An Interview with Tiana Warner

Congratulations on releasing your latest book, The Road Trip Agreement! What did your writing process look like for this story compared to your other series’?

Thank you! This story was inspired by a road trip I took along the Oregon coast, so the process kicked off with some real-life setting research—which is obviously quite different from writing fantasy books. I began the draft while on the trip and finished it fairly quickly while the setting was fresh in my mind. Compared to writing fantasy, I find contemporary romances to be quicker because you don’t have to spend time creating or researching the fictional world(s) and magic rules.

As a bisexual woman writing and publishing much needed sapphic stories, what are the struggles that you’ve faced within the industry?

When I first started publishing, there weren’t a lot of LGBTQ+ publishers or even that many LGBTQ+ novels, so I remember being unsure whether there would be space for my trilogy about a girl who falls in love with a mermaid. Now, there are more options than ever for sapphic literature, which is amazing! It’s lovely to see the genre grow and become more mainstream. I’m lucky in that I haven’t had serious struggles within the industry, other than the occasional bigoted one-star review. But those people don’t deserve my mental energy. Overall, the book community is a wonderful and accepting place, and I’ve definitely felt the love.

Do you think there are differences between writing adult sapphic romances and YA sapphic stories?

The only real difference is in the age of the protagonist. YA protagonists are teenagers, and adult books have adult protagonists—simple as that. For my stories, there is also a difference in the heat level of the romantic scenes, but that’s not necessarily a rule. There are lots of adult stories with closed-door romantic scenes and YA stories with more graphic scenes. Same with violence levels and the intensity of the subject matter.

Staying on the topic of genres, do you have a preference between writing adult sapphic novels or fantastical mermaid and valkyrie stories? Is there a new genre you’d like to try out?

I alternate between writing contemporary adult romance novels and YA Fantasy novels, and I love being able to do both. Fantasy novels are so fun to write but take a lot longer and are more mentally draining because of all the worldbuilding involved, so it’s nice to break those up with something that takes place here and now. Both genres are equally fun to write and have their unique challenges! As for trying out a new genre, I’ve always wanted to write a psychological thriller (à la Gone Girl, my favorite book), but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. One day!

Are there any books coming out in 2024 that you’re looking forward to, and why?

Oh, Ylva Publishing has a lot of sapphic romances launching next year that I can’t wait to read. I’m also always excited for whatever Kate Quinn’s next book is—she’s one of my favorite authors. She has a new one coming out in February that I can’t wait to get my hands on.

I noticed that you’ve had books optioned for film—that’s amazing. Which of your stories would you like to see on the big screen?

I’m still trying to pitch my Mermaids of Eriana Kwai trilogy to Hollywood! The world needs this story in cinematic form, and I know the audience is there—I just need to convince the studios. Really, as a writer, seeing any of your work on the big screen would be a dream come true.

If you could give one, general piece of advice to aspiring authors out there, something that they should follow to the ends of the earth, what would it be?

Being an author is super tough and a solitary career, so connect with other writers! I have a critique group that I owe my sanity to. I met them through a local writing group on Meetup.com, and we’ve been friends ever since. We meet in person once in a while to read excerpts and get feedback, and generally are just there for each other in a group chat. It’s nice to have people who are going through the same struggles, who you can go to conferences with, exchange drafts with, talk about the industry, and celebrate your successes together. Try checking out local writer conferences or joining various online spaces.

What can we look forward to from you in the future? Do you have any other stories you’re working on right now? Any other projects?

2024 will see the launch of my next adult sapphic romance, Snowed in with Summer, which is inspired by a dog-sledding trip I took in the Yukon. There’s also the third and final book in my Sigrid and the Valkyries trilogy, a young adult sapphic fantasy that takes place in the nine Norse realms. I’m also drafting several other stories in the meantime! I invite readers to sign up for my newsletter and/or follow me on Instagram to stay up to date with all of my new releases.

Six Exercises for Writing Towards Weirdness

Getting stuck as you’re writing your speculative fiction story? It’s happened to all of us at some point—a story feels unoriginal, struck by a rash of clichés, and its otherworldly narrative elements give off a whiff of staleness. Here, I present six writing exercises that can help revive your speculative writing impulse. 

Carmen Maria Machado—bestselling speculative fiction author—said in an interview that her approach to writing comes in the form of “liminal fantasy, where you have a recognizable world, a recognizable situation, and then there are these holes punctured in reality.” Drawing inspiration from Machado’s inventive approach to storytelling, I encourage you to let yourself find the holes in reality that only you can see. Fixate on small details; dive deep into weirdness, exaggerate it, and get lost in it. To practice this, consider the following freewriting prompts:

Prompt #1: Texture

Take a photo of a textured wall or surface, then zoom in as much as you can without the image becoming blurry. Study the texture, the shadows of it, the peaks and troughs of the material. Let your mind sit with the image—what is this now? Is it a fantasy world, a map of a kingdom? Is it a biome, with strange plant growth? Is it a sinister but important building? Is it the body of some living thing? Write down whatever comes to you, then repeat this exercise with the following objects: a body of water, part of a plant, and asphalt. 

Prompt #2: Sound

Have somebody make a noise or play a clip of some repetitive sound, without knowing what exactly it is. Close your eyes and listen for a few minutes. Don’t worry too much about what the sound might be in real life but think about what it is in the speculative world you’re building and describe it. Describe the shape of the sound and how it makes you feel and what role you imagine it playing in your story. 

Prompt #3: Perspective

Lie down somewhere and look at your surroundings sideways. What does this vantage point offer you? Let the familiar furnishings and/or landmarks surrounding you grow fuzzy as you focus in on them from a new angle. Let your world become new—what does the underside of a bed become, for example, now that you are viewing it from a new perspective? What does a doorway become when it is tilted on its axis? How can you use these new objects or landscapes in your writing?

Prompt #4: Emotion

Think of the most recent intense emotion you’ve felt. It can be good or bad (or anything in-between those two extremes), as long as it’s vivid. Free write about the emotion, disregarding the situation that led up to it. Think about how you can describe the emotion in unexpected ways—are there any startling metaphors you could use to describe it? How would someone normally describe an emotion like this one, and how can you invert that; how can you change the way we conceptualize emotion? 

