Top Ten Tuesday #8: Most Memorable Secondary Characters

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish where book lovers post their top ten books for various themes that are given.

August 27: Top Ten Most Memorable Secondary Characters

Caleb’s Picks:

The hardest part, for me, about this top ten was putting them in order. I love all of these characters so much, it was hard to pick any over another.

1. Samwise Gamgee, of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. What makes Sam, like Frodo and Bilbo before him, so lovable a hero is that he’s no warrior, no wizard; he’s not exceptionally smart, nor very strong, nor particularly brave. He’s just a simple hobbit, with simple wants and needs. He’s you, he’s me, but even more, exaggeratedly more, mundane. But what makes him one of my favorite characters is his part in the quest. He wasn’t thrust into it like Frodo or Bilbo, he only became a part of it so he could follow loyally at his friend’s side. And that’s Sam’s strength: his loyalty. Simple he may be, but with a certain kind of wisdom even in his simplicity. He may not be very brave, but he stands loyally by his friend’s side and does what’s necessary. He’s the kind of hero we can all relate to. He’s the kind of hero I would want to be.
2. Gollum, of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The brilliance of this character could take hours to describe. There are a lot of great things about Tolkien’s stories that earned him his fame, and Gollum is at least two of them.
3. Robert Walton, of Shelley’s Frankenstein. Walton introduces and concludes the story. His part, so apparently unrelated, is part of what makes Shelley’s masterpiece so ingenious. He subtly contributes much to the story, without being any more than a medium between Frankenstein and the reader. And yet this lovable character has a story of his own worth telling, and worth hearing.
4. Monsignor Darcy, of Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise. The wisest and most memorable quotes in the whole novel were spoken or written by this character, a wiseman who spoke to me in ways few characters can achieve.
5. Professor James Moriarty, of Doyle’s “The Final Problem.” Just as Doyle set the standard for what the sleuth of detective fiction should be, so he set the standard for what the detective’s rival should be. And yet Moriarty appeared in so few Holmes stories! I doubt if Doyle even knew what he was starting.
6. Pinky Parrott, of Lewis’s Free AirThis colorful and amusing character was one of the highlights of an all-around enjoyable novel. I only wish his part had been bigger! He was in the story so briefly, but I could have read volumes about his exploits.
7. Cardenio and Lady Lucinda, just to name a few, of Cervantes’s The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. One of the highest qualities of this classic is the myriad of characters Cervantes put around Don Quixote. Their own stories as they went on around him, hardly related to his own ventures, are part of what made it all so interesting.
8. Mr. Brown, of Christie’s The Secret Adversary. If Doyle set the standard for criminal masterminds with Moriarty, Agatha Christie, as usual, perfected the criminal mastermind. It was difficult
9. Puddleglum, of C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair. This endearingly glum, hilariously pessimistic character was one of my favorite characters in the Narnia series. He satirized the follies of pessimism long before Lemony Snicket could even frown.
10. William Cecil Clayton, of Burroughs’s Tarzan of the Apes. As much as I hate Jane for what she did to Tarzan first, I don’t hate her less for what she did to Clayton later. I liked Clayton, and I sympathized with him; he adored Jane. Though he might not have been as strong as Tarzan, he at least had the heart of a hero. He would have done anything for Jane, and he tried his hardest.

Andrew’s Picks (not much explanation due to being tired):

  1. Bob, from the Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher. Hands down Bob has to be my favorite secondary character. He’s hilarious and just plain fun, and the perfect companion to Harry Dresden.
  2. The Man in the Grey Suit, from The Night Circus, by Emily Morgenstern. Ultimately he’s an extremely mysterious person, yet that was one of the things I loved about him.
  3. The Monster, from A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness.  Most of the book is about Conor, so I figured the Monster counts as a secondary character.
  4. Gollum, from Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I don’t think this needs much explanation–he was an awesome character.
  5. Ned Stark, from A Game of Thrones. Since he didn’t have his own chapters, I’ll consider him a secondary character.
  6. Mike Nash, from the Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn. He might be considered a main character in the books he’s in, but he’s only in two (maybe three, but was only heavily featured in two) books. But he was a great character.
  7. Gandalf, from Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m not sure if he even counts as a secondary character, but I figured he was more secondary than Aragorn.
  8. Smaug, from The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I mean come on. He’s a dragon, of course he’s one of my favorite characters.
  9. Death, from The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. So I guess Death might be a main character, but he doesn’t show up that much as an actual character, so I thought he might count. Seeing Death personified in this way was definitely awesome.
  10. Dumbledore, from the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling.

