Wednesday, August 14, 2019

On Listening to the Heart

This weekend I had access to a live webinar – a manifesting workshop – by a highly respected spiritual warrior. You know, one of those deals where if you pre-order the book – you get to watch them teach a master class to thousands of people? Yeah, that. 

What can I say? I’m a sucker for anyone who can package radical self-transformation into five easy steps. However, when it came time for the questions and answer portion of the event – I was struck by two things:

1. People mostly wanted to tell their story, they needed to be heard and seen, and have their pain validated. 

2. Most of the questions were a variation of this: “How do I know when to follow my heart and when to listen to my mind?” 

Undeniably, we are creatures of narrative (whether we are writers or not) and we need stories like air. Since we’ve been gathering around campfires, writing on the walls of caves, and living in community – narrative has been the song of our collective consciousness. And while we still love a good story, what makes a good story is certainly up for debate. Still, the most important stories are the ones we tell ourselves about ourselves - because our personal narrative becomes our individual potential or limit depending on how we process it. That’s where the heart comes in. 

So how do you know when your ego is lying to you in order to prevent you from experiencing pain? How do you differentiate a heart-centered desired from a mental construct? Here are three things to consider when you are struggling with what to do: 

1. Listen to your body. Both the heart and the mind are housed inside your body and your body doesn’t lie. Follow gut instincts, pay attention to what feels good and what causes pain. For example: the other day I was having a conversation about a potential business opportunity and I literally broke out in hives. No need to be a guru detective there. 

2. Meditate with a mantra. For those of you who have difficulty sitting still because you haven’t yet mastered the art of silencing the mind… give it something to do while you meditate! I prefer taking my mantra on a daily walk. In this way, my mind and body are fully engaged in activity and I can make a little room for my heart to whisper highest good to me. Some mantras to try are: I know the answer. I know what I want. I know highest good always. 

3. Write your way into a new story. Nothing is lost. And here is the best news of all: you are always where you’re meant to be. I know, I know, I know. It’s a paradox and probably one of the most difficult conundrums to master. But the deeper truth you need to ask yourself is “What’s the worst thing that could happen? What am I afraid of? Why?” Hold the vision, but detach from the outcome and get on with the business of moving towards love. Forgive yourself and align with the highest good for all involved. 

It’s time to change the narrative you’ve been clinging to. Where do you want to start? You get to decide what comes next. 

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Muck of the Middle: A Writer's Query Quest

This week marks the one year anniversary of my MFA graduation. I’ve spent the last 12 months turning my thesis into a novel, crafting the perfect pitch, and mustering up the courage to hit the query trenches. 

While I’ve always been a “writer” – it took me a little longer than most to remove the quotations and truly embrace my creative path. Like countless others before me, I have worn many hats: publicist, media relations, teacher, professor, consultant, queen. We often dance around our destiny as if we can somehow distract or delay its ultimate arrival. I’m sure there’s a deeper psychological force at play here, but that’s a post for another day. 

I entered my creative writing for young adults MFA program armed with my MA in theology. Ironic? Truth be told, the YA community can be a bit of a cult and it happens mostly out of necessity. Let's call it survival skills for navigating the writing universe as the “serious” poets and literarati often hold us at arm’s length.

Despite the success of young adult literature, many people still harbor bias based on limited knowledge about YA’s possibilities, quality, and genre scope. I can’t tell you how many snide comments I’ve heard about Twilight (which happens to be a masterful depiction of our innate human desire to be seen but is NOT the only YA book in the world). I’ve listened to people belittle the speed and force of young adult literature while bragging about how “true” writers take decades to create their masterpieces as if struggling is a precursor to success. 

Trust me, there’s enough struggle in the first ten pages of any YA book to last a lifetime. One of the reasons I love writing for young adults is because of the hyperbolic nature of the experiences we dive into. Everything is intense, passionate, or potentially life altering. I get to tap into my own pain, desire, and potentially destructive choices / memories from my teen years and “re-do” all of it for the sake of fiction. 

In my stories, the girls carry their own swords and aren’t afraid to save themselves because those are the sort of protagonists I wish I’d had when I was dealing with confidence, body image, and the butterflies of something more. My motto: Forget waiting for someone to save you – get out there and save yourself! 

