WIPpet Wednesday: The Camera

Happy Hump Day!

Look at what happened this weekend, in between the pet store and Costco. Gotta feed the dog, the stomach, AND the brain 🙂

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Some of you may know that I’ve been living off of eBooks for the longest time, so, believe it or not, these are some of the few actual books that I own. It was SUPER exciting to go to the bookstore and see all the books that you guys have been talking about. I was like a kid at a candy store 🙂 I miss that about bookstores and I will do that more often!

Without further ado, let’s get on to the feature presentation. Drumroll please!

WIPpet Wednesdays is a blog hop where writers can share a snippet from their WIP (Work in Progress). The only stipulation is that the excerpt is somehow related to the date.

Be sure to check out some of the other lovely WIPpet snippets here. Thank you Emily Wrayburn for hosting.

My current project is a new-adult contemporary novella titled Together We Will Live Forever (tentative.) Olivia is a neuroscience grad student and an aspiring artist. Matt works at the art gallery and lives with his daughter, Zelda.

In this scene, Olivia is at Matt’s apartment:

It is a camera. An actual camera. Not even one of those compact models that tourists carry. It has huge lenses and a detachable flash unit, like the kind that professionals use.

Olivia stands on her tiptoes and leans towards the shelves, reaching in with both her arms. She carefully removes the camera from its position on the shelf and brings it to eye level. It weighs heavy in her hands. And it is covered by a layer of dust.

“Hey Matt,” Olivia says. “You didn’t mention that you took photos. Now it’s totally unfair and you have four things you’re good at.”

She turns it on. Beep. The screen flashes to life.

On the display is a photo of a woman in a blue hospital gown. She is sitting on a bed with white sheets and grey railings. Beside the bed is a metal pole with bags of clear fluid hanging from it.

Olivia zooms in on the woman’s face. She has long, blonde hair, like Zelda.

WIPpet Math: Today is July 26 (7/26). 168 words. 2 + 6 + 7 = 1 + 6 + 8

Camp Nano Update: Can you believe that there are less than 5 days left!? I am at 46441 words (out of 50000), which sounds like I’m almost there! But really, life is going to be crazy for the next couple of days, so I’ll be lucky if I can squeeze out a few words a day.

And recently, writing’s been feeling like this…

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How has your week been? For the Camp Nano-ers out there, are you ready for a sprint to the finish line? For the rest of you writers, how is your project coming along?

Let’s Chat: Stereotypes in Fiction

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Hello everyone!

Any bookstagrammers out there? If you are one, comment with your instagram username below and I will follow you 🙂

Today I want to talk about stereotypes. As readers of diverse fiction, stereotypes hold negative connotations. We crinkle our noses when characters become stereotypical, we roll our eyes, and we make a mental note to slam that character in our book review.

ster·e·o·type noun a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.

For example, there is that stereotype that Chinese kids are nerdy, good at math, and wear glasses. I mean, how clichéd is that? I want to blow a gasket and flip a table somewhere.

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Then I realized that I am a nerdy, nearsighted Chinese(-Canadian) person who is somewhat good at math.

So… am I… a stereotype?

Could it be that there is some truth to that stereotype? For example, when I think about it, there are reasons why I am nerdy, nearsighted, and good at math. And part of it does have to do with the fact that I am Chinese:

  1. I am nerdy: China values academic success. The “popular” kids in China are those who are smart and have high grades. A famous Taiwanese drama features a love interest who is the most popular boy in high school because he has an IQ of 200 and gets top grades in every class. Growing up, the most popular kids in my elementary school are the ones who have the best academic performance. I was taught at a young age to study hard, and I was rewarded for that.
  2. I am (somewhat) good at math: Math is emphasized in the curriculum in China. As a kid, I learned the multiplication table in grade 1. A lot of my friends took private lessons to learn abacus in preschool and kindergarten (I didn’t, which made me the runt of the math litter.) However, when I came to Canada, the multiplication table wasn’t taught until grade 3-4, and suddenly I was well ahead of everyone. It just seems that kids learn math earlier in China and they have more time to get better at it.
  3. I wear glasses: I had to Google this one, because I didn’t know whether or not it’s really true. Turns out that 86% of high school kids in Shanghai wear glasses, compared to 29% in Singapore and 3% in Sydney, Australia. Why is this? China has a super highly competitive academic system. Kids have to study their butts off at a young age and spend countless hours reading books (or looking at their computer screen), which increases nearsightedness.