Mash-Up Monday #8: Elmore Leonard

“Mash-Up Monday” is a weekly post here at The Ambage where we post a mash-up of writing- or reading-related links that hopefully are helpful and inspiring. In honor of one of the most renowned and respected mystery authors, Elmore Leonard, who passed away on August 20th, this Mash-Up will be exclusively links related to him.

Mash-Up Monday #8: Elmore Leonard

  1. 10 Rules for Writing. 10 great tips by the man himself.
  2. On Elmore Leonard. This article encourages people to go find a book by Elmore Leonard and read it. Unfortunately, I fall under the category of those who have yet to read one of his works, but I’ve been planning to (having enjoyed Justified and knowing he wrote the story that inspired the series, not to mention I love mysteries in general), and will make it a bigger priority now.
  3. Always Writing. An interview with Leonard, where one of the things mentioned is how he is always writing. There is, of course, the saying “if you want to be a writer, write.” Leonard definitely followed that, and was truly a dedicated writer.
  4. Remembering Elmore Leonard & His Writing Advice and his Biography. I felt like these two pages were related enough. The first has a personal sort of feel to it, remembering Leonard and expanding upon his writing advice; the latter is his official biography from his website, a good reference for anyone looking to know more about the acclaimed author.
  5. 5 Quotes on Writing. I wanted to end with some of Leonard’s own words, and what’s better than some quotes on writing?


Sunday Editorial: Why Every Writer Should Play Chess

Chess: if you think it’s just another board game for bored people, you’re wrong. You’re so wrong, anyone with even a minor penchant for the game would slap you in the face, declare you a blasphemer, and promptly proceed to tar and feather you; and that’s if you get off easy. He didn’t break out the stake or the guillotine.

No, chess is no mere “game”; chess is a way of life for some. Even for the less passionate players, it is no mere pastime, no more than reading or writing. The art of chess is to be taken seriously, for an art it is; and like any art, there are many things it can teach us about life. And anything that can teach you about life, teaches you about writing.

There are many reasons writers should play chess, and wiser, more ardent chess masters could probably write volumes on it. I’m going to spare you that, and touch briefly upon some of the main points.

Keeping it all together. Chess is about minding every square and every piece on the board at once. You have to be able to see every possible move, feeling every piece as if it were an extension of your body. It’s no easy task to keep so much in mind at once; but that’s exactly what a writer has to do.

You have to mind your characters like a chess player minds their pawns; you have to mind style, grammar, story, plot, and so much more, all at once, like a chess master juggling his or her each and every piece.

Knowing your opponent. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

In The Art of War, one of Sun Tzu’s most important philosophies is learning to accommodate oneself to one’s enemy: this is the surest path to victory. As a writer, my opponent is my reader. If I wage my campaign on conceit and arrogance, knowing myself but heedless of my reader, I’m only babbling to myself and I belong in an asylum. (Whether or not I belong in an asylum in general, is a question we won’t address just now.)

Luckily, it’s up to you to decide who your reader is. Ask yourself who your ideal reader would be; I find it infinitely helpful to choose someone I know, one person in particular, to write for. When that person is yourself, you enjoy the writing experience, but end up pleasing nobody else. When that person you write for is someone else, you are doing more than writing for your own enjoyment; you are writing for others. That is when the writer excels.

Planning ahead. Chess is about looking ahead and planning out paths to victory. If you don’t have a direction in mind before you start you’re too late already. But one plan will only take you so far; variables rarely have any regard for your designs. You have to be on your toes. You have to have multiple routs planned to take you to the same destination, and you have to be flexible, and capable of adapting your plans to allow for new developments.

A writer can plan, a writer can outline all he or she wants, but nothing ever goes perfectly to plan. If it does, if you can pull it off unchanged and infallible, chances are victory will be stale, and your opponent will be able to tell. A mutable plan makes for a more thrilling experience.

In chess, you have to be creative; it’s no different for creative writing.

Protecting what matters. Chess is about protecting all your most important pieces. The more material you sacrifice, the harder victory becomes. If you let go of the things that matter most to you, you’ve already lost.

Chess is too serious an art to play frivolously. If you’re going to play with a heedless, devil-may-care attitude, you might get a few laughs but you won’t impress anyone. Throwing your pieces willy-nilly will result in a loss that catches nobody’s attention. Chess, like writing, is hard work, it’s true; but it’s fun and, if you take the time to do it right, the experience is a sensational one.