Like the teen years it details, YA Lit is a hotbed of activity often modeling the intended audience. There are twitter feuds fueled by the explosiveness of cancel culture and intense reactions bordering on something more. There is defensiveness and offensiveness in equal measure. 

But the passionate YA Lit community is also fiercely loyal, notoriously collaborative, and transparent. I love how open my fellow YA writers are about process, pitfalls, and potential; however, despite the openness, I still struggle with mastering my day-to-day querying life. 

Things they didn’t teach in my MFA: everything that comes after the MFA. 

I know the querying is an essential part of the process and a necessary step on the epic journey that is a writer’s life. Hey, let’s be honest – it’s really uncomfortable. Maybe there are reasons why more agented/published writers don’t talk about the sheer difficulty of it. Maybe they want to put forth a positive front, forget the trauma, or simply move forward. Or maybe this process isn’t meant to be understood in reverse. Either way, for those of us stuck in the muck and mud of the middle – we sure could use a lifeline. 

I can’t tell you how many times a day I check my email, refresh my twitter feeds to stalk agents who have my full, or make sacrificial offerings at my altar of good intentions. 

I know the middle isn’t as sexy as basking in the glow of “the call” or singing the song of signing the coveted book deal. Sure, writers are weird and secretive and superstitious… but we are also people, living, breathing, and working in the real world. We have to get on with the business of laughing and loving while we wait. So, we might as well talk about it with people who understand. Lord knows the non-writers in your life don’t get why it’s “taking so long” or understand the adrenaline rush of an answered email (even the rejections). 

No matter the current stage of our writer’s journey, we’re all just chasing the high of validation, the joy of "yes" and the moment when the whole world confirms what your grandma knew all along: 

“Honey, you’re special. Now, you’re a REAL writer!”

Yeah. The middle is a wasteland filled with delay, detour, and denial. The middle is fertile ground for second-guessing, doubt, and downright fits of frustration. It’s the dark night of the soul that lasts and lasts and lasts….sometimes for weeks, months, and/or years. And the worst part is you never know when your “yes” will come so you basically exist in expectation. 

The middle is torturous. It’s when you need the most support and receive the least. Honestly, nothing in my MFA prepared me for what came after. I wasn’t prepared to slay this dragon alone. Where the hell is my sword? Where is the wise troll to guide me through this haunted forest? I simply refuse to believe the fancy hood and coveted diploma are false relics without magic.

There’s alchemy in effort and power in facing the dreaded question: “So what have you been working on since graduation?”

Most of the time, I resist the urge to respond by declaring that I’m working on not breaking into tears. Giving up is not an option for creative souls and that is part of the pain. Not because we are owed anything, but because to be in community we must not be afraid to be at the bottom. 

Everyone will tell you that you need to keep writing. Write while you wait, write while you query, write in your sleep. It’s the only way to fully walk this path. But it shouldn’t feel foreign or dirty or taboo.

We should be so excited, thrilled, over-the-moon for the next idea that we fix our eyes, minds, and hearts forward. Perhaps this is the reason agented/published authors often seem as if they are beyond the struggles of those of us on our query quest. It’s not that they don’t want to share the secrets to their success, it’s just that their success is a result of that forward motion. 

After all, you can never enter the same river twice. The river is always changing and if we are doing it right…so are we. 

So, for all my writing witches stuck in the querying trenches, here are 4 things to keep in mind when the muck of the middle is threatening your progress: 

1. PARTY OF ONE: Look, let’s be honest: you’ve got to walk this journey on your own. But you don’t have to be lonely. When you are feeling up against it, remember to share your experience, talk about your challenges, and ask your mentors for some wisdom. Eating alone at the buffet of creativity means you get to choose how much, when, and where. 

2. TIME GOES BY: It may seem as if time passes differently in the query trenches, but that’s just an indication that you need to use it wisely. Or, consider this: time is moving whether or not you sign with an agent this week. You might as well use the time wisely instead of worrying and go ahead and write something new. After all, the very purpose of being in the middle is to keep going. 