But if that’s the case, how can stereotypes bear some truth, but still enrage people? I would still be super, duper angry if I were to ever see a Chinese character portrayed that way.

The issue comes when a character presents an oversimplified image or idea of a certain group of people. Everyone is unique, even if we do have some of the stereotypical qualities of the group that we belong to.

Some of us may appear to fit the stereotype at first glance, but when we delve deeper, there are unique qualities that make us who we are. I may be a nerdy and nearsighted Chinese person, but I also happen to enjoy crafting and pole dancing, and I can speak well in public situations if I put my mind to it. Other people defy stereotypes in general. Some of my Chinese-Canadian friends are terrible at math, or they are popular and love to party and socialize. And one of my Chinese-Canadian friends actually has 20/20 vision.

So perhaps, it is not when a character has certain stereotypical traits of a culture or a group that we dislike. And rather if the character only have these traits, and nothing else that distinguishes them as who they are.

But can character go too far to defy their stereotype? There are characters from the other extreme of the spectrum, in which they have no qualities of the particular culture or group they belong in. It is as if the author takes a Generic Supporting Character X and slaps on an ethnic label, just so the novel can be “diverse”. This irritates us as well.

You see what I mean? It is a fine, fine line between a stereotypical character and a character who is devoid of all characteristics that make them a member of a certain group or culture. We love it when characters break the mold, but we hate it when they break the mold too much.

As a writer, this actually makes it terrifying to write about anyone who is not in my ethnic group. What if I get it completely wrong? What if I offend without intending to?

Do you agree that there is some truth to some stereotypes? What do you think about stereotypes in fiction? Can a character go too far in defying cultural stereotypes?

PS. I refer to cultural stereotypes a lot in this post, because that is what is most relevant for me. But I do wonder if this applies to stereotypes in general: for example, gender stereotypes, or stereotypes about people of different sexual orientations.

Review: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

18336965“Maybe we all have darkness inside of us and some of us are better at dealing with it than others.”

Trigger warning: This book contains content that some people may be triggered by. Please be cautious if you are sensitive towards the topic of suicide.

Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. She discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, where she meets a teen boy with the username FrozenRobot (aka Roman) who’s haunted by a family tragedy.

Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Except that Roman may not be so easy to convince.

Young Adult / Contemporary / 302 pages

This novel surprised me with its amazing cast of characters and its terrific writing and dialogue. It made me laugh and cry, sometimes even both at the same time.

Note that I listened to the unabridged audiobook, read by Rebecca Lowman, which is a stunning performance.

I love that book talks about depression and suicide without holding back. It is bold and confrontational, while being subtle in all the right places.

The characters are relatable and lovable. They are humans, like you and me. They are not perfect, in appearance or in personality. Aysel has low self-esteem because she is bullied in school, and she harbours a lot of guilt for what her father has done. She hates her job, and frankly she thinks everyone is better off without her. Aysel’s relationship with her family is a complicated one. She loves her mom and her sister, and yet she withdraws from them because she doesn’t think they care. Roman, who was once popular, is now a bit awkward because he spends so much time alone. His parents smother him with love, and he rather they do not. At the same time we know that he loves them too. Aysel and Roman are two characters who stayed in my head long after I finished reading this book.

Each of the supporting characters are amazing, from Aysel’s sister to her physics project partner to her mom and dad. I love that no characters are absolutely good or evil. Everyone is simply trying their best. I love how Aysel and Roman’s parents are portrayed in this book. Roman’s mom is overbearing, while Aysel’s mom holds herself at a distance. Both of them love their children to no end, like real mothers, and their love really comes through in this book. I feel that few young adult books get this just right, and this is one of them.

It is a truly a character-driven story. I love that the story unfolds so naturally. I love the chemistry between Aysel and Roman which carries the plot forward. The writing is at times witty and humorous. At times it pulls on my heartstrings and make me cry. I love the dialogue between Aysel and Roman, between Aysel and her sister, between Aysel and her mother, between Roman and her mother… I love ALL the dialogue in this story. The writing is one of the best that I’ve read.