Pay attention and have care: vigilance alone will empower you to protect what matters most. Whatever your ideals are, fight for them, and don’t let them go.

Making sacrifices. Call me a hypocrite, but sometimes you need to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, and when a winning strategy necessitates sacrifice. There are times when it is essential to let go, and in life and chess, that’s one of the hardest things to learn.

If you try to protect every piece without letting go of any of them, you end up with a confused melee that will prove impossible to defend and soon lead you to your defeat. In creative writing, it’s impossible to please everybody. You’ll only end up pleasing no one at all. You need to learn to let go, of the right things, at the right time and place, for the right reasons. That’s no easy lesson.

Analogy. Here’s the best lesson I can give you: before you put pen to paper next, sit down at a chessboard first and find an opponent, even if it’s a computer. The lessons I’ve pointed out are a small few. Go, play a game yourself, and see what lessons you can learn about writing from the fine art of chess.

Not only will you learn more than I could teach you, but you will, ironically, learn another lesson from this mode of learning itself. In searching for metaphors and comparisons, you will be honing your perception, expanding your vision, exercising your imagination and creativity, and generally gleaning further lessons about the value of analogy.


So what are you waiting for? Writer or human being: go play a game of chess.

If you don’t know—Philistine! Grab a chess master if you have one handy, or look up the rules online, and start learning!

Flawed Flash Fiction Friday #4

Let’s a view full writeoff, with all the stories that were done for that theme that day.
The Train, by Andrew Page:

I sat on a bench, nervously looking down at my hands. It was almost time. He had been gone so long, it was hard to even remember what he looked like. Those memories dying fast, like his fellow soldiers. Yet somehow he had survived. He had made it through all the gunfire, explosions, and other horrors of war. He defied the odds.

And he was coming home. I looked up again, hoping to see a train in the distance, but there was nothing but the track as far as my eyes could see. The wind picked up, piercing my cheeks, and it was then that I noticed for the first time that tears were flowing down my face. I was ecstatic, knowing that now for the first time in over two years I would see him.

I looked again, but the train still hadn’t come. I fidgeted with fingers, crossing them over each other, wringing them together. My heart burned with desire, love, happiness. Yet also in worry, in nervousness. Does he still feel the same way about me? I had asked myself over a dozen times. It had been so long…

I shook my head vigorously, pushing away the thoughts. No, of course he still cares about you…you’re in love. But I wasn’t convinced, so I played with my hands all the more, even going so far as to remove my gloves then put them on again, repeating that over and over. Because it was better than thinking.

But it didn’t help. It seemed like our own life had been a train, moving so quickly yet stopping all of a sudden at times, letting more people or things into or out of our lives. Our marriage let in both our families together. My first miscarriage removed a part of our lives. My second pregnancy, this one healthy, opened the door for another member of the family. But then his leaving for the war did the opposite. It was again just two of us at home, me and our child. Our beautiful, cheerful child who had to live his first year and a half with no father.

But it was all worth it. I knew the reason why he had left, and I agreed with it. Fighting for one’s country is one of the best things someone can do. And someone has to keep us at home safe.


I buried my face in my hands, wiping the tears on my gloves. It had been hard – but knowing he was out there, not just fighting for no reason, but fighting for a purpose – was enough for me. And I loved him for that.

My heart began to burn with joy again as I realized that he was finally coming home. The tears came again, but I just let them flow as more and more came: the train that was bringing him home was approaching.

Untitled, by Caleb Carraway:

I flicked the switch to my lamp and sunk the room into darkness. I quietly opened the door to my room and shut it behind me. The train was moving smoothly across the plains in the dark of midnight. Many of the passengers were asleep, with an occasional soul roaming the hall like myself. I passed between a few cars and took a seat in the cafeteria car, staring out at the stars. I wasn’t sure where we were, only that it was in the middle of nowhere, far from the lights and sounds of the New York that I was accustomed to.

I could actually see colors in the sky among all the stars, wisps of ethereal blues and greens haunting the shadowy skies. As I sat there, staring longingly out into the vast emptiness of space (because most of it really is empty), I heard the sound of footsteps approaching. I glanced over my shoulder to find a young woman smiling at me from a couple feet away. Her long, auburn hair complimented the glossy emerald of her eyes, eyes examining me behind a pair of thick-rimmed glasses. She couldn’t have been a day over twenty four. An odd fact considering I am nearing the end of my thirties much too soon. Was there something truly interesting about an accountant from the city to her?