3. CREATIVE WELL: Yes, it’s important to keep writing while you query, but you also need to remember to replenish the creative well. It’ll be impossible to write something new if your creative well runs dry as you wait. Some great things to reignite your spark are to read something for sheer pleasure, take a road trip and snap some potential settings for visual research, add daily meditative walks to your writing routine, or just call an old (non-writing) friend to reminisce. The important thing here is that you mindfully balance your writing life with your non-writing life. 

4. “WHEN” IS A MYTH: There is only now. There is only this moment. “When” something wonderful happens you’ll want it to find you writing.  

Monday, July 29, 2019

What's Up Block?

It’s no secret that creative blocks can be common for most writers. One of the greatest misconceptions about writer’s block is that it looks the same for everyone. 

It doesn’t. 

Sometimes I am flooded with so many new ideas and potential plotlines and infinite possibilities that I CAN NOT WRITE! How am I supposed to choose just one? 

My natural reaction to this is to spend three hours on Twitter, reading about things that have nothing to do with my writing. Like, did you know that two popular YouTube stars got married and charged $50.00 for people to watch the live stream of their nuptials? Can you imagine? 

Gosh, if only. 

But I digress. 

Creative blocks can manifest seemingly from nowhere. They can be painful or they can be disguised as productivity. Procrastination is a tricky little witch. For example, when avoiding writing I have been known to organize my closet, take up bullet journaling, read my tarot cards, play with my puppy, and even do six loads of laundry. 

All that nervous, anxious energy needs an outlet. So why can’t I just channel it into my writing? 

The answer may be quite simple: writing doesn’t always look like writing. 

We live in a culture that exposes everything, especially all our wins. For writers in the trenches, this is a dangerous place to base your perceptions. Sometimes writing is dreaming, or walking, or talking with a friend. Sometimes it’s spending hours perusing your old journals to reconnect with your young adult self. And, yes, sometimes it’s crying, wagging your fist at the Universe for cursing you with this life, and wishing for a miracle. 

The important thing is to keep moving forward. 

Maybe you won’t write today. Maybe #MondayMotivation isn’t your thing. Maybe you are going to swim in the pool or walk along the beach. 

It’s okay to move at your own pace as long as you keep moving. 

Often times, creative blocks are blocks to our highest self – after all, creativity is a spiritual path. 

Here are three things to do when you feel “stuck” – 

1. Am I tired? Stressed? Worried about money or a family member? If so, how can I spend twenty minutes today practicing self-care? What can I do to replenish my own creative well? Go for a walk, read, take a bath… simple, mindful, focused acts for yourself can go a long way to restoring your creative soul.

2. Am I comparing my journey to someone else’s? If so, take 5 minutes for a “Quick Bitch” session and get your grievances out of your mind and down on paper. You don’t want to experience fatigue from over-thinking. Getting out of our head and into the heart requires a few minutes of honesty. The “Quick Bitch” tool has saved me from losing whole entire days to imaginary opponents. (How it works: set a timer for 5 minutes, make a list of everything causing you pain, don’t think, just write stream-of consciousness style. When the 5 minutes are up, stop.) 

3. Why do I want to write? Knowing your “Why” is essential for every creative. Have you tried writing a “Why Statement” to make your mission concrete. This powerful activity can help you get clear about your writerly vision so you don’t feel the need to do everything all at once. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Returning to the Self

 Blogging had long been an exciting part of my creative process. I loved reaching out to like-minded creatives and sharing my journey. But like everything, life soon got in the way. I was embarking on a new path, leaving one profession, deep into my creative writing MFA, and struggling to sort it all out. So naturally, I put blogging on the back-burner while I tried to make sense of the changes in my life. 

One thing I have learned is that sometimes our journey is all about returning to the Self. This returning allows us to reassess our values, establish new goals, and work to develop a more authentic expression of who we have become.  Paradoxically, in order to do that, we need to retreat. Retreating can be beneficial to heal old wounds, shield our sensitivities to the opinions of others, and ensure that we are acting from a place of highest good. But eventually we must reemerge.