For example, feeling anger is stereotypically described as seeing the color red—but what if instead of seeing red, anger manifests in the suctioning black circle of a vacuum’s nozzle, pulling everything into it, livid with obliteration and consumption? Aim to shock your reader with your descriptions of your chosen emotion while still remaining true to its feeling and intensity.

Prompt #5: Memory

Choose a memory in which there is another person or living being. Then, rewrite the memory from the perspective of that other person or creature. How do they see that version of you? How do they see the world in their memory? How do they see the action or conflict of the memory playing out? What do they notice about their world that perhaps you did not? What do they feel? Pay attention to how this shift in point of view warps the memory and your understanding of what is “true” to a memory. 

Prompt #6: Lighting

Shut yourself away into a room where there is no light—shut the door, close the blinds, and turn off the lamps. Then, using a flashlight, create a focused circle of light on a random section of the room. Write your description of this lighted clip of your world, either on paper or by dictating the words to a voice recording application if it’s too dark to write by hand. Ignore your knowledge of what the room looks like when fully lit and focus solely on the lighted section. Let it become the sole focus, the sole world, of your writing. Think about what you see in this piece of the room, and how they become the defining characteristics of your new world. For example, if you can see the corner of a chair in your lit-up circle, what does this corner become in the world you’re writing? If it is no longer a piece of a chair, what is it? Repeat this exercise with two other random selections from the room.

Feel free to return to these prompts as many times as you’d like as you write, or to re-invent them on your own with new concepts! As always, don’t be afraid to let your writing become wonderfully strange. If this exercise leads you to finish some writing projects, think about submitting them to F(r)iction to be considered for publication. Happy writing!

Writing Group Wanted: 3 Ways to Find Your Writing Community

Picture this: It’s a Friday night, and you’re buried beneath a mountain of sheets. The bright screen of your laptop is the only source of light as your fingers fly furiously over the keyboard. You tell yourself that once you’re published, things will be different: you won’t have to do this alone.  

Sometimes, it feels like we chase writing as though it is an exclusive club—a published book or an MFA to prove that you’re serious, otherwise your membership will not be accepted.  

In this day and age, though, that’s not true. Published or not, the writing community is at your fingertips. You just have to put yourself out there.  

Read on for three ways to get involved with the writing community, from least to most effort.  

1. Watch the #AuthorTube Community  

Level of effort required: 1/5 

It can feel enormously intimidating to put yourself out there. After all, the act of writing is an act of vulnerability—to allow your thoughts to spill out across the page. If you’re not ready to share your work with others yet, that’s completely okay!  

Sometimes it helps to simply see that you’re not on this journey alone. Fortunately, the good ol’ internet is a great way to find and connect with other writers wherever you live.

Not sure where to start? Here are some of my favorite AuthorTube writers and creators:  

  • Lynn D. Jung. She’s a Korean-American speculative fiction writer who shares writing advice and documents her writing journey.  
  • Sincerely Vee is your resident romance writer and vlogger. She’ll take you along her writing journey as she navigates the writing process while also being a full-time university student.  
  • Kris MF and Liselle Sambury. Kris, a newly agented author, is currently revising her book to go on submission and taking you along on her journey. Meanwhile, Liselle is the author of Delicious Monsters and the Blood Like Magic duology and has a lot of fun (and informational) content about her life as an author.  
  • Kate Cavanaugh runs regular word sprints and book-related livestreams over on her Youtube channel.  

2. Take Classes at Local Writing and Literary Arts Organizations  

Level of effort required: 3/5 

When I was a kid, I thought that the only way to get a great writing education was through an MFA program. Little did I know that there’s a world of writing organizations that offer educational writing programs and community resources for writers of all ages and levels!  

Though many of these organizations are based in cities like Denver, Seattle, and Boston, you don’t need to live in a city to join their community. Here are some great organizations to get your search started: 

(And of course, what do you do with all this wonderful writing? Well, you submit it to F(r)iction, of course!) 

3. Start on Social Media 

 

Level of effort required: 5 

Accessibility: 2.5/5 

It’s quite easy to make a social media account. (In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t have any social media at all.) But in this day and age, a time when social media is heavily commodified, the barrier for entry seems impossibly high—high enough to make you want to quit before you’ve even begun.  

Deciding whether to engage with social media or not is a decision that you should make for yourself, and it’s okay to say no, especially if you find it harmful to your mental health. But for those who do like being on social media, it can be a great hub for finding inspiration, starting conversations, and making new writer friends.  

When starting out, pick one platform—Twitter, Instagram, Discord, TikTok—and stick to it. If you like texting, try Twitter, Threads, or Bluesky. If you’d like to share about your own writing journey with video or pictures, try Instagram, TikTok, or even Youtube. If you like your community to be a little more limited, try Discord. There are many great public servers that you can join.  

Social media can be a bit more difficult because there are no rules. If you want to meet other writers, you are responsible for putting yourself out there and making opportunities for yourself. 

Whatever path you choose to pursue, here are a couple of tenants to hold yourself to while you’re first starting out:  

1. Give as much as you receive.  

The foundation of any lasting relationship is reciprocity, and the most fulfilling community is one where everyone pitches in. If someone comments on your post, try to respond! If someone offers to read your work, offer to read something of theirs, too! Do unto others as you want others to do unto you. 

2. Put yourself out there, even when it feels uncomfortable.  

The hard truth is that not everyone will want to be friends with you. Rejection is natural; and oftentimes, it’s less about you and more about where the other person is at—and that’s completely okay! Don’t be afraid to reply to someone’s Instagram story or comment on their post. Email your classmate and ask them to get coffee sometime, or—if you’ve got time—ask them if they’d like to be critique buddies. If you continue to stay authentic, you will eventually find the right people. 

In a world that is rapidly becoming more and more interconnected, opportunities to bond are more abundant than ever; you just need to know where to look. So go forth: experiment, explore, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! Write on, writers.

An Interview with Gerardo Sámano Córdova

Spoiler Alert—The following review contains plot details about Monstrilio.

What was the origin of the idea behind Monstrilio? Is there a particular experience or event that influenced your decision to write this book?

There isn’t a specific event, but rather a question we all have, particularly queer people: Am I going to be loved no matter what? I wanted to see how far love could be stretched. I wondered if it could break. I decided to explore a family’s love if they had to love something monstrous.

How did you manage to strike a balance between infusing elements of horror and the supernatural with themes of tragedy and grief in your novel?