“Something interesting out there?” she asked, taking a sip of a drink in her hand.

“A lot of interesting things out there, yes,” I chuckled.

She took another sip. “Do you mind if I sit down with you?”

“Not at all,” I replied, gesturing to the seat across from me.

She took a seat, removing her jet black jacket and revealing a white t-shirt with a band name on it. Red Hot Chili Peppers. I knew the name, but couldn’t associate it to any music. She set her cup on the table and gently pushed it toward me.

“It’s cocoa,” she grinned. “Do you want some?”

I admired her confidence and accepted, taking a small sip. It was a bit sweet for my taste. “Thank you,” I said, pushing the cup back her way.

I turned back to the window and continued my search of the skies, a search for nothing in particular.

“So, where are you headed?” she asked playfully.

“Visiting family. I’m from New York myself, but my parents live out in Nebraska. I suppose it stands to reason that I’d want to leave the lands of endless corn fields and unexpected tornadoes.”

She giggled, so full of life, still clutching on to remnants of youth. “That’s what I’ve heard about Nebraska, of the little that people talk about it. I’m heading out to Oregon myself. Born and raised, actually. New York was my vacation.”

“I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but I was rather enjoying staring up into the sky,” I replied. I felt a bit awkward, but the young lady brushed it off as nothing.

“It’s fine,” she assured me. “I’ll look with you. It’s lonely here tonight…not just for you and I.”

I stared back up into the sky, scanning trails of color intermingled with the light of stars, the suns of so many other galaxies and my own. “It’s lonely everywhere, I suppose.”

Untitled, by John Matz:

A black creature charged across the plains, spouting steam and fire into the cool night air. There is a stir of movement in the engine that is not parallel to the reckless speed of the juggernaut, a fluid gesture alien to its mechanical drive. A figure moves in the masking vapor, a boy shovels coals into an inferno, feeding the beast of iron and physics. He wears a cloth over his nose and mouth, and two bright green eyes shine from his smoke blackened face. His posture and movements, his mixed caution and recklessness spoke of long experience despite his early age. His father had worked this line long before he was born, the steam was in his blood.

Whenever the hunger of the engine permitted, he would pull down his bandanna and thrust his head into the clean, rushing air of the darkened prairie. The chill air would clear his thoughts and his lungs, but there was another purpose to his action as well, there had been talk of robbers derailing trains to scavenge the valuables from the living and the dead.

He shook his head and set his blackened kerchief back in black, but just as he left the window he caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye. A split second later he knew that the robbers were coming, the track would already be blocked.

He pulled on the emergency brake with both hands, hoping to stop the trains mad momentum before it hit the barricade he knew lay in wait for it. But then a shred of doubt flickered across his obscured features, and he released it, only to thrust  more and more coal into the furnace.

His fathers invention had been made for just such a purpose. It would be disrespecting his memory not to try it.

He pulled a lever fixed to the side of the controls, it was of a different metal and jarred strangely against the other shining elements. Something grated and a metal arm flashed past the window, the mobile track segment moved smoothly into place of the engine.

It was built as a small hill of track, to be laid over any barricade. The timing would have to be precise.

His eyes creased as he smiled under his mask. He looked forward to the challenge.

Top Ten Tuesday #7: Things That Make Your Life As a Reader/Book Blogger Easier

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish where book lovers post their top ten books for various themes that are given.

August 20: Top Ten Things That make Your Life As a Reader/Book Blogger Easier

Caleb’s Picks:

 I’m going to go way outside the box this week and put a unique spin on this theme. I have given careful and deliberative consideration to each item extensively, weighed them, numerated them (with much difficulty–they were all so close!), and I will present them to you here alone and on their own merits, leaving you to draw your own conclusions without influence. Ladies and gentlemen, my “Top Ten Things That Make My Life As a Writer Easier.”

10. Novelty
9. Pedantry
8. A little lunacy
7. Cogitation
6. Inspiration
5. Thoughtfulness
4. Obstinacy
3. Determination
2. Curiosity
1. Wisdom

Come back next week for a return to everybody’s dear, beloved banal normalcy!

Mash-Up Monday #7: Survey

“Mash-Up Monday” is a weekly post here at The Ambage where we post a mash-up of writing- or reading-related links that hopefully are helpful and inspiring. However, this week I want to do something slightly different, and just post one link: The A-Z Book Survey from The Perpetual Page-Turner, a book blog.

