/tool to harness it or shape it, it just hangs there.

The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, was originally published in 1992. The 25th-anniversary edition was published in 2016. In the book, Cameron takes a unique approach to be creative. Using a variety of techniques (such as The Morning Pages and Artist Dates) she encourages her readers to dig deep and discover what is holding them back. She also includes exercises, activities, and prompts in each chapter, giving the reader further opportunities to pull out what is metaphorically inside of them.

I was shocked that I had never heard of this book until a friend told me about it recently. Learning about Cameron’s methods was almost akin to picking up a mental health-related self-help book. It’s not just about facing what is blocking us as artists, it is what is holding us back in life as well.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

The Artist’s Way is available wherever books are sold.

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Thoughts On the Emily Trailer

Among the Bronte sisters, Emily Bronte is the one who fans know the least about. She only published one book, Wuthering Heights, and kept mostly within the circle of family and friends.

The trailer for Emily was released earlier this week. Written and directed by Frances O’Connor, Emma Mackey stars in the lead role as the mysterious and rebellious author.

The movie is about Emily’s life and her supposed romance with William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). William was a local curate who was a friend of the Bronte family and if the narrative of the film is true, interested in Emily romantically.

I got Becoming Jane vibes while watching the trailer. Both Bronte and Weightman died young, leaving it up to conjecture as to the truth about their relationship. Bronte fans and academics have long believed that it was Anne, not Emily, who Weightman was in love with.

Only time will tell if it is true to what we know about Bronte or if it is based on unsubstantiated rumors. Either way, I look forward to seeing it.

Emily will be released in Canada and Europe in the next few months. The release date for the United States has not been announced yet, but it will likely occur sometime next year.

Can You Learn to Write Via Fanfiction?

Learning to write can only be described as a process of trial and error. For every polished piece or story that is published, there are others that are still in messy draft form.

Many writers (myself included) started writing via fanfiction. Fanfiction is fiction that is based on previously released work. The beauty of this genre is that there are so many opportunities to take the narrative in a new direction. The story can be a prequel, a sequel, go inside a character’s head, take place in an alternative universe, etc.

The one caveat is that the publishing date determines whether or not the writer is breaking copyright laws. Anything that was published more than 100 years ago (i.e. the novels of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens) is public domain and obviously fair game. The same cannot be said if the tale being crafted is based on a work that is less than a century old. Anyone writing, for example, Harry Potter or Star Wars fanfiction is wading into legally murky waters.

The answer is yes, you can learn to write via fanfiction. Some of my early works are in need of a major rewrite. Even with that cringe factor, there is no doubt that I was learning along the way. The basics of creating fiction in terms of narrative, characters, setting, etc, can be mastered via this genre. E.L. James, the creator of the Fifty Shades of Grey series, has become one of the preeminent authors of our era started out by creating Twilight fanfiction. Regardless of one’s opinion of James’s writing, there is no doubt that she has turned a hobby into a successful career.

Not everyone takes the same route when they start out writing. That does mean, however, that one path is better or worse than another. We all learn how to craft stories in our own way and own time. One of these routes is fanfiction.

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Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life Book Review

Where an author lives often plays a role in their perspective and their work.

Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life, by Evan Hughes, was published in 2011. It tells the story of the history of Brooklyn via her writers from the late 19th century until the modern era.

He delves into the writing, the lives, and the neighborhoods of noted authors such as Walt Whitman, Arthur Miller, Truman Capote, Jennifer Egan, and Richard Wright. Each author, in their own way, use Brooklyn and their experience in the borough as a backdrop for their work and their character’s point of view.

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I enjoyed this book. Though it could be seen as a little niche, it could also be seen as both a history book and a series of vignettes about respected writers. As a native Brooklynite, I enjoyed learning about the subjects and how their non-writing life influenced the works they would become known for.

My only complaint was that I wish that Hughes would have included more female writers.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life is available wherever books are sold.

Illegally Yours: A Memoir Book Review

America has been built on the back of immigrants for over two hundred years. But in every generation, there are those who forget this and try to limit who can enter this country.

Illegally Yours: A Memoir, by Jane the Virgin writer by Rafael Agustin, was published this month. Born in Ecuador, Agustin entered the United States with his parents as a young boy. He believed himself to be as American as any other child. That belief is shattered when he tried to get his driver’s license in high school and is unable to do. When he gets home, Rafael is told that they entered the country illegally and have been undocumented ever since.

Though the truth is out, the question of Rafael’s future is now unknown.

I loved this memoir. His voice is so clear that you can easily see the world as he knew it to be then. The narrative speaks to the American dream and why so many have walked on that same path.

If nothing else, it reminded me of why my own relations immigrated more than a century ago. Their dreams of their future and their children’s future were the same as Agustin’s parents, even in a different time and place.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Illegally Yours: A Memoir is available wherever books are sold.