I think horror is the potential of tragedy. What if the worst thing that could happen happens? How do we react? Do we survive? Horror deals a lot with grief—grief as cause and consequence. Grief is so powerful; death so alarming for us mortals that horror finds fertile ground here, as does the supernatural, attempting to explain things that perhaps we humans will never understand.

Monstrilio also explores themes of queerness, not just for young M but for almost every character in the novel. How important was it for you to write a story so representative of queer identities?

Extremely important. I had two goals: one, to have queer characters exist in a world without prejudice, acceptance, or the need for explanation; two, to tell a story in a queer way, challenging what we think traditional narrative should be.

Using multiple narrators isn’t a conventional storytelling method, especially in the context of horror. What was your intent behind featuring four distinct narrators in Monstrilio? How did their voices evolve during the writing process?

I wanted to capture a family’s experience of loving each other—how it changes. Does it vanish? Strengthen? Shape-shift? It was crucial that I get each member’s individual perspectives, each with their unique take on Monstrilio, while still having their own goals and dreams. It was interesting to me how the individual informs the collective and vice versa.

In addition to Monstrilio, you write a lot of short stories. How did writing a novel differ from your experiences in crafting shorter fiction? What challenges and creative opportunities did you encounter in making the transition from short stories to a full-length novel?

Short stories, by virtue of their shortness, have the agility to shift and experiment before they take their final shape. You can write several versions of the same short story without (usually) spending decades on it. Novels cannot shape-shift as effectively. I learned commitment while writing my novel. I couldn’t write a whole new novel every time I got anxious and wanted to scrap the whole thing! I was forced to seek the beauty and awesomeness in what I already had, and trust that even if it was only a paragraph, a sentence, or a funny phrase, it would carry me through.

Why did you feel it was important to separate the identities of Santiago and Monstrilio from M while keeping him connected through shared memories? Was it always your intention for Monstrilio to evolve into M or did this decision come about as you drafted and edited the book?

A lot (MOST) of the book evolved through drafts and edits. But this one thing, the decision to have Monstrilio evolve into M, I always had in mind. I didn’t want the book to simply be a long metaphor for grief. I wanted the metaphor to fight back and say, “I’m not a metaphor. I breathe, talk, and eat,” and see what happened. I wanted the book’s initial conceit to evolve, just like Monstrilio turns into M, hopefully leaving the reader with a more layered and nuanced (or at least more interesting) story.

Monstrilio has received acclaim for its successful blend of horror with elements like folklore and family drama. What tips would you offer to aspiring authors interested in experimenting with the blending of multiple genres in their writing?

Do it! Genres are not set in stone. Play. Create. Art should experiment, question, challenge. Take a trope you love and twist it in a new way, maybe pile others onto it. The more you play around, the better you’ll be at the game.

Are there any books and/or authors that have been fundamental in crafting your own voice as a writer?

So many. Every book I read leaves a little crumb in me. At any given time, I’ll have a few hovering around me that I can’t stop thinking about (although if you ask me in a month, these may have changed):

The process of getting a book published can often feel more challenging than the writing itself. Could you share your experience with the publishing process and offer some advice to emerging authors who are either just starting or currently navigating this stage?

It is challenging! I’m extremely fortunate to have the amazing Jenni Ferrari-Adler as my agent. She’s been with me since the first drafts of the novel, helping me through the revision process, the publishing process, and everything that comes before, during, and after it’s bought. As harrowing as the process is (you don’t know if your book will be bought!), my advice is to surround yourself with people you trust and who are knowledgeable in the process. Ask a lot of questions. Also, understand that this process will be unique to each writer.

A Study in Classics: Modern-Day Anne Elliots: Love, Marriage, and Societal Pressure in Reality TV

There’s something oddly addictive about reality dating shows. Watchers root for or against couples, forming emotional connections with them, and living vicariously through their experiences, all from the comfort of their own couches. And there’s always the anticipation that the couples formed won’t survive beyond the screen. 

In shows like Love Is Blind, commitment is taken to a whole new level as participants get engaged before ever seeing each other, elevating the stakes and emotions in a way that other dating shows can’t compare to. While it’s entertaining to watch love stories between strangers unfold, these shows also serve to reflect modern-day anxieties about marriage and underscore the enduring societal pressure to tie the knot. Consider how these narratives parallel timeless tales of courtship about navigating the societal expectations to marry. 

When it comes to marriage plots, Jane Austen is an undisputed master, and Persuasion distinguishes itself with its mature and level-headed protagonist, Anne Elliot, who seeks to rekindle romance at a later stage of life while facing mounting expectations to marry. Anne’s struggle between love and societal conformity mirrors the dilemmas that weigh heavily on the women in Love Is Blind. Exploring Persuasion to gain insight into how to navigate the pressures of meeting societal expectations while following one’s heart begs the question: What would Anne Elliot do? 

Marrying for Financial Security 

In Love Is Blind, the central question revolves around the authenticity of love transcending both physical appearances and the material world. However, when reality sets in, financial disparities become a significant challenge. In a recent season, the father of the bride expressed concern about her fiancé’s lower financial status, claiming that love sometimes prefers to “fly first class.” The revelation of a bad credit score ultimately led to the relationship’s demise, resulting in a dramatic wedding day abandonment. 

This situation is reminiscent of Anne and Captain Wentworth’s first failed engagement. Anne fell in love with Captain Wentworth despite his lack of fortune and lower social status, but love was not enough. Sir Walter, Anne’s father, viewed it as a “degrading alliance.” And Lady Russell believed Anne would be throwing herself away to a man who “had no hopes of attaining affluence.” Their opinions, especially Lady Russell’s, deeply affected Anne and caused her to call off the engagement. 

During the Regency Era, Georgian women’s marriages often hinged on securing husbands with substantial fortunes, as they had no separate legal identities and could not own property. Only if a wife outlived her husband could she gain a degree of financial independence through a marriage settlement, inheriting her husband’s fortune. However, Anne refuses to rush into another engagement at age twenty-two with Charles Musgrove out of financial interest, reflecting her strong character and values.

In fact, Anne believes marrying solely for money reflects bad character, while Mrs. Smith simply brushes it off with, “When one lives in the world, a man or woman’s marrying for money is too common to strike one as it ought.” Anne, like many modern women, recognizes the importance of both love and financial compatibility in a partnership. Later, she regrets calling off her engagement at the behest of others as Captain Wentworth goes on to acquire his own fortune. 