And, of course, I’ll provide my own answers:

A-Z Book Survey

Author You’ve Read The Most Books From:

Michael Connelly. I’ve read 22 books of his. Next in line would be Vince Flynn and Jim Butcher, who I’ve read 15 each from.

Best Sequel Ever:

Hmm. I really might have to say The Return of the King, here. There’s also several other book series like the Harry Potter books, the Dresden Files, Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp series, A Song of Ice and Fire, Artemis Fowl, etc. I can’t really think of any single sequel that specifically stands out from the rest in a series.

Current Reading:

I started reading Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman, a few weeks ago, but haven’t picked it up since (not because of any fault of the book—it’s amazing—I’ve just been busy [and in an extremely odd non-reading mood…]).

Drink of Choice While Reading:

Coffee. Black.

E-Reader or Physical Book?

Definitely physical books. I don’t mind e-books at all, but I do love holding an actual book in my hands (or better yet, displaying them on my shelves).

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated in High School:

I can’t really think of any…but if Emma Watson counts as Hermione Grainger than definitely her, just because she’s adorable. =P I know there’s probably more, but my mind is blanking right now…

Glad You Gave This Book a Chance:

The Hunger Games. I thought it’d just be another Twilight, but it was actually pretty good. I also should mention A Monster Calls. I took me a while to finally read it, but when I did, I regretted waiting so long, as it was amazing and is now one of my favorite books.

Hidden Gem Book:

Again I’d say A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness. It’s an extremely well-acclaimed book, yet I feel like it’s also not nearly as popular as it should be. It’s one of those books that, once you find out about it and read it, it truly is a gem and instantly becomes a favorite.

Important Moment in Your Reading Life:

A few months ago there was a weekend where I read five books in five days. That was pretty awesome. I’d say also when I finally read LOTR and Harry Potter for the first time (a few weeks ago and last August, respectively).

Probably the most important moment, though, was discovering Vince Flynn. Before I read one of his books, I didn’t read all that much (with the exception of Artemis Fowl and Agatha Christie—they also got me reading). But once I read Term Limits (Flynn’s first book), I began reading books very quickly and very frequently, starting my book-a-week streak. So it’s really thanks to him that I’m the reader I am today, which is just one of the many reasons he’s one of my favorite authors.

Just Finished:

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, was the last book I finished.

Kind of Books You Won’t Read:

Erotica, some types of YA (Twilight type things), most Romances, etc.

Longest Book You Ever Read:

Probably A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin, or so Goodreads tells me. Either way, I’m sure it’s one of GRRM’s books.

Major Book Hangover Because of:

Several books, really: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern; A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness; and The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak all left me with a hangover of sorts after finishing them, as I just had that “wow, that was amazing” feeling. A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin, also deserves a mention because it left me with one around the middle of the book (those who’ve read it know what I’m talking about…).

Number of Bookcases You Own:

I’m up to 7 currently. I may have to get another one sooner than later… (what can I say, I have an awesome bookstore near me [Book Off] where I can get hardbacks for a dollar…which makes me want to own every book I read, instead of using a library.) =P

One book you have read multiple times:

A Monster Calls & The Hobbit. I mention both because I’m going to try to start reading them both yearly, and have already read them multiple times.

Preferred Place to Read:

My awesome reading nook. Though that was taken almost a year ago…there’s another bookshelf under there now. =P

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you’ve read:

 Oh, man, so many. But I’ll just list one (this one “gives me feels” because oh my gosh it is written so epicly) that I read recently and has been stuck in my head since I read it about a month and a half ago (actually, the quote is a full two pages, because every single word on those pages is completely awesome, so I’ll just have a few fragments):

“The drums rolled louder. Fires leaped up. Great engines crawled across the field…”

“Grond crawled on. The drums rolled wildly. Over the hills of slain a hideous shape appeared…”

“Horns, horns, horns. In dark Midolluin’s sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the North wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.”

~ The Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien (last two pages of “The Siege of Gondor”).

As for inspiring quotes…again, so many. But I’ll just say one from one of my favorite books:

“You do not write your life with words…You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.”

~ A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness.

Reading Regret:

I regret not reading LOTR and Harry Potter earlier, as they are both great series. As for books that I actually regret reading…I’m not sure if I have one. There’s been books that I haven’t really liked, sure, but none that I can think of that I absolutely hated and regret reading.