This is one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened too.

The bottom line:

My Heart and Other Black Holes delves into difficult topics such as depression and suicide, with wit, humour and subtlety. I recommend this book for anyone with an interest in mental health, or for those in the mood for a well-written YA romance. This book will make you laugh and cry.

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Have you read My Heart and Other Black Holes? What are your favourite books that discuss mental health?

100 Followers and The Versatile Blogger Award!

Happy Friday!

Do I REALLY have 100 followers? Like, really? (rubs eyes and refreshes page again, because part of me still thinks that I dreamed it all)

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I am honestly SO happy and SO grateful to all of you who read my posts! I remember when I first started this blog with one sad, lonely follower (myself). And in the beginning, I honestly couldn’t believe that anyone would want to read what I have to write. I was ecstatic when I got my first like and my first comment and my first handful of followers.

And you know what? My heart still leaps when I get a new WP notification. I love each and every comment I get from you guys! And each new follower makes me smile! Really! From the bottom of my heart!

I am so grateful for all you wonderful peeps and fellow bloggers. It’s amazing to talk to people from all over the world who like the same stuff as I do. And I love discovering new books and new ideas through you guys. I find myself learning new things and pushing the boundaries of my imagination every day.

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I also want to announce that I was nominated for The Versatile Blogger Award! Big thanks to cseveneaj (@Pen and Paper) and Rejoice A (@The Southern Girl) for nominating me 🙂 Please check out their blogs! Cseveneaj writes lovely poetry, and Rejoice A’s posts will make you smile.

Rules for The Versatile Blogger Award:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you.
  2. Share 7 facts about yourself.
  3. Nominate 10 other bloggers of your choice.
  4. Link your nominees and let them know of you nomination.

Seven facts about me:

I have a greyhound (the dog, not the bus company) named Charles, like the Prince.

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I am one of those people who have to check the stove and my alarm a gazillion times before I go to bed, because I am terrified that my apartment will burn down overnight and I won’t wake up in the morning.

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I am a pharmacist and I work with children who have cancer. Chemo and radiation are tough. But kids are so strong and resilient and brave, because they roll along with whatever life throws at them. They are amazing little humans.

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My fiancé finished medical school this year and is starting his residency in pathology. It’s perfect for him, because he doesn’t like talking to people. He’d rather do autopsies.

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My pole dancing friends call me fearless, because they see me trying things that could get myself seriously hurt. The truth is that I’m terrified each time, but I don’t let it stop me :’)

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I secretly love spending time alone.

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I was born in China and moved to Canada when I was 8 years old. On my passport, I am Canadian. But I am fiercely proud of being both. I love the stereotype that Canadians are nice, because it is so true. And did you know that the Chinese invented paper and printing? And gunpowder? Without China, we might not have books (or gun violence, for that matter.)

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I nominate the following peeps:

(Please check these blogs out, because they are so much more awesome than mine!)

Marie @ Drizzle & Hurricane Books

Sophie @ Blame Chocolate

Breezy @ Breeny’s Books

Annie Earnshaw @ Annie Likes Words

Stella @ Stella’s Journey

Melanie @ MN Bernard Books

The Book-Loving Pharmacist

Inge @ The Belgian Reviewer

Jeanne G’Fellers

Rachel @ Rachel Also Writes

I totally wouldn’t be surprised if you are on this list and you have already been nominated for this award before 🙂

Do any of you share the same quirks as I do? What are some interesting facts about yourself?

 

WIPpet Wednesday: The So-Called Lawyer

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Happy Hump Day everyone!

WIPpet Wednesdays is a blog hop where writers can share a snippet from their WIP (Work in Progress). The only stipulation is that the excerpt is somehow related to the date.

Be sure to check out some of the other lovely WIPpet snippets here. Thank you Emily Wrayburn for hosting.

My current project is a new-adult contemporary novella titled Together We Will Live Forever (tentative.) Olivia is a neuroscience grad student and an aspiring artist. Matt works at the art gallery and lives with his daughter, Zelda.