In our modern day, women are no longer financially dependent on men, so what we can learn from Anne’s experience is to build trust in a relationship and support one another to achieve individual goals, ensuring both partners are prepared for a shared future. With this perspective, Anne would understand the decision of individuals in Love Is Blind to prioritize financial stability. 

Biological Clock Ticking 

Women in shows like Love Is Blind often join with the desire to start a family, fearing that waiting to meet the right person organically might jeopardize their chances of having children. Similarly, the unmarried women in Persuasion face the pressure to marry and start families while they’re still young, which is mirrored by Sir Walter’s fixation on youth and the Baronetage, a record of noble families. 

The recurrence of women’s names in the Baronetage is due to their success in marrying and multiplying; therefore, Sir Walter values his daughters based on their perceived attractiveness and marriage prospects. He favors Anne’s sister Elizabeth the most because he believes she is still beautiful at twenty-nine and will soon marry suitably. But even Elizabeth feels “the years of danger” toward spinsterhood approaching and averts her eyes when she sees the Baronetage. Austen writes, “Always to be presented with the date of her own birth and see no marriage follow but that of a youngest sister, made the book an evil.” 

Meanwhile, Sir Walter values Anne least of all because he always “had found little to admire in her.” At twenty-seven years of age, her father finds her “faded and thin” and even “haggard.” Austen writes, “He had never indulged much hope, he had now none, of ever, reading her name in any other page of his favourite work.” Despite her father’s disappointment, Anne isn’t swayed by the pressure to rush into marriage while still young to add more names to the Baronetage. 

Austen’s novel shows the promise and beauty of discovering love in later stages of life, emphasizing the development of genuine connections without the urgency of starting a family. Anne’s experience serves as a reminder that women should not succumb to the notion that their time is running out, but instead, value themselves as individuals first. 

Marrying for Love 

Every participant on Love Is Blind shares the common desire to find authentic love based on inner qualities, rather than superficial attributes like appearance, age, or financial status. Yet these programs impose the pressure of falling in love, getting engaged, and marrying in just a few weeks. 

Similarly, Anne and Captain Wentworth first fall in love and get engaged within the span of a few months. Despite Anne’s initial regret when she calls off the engagement at nineteen, as time passes, she doesn’t blame herself or others for influencing her decision. By the age of twenty-seven, she realizes she made the right choice given the circumstances at the time, while her unwavering love for Captain Wentworth proves it was more than a fling. 

Time apart from each other not only sees Captain Wentworth become a more suitable match for Anne, but it also allows Anne to emotionally mature. Austen writes, “She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.” When they reconnect, they are able to build a stronger relationship based on their merits as equals and respect for their differences. Above all, Anne and Captain Wentworth’s love story illustrates that marriage results from a culmination of both romantic and realistic elements, and that it cannot be rushed if it is to last. 

Jane Austen’s Persuasion and shows like Love Is Blind reveal the complexities of love and marriage that transcend time. The pursuit of genuine connections, the tension between love and practicality, and the weight of societal expectations all echo through these narratives. Anne Elliot’s journey serves as a timeless reminder that women should prioritize their individual worth and not yield to societal pressure, while also valuing love and financial compatibility in a partnership. For more of Austen’s love advice, read Jerakah Greene’s article “A Study in Classics: Dating Tips from Jane Austen” right here on F(r)iction

The Thing with Depression: How Benjamin J. Grimm Helped Me Face Myself and Family Regarding Mental Health

If you watch current Marvel movies, you haven’t seen The Thing mixing it up with the Avengers on the big screen. The Thing (Benjamin J. Grimm) mainly appears in comics and cartoons as a core member of The Fantastic Four. In 1961, writer, Stan Lee, and artist, Jack Kirby, launched four explorers into space in the first issue of The Fantastic Four. Once in outer space, Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm are exposed to cosmic rays and gain superpowers. The twist: each of their subconsciouses affects their powers. Reed, always stretching himself too thin, became the elastic Mr. Fantastic. Sue, who felt unseen by people, became The Invisible Girl. Johnny, a hot head, became The Human Torch. And Ben, who felt like a working-class lug, became super-strong golem, The Thing. The combination of their relationships and amazing adventures laid the groundwork for the Marvel universe as we now know it. And what’s more, the series introduced a way for me to connect The Thing’s self-loathing to similar patterns in myself. 

Depression isn’t just feeling sad. It’s normal to experience the whole emotional spectrum, but for myself, I found that sadness extended to a holding pattern of self-loathing. I’d find myself asking tough questions: Why am I sleeping all the time? Why am I pulling away from family and friends who only wish to check in? Though I recognized signs of depression, the stigma of asking for help kept me from turning to mental health professionals. It took not a rocket crash but a breakdown to learn I wasn’t a freak but someone with bipolar depression. Most importantly, I learned I was functional with the right medication and talk therapy. Ben’s own journey of self-discovery established his character as an icon for myself and my mental health.

Unlike Reed, Sue, and Johnny, who could switch their powers on and off, Ben was permanently turned into The Thing. Because of that permanence, Ben viewed his new powers and form as a curse rather than something that made him a superhero. He physically embodied depression. Whenever Ben left the Fantastic Four’s high-rise headquarters, he wore an oversized trench coat, shades, and pulled-down fedora. This wasn’t to avoid paparazzi but prevent him being seen as a spectacle. My own depression can often feel like stones piled on top of me, each stone representing a regret to be reviewed before I’m able to get out of bed and face the day. When my depression ramps up, I go around with my hoodie pulled low and headphones in to cut out the world. This is my way of disengaging and blocking stimuli, to stop negative thoughts avalanching in on me.

As the Fantastic Four’s story unfolded, it became clear that The Thing’s greatest power wasn’t his physical strength, but his perseverance. His catchphrase “It’s Clobberin’ Time!” signaled to villains he could take a licking and keep coming back for more. I found that perseverance inspirational but soon realized the flip side of it was a mental holding pattern—Ben couldn’t accept his current reality, which in turn, brought on his depression. 