Series You Started and Need to Finish:

A Song of Ice and Fire…as soon as the paperback version of A Dance with Dragons comes out, I’ll definitely be finishing what’s out so far. I also really need to finish Artemis Fowl, as I haven’t read the latest two books.

Three of Your All-Time Favorite Books:

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness; The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern; and The Hobbit/LOTR, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Unapologetic Fan Girl For:

*fanboy. Can’t really think of any books specifically, oddly enough…but just because I want to say something: Definitely Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Les Misérables (unfortunately I have not read the book yet, so I’m talking about the musical), and other things. I guess you could count A Monster Calls under this.

Very Excited for This Release More Than All Others:

I’m definitely excited for the next Dresden Files book by Jim Butcher, and Michael Connelly’s next book, The Gods of Guilt. Also really excited for the next two books of A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin, whenever he gets those finished. More than any of these, though, I’ll be more excited if another book by Vince Flynn is ever released. The publisher has said no so far, but he was working on a co-authored novel with Brian Haig, so I’m hoping that’ll be finished and released sometime.

Worst Bookish Habit:

I’d have to say it’s judging books by their covers. I mean, not always–the most important thing is always the story itself, and if something sounds interesting I’ll pick it up regardless of the cover. However, I do really love nice covers, and they’re what often make me pick up a book in the first place.

X-Marks The Spot (Start at the top-left of your shelve and count to the 27th book):

I have my bookshelves relatively organized by genre, with four main separations and a few sub-separations within that (a large bookshelf that contains my leatherbound collectible editions as well as my fantasy, sci-fi, and YA; my thriller/mystery/general fiction novels spread throughout 4 bookshelves; my classics on one bookshelf; and my mystery classics on one). So, I started at the beginning of each of those:

  1. Academ’s Fury, by Jim Butcher.
  2. Agent X, by Noah Boyd.
  3. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  4. Five Little Pigs, by Agatha Christie.

Your Latest Book Purchase:

Technically my latest book purchase would be Raylan by Elmore Leonard. I’ve really enjoyed the TV show Justified, so naturally this book caught my interest (and it was bargain priced at B&N). Earlier that day, I had also bought a couple of Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera books, a series that I hope to start reading soon.

ZZZ Snatcher Book (A book that kept you up wayyy late):

Many books, especially thrillers as they’re easy to just keep reading and reading and reading, without thinking about being tired. No single book really stands out specifically, but I do remember back around Christmas when I was reading a lot of Michael Connelly books back-to-back (I think I ended up reading something like 8 in 10 days or something like that?), and stayed up late many nights in a row doing that.


Writers and Human Beings Alike: Keep a Journal

“A writer writes. If you want to be a writer, write.”

This is one of the founding principles of the Ambage. We’re writers; so we write. In recent weeks, we’ve spoken about some of the reasons for that, and the motivations behind our never-ending dream to be writers, to be better writers, and to write more and more. This week I want to share a tip that has, throughout my life, been invaluable to me, not only as a writer but as a human being as well.

Keep a journal. You’ve probably heard it before, and if you have but never started one, then you have no excuse. You have done the unforgivable to yourself. You have deprived yourself of one of the richest forms of writing known to authorkind.

One of those many reasons to write out there is that, like any art, writing is a form of expression; it’s a unique way of saying what you have to say, and sharing your thoughts and ideas with the world. Every story, every word is an allegory of who you are, written in the spiritual blood of your soul. It can be painful, it can be relieving, it can be joyful and elating and it can teach you things you never knew about yourself.

Then how can you do this, if you do not know your own soul? How can you write from the heart if you do not know how to write about your heart?

By keeping a journal, you’re exploring yourself, your thoughts, your feelings. You don’t have to share a word of it with a soul. You can take it to you with your grave. So you don’t have to be afraid of what other people are going to think; you don’t have to worry about grammar or syntax or style or anything other than everything you want to write, the way you and nobody else in the world wants it to be written. Not even the sky is your limit here; the stars and the farthest reaches of the universe are within your grasp.

Your journal is the record of your life. It is your every memory, it is everything you are, everything you have ever been, everything you hope to be; everything you are learning to be and everything you are becoming.

The lessons a journal can teach you about writing are endless: lessons about sincerity, emotion, self-expression, truth and honesty, authenticity and realism, and about understanding yourself, your own heart and your own mind; just to give a few examples.

