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A View From Above: Where to Spot Good Writing

As a student of writing, I’m constantly on the lookout for good quality work. Most of the time when we think of good quality writing we think of the classics like Shakespeare, Chaucer, or Milton. Similarly we also think good writing comes from novels and/or plays; forms that are generally thought of as a little highbrow and difficult to connect with. However, good writing can also come from film, television and even comic books.

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I’ve read a lot of classics from Homer’s The Iliad to Beowulf to Paradise Lost. From Edgar Allen Poe to Bram Stoker. They’re all great if you want to learn story structure and expand your vocabulary and I highly recommend you start at the beginning. On the other hand, I’ve also read and watched things that were recommended to me with the thought that I’d like them, but alas poor Yorick I did not. They just didn’t do it for me. Breaking Bad, for example, which is consistently rated as one of the best television series’ of all time. I couldn’t get through the second episode. Don’t get me wrong, it was an interesting premise, but just not my thing. Just the other day I got caught up in a twitter debate about how “great” The Expanse is. Is it? I found the characters boring, and the dialogue weak. I muddled my way through the first season and don’t plan on continuing. How it got renewed for a third season is beyond me. I simply cannot watch anything produced by the SyFy channel. Can anyone tell me why everything looks blue on that show? Ender’s Game was another recommendation. This was one experience where I rather enjoyed the movie more than the book. No. Just no.

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The theory is that I like science fiction. Everyone knows my love of Star Wars. The thing is Star Wars isn’t science fiction. I’m not a fan of any specific genre. I like what’s written well. Game of Thrones, House of Cards, and Preacher (the comic not the show, please…not the show), are all very different. This is how I can tell if I really like something; I cannot physically put it down or turn it off. It’s impossible And if I can remember what I’m reading, that’s a sign. The best part of good writing for me is the dialogue. Which any writer, no matter their skill level, will tell you is the most difficult to get right. Garth Ennis, the writer for Preacher gets the dialogue down so perfectly, with speech inflection and all like nobody’s business. Yes, it may take a couple readings to get through a speech bubble, but it pays off later on when you realize it becomes part of the character and their development.

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What I like about GoT and HoC is not only the dialogue, but the delivery of it by the actors. It’s quick, yet forceful. It’s serious but not overly dramatic. The multilayered storylines give both shows an extra level of intrigue. This made me realize my own novel is way too simple (editors note:  Eric is in the process of writing his first book).

Another show I respect, but am not completely enthralled with is Avatar: The Last Airbender, and The Legend of Korra to an even lesser extent. I know it’s blasphemy to not love these shows. I really like them, and love how the story and characters develop. I think it’s because it’s animated, which doesn’t make sense at all because I love Star Wars Clone Wars and Rebels.

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I had just caught up with Saga, the comic series written by award winning comic writer Brian K. Vaughan. I’ll say this; it’s definitely original, which is a big plus in my book. It’s well written, but didn’t pull me in as much as Preacher did. I’m also reading his other series, Paper Girls which is also very original. Y: The Last Man, from what I read is really good too! I’ll stay with both for now. A few more examples of good writing came from a recommended comic called Wytches by Scott Snyder. Wow! If you like creepy comics, in the vein of Stephen King, I cannot recommend this one enough. I read the entire trade in one sitting, something I never do. Lastly, Transmetroplitan and Planetary also came recommended, both written by Warren Ellis. I’m excited to dive into those!

I’m all ears for more recommendations. I can’t guarantee I’ll like it, but I’m willing to try. Movies, books, or comics!

Eric Onkenhout

@EricOnkenhout or @WritingEric

Facebook.com/eric.onkenhout

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The Female Perspective: Why I Finally Started Watching “Game Of Thrones”

Welcome! This is a weekly blog* by Author J.L. Metcalf where I discuss anything and everything that strikes my fancy. If you have ideas on what you think I should write about, please send me an email via my website!

For now, sit back, relax and enjoy the blog!