To try and explain why I didn’t feel connected to my present self, I searched for my own rocket crash or cosmic rays. My depression often felt as though one event could veer me off course—I was unaware that the period of joy in my life I chased was the manic cycle of bipolar depression. But, shortly after that period ended, I’d find myself sitting in the debris of the metaphoric crash site, waiting for a change to make things better without doing any of the work. Instead of rebuilding and relaunching, I reviewed my past trajectory for mistakes to relive, much like Ben wishing to be his former self. Ben and I both faced the stigma that men shouldn’t ask for help. With Ben’s depression, he saw only his monstrous form rather than the hero inside himself—with my depression, I was staying in my head, which kept me from being present in my current life. 

When I first noticed my depression, I thought it best to live with my parents. But, whenever I ran into parents of childhood friends I felt shame for “living at home at my age.” Family told me those opinions didn’t matter, but my false perception led to career decisions that sped up moving out of their home. In turn, these choices took me away from a support system best for my mental health in the long run.

Ben made similar, rash decisions. There are storylines in which Ben felt better off leaving the Fantastic Four. But it was through the Fantastic Four’s growth as a family that Ben began to connect to his present self as The Thing. In the series, Sue and Reed marry and have two kids. These kids only know Uncle Ben in his Thing form. Seeing himself in this form as an uncle helped Ben embrace himself. When Ben first held his nephew, he said, “Now… All of a sudden… I feel like a part of a family… ’stead of a freak show!” 

When you see Ben in the Marvel Universe relaunch of Fantastic Four, he’s not covering up his rocky orange self. Ben is in casual clothes tailored to his frame with his wife, Alicia, on his arm, helping people together. I like to think my version of a personal relaunch is talking honestly about mental health with all generations of my family, trusting their understanding, and being open about living with bipolar depression. I had my biggest breakthrough when I stopped looking for one specific event—or metaphorical rocket crash—to point to where things may have gone wrong. Instead, I started experiencing the present and utilizing tools from therapy to engage with the world rather than pull away. The Fantastic Four are known as explorers of the Marvel Universe—seeing similar patterns between my own mental health and in Ben’s expression of himself as The Thing, I began exploring my life again. Benjamin J. Grimm does not turn into The Thing at a whim, just as I don’t turn into someone with bipolar depression. Instead, it is who we are every day. It turns out that, after all, we aren’t the freaks we thought we were—instead, we are the heroes of our own stories.

An Interview with Sunyi Dean

The Book Eaters explores the lives and world of people who, well… they literally eat books to survive. A rare breed of people indeed! Where did the concept for The Book Eaters come from?

I want to give a fancy answer but the truthful answer is that Book Eaters was written during a time when I was extremely exhausted and more than a little burnt out. In essence, it’s a story which only made sense when I was quite sleep deprived, and which I somehow finished even though it was more or less total chaos.

Later, when I was feeling better, I had to somehow edit that mess into a narrative that made sense, and even then, my editor had to swoop in after acquiring the book to help me hammer it into better shape!

Your book takes advantage of two timelines: exploring Devon’s childhood and her present-day dilemmas. How did you decide to tell the story by jumping back and forth rather than a linear approach? Did the early drafts do this as well?

It was something I decided on very early! I build my novels around a structure I call “reader’s journey”, which is a sort of spin on hero’s journey. In short, rather than focusing on the journey that the protagonist undergoes, it focuses on the reader’s experience of their story, and prioritizes dramatic information reveals in structure.

In thriller novels, nonlinear or dual timeline narratives are fairly common for this reason: the center around controlling what information the reader has access to, in order to constantly subvert what the reader thinks they know about the plot, world, and characters.

The Book Eaters mixes genres from fantasy, to horror, to thriller, to fairy tale, to literary. What pushed you to blend these genres together? What were some books that inspired you to do so, if any?

I would probably just class it as speculative fiction! Fantasy is defined only by setting elements, so any kind of plot structure can fit inside it.

All that said, I love spec fic books with a thriller structure particularly, so The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins, Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North, and The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey were big influences.

You’ve opened up before about being a mother and a neurodivergent writer. How much of yourself do you put into your novels? What advice do you have for diverse writers?

I try to put in whatever I can—anything of myself that I think will be relevant or interesting to readers. I know that’s a vague answer, sorry!

Advice wise, I’m always cautious handing that out, but among the autistic writing community, I often see folks worried that their writing will be too “weird” or unusual for commercial tastes. I understand that fear, because it’s protective in a way; it gives us a psychological “out” when rejections roll in.

But that mentality also is an insidious form of self-rejection, and can nurture a sense of bitterness—neither of which are good for authors in the long term. Don’t worry about being weird! Write what you enjoy, but with your practical hat on, and it’ll be fine.

You currently have a podcast, Publishing Rodeo, where you share insights on publishing and writing. What would you like to share with aspiring writers who are considering traditional publication right now?

I would be upfront with them that trade publishing is a very tiered industry. By tiered, I mean that authors are generally acquired in certain advance brackets, which in turn largely determine the marketing and support their books get, which in turn tend to define how well the book sells on launch. There’s some variation in those equations, but by and large, advance size is linked to sales, and that aspect—which define your career—is not only decided early on behind closed doors, but is almost entirely out of your control.

Please do check us out if you get the chance! We don’t do the podcast for money or to build platform, but just to offer up free resources and information (lots of links on the website, and lots of show notes for every episode!) We go heavy on the facts, details, and stark realities—good, bad, and everything in between.

What have been some of the surprising differences or similarities of your book coming out in multiple countries/markets (i.e. the UK and US editions of The Book Eaters)?

I wrote TBE for the UK market, even though it is a smaller market than the USA, and put in things that I thought UK folk would appreciate. I was surprised and pleased to get an American publisher as well, but in hindsight there were sections that left Americans confused, which could perhaps have been explained, if I’d thought about it more. For example, at one point Devon interacts with someone who speaks Polish, which doesn’t need an explanation for UK readers, but some Americans didn’t understand why there would be so many EU immigrants in the UK and thought it was bizarre.

On the flip side, the American copy edits changed a lot of UK terms, and I regret not keeping more of them (all of them?) as written. UK readers did pick up on those changes, and I’m afraid I now look very foolish / very Americanized to some folks as a result!

Tell us more about your next novel, working title: Sea Sister (out 2024!)!

Tentative title keeps changing but I think at the moment we are using The Night We Drown (check back in a few weeks though, and it may yet be different again…! Argh!)