Imagine if the caterpillar refused to leave the cocoon? The world would be robbed of the beauty of butterflies. Growth can be painful, full of doubt, and definitely uncomfortable. It is this uncomfortableness that forces us to break out of the cocoon and learn to fly. 

With that said, I have come full-circle and plan to use the blog to grow with my new creative community. I hope you’ll join me as I use writing, wonder, word witchery, and well-being to fuel the next phase of my creative journey. 

Here are 3 tips for returning to yourself in order to move forward: 

1. Don’t be afraid of the cocoon: maybe you can’t totally retreat, but you can find the time to scale back your interaction, involvement, and investment in things that drain your energy. The cocoon for you may mean taking 20 minutes a day to meditate, exercise, or focus your attention to what you truly desire. 

2. Ask for what you truly want: remove money, age, and societal expectations from the equation and ask yourself what it is that is causing the anxiety, pressure, and stress. Often times we confuse anxiety and opportunity. If there is lack, there is opportunity for abundance. Listen to what your heart is telling you and ask, “What do I want?” 

3. Know the difference between your mind and your heart driven desires: remember, your mind is liar. Its whole purpose is to prevent you from experiencing pain so it will tell you terrible things to keep you from growing. However, your heart’s goal is growth and as we’ve discussed true growth is uncomfortable. Remember: if it feels like a gift, accept it…and if it feels like a burden, reject it. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Relationships in The Takedown by Corrie Wang

WARNING: The following post discusses details contained in The Takedown by Corrie Wang which may spoil the book if you have not read it yet. You've been warned!

            In her novel The Takedown, Corrie Wang utilizes an "unlikeable" narrator to expose the flaws in relationships and highlight the human need to be seen. Like any finely crafted work of fiction, The Takedown layers several thematic concepts: the reach of karma, the thirst for vindication, the hunger of jealousy and revenge, the fragility of human connection, and the importance of truth in relationships. Certainly, I will not endeavor to analyze all of these potential themes; however, it is worth noting that Wang’s novel does not shy away from what many would consider to be the underbelly of growing up. In today’s digitally connected world, teens are coming-of-age on full display and this can often manifest in unforeseen consequences (some deservedly and others no so much). This concept is of particular interest for my own work as I seek to build a realistic contemporary world for my characters to function in; however, in this post, I shall examine the following: voice and the notion of likeability, implementing direct address as a narrative tool, the complications of parent/child relationships, and developing realistic friendships.
            The novel and its summary both begin with the notion of likeability. In fact, the inside jacket copy plainly states: “Kyla Cheng doesn’t expect you to like her. For the record, she doesn’t need you to.” Similarly, the very first line of the novel offers the same disclaimer when the protagonist asserts herself by declaring she’s “warn[ing] you in advance” that “you’re probably not going to like [her]” (Wang 3). While this definitely establishes the strength of the voice, it does raise some questions: Why all the need to tell the reader how they’ll feel about the character? Why not let Kyla stand and deliver as she does in later chapters? Honestly, this beginning feels less like a device and more like manipulation. What about the reader who sees aspects of herself in Kyla? Should she feel less than for being disliked by her peers or finding herself in the middle of a controversy? I raise these questions because the protagonist in my story is similar in many ways to Kyla and I am striving to create an unlikeable character that readers will ultimately root for. This requires a delate balance of push and pull; I want the readers to see her flaws and love her despite them, which is why the narration is so essential to the progression of the plot.