One small caveat: Writing is about bigger things than you. Another reason I write, more than to discover myself, is to discover something higher. Through my own eyes, existing by necessity through my own spirit, I want to truly live through something above myself. I write to open my eyes, not only widening my eyes to the wonders around me, but expanding my visions to places and things nobody has ever seen before. I don’t use my journal to create a private world where I am God. I use my journal to understand myself, and to improve myself, and to broaden my mind; the reason I personally write, more than anything else, is enim sapientia: for Wisdom.

Write to explore. Write to learn. Write to discover yourself, to express yourself, to be free, to be limitless; but whatever you do, write to reach for your star. Whyever you write, write for a reason. If you don’t know that reason, start a journal to help you find out. Then continue that journal; it holds memories, it holds ideas written when they were fresh, it retains and preserves everything you were days ago, weeks ago, months or years ago. You might forget, but it won’t. Your journal will be an invaluable companion throughout your writing career and, I believe, throughout your life.

One more caveat: Don’t live in the past. Those who forget it, are doomed to repeat it; those who live in the past, are doomed. The journal is a tool. In bad times, use it to look back on the good times and let it give you faith; in good times, use it to look back on the bad times so you don’t forget the lessons. Use your journal to improve yourself as a writer and as a person. The past is full of memories, the future is full of hopes; but the present is full of savor. Live it and don’t forget it.

Live, love, write. If you want to be a writer, write.

Top Ten Tuesday #6: Favorite Books With a Given Setting

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish where book lovers post their top ten books for various themes that are given.

August 13: Top Ten Favorite Books With a Given Setting

Caleb’s Picks:

This past Sunday, Andrew talked about some of the reasons he likes to write. Now here’s a question: why do you read? It’s no easy question, no easier than it is for a writer to explain why they write; it’s a complicated passion. But here’s one answer: because it takes us places. Places we might never go, places (like the past) we know we’ll never go; and often enough, even into the depths of our own souls. The reader will always be the ultimate armchair traveler. Just don’t tire out your arms turning all those pages. (I guess that’s what eReaders are for.)

It was too hard for me to pick one setting alone. So instead, I picked three, and selected the top four in each.


  1. The Murder at the Vicarage, by Dame Agatha Christie. Christie’s writing was always about the person. She explored the minds of her characters to a depth and realism few writers achieve. This, like most Miss Marple novels, is one of Christie’s finest expeditions into human nature as it exists in an ordinary English country village.
  2. The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Not only one of his better mysteries, but it also takes the reader on a trip to the culture and history of the higher classes of the English countryside.
  3. The Sign of the Four, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, delving deeper into the foggy streets of London than most of Doyle’s novels.
  4. The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins. You’ll notice a pattern here. Collins takes us to all sorts of English settings, from the seaside country villa, to the London townhouse, to the small town, and even to India, with an eye for mystical beauty.


    1. The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes. Can armchair traveling get much better than this? For better or worse, when I think Spain, Don Quixote is one of the first people to enter my mind. It was a different time and a different place, almost a different world; but people are always people, and that’s one of the things that makes Cervantes’ magnum opus one of the best novels of all time.
    2. “Luna Benamor” by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez. Though only a short story in four or five parts, this is one of the most beautiful ways to see Spain a hundred years ago, its beauty and romance poetically emphasized.
    3. The Struggle for Life trilogy by Pío Baroja. In stark contrast to Ibáñez, Baroja writes about Spain with a blatant, almost painful, sometimes frightening honesty about life in Madrid a hundred years ago.
    4. Rosinante to the Road Again, by John Dos Passos. Part travelogue, part allegorical novel, part literary essay, this is a great way to see Spain, if one of the slower and more dispassionate ways.

World War I Era

  1. Free Air, by Sinclair Lewis. From sleepy country town to high society in the city, Lewis literally takes you from one end of America to the other on a journey filled with excitement, romance, and realism.
  2. This Side of Paradise, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. One of the finest works of one of the most famous writers of the “Lost Generation,” and an excellent example of where the writers of the time got their nickname.
  3. The Secret Adversary, by Dame Agatha Christie. Though the main events of the novel take place nearly a decade after the war ended, the Great War still plays an important role in the plot.
  4. The Efficiency Expert, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. When it comes to short, light-hearted romances in post-war America, this is one of the best.