The next book is a “Chinese gothic” historical fantasy, set in Hong Kong. The narrative appears to follow two women: the first is a triad-employed exorcist living and working in Kowloon Walled City, circa 1965. The second is a young lady who moves to a ghost-infested island in 1942, where she hopes to hide from the Japanese invasion. Neither story is what it appears, and the links between these tales gradually reveal themselves as the novel progresses.

What book(s) do you want people to be aware of this coming year and why?

I have read advanced reader copies of quite a few books this year! Some I’d recommend:

7 Sci-Fi Hopepunk Books to Improve Your Day

This article has a strict guest list—wholesome books only. Hopepunk is a subgenre of sci-fi/fantasy wherein authors ask the important questions: What if humans don’t ruin everything? What if the future isn’t so bad? What if it’s kind of exciting and cool? What if the color green still exists in a hundred years?

We’re all accustomed to a long line of dystopian fiction, apocalypses in muted tones, unhinged space raiders, and militarized teenagers. None of that here. The ruins are overgrown with lush fauna, the raiders are pretty reasonable, the kiddos are goofballs, and the protagonists refuse to give up on being kind.

This list is sorted by the highest ratio of warm-fuzzies to oh-shit-conflict. In other words, sorted by least likely to induce stress to most. Cozy up in your PJs, light a scented candle, and read a story that will make you hope for better.

  1. A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Crowned by many as the current monarch of hopepunk, this book follows Sibling Dex, a tea monk devoted to the deity of small enjoyments. Sound like the wholesome meter is already maxed out? There’s more. They meet Mosscap, the first robot to leave the wilds and encounter a human in centuries, whose goal is to ask humans, “What do people need?”

There’s much in this story we all want: a tiny home on wheels, a vocation drinking tea, community-centric tree villages, small bear decorations, a society where gender and sexuality aren’t inherently labeled or considered important and therefore people can simply exist as they are. That sort of thing. Wild-Built’s setting on a socialist, green moon where kindness makes the world go ’round is the key to its hopepunk status. The story is steeped in optimism as well, a gentle unlearning of those pesky high expectations we hold ourselves to.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built will relieve more stress in you than a delicious cup of tea, though you should probably enjoy both, just to be sure.

  1. The Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers

Cramming four books into one entry may not be fair game, but all of the Wayfarers books have a special spark of hope. The first entry, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, follows the crew of a wormhole-digging spaceship. In this distant future, humanity coexists with countless alien species.

The biodiversity in this universe is what fills you with awe. Aliens aren’t just humanoids with blue skin, etc., but a caterpillar-esque cook, a species that uses luminescent skin to communicate, and reptilian people with a deep culture around physical touch. Alongside the intergalactic government–level conflicts, swathes of loveliness exist among the various settings and character groups these novels focus on. And the food. If you think nothing could make you want to eat a burger made of grasshoppers, you will find yourself very surprised.

  1. The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

This book has the heart and atmosphere of a Pixar movie, which should express the exact intersection of charming and goofy it hits. Linus, a social services agent, is sent to assess an orphanage for magical children. The children in residence are just your typical kids, like a gnome, a blob who wants nothing more than to be a lobby boy, and the antichrist.

The House in the Cerulean Sea is the patron saint of second chances, the warmest found family read there is. For anyone with a mind-numbing job who dreams of a seaside vacation, optimism and an open heart gets you there in this book.

  1. The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

Murderbot chronicles its adventures protecting squishy humans from various planetary hazards and assassination attempts. The first novella in this series, All Systems Red, is Murderbot’s initial foray into caring about people way more than it says it does. Sometimes a family can be an optimistic survey crew and their incredibly angry, powerful, and media-loving security android.

The Murderbot Diaries paints a future that seems grim at first glance. Capitalism rules the stars, and our salty narrator Murderbot is seen by the Corporation Rim as nothing more than a product. But the hopepunk is in the details—Murderbot always finds a group of wayward humans to take care of, and an action-packed way to screw over the corporates. Despite the sections of the universe that operate on greed, there are places in this series where future life looks pretty bright.

  1. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

What is one to do when they wake up on a spaceship with no memory of boarding it? Rylan, though it takes a while for him to remember it, is humanity’s last hope. His primary skills include science, optimism, and making friends.

The main character carries the hopeful tint of Project Hail Mary. Rylan is a ray of sunshine in the midst of circumstances that sorely need just that—read the book to understand why you should chuckle. This entry is lower on the list because of the world-ending threat that may stress out some readers, but the lovely friendship and the satisfying problem-solving in this book will still warm your heart.

  1. The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

In an alternate history, a cataclysmic event causes the Space Race to heat up a few years earlier, with a much keener motivation: secure a home in the stars before it’s too late. Elma, a pilot and mathematician, has her eye on being the first woman in space.

While The Calculating Stars is also lower down on this list because of a world-ending event, the tenacity of those committed to launch into space despite the traditions holding them back is hopeful. Be warned, however, that the book showcases some of the most frustrating parts of real life, such as annoying men questioning every action women take. That said, most of it is very satisfying. 

Author’s note: I highly recommend the audio book. Mary Robinette Kowal reads it herself, and she is a trained voice actor.

  1. To Be Taught If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

Hopepunk is Becky Chambers’s niche. In this novella, four scientists travel in cryo to study the flora and fauna of different planets. Each character is lovely and so appreciative of the magnificence around them, it’ll take you right back to your bug/space/plant phase as a kid.

To Be Taught If Fortunate accomplishes a great deal of wonder in a few pages. However, it’s low on this optimism scale because when this book chooses to hit hard, it hits hard. One chapter in particular might remind you too much of the deep quarantine times, so protect your emotional health foremost.

A couple honorable mentions others frequently list, but I personally wouldn’t categorize as hopepunk, include Binti and The Fifth Season. Both are excellent, just not as hyper optimistic as the others on this list.
The next time you’re looking for a sci-fi/fantasy read to boost your mood, check out one of these wholesome reads. Looking for other recommendations? Our blog has book reviews, editorial articles, and more for your reading life. 

5 Major Benefits of Returning to School for Writing

Nontraditional students are a fast-growing academic population in the US. I’m one of them—I just recently returned to school after a four-year break. And I’ve noticed more and more people these days seem to be getting comfortable going against the high-school-to-college fast track. But if you left college—or never went in the first place—how do you decide when (and if) to go back? Especially for something like writing?

Tough question. There are plenty of caveats, contexts, and canoodles that go into making such a big decision. So, in a noble effort to aid you, I’ll share five key benefits I’ve discovered since returning to school for writing. 