            Undeniably, narration is a vital component of fiction that can make or break a novel. There are many potential pitfalls of utilizing first person narration, but for the young adult reader the benefits typically far outweigh the possible redundancy, droning, and authorial influence. Readers of young adult fiction have come to rely on the first person narrator as a means to view coming-of-age challenges such as navigating social scenes at school, developing solid friendships, maneuvering into adulthood while maintaining solid connections with parents and peers alike. Consider the following passage:
“Question, oh silent, unseen reader. How am I supposed to act? Because I don’t know anymore. If I’m only sweet and endearing, you’ll never respect me. If I take charge and am in control, you’ll think me aggressive. If I embrace my sexy, I’m a skank. If I embrace my inner dork, I’m ostracized. If I’m wildly popular, it’s the same.
Minus a couple of hiccups, I thought I’d been acing this teenage stuff by me being me, but then I got this for it – see previous 209 pages – and everyone rejoiced.” (Wang 212).
I have toyed with the all powerful use of you to hint that my main character is telling this story to someone for some reason; however, Wang’s protagonist never makes it clear who the “you” is in her use of direct address. Why tell the readers anything in this case? Why not just show them these elements through the progression of plot? Here is where I must suggest that Wang’s use of direct address comes across as an aggressive need for the main character to explain herself despite an entire narrative that demands otherwise. As a result of this, I’d be in favor of less direct address and more scenes showing Kyla navigating her world as only she can. Readers are smart enough to know when they’re being led and it usually pulls them out rather than emerging them in the world. The other option would be for Wang’s story to rely on Kyla being heard – as I am trying to accomplish in my own work. If the character is fulfilling a need, readers are more likely to buy the direct address and accept it as a reality of the narration.
            At risk of overload, I will quickly explore the complexity of relationships in The Takedown. The need for Wang to tie up the issues between Kyla and her mother with a neat little bow undermines the struggles she endured throughout the novel. Rarely, does a person experiences so much growth and understanding in such a short period of time and I would caution writers and myself against doing this. The reality is, sometimes parents don’t like their children for many reasons – yet they love them in spite of these things. The love is sometimes messy and complicated and layered (just like the people). And I think Wang does a disservice to the sharp edges of life she seems to be depicting in the first half of the novel. So for me, consistency is the key. Also, knowing the ending doesn’t have to be perfect because ambiguity is often a harsh reality of life that the young adult reader must adjust to.
            Additionally, Wang attempts to prove the strength of friendships that are anything but solid. The relationships we forge with others and the ones we develop with ourselves ultimately determine the world we create. Certainly, many relationships change but readers need to feel what mattered about these relationships to begin with in order to empathize with the characters. For Kyla, most of these relationships are built on shaky ground save for her love interest, Mac. And I am still puzzled by her need to reject him over and over and over. Equally confusing is his need to be rejected over and over and over – and still stick around. As a result, I want to make sure the actions of my characters seem realistic and not create faux tension in the process.