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I Was Better Last Night: A Memoir Book Review

There are two ways to look at life. The first is a series of potholes that we stepped in and learned from. The second is to always be the optimist. My view is a combination of them both. Life is a combination of good experiences and bad experiences. What matters is how we deal with the outcomes of those events.

Harvey Fierstein‘s new autobiography/memoir, I Was Better Last Night: A Memoir was published in March. Born in 1952 to a Jewish family in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bensonhurst, he knew from an early age that he was a born performer. He also knew that he was not like other boys.

His life and career is nothing short of a roller coaster. As an LGBTQ activist, Fierstein has paved the way for this generation of queer young people to be out and proud of who they are. As a writer and actor, he has become well known and respected for his body of work: Independence Day, Newsies, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hairspray, etc.

Fierstein’s story is one of acceptance, change, and dealing with both the highs and lows that come with living a colorful life on your own terms.

I loved this book. In his trademark voice, Fierstein is funny, sarcastic, open, heartbreaking, and real. This is a man who has been to Hades and back and still finds joy in the little things. He is more than an icon in this book. He is a human being who has inspired us, made us laugh, made us cry, and most of all proved that we can be ourselves and thrive.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

I Was Better Last Night: A Memoir is available wherever books are sold.

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Jewish American Heritage Month: Americans Jews Who Made an Impact

May is Jewish American Heritage Month. With antisemitism on the rise in frightening numbers, the easier thing would be to hide who we are. Instead, we should be loud and proud of who we are. In honor of this month, I would like to offer a small list of American Jews who have made an impact on this nation.

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P.S. Last week was both Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut. Happy Birthday Israel and may the memories of those who gave their lives for their country be a blessing.

The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination Book Review

Over the centuries, women have been portrayed as many things: the innocent victim who is in need of rescue, the slut, the man-hater, the marriage-minded miss, etc. The problem with these images is that they are 2-D and without room to grow beyond the boxed-in perception. The only way to smash these stereotypes is to allow us to tell our own stories from our perspective.

The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (published in 1979), this classic 1970’s second-wave nonfiction book examines how female characters are portrayed in 19th-century novels. Authors Susan Gubar and Sandra M. Gilbert compare the images of women created by male writers as opposed to the images created by female writers. Using the analogy of Bertha Mason (the literal madwoman in the attic) from the Charlotte Bronte novel, Jane Eyre, they dive into the fiction of authors such as Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Mary Shelley, etc.

This book is a classic for a reason. Forty-plus years after its initial publication, it is as relevant today as it was back then. Their theory that women writers have a greater insight and ability to create 3D fully human characters as opposed to the typecast idea of females that some male writers have can still be seen today on both the page and the screen.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Still Mad: American Women Writers and the Feminist Imagination Book Review

A good book does more than entertain. It opens doors, minds, and hearts.

Still Mad: American Women Writers and the Feminist Imagination, by Susan Gubar and Sandra M. Gilbert is the follow-up to their acclaimed 1979 book, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. Published last year, it starts in the 1950s and ends in 2020. It explores how women writers such as Erica Jong, Lorraine Hansberry, Betty Friedan, Sylvia Plath, and Margaret Atwood have used both fiction and nonfiction to explore what it is to be female in the modern world. Each writer, in her way, describes the contradictions, sexism, and obstacles that are placed in front of her that are simply due to being born a woman. They also use feminism as a way to call out the bullshit that men have used to prevent us from reaching our full potential.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than to write a review of this book. I read their first book years ago and was blown away. My reaction to its sequel was the same. I loved it. It was powerful, it lit a fire under my proverbial behind, and it reminded me how far we still need to go. They take the energy from The Madwoman in the Attic and use it to propel the story forward. In doing so, Gubar and Gilbert inspire younger generations to take the torch from their hands and continue to fight for our rights.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation Book Review

The Diary of Anne Frank has been read by millions of readers since it was published in 1947. The ending is both hopeful and devastating. The one question that still leaves us hanging after 70+ years, is who was responsible for the betrayal of the residents of the Annex?

The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation, by Rosemary Sullivan, was published this month. The book follows the multi-year search led by FBI investigator Vincent Pankoke to answer the question once and for all. Using modern cold case investigative methodologies and working with a team of historians and other experts, no detail is left to the wind. Every clue is followed to the bitter end, leading to a suspect that if proven to be the one, has gone undetected for nearly a century.

I know it is only January, but I can already see this book topping the list of best books of 2022. It is a heart-pounding thriller that kept me hooked until the final page. As we got closer to the end, I wanted to know who was responsible. If nothing else, it is a reminder that getting justice is still possible, even when those directly affected are no longer with us. When it closed for the last time, I knew that there was a light in the darkness. Perhaps history will not repeat itself and we will finally learn the lessons of diversity and respect.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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