Mash-Up Monday #6

“Mash-Up Monday” is a weekly post here at The Ambage where we post a mash-up of writing- or reading-related links that hopefully are helpful and inspiring. Sorry for the delay on this one–I’m on vacation and wasn’t able to get an internet connection yesterday. This will also be shorter than usual, unfortunately.

Mash-Up Monday #6

  1. Stephen King Shares the Best Opening Line He Ever Wrote. You’ll hear a lot of people say how the opening line is the most important–I thought it was cool to see a famous author’s favorite.
  2. 5 Reasons Novelists Should Write and Publish Short Stories. I can definitely agree with everything here. I love short stories, and I think they’re great things for novelists to do.
  3. Short Story Contest 140: The Discovery. What better way to overcome inspiration problems than participating in a contest? If you’re interested in joining this forum and writing short stories, you might consider checking out this contest. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to enter, but I definitely wanted to when I first saw it.
  4. 10 Things Emerging Writers Need to Learn. Some good tips here.
  5. The Library Book Life Cycle. I thought this was really interesting when I saw it (and sad).


Sunday Editorial: Why Write

Caleb wrote a similar entry a couple weeks ago, ending with asking why others write. Well, consider this my answer, and also just some general thoughts on the “why to write” subject.

One thing I’ll ask myself occasionally is…why do I write? What’s the use of, or point in, writing? Why do I care so much about “being” a writer?

I think there are many different answers to that, and it varies from person to person. For me personally, it’s a combination of many things. Here’s just a few reasons:

Writing is fun—at least to some people. Not that it’s never a lot of work, but it is something you can do when you’re bored. I don’t know about other people, but one of my favorite things to do on a rainy day is sit in front of my computer with a blanket over me and a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, and just write. I love writing to rain.

Writing can give you freedom—you literally have the power to do whatever you want with your writing. There is so much in life that you can’t control—people, events, etc.—but in writing you always can. And I mean this isn’t in the power-hungry “must have power” sense, but it is nice to be able to do whatever you want—to actually control things for once..

Writing allows you to escape—if you’re ever feeling upset or angry (or any emotion, really), you can take it out with your writing. Furthermore, creating worlds and stories can be a great way of “escaping the world”—just like you might escape into the world of a book and become completely engrossed in it (as George R.R. Martin says, if you read you live a thousand lives, whereas a non-reader only lives once). Reading allows you to “live” another life, and writing can be the same way. You can live the story/world you’re creating. You can ignore the world around you and focus solely on the world you create on the page.

Writing allows you to express yourself—depending on how you do this, you can come across as preachy, but there’s nothing to say that you can’t create characters with similar ideals to yours, or even have messages in your writing. A lot of books have themes in them (just think back to any book you’ve read in high school, and how you’re always asked to find the theme). You’re the writer, you get to choose the theme—that’s one of the great things about being a writer. Poetry is also particularly effective in expressing feelings. It doesn’t even have to be something other people see, but if you want to express things, why not do it through writing?

Writing allows you to not be yourself—like Caleb said, you can be a villain or a hero or whatever you want to be. It’s really fun to get into the mind of your characters and be someone else for a short time.

Writing is a way of understanding—Jon Foreman (the main songwriter of Switchfoot) said once that he often writes songs about things he doesn’t understand. I find that I do the same with writing, in a way. You can learn by writing, as well as teach.

Writing promotes creativity—often I’ll hear people talk about how there’s not enough creativity being taught or pushed. And it’s true, depending on where you are and whatnot—I was never all that creative until I started writing. Writing not only forces me to be creative (as I need to think of things to write [not in a bad way of forcing]), but it allows me to use the creativity that I have. I’m not a very good artist/musician/whathaveyou, so I channel my creativity through writing. Writing helps me think outside the box, consider different possibilities, etc.

Writing stimulates the brain—not only can writing be a fun thing to do, but also incredibly healthy and beneficial to the brain and education. Once I started writing creatively, my academic writing flourished as well. It’s always great when you can find something that you like that’s also very good for you—be it food, hobbies, activities, etc.

Writing can go hand in hand with other creative pursuits—like John said in his previous entry, you can combine creative efforts. If you’re an artist, why not try writing some background to the things you draw? If you’re a writer, why not draw some of your characters? Of course, not everyone can do multiple things well—I definitely can’t. But I can see the benefit of using other creative measures along with writing. Create music to your stories, draw maps for it, etc. And you can also use other mediums to inspire writing—great music, paintings, etc. Using a particular image as the starting point for a story can be incredibly fun, especially if you’re looking for inspiration.