            While I know the main character in The Takedown isn’t suffering from mental illness as my character is – they do share some things in common: the sharpness of their edges, the unapologetic singular vision, the brute force by which they approach just about every area of their life, etc.  Conclusively, I will aspire to create sufficient relationships, downplay melodrama to increase believable tension, and recognize that sometimes ambiguity makes for a more realistically fitting ending. Overall, this novel was a fantastic glimpse into an imperfect world, featuring imperfect people, and I hope to continue to explore these elements (and others) as I develop my own work. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Thematic Development in The Movie Version by Emma Wunsch

WARNING: The following post discusses details contained in The Movie Version by Emma Wunscwhich may spoil the book if you have not read it yet. You've been warned!

            Novelists seek to create appropriate pacing, cohesive plot development, and effective dialogue in order to engage and ground readers in the world they have established. While not limited by the parameters of the genre, young adult authors have the added responsibility of appealing to the doubts, frustrations, and concerns of the modern teenager in a way that seeks to bridge the gap from adolescence to adulthood in this ever-changing climate. Undeniably, fiction often serves to prepare readers to face the frequently harsh realities of life.  For this reason, many young adult novels attempt to create protagonists who both seek to understand and find their place in the world at large. Likewise, in her novel The Movie Version, Emma Wunsch explores the main character’s desire to recreate, control, and ultimately understand the human experience to suggest that not all stories will provide a happy conclusion.
            Initially, Wunsch’s world-building suffers as a result of limited dialogue tags and excessive telling. Consequently, the beginning of the novel requires a certain level of concentration that may dissuade the typical young adult reader. Moreover, early in the novel the author relies on establishing character via telling and not showing which distracts rather than connects them to the main characters. It is worth mentioning that most of this problematic telling happens before the reader can establish an emotional connection to the characters and decide for himself or herself how to feel about the relationships because the entirety of the plot demands an understanding of the bond between a sister and her mentally ill older brother. Admittedly, these issues do not hinder the author’s ability to hook and capture interest of readers – which speaks to the strength of the overall narrative.
            For example, early in the novel the protagonist, Amelia, constantly reminds readers “this is what it’s like in Toby’s world” (Wunsch 5) rather than the author showing and allowing readers to formulate their own opinions. Being told by the narrator how different she is from her brother is not the same as the author showing readers the difference. Initially, it is difficult to bond with or root for either of these characters because they incessantly need to speak to each other via movie references and quotations. Young adult audiences will be familiar with some of the newer titles, but unless they are cinematic connoisseurs, some of the references might prove distracting.
            Furthermore, the author’s attempt at fostering sympathy for and connection with the main characters via movie quotes is not nearly as effective as the characters desire to filter their own existence through the same lens. There is no denying that the main characters, Amelia and Toby, have forged a bond by watching a copious amount of movies. Their love for these movies allows them to communicate by having entire conversations composed of nothing but movie quotations; however, most readers might find this to be authorial posturing. It is only when Amelia reveals the significance of precisely what the movie version is that Wunsch is able to tap into the universal human desire to recreate, control, and understand the most difficult aspects of life that the story becomes inclusive. Consider the following passage:
            “What’s the movie version?” Epstein asked. 
      “It’s the better version,” I said, which I immediately regretted. Except for Toby, who kind of invented the idea, I don’t think I’ve ever really told anyone about the movie version.
      “Better like the audience is willing to pay ten dollars to see it. Not better like happy. There are plenty of sad movies, like The Fault in Our Stars, which was amazing, or If I Stay, which I didn’t like. But movie-sad is way better than non-movie-sad.
                                                              (Wunsch 23-24).
            Here we get an understanding, for the first time, about the protagonist’s deep desire to recreate and control her own experience (at least in theory). This notion is extremely relatable to readers both young and old because humans make mistakes and not all of them are life altering or catastrophic. In fact, very often the little mishaps are the ones we obsess over and replay in our minds a million times until the memory no longer causes us embarrassment, pain, or exposure. Wunsch’s careful attention to this idea makes the main character’s struggle to cope with and (at times) deny the existence of her brother’s mental illness more relatable as she taps into the universal folly of the human condition. Writing relatable characters requires this connection and inclusivity no matter how strong the concept or plot may appear. 

            Throughout my own reading and writing, I’ve been thinking about endings and why they are often so disappointing in literature (and life). In a given novel – readers meet new people, fall in love with them and their world, and forge a meaningful connection to their struggle only to be cast out on the last page as if we have not known them intimately. Most authors understand this and seek to provide the most sufficient resolution possible. Readers have a deep desire to know the characters are okay and we hunger for closure that tells us how these characters have dealt with their problems. This desire for completeness is all a part of human nature’s need to understand and something Wunsch’s story touches on. But life is not like a movie. Often we never get a second chance, rarely are we able to control the outcome, and most of the times things happen we will never understand and that is the very purpose of The Movie Version. In this novel, the mental illness is ultimately not a thing to control and the protagonist’s struggle to accept that reminds us even the most unfulfilling endings present an opportunity to grow. Conclusively, this is a testament to the author who created the world and reminded us of our definitive connectivity– otherwise, why would we care about any of this at all? We wouldn’t.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Unresolved Problem in We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

WARNING: The following post discusses details of Tommy Wallach's novel, We All Looked Up which may spoil the book if you have not read it yet. You've been warned!