This is from a time when Olivia was still dating Rudy:

Rudy’s footsteps slowed as he neared a building on Bay street, one of those fancy condos with glass windows in place of walls. That was when Olivia took the cue to slide into a bus shelter, hiding behind an advertisement for a Canadian bank.

Through the glass pane of the shelter, Olivia watched the so-called lawyer emerge from the doors of the lobby. This time, she was in a bulky sweater that draped over one shoulder and exposed the other, and a pair of short denim shorts. The short short kind.

Victoria.

Olivia’s eyes narrowed. Her heart pounded in her chest. She clutched her phone so tight that she might just break it.

Then Rudy did the unthinkable.

WIPpet Math: 1 + 9 (for the 19th of the month) = 10 sentences

If you want to read more about Olivia and Rudy (waaaaaay before this stuff happened), click here.

Time for a Camp Nano update! I am at 31055 words out of 50000, which means I am on target, if not a teensy bit ahead.

But… I am exhausted. *wobble wobble faint*

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It’s just that I have so much stuff going on! And I want to do it all! There is work and blogging and pole and life AND Camp Nano, and not enough time in the day to get it all done! So because I did want to get it ALL done, I ended up sleeping less, and my health is taking a hit. (Eg. I’ve been having a cold on-and-off for 14 days…) The lesson of the day is: DON’T TRY TO DO WHAT I DID!!

My goal for the second half of July is to take care of myself better. I realized that I probably can’t finish my novel by the end of July even if I reach 50K words, because right now I am nowhere near even HALF done. This may be an end-of-August goal haha…

How is your writing project going? For those doing Camp Nano: how’s that going for you? How are you managing with your Nano/life balance? 

Mid-Year Freak Out Book Tag 2017

Hello everyone!

… Is it too late to do the Mid-Year Freak Out Book Tag? I mean, is still the middle of July, right? Which is still sorta-kinda middle of the year? Right!? Right!??

*Is totally late to the party*

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Ahem, anyway! I saw so many awesome people do this tag, and it looks like a lot of fun, so I thought I’d give it a roll.

Best Book You’ve Read Yet in 2017

18336965This one is super hard, because there are so many books that I’ve read this year that I absolutely love. My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga takes the cake, because it made me laugh and cry (and sometimes, both at the same time.) What I love about this book is that no one is perfect and there are no true villains. Everyone is complex and have a story of their own.

Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far in 2017

29939230Hands down, this goes to A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab (the last book of the Shades of Magic series). So much magic! So much imagination! I just LOVE the world of Kell and Lila and Rhy and Alucard! My favourite character has got to be Alucard. He is just SO AWESOME.

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss is a notable mention. It’s an amazing story and an amazing world. But it’s just… so… long.

New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To

32075662I MUST have been talking about reading The Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab since forever!! This is the sequel to This Savage Song, which I read and loved.

Most Anticipated Release for the Second Half of the Year

18336972I am very excited for Here We Are Now by Jasmine Warga, to be released in November 2017. I LOVED the writing style and the characters and the dialogue and just about everything in her debut novel Black Holes (see above).

(Oh how I WISH I could add The Doors of Stone, 3rd book of The Kingkiller Chronicle series, to this list. Release date is still TBA…)

Biggest Disappointment

32333174Oh boy. I think you guys must have heard me rant about this one already. My review is here.

Biggest Surprise

9305362The Captive Prince Trilogy by S. U. Pacat is a mastermind thriller and heart-stopping romance, all under the guise of a male/male slash fic. I had expected to read a trashy, brainless novel, but this was anything but.

Favourite New Author(s)

In clockwise fashion: Jasmine Warga, V. E. Schwab, and Patrick Rothfuss 🙂

Newest Fictional Crush & Newest Favourite Character

Kvothe, from The Name of the Wind, because he is just so darn smart and cool ❤

Book That Made You Cry

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Black Holes also made my fiancé cry, which is saying something, because, up to that day, I quote, “I have never cried reading a book.” HA 🙂

Book That Made You Happy

19547856Simon Vs The Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is one of those books that you can’t put down. Although the subject matter is serious (coming out), the story is written with such wit and humour that I couldn’t help but smile and laugh.