*All views expressed in “The Female Perspective” are those of J.L. Metcalf, not Great Stories, Inc


If you read this blog every once in awhile you have picked up on the fact that I like to read, I like science fiction, I like the mysterious and all that good stuff. I even wrote last week about the fact that I recommend the Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones) as some good summer reading. The reason it’s in my mind so much right now is because I have finally decided to sit down and “catch up” on the 6 seasons of Game of Thrones and finally find out what all the hoopla is about (mild spoilers ahead).

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Now, you might be wondering, if I am such a huge fan of the books, why would I wait so long to watch the series? It’s a good question so definitely pat yourself on the back for that one! For years now I’ve been totally wishy-washy about the show because I watched the first season when it first aired and was just frankly bored by it. It’s mystified people for years that I would recommend the books as highly as I do and yet never watch the TV show that people are adoring. Well, that time has passed and as Ygritte says to Jon Snow on more than one occasion, “I know nothing.”

As I’ve gotten older I’ve pushed aside my stubbornness and pride and actually listened when people recommend things to me. It’s how I finally ready the Harry Potter series and it’s how I finally decided to watch Game of Thrones. My boyfriend was watching the current season and loving it and he kept saying how he wished he could talk about it with me, and he’s right, at this point, the show is ahead of the books and therefore he can’t really talk to me about it. Not to mention, it’s been years now since I’ve read the books so they are a bit foggy in my mind. I decided that he has good TV taste and therefore I should give it a second chance (it’s how I fell in love with iZombie as well, fantastic show and I had given up on it after the first season!).

Oh Jamie, you disgusting hero-type.
Oh Jamie, you disgusting hero-type.

I have now zipped through the first 3 seasons and I am LOVING this show. I forgot how rich and wonderful the world that George RR Martin created is. I’ve forgotten how violent it is well, but also how strong and powerful the women characters are, how flawed each character is and how you want to hate them, but you also find reasons to love them a tiny bit. Jamie Lannister is an excellent example of this and one I remember from the book. I hated that guy, he is horrible. Pushing kids out of windows and having relations with this sister, gag, yuck, gross! But then…He gets captured, he loses his hand while also being keenly aware of the honor of Brienne of Tarth and coming to her rescue more than once. He is flawed, yes, his sins are the worst kind, but he also…He’s got an honor, a bravery that  mystifies.

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Martin manages characters that are awful but lovable. Flawed but honorable. Characters you enjoy watching every week and you are devastated when they die, because make no mistake, they are all going to die eventually. Martin isn’t sentimental about his characters, he isn’t trying to shock people, he’s proving a point that life was hard back then and life was short. In 2014 he penned an open letter regarding the deaths (beware, profanities abound!) that is worth reading and he makes some good points. The fact is, the death in Game of Thrones is for a reason, they serve a purpose and honestly, as a writer nowhere near close to Martin’s talent, they create a world that leaves you wanting more, that leaves you unsure about the future of your favorite character (Tyrion!) and his writing inspires my own.

Not to mention, he writes some of the strongest women characters I’ve ever read. He has taken male-dominated landscape and turned the tables so that the women are in charge. The Mother of Dragons is forever my hero, and she also makes me want to have dragons at my disposal, so handy for setting ones enemies on fire!

Baby Dragons!
Baby Dragons!

If you haven’t checked out either the show or the books be warned that there is a lot of violence, foul language and brutality, so if that isn’t your cup of tea, this series might not be for you. If you don’t mind bad words and sex, then go for it! It’s well worth your time and effort.

Tell me what you like to read! Sound off in the comments! I’m always looking for more books!

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The Female Perspective: Celebrate Banned Books Week In Style!

Welcome! This is the weekly blog* by Author J.L. Metcalf where I discuss anything and everything that strikes my fancy. If you have ideas on what you think I should write about, please send me an email via my website!

For now, sit back, relax and enjoy the blog!

*All views expressed in “The Female Perspective” are those of J.L. Metcalf, not Great Stories, Inc.