            In my previous post about This is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp, I discussed how the author utilized the point-of-view of multiple characters and a compressed timeline to increase tension and drive the central conflict of the novel. As I am currently contemplating a new idea where a similar multi-character perspective could help drive the plot, I have been reading works that create suspense much in the same way. In this aspect, author Tommy Wallach’s novel We All Looked Up also uses a shortened timeline and multiple perspectives in attempt to propel the narrative to enhance conflict. However, the two-month timespan of Wallach’s novel often feels unnecessarily stretched out and the obscurity of the ending leaves readers feeling as if they’ve taken a journey to nowhere.
            Primarily, Wallach’s novel is plagued by having too many possible protagonists which forces him to work really hard at developing a conflict suitable enough to drive the action of the novel. Essentially, readers just passively observe the characters waiting for a comet to either hit the earth or not. Since one of the main antagonists is the approaching comet itself; therefore, not only do readers deserve to know what happens to the characters, but a solid story structure demands it. The fact that Wallach’s ending does not attempt to answer the question it spends two hundred pages developing is frustrating to say the least. Suspense is a wonderful device when utilized effectively, but here it feels like a tool to merely keep the reader interested and hoping the payoff will be worth it in the end. At times Wallach’s novel teeters between the author’s attempt at creating suspense and the reader’s frustration at waiting for something (anything) to happen.
            Early in the novel, Peter (a protagonist among many) has a conversation with one of his teachers which would appear to set the pace of Wallach’s tale; but it is simply a tease. This conversation explores the notion of what a good book should be able to do and ironically exposes what Wallach himself is unable to achieve in his own work. The teacher tells Peter:
            “The best books, they don’t talk about things you never thought about before. They talk about things you’d always thought about, but that you didn’t think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you’re a little bit less alone in the world. You’re part of this cosmic community of people who’ve thought about this thing, whatever it happens to be” (Wallach 11)
            Unfortunately, a closer examination of this ideal is not explored to fruition in the story itself. The concept that a novel should explore things in a new way is certainly not groundbreaking and Wallach’s drawn out narrative explaining how the characters are dealing with the notion that a comet MIGHT hit Earth seems thin in hindsight since the ending (or lack thereof) is never fully revealed. While the young adult audience will certainly be intrigued by the subject matter – the possibility of civilization as we know it ending – they will likely be just as frustrated with Wallach’s frequent attempt at over-analyzing, incessant philosophizing, and at times downright preachy approach to the fragility of humanity.
            Young adults read for many of the same reasons that adults do; however, they are only just beginning to ask the big questions and authors have a certain responsibility to take this seriously while giving them room to explore their own hypothesis. Wallach’s authorial intent at first seems clear from the above passage: seeking to explore the big questions. But since his attempt at suspense revolves around how the characters change (or not) while waiting for the comment, it should also build to a sufficient crescendo for the reader. Furthermore, the secondary and tertiary characters are not sufficiently developed in a meaningful way and fail to add to the plot progression but rather extend it almost annoyingly.
            Later in the novel, Wallach continues to weave a philosophical tone that saturates his attempt at progressing the plot. He points out that “Socrates believed that in a perfect world, every person would be doing the thing that they were born to do” (113). Now, while some may view this as the incidental musings of authorial intent, it becomes almost laughable when consideration is given to the fact that the characters do not have any real purpose at all aside from their inability to control what may or may not happen to them.
            Even if the reader acknowledges that in life, endings are not always expected or fair or even clear – the journey of the characters still needs a sufficient payoff in fiction. While we may never know why something happens, this novel fails to explore the event actually happening at all which feels like a terrible waste of time. If Wallach intended to make a statement about the pointlessness of life, he could have at least given his novel the gift of that singular idea. Instead, he teeters – often taking one step forward and another three back. Readers want to see something happen or feel the ending has sufficiently satisfied the characters’ arc. Instead Wallach’s own work drones on while also echoing the “mistaken belief that anything [can] last forever” (330). By leaving the big questions unanswered he actually illegitimatizes the characters and the journey altogether.  
            It is also worth noting that the story ends with the characters “praying for mercy” (370) – literally. This creates more questions without answers and results in nothing but frustration. Where did God enter the picture? If not God, then to whom are they praying? And most importantly – did the comet hit or miss them? This journey of self-discovery hinges on the characters discovering something – anything! And what began as a series of questions ends with even more. At least, one thing is consistent and that’s Wallach’s abstract approach to tangible ideas: the pressure of unfulfilled dreams, the end of the world, the human connection.
            Essentially, for a novel to leave the reader with a sense of completion, there has to be a sense of completion in the work. So, I fundamentally believe the best, most realistic novels are the ones that force us to face a problem and deal with the aftermath the best way we (and the characters) know how. In the end, if this is also left obscure, suspense, character motivation, and the very progression of the plot seems to be all in vain. And no matter the topic, no reader wants to feel as if their time has been wasted.