  1. Deadlines

Okay yes, I know. I KNOW. This word disgusts me too. It’s one of the main reasons I dropped out of school in the first place. I mean, homework? Seriously? Not cute.

But honestly, I’ve come to appreciate deadlines. They’re still stressful, mind you—that part doesn’t change—but they also provide two very important things to a head-in-deep-space writer like me: structure and motivation. 

Deadlines have forced me to actually do the work of writing. And it’s a lot of work! It takes a stupid amount of persistence and discipline. And as a creative who struggles with both of those things, school deadlines have been the training wheels I’ve needed to help me figure out my own methods of tackling a project. And it’s a tool I’ll carry and continue reluctantly honing for the rest of my life.

  1. Comradery
evokecity

And what’s the point of horrible, stressful deadlines if you don’t have any friends to complain about them with?

Writing is often a very solitary act. Sometimes I love this about it. Other times it makes me full-on bonkers. Comradery is critical to a writing practice not just so we remember how to talk to other human beings (important!), but also so we remember we’re not the only ones who feel like we don’t know what we’re doing. We all have to fight through that noise, and it really helps to have more supportive and encouraging noise from our friends to balance it out. 

Plus, things like passion and inspiration are multiplicative. There’s no hype like writing- workshop hype. 

  1. Networking

This one goes hand in hand with comradery in a lot of ways. But whereas I view “comradery” as relating more to the social side of writing, “networking” is more about the business side.

One of the most difficult parts about trying to get into writing as a career is building a professional network. In this sense, I feel like the Internet has almost backfired—it’s now way too easy for publishers to get lost in a sea of faces, profiles, and short stories about a Really Cool and Unique Science Fiction Idea.

That’s where school comes in. While I by no means claim school will set you up with an impeccable career, I’ve made way more connections in the past eight months of college than I ever did in my two-plus years of going solo. It’s hard to avoid networking when you’re surrounded by professors and faculty who have spent huge portions of their lives navigating the writing world. And best of all, most of them are super keen to share what they’ve learned!

  1. Knowledge

This one might seem a bit obvious, but I can’t overstate its importance. Yes, with the age of the Internet (and your public library), knowledge has never been more widely accessible. And if you’re really self-motivated, both of those things can be a great way to learn a ton for free.

But there is a difference between trying to learn something on your own and being taught by someone who is very knowledgeable, skilled, and practiced. In school, you don’t just learn the stuff—you (hopefully) learn how to apply it, how to expand upon it, how to weave it into everything else you’re learning and will learn. 

And, best of all, you get to discuss it with other people. That’s been an indispensable part of it for me—not just gaining knowledge, but learning how others interact with it. And how loaded with bias and assumption it can be. Knowledge is much more treacherous if left uninterrogated. And in my experience, few people are more ready to interrogate the system than writing students.

  1. Environment of Learning

This one combines all the previous points and rolls them together into one giant burrito. I can’t tell you how much my motivation, my fascination, and my writing practice have improved since being surrounded by people who love to learn and teach. It’s tough to find an environment that challenges and propels you in the same way out in the “real world.” 

Still, it’s important to remember that none of this is guaranteed. Just because you go to college (or return to it) doesn’t mean these five ephemeral benefits will tumble fortuitously into your lap. You have to be ready to seek them out and strive for them. (Well, to be fair, the deadlines will find you. Nothing will stop them. Seriously, start running now.)

I also know college is a privilege not everyone has access to. If this is the case for you, I encourage you to find ways to learn from and connect with other writers in your community. Try looking into writers’ clubs at your local cafés and libraries. Or better yet, start your own!

But if you’ve found yourself stuck in a writing rut, if you feel like you’ve reached a plateau in your skill and ability, then college (or at least a couple of writing classes) might be a way to catalyze yourself. That, or you could hitchhike across the world. I hear that can be relatively stimulating.

An Interview with Natalie Marino

You are both a physician and a poet. Did one of these career paths come before the other or have they developed alongside one another? Do you feel they influence one another?

I have been a practicing primary care physician for over 15 years. Although I majored in English in college and read a lot of poetry as a student, it wasn’t until 2019 that I started writing my own poetry. I do think my career as a physician and my interest in poetry are related. The practice of medicine is based in science, but it is at least as much an art. Listening to patients, to their stories, is the mainstay of how I work through finding solutions to medical problems. Knowing how necessary good medical care is, and having learned through experience how difficult it is to fully understand what a patient is telling me, I discovered my need for a creative outlet. In my search I fell in love with the intricacies of language in poetry.

Your incredible body of work so far leans more to poetry, though you have written a few nonfiction pieces. Would you say you prefer poetry over nonfiction? Or do you find yourself inspired to write poetry more often than nonfiction? 

I enjoy writing both nonfiction and poetry, although I find myself more often feeling inspired to write my own poetry when I read poetry that does something new with the form or content of language. 

Imagery of nature appears frequently in your poetry; we see this highlighted in poems like ‘Language of Rivers’ and ‘Sexual Nostalgia in Peri-Menopause’. Does nature play an important role in your life, and do you find yourself often writing poetry around something you’ve observed while immersed in nature?

I was born and raised in California, one of the few places where there are several climate types in close proximity. Nature has always played an important role in my life. I’m also especially drawn to eco poetry. Many of my poems are influenced by eco poets, like Kelli Russell Agodon, Lucille Clifton, and Maya C. Popa. In one of my favorite craft books on poetry, The Triggering Town, author Richard Hugo discusses how most effective poetry comes out of real or imagined experience. Because I’m often immersed in nature, many of the experiences I write about involve nature. 

You have a new chapbook, Under Memories of Stars, coming out this year. What are some of the images you explore in this book, and do you feel they differ from the poetry you’ve published thus far? Furthermore, can we expect a central theme for the poetry, or is this a collection of works where you feel each poem tells a story that should be read independent from the others?

My chapbook Under Memories of Stars Is a collection of lyric poetry involving the themes of love and grief. The poems in this collection also show the speaker’s evolving perspective on nostalgia—how she realizes memory is constantly changing—and by the end of the collection, her acceptance of death. While focusing more on relationships with family than some of my other poetry, nature imagery is a cornerstone in this collection, and this is similar to much of my other poetry. 

What was the writing process of your chapbook like? Did you find it difficult to juggle compiling the book and sending submissions out?