This week it’s been brought to my attention that it is Banned Books Week (Sept 27-Oct 3), a glorious week for those of us who love the written word and cannot possibly understand why anyone would want to BAN others from reading a book.

Truly, it boggles the mind.

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I have written previously about banning books and this week I wanted to write a blog post about what Banned Books mean to me, because I’ve read some of them (often without realizing that they are even banned) and there are many, many others that I wish to read as soon as I have the time (ha-ha!) but more than anything else, I wanted to share this information with others so that they too can check out these books that cause such a kerfuffle among parents and other administrators. Why the fuss? What’s the big deal? Why don’t we want our kids to learn about all aspects of life? Even the messy bits are important in shaping their minds into … Well, bigger, better minds. If we shield them from everything, how the heck will they learn?

First off, here is a good list from the Banned & Challenged Books website that lists some of the top 10 most challenged books.  Tell me, how many of these have YOU read?

1)      The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”

2)      Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi

Reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”

3)      And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “promotes the homosexual agenda”

4)      The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”

5)      It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris

Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: “alleges it child pornography”

6)      Saga, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group. Additional reasons:

7)      The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence

8)      The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation”

9)      A Stolen Life, Jaycee Dugard

Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group

10)  Drama, by Raina Telgemeier

Reasons: sexually explicit

~From the Banned & Challenged Books 

I have to say that I have only read two of those books, The Kite Runner and The Bluest Eye, both were excellent books and both were chock-full of challenging (i.e. difficult) material. More importantly, both were chock-full of amazing writing, vibrant ideas and brilliant thematic elements. Both were well worth my time and the time of many others.

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When I then look at a list of some of the most challenged literary classics, there are many more I’ve read  because I was lucky to have decent teachers who wanted us to actually read the classics and no one stopped them. There was an appreciation for the literature. Others, I have read since school and have enjoyed immensely.

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses, by James Joyce
7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
9. 1984, by George Orwell
10. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
11. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
12. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
13. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
14. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
~See the full list here!

Oh man, some of these are favorites of mine, Animal Farm is one of the best books I’ve ever read and that one, along with 1984, are both extremely topical in today’s bizarro and often frightening political landscape. Along with that you have Beloved which is a horribly tragic, yet utterly compelling read and The Color Purple which blew my mind the first time I read it. I could go on and on but if you’re any kind of reader, you get the idea.

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FYI this is from a previous year, this year Banned Books Week runs September 27th through October 3rd.

To put this into simplistic terms, banning books is wrong. Who gave anyone the right to decide what’s “appropriate” reading material for others? Who gave that power to one person (or persons)?

We all have minds (supposedly) and should be allowed to choose for ourselves what we want to read and absorb. Not to mention, parents who fight to ban books in the name of their (or other kids) so-called innocence are fighting the wrong battle. Pay better attention to what your kids are ingesting or who they’re hanging out with, not what they’re reading. Just be glad they’re READING and not looking at a computer screen. Yeesh.

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In my searching for material for this blog, I came across a beautifully written post where a teacher had to defend their right to teach Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale, a story I read many years ago and really need to revisit again. It is a brutal tale about a dystopian world where women are basically “incubators on legs” – it does not paint a pretty picture but it’s also so well-written and thought out that to not read it seems a disgrace in many ways. Regardless, this teacher sums up quite beautifully why reading such book is actually important in schools and why it is a valid choice to teach children critical thinking.

I’ll only include the last line from it here but if you wish to read the entire post, click here.

 I would add only that one of the functions of literature is to shed light into the corners of our world, even if what we find there is unpleasant.

~Josh Corman

I couldn’t say it better myself. Without literature, we would not have the light that illuminates our thoughts, our ideas, our very own creativity and critical thinking abilities. While some literature is better than others, it is all valuable in that it offers a passage into other worlds, some good, some bad, but almost all are worthwhile and all should be able to be accessed by anyone who wants to