Monday, June 24, 2013

Creative Writing: A learning process for writers

If you look at the famous authors, you will find that very few ever attended a college or university, let alone the handful that actually majored in composition and literature. In all honesty, the majority of them would not have told you they were writers because frankly they did not know it themselves! 

You see, being creative and imaginative and inspirational is vital to being a creative author. It is more than sitting at your desk with that breath-taking setting, that realistic character, that mind-blowing plot, and so on. It is merely about using your own experiences and writing them out the same way an artist would paint. 

I have come to the conclusion that there are three distinct types of writers. Firstly, we have the “dreamers” that spend a lot of time thinking and entertaining themselves with their own ideas but never bother to jot them down. Secondly, we have the “commenters” who spend their time outlining and making plans for success but lack the motivation to finish. And thirdly, we have the “achievers” that are committed to their ideas and work at them daily. It’s interesting the different kinds of writers I have encountered in my young life. I notice that a lot of us are “commenter’s” in that we are all about the story and the trail that will launch us into fandom. 

I will keep it real with you by listing all the books that I have attempted to write and fail: 

The Guardian
The Finding
Blue Bird
Wishing Wall

You see, I have tried to write a total of seven novels. If you think I have failed, that is your opinion. I think the greatest thing about creative writing is that you do not have to continue or finish your work in order to learn from it. Currently, I am working on this list. It has taken the other six to teach me things like aspiration, commitment, and determination. It is also changing the way in which I write. Not everyone has a first-person point of view, which can shape the way you look at characters and plots when you find out what works for you and what does not. 

Creative writing is a learn-as-you-go kind of process. 

-Matthew Benton

Friday, June 14, 2013

Review of “Of Bees and Mist” by Erick Setiawan

“Of Bees and Mist” by Erick Setiawan is an enthralling read from the first page. It was first recommended to me through Amazon and Good-Reads. I have reread it a great deal and enjoyed it every time. It is a young adult story and also Setiawan’s debut novel which may come as a surprise because the language reads like it was written by a distinguished author. The book is told in the third-person but the main focus is on the life of Meridia.

The story begins with Meridia as a child. Her father, Gabriel, is presented as a cold and numbing character who is impossible to win attention or love from. It is shortly revealed that every night he leaves in a cloud of mist and returns home the following morning in the mist; he having a long-standing affair with another woman. Her mother, Ravenna, is no exception with her private dark language and obsessive behavior. The house, like the parents, is always filled with a bitter coldness to where Meridia can never remain warm for very long. Needless to say, she lives a very abnormal childhood.

The story transitions into Meridia’s life as a young adult where she meets Daniel. It seems unreal when she finds herself taken by his charm. She then learns to cherish his mother, Eva, whose laughter brings her warmth, appearing to be everything her own mother is not. Later in the story, Meridia realizes that Eva is the one responsible for keeping people awake durring the night, torturing them with the sound of a thousand buzzing bees. Daniel’s two sisters, Malin who is spiteful, and Peremony who is gentle and kind, are the family she envies. Meridia becomes Daniel’s bride through a sacrifice on her own mother’s part.

After having married Daniel, the plot of the book begins to take an unmistakable turn. For the remainder of the story, Meridia spends a majority of her time arguing with Daniel, feuding with Eva, re-establishing her relationship with her mother, protecting her sister-in-laws, and finding the answer to Gabriel’s secret.

The setting of the book is a mystery in that Setiawan never gives the reader a name, only the title of streets, estates, markets, and festivals; however, the language makes-up for it. It truly is an outstanding novel for those who enjoy fiction, literary, fantasy, young-adult, or those who enjoy stories with a fairytale-esque ending to it.

by Matthew Benton 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Book Buying


Going into a bookstore is like entering a new world, one scented with ink and paper, coffee and tea, dust and wood. I could browse the literary and young-adult sections forever but at the end of the day, I could never purchase any of them. The trip usually results in me buying something from the clearance or the bargain bin. However, I have gone into a Barnes & Nobles or a Books-A-Million and walked out feeling angry about the prices. For all who buy books, we know that at the end of the day it all comes down to money. How much are we willing to spend on a book when we can buy it elsewhere for a better price?

Below, I have ranked the order in which I purchase my books as well as the sites and stores I frequently visit or find the best deals:

You can find free books at your local library and online through give-a-way sites and e-books:

Free Book Friday- It is site that gives you the option to enter a “raffle” to win a free book in any of the four categories.

Get Free Books- It is a site that allows you to legally download free books.

Online Alternatives

You can find a multitude of discounted books! I use this to find a majority of my books (I almost never use any e-book format but I do own a kindle for schooling purposes). I would consider these the best options for those who like to have a physical copy of the book:

Best Bargain Books- It is a site that guarantee’s each book to start out at 60-80 percent off its original price. The fault is that books are almost always out of stock and you do pay around $3’s in shipping.

Better World Books- It is an organization dedicated to improving literacy world-wide. It has a “bargain bin” where you can find a majority of popular titles and authors for under $3’s per book. For every book you do buy, the organization gives a book to a child or adult in a foreign country. Shipping is free!

Trick-or-Treat Sellers

Barnes & Noble- It is probably the best known bookstore. However, it’s prices can be drastically lowered if you are willing to look around and price elsewhere. I would recommend checking their website for bargain-buys but shelf buying should be prohibited.

Books-A-Million- It is a smaller bookstore but a great place to find bargains. Here, you will find popular titles in each genre for under $5’s on clearance. No shelf buying unless you have a membership and even then, it can cheaper through online alternatives.

Half-Price Books- It sells and buys used books. It is a great place to shop the bargain boxes and clearance shelves. I would recommend browsing the shelves for hidden bargains which cost about the same as a book and its shipping online.

I know that finding a good bookstore is often hard simply because of prices. It is tragic that the publishers and owners must sell at a high rate to make their own profit. Over this past year, Border’s went out of business and I was heart-broken;. However, I never bought books except from the bargain table. It is the sad reality of books; it all comes down to price, quality, and format.


Matthew Benton

Monday, June 3, 2013

Review of “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen

“Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen is one of those rare novels that will be read over and over again. It is great entertainment as well as insightful in its portrayal of life in the circus and the on goings in the show-ring. 

It follows the life-story of Jacob Jankowski, dividing the book into two perspectives: the ninety-three year old and twenty-three year old of Gruen’s main character. We learn early on in the plot that Jacob is Polish, orphaned, and an almost-graduate of Cornell University for veterinary science. At the tragic death of his parents, Jacob find himself jumping a locomotive which surprisingly belongs to the Benzini Brothers, a circus in the heart of the American depression-era. Jacob is hired both as the circus’s handyman and personal animal care-taker by August, the owner. He encounters Marlena, the lovely woman that works with the horses in the show’s menagerie; Camel, the manager of sorts of the circus laborers; Barbara, the showgirl, and Rosie, an adult Asian elephant who becomes the central component in the novel. By training with Rosie, Jacob becomes close to Marlena and learns a great deal about August. It is also this elephant the brings about the shocking ending to the novel and alters the lives of those involved for life.

Through a leap of faith, Jacob wins the experience of a lifetime as a traveler, a doctor for exotic animals, and a lover. It is easily one of the top-three favorites on my bookshelf for its beautiful imagery, fluent writing style, and challenging plot.

Rating: 5 * * * * *

By: Matthew Benton

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Welcome Matthew Benton!

The Shaky Shelf would like to welcome our newest blogger Matthew Benton! We can't wait to see what wonderful things you have in store for us!