I wrote many of the poems in this collection separately without having a goal of writing a chapbook, and so compiling the chapbook didn’t really make it more difficult for me to send out submissions of my other poetry. When I noticed the common themes in the included poems, and that all of these poems involve stars, I was inspired to put the chapbook together.

Submitting to journals is, I believe, always a bit of a daunting process, and rejections are something all writers have to deal with. Over the years, what process have you developed for dealing with rejections and what advice would you give poets who have just started sending their work out into the world?

Realizing that most poets receive mostly rejections of their submitted work has allowed me to take my rejections less to heart. When I first started submitting, I sent my work to many, many journals, and I didn’t always read much of these journals beforehand. My current process is to read a few recently published full-length poetry collections throughout the year. When I’m impressed by the poetry included in a collection, I look at the “Acknowledgements” section so I can keep in mind the journals that are included there for my future submissions. Then I read some of the other work published in these journals, to see if my work might be a good fit. This process has saved me a lot of time and money and has made submitting my work a less frustrating experience. 

Do you have any big publishing aspirations for the future? Perhaps an anthology we can look forward to.

I’m currently looking for a publisher for my second chapbook, which uses lines and syntax from novels and plays from the 20th Century that involve the theme of The American Dream to discuss our collective need as Americans to have a new dream. I also have poems coming out soon in Salt Hill, South Dakota Review, and South Florida Poetry Journal, among other journals. 

Lastly, if you could give any advice—regarding the industry, the writing process, and so on—to yourself when you were just starting out, what would it be?

  1. Live your life. Go outside and try new things. Rich and varied experiences make for excellent poetry subjects. 
  2. Read more than you write. Not just poetry, but novels, fiction, and nonfiction written by the greats and contemporary writers. Inspiration for new work has come to me most often when I’m reading. 
  3. Become involved in local and global writing communities. Attend workshops by writers whose work you admire. Go to online and live readings. Write reviews of recently published books that impress you, as this will not only help other writers but will also help you continue to discover what makes great writing great. 

The Last Car Alarm

You’re visiting a friend in his new 7th floor apartment. You’ve helped him move by bringing his miniature grandfather clock from his old place. You put it down in the empty living room, compliment him on the excellent view of the city, then chat for about fifteen minutes. You catch up on each other’s news,…

Flaming fiddles, it looks like there’s a roadblock here! If you’d like to finish reading this piece, please buy a subscription—you’ll get access to the entire online archive of F(r)iction.

A Review of The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz

Published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books on February 21, 2023.

An invitation to a month-long writing retreat with your writing idol? Who wouldn’t jump headfirst into this opportunity? After being at a low point in her life with her job, relationships, and—perhaps worst of all—writing itself, that is exactly what Alex, the main character of The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz, does. However, when she and the other four female attendees arrive at the grand estate, her writing hero Roza Vallo presents her own shocking plot twist: the five invitees must create and finish an entire novel in the month that they are at her estate. The incentive to win? One million dollars and a life-changing book-publishing deal. However, the introduction of the contest certainly isn’t the only plot twist: there is the complicated, fractured relationship between Alex and her ex-best friend, Wren, another competing writer. Then, when other mysteries arise, Alex finds herself the main character of a story where not everything is as it seems.

Alex’s character is not only well-developed throughout the whole story, but she is also relatable in her struggles and emotions. I say this even as Alex is a white woman in her early 30s, and I’m a 21-year-old Filipino-American man. She is unhappy about her state of life at the beginning of the book, but when she receives the offer to attend this retreat, work on her own creative piece, and meet her lifelong writing idol, her passion for writing is suddenly rejuvenated. We’ve all been through those parts in our lives where we crave something more meaningful, and if a chance appears to devote ourselves fully to our true passions, I know I would jump at such an opportunity just like Alex did.

Readers also witness Alex grow in her independence, self-confidence, and resolve as both a writer and human being. In the book’s first half, Alex is consistently influenced—even controlled—by what others might think of her and her writing, her own expectations of herself, the pressure of the competition, her worries regarding Wren—the list can seem endless. However, when mysteries and threats develop in the book’s second half, Alex slowly begins to think and act of her own accord, even willingly risking her life for others. These struggles and this growth make readers connect with Alex more as the story progresses, making us feel that we’re right there with her.

This book also explores the volatility of human psychology, which is no surprise since Bartz herself is also a practicing therapist. Bartz explores this in multiple ways but especially through Roza’s actions toward the other writers. In addition to the strenuous writing requirements she demands of the writers, she also invites them into one-on-one conversations and convinces them to reveal deep, dark secrets. Such is an example of dangerous power dynamics wherein Roza exerts her influence over these writers who admire and worship her. Relationship dynamics are also explored among the writers. With Alex and Wren trying to win the other writers over, as well as the mind games and backtalking that occur throughout the story, Bartz reveals the human desire to do anything to win and propel oneself forward, prompting the question of whom one can truly trust. While the dangers of power and relationship dynamics are explored within the writing retreat, these dangers can extend to life too, and we wonder what lessons we and the writers learn alongside each other.

One strength of this book is the pacing. We readers quickly realize alongside Alex that “retreat” is a gross misnomer for what comes after. There are four chapters that focus on introducing Alex and her less-than-ideal circumstances and her path to the retreat. While these four chapters take a while to get going, they are essential in setting the foundation for the rest of the book and readers’ expectations of what is to come. Then the rest of the story unravels in Roza’s grand yet mysterious estate—a place that slowly yet effectively cultivates intrigue and suspense through unexplained and perhaps even supernatural events. This buildup culminates in sudden, shocking reveals and fast, action-packed sequences that hook readers until the end, making the slow burn toward the discoveries natural and worthwhile.

This book truly becomes a hell of a ride through the intrigues Bartz seamlessly weaves around Alex. Not only does Bartz craft a flawed main character with whom readers can relate and empathize, but she also crafts a stay-up-all-night type of plot that drags us into the dangers of the writing world and humanity. I charged through this book in three days and ended up reading the remaining 30 chapters in the early hours of that final day. I was that engrossed in discovering what would befall Alex and the other writers and reflecting upon the complexities of being a writer. Ultimately, The Writing Retreat is a thrilling debut novel from Julia Bartz, one that captivates even until the very last word, just like Alex strives to do with her novel in this retreat turned real mystery and danger.