Favourite Book to Film Adaptation

P00292H.jpgIn an effort to research my novel (cough, not procrastinating, cough), I re-watched the Sound of Music movie (1965). Did you know that this was based on a memoir titled The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, by Maria von Trapp? I sure didn’t! The screenwriters did dramatize many elements of (the real) Maria von Trapp’s life, in the name of “artistic license.” Fortunately, many of the essential aspects of the movie are kept: Maria was raised by the convent, and the Captain was sought after by the German navy, and the Von Trapp family did become a prominent group of singers.

Just thought I’d share this fun tidbit 🙂

Favourite Post You Have Done This Year

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On Being An Introvert. I love this one because it came from my heart.

Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year

222078The Story of Art by E. H. Gombrich is the only actual, physical book that I’ve purchased this year (others are in eBook or Audiobook formats.) But this IS a beautiful book. There are pages and pages of coloured prints of all the examples that the author refers to in his retelling of art history.

What Books Do You Need to Read by the End of the Year

Oh boy, where do I even start!? I want to read some new YA fiction (like Dimple and Rishi, Eliza, and The Dark Duet) which I’ve read SO many rave reviews about. I also want to read some of the Good Ol’ Classics, like Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird, which I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read yet 🙂

What are your favourite books this year? Is there a book that disappointed you? What are you looking forward to reading? Do you have a favourite new character?

And I tag… YOU! 🙂

Review: It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

248704“I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare.” 

Craig is a an ambitious teen who strives for success. His dream comes true when he aces his way into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School… or so he thinks. Soon, the pressure to succeed overcomes him and he falls into depression. 

After a near suicide attempt, Craig checks into the mental hospital, where he meets a cast of hilarious and fascinating characters, who teach him acceptance, compassion, and how to be human. (Young adult / 448 pages)

Firstly, I want to note that this is a semi-autobiographical tale: Ned Vizzini had suffered from depression himself, and he, like Craig, spent five days in a mental hospital.

This book speaks boldly on the topic of depression and suicide. Craig doesn’t beat around the bush or talk around it. He tells it as it is. He tells us that depression is like waking into a nightmare, or that depression starts slow, or that life can’t be cured, only managed. I believe that there should be more real talk about mental health in real life, that it shouldn’t be spoken in hushed whispers or kept secret because of stigma.

Novels like this are important because they normalize and de-stigmatize mental health. If I had depression, perhaps I could relate to Craig and feel understood and less alone. I don’t have depression, but I can now understand a bit more about what it is like if I did.

Despite the subject matter, I appreciate the author’s sense of humour. Depression and suicide are nothing to joke about. But the world, through Craig’s quirky point of view, is a funny one. There are moments that made me smile or laugh out loud. The author is able to walk a find line between light-hearted humour and the effect of depression on Craig’s mind.

Craig is a believable character. He has strengths and he has flaws, even though he himself is so fixated on his flaws early in the book that he doesn’t register his strengths. We don’t need to have depression to empathize. It is a delight to watch him grow and rediscover himself throughout this book.

The secondary characters are interesting, but underdeveloped. This may be because there are just so many of them and not enough pages to talk about them all. The other people in the mental hospital are fun and quirky and seem to have their own stories to tell. I would have loved to learn more about Craig’s family as well.

I love the portrayal of the mental hospital and the juxtaposition with real life. The mental hospital in this book is a more humane version of the one in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It is also similar to the mental ward in the hospital I work at, so perhaps it is also more realistic in this day and age. This is important because this novel addresses some of the misconceptions that people may have about the psychiatric ward. It is not a volatile and scary place that people think it is. In fact, in this story, the mental hospital is a happy place where people are accepted for who they are and treated as equals. It is here where Craig learns to look at his life with a kinder perspective. Conversely, real life is where people judge and tear each other apart. Makes you wonder, who are the real crazies?

Bottom line:

This book is a unflinching tale about depression, suicide, and the road to recovery. It is a must-read for anyone who is interested in mental health.

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Have you read this book? If so, what do you think? What are your favourite books about mental health? Do you have any on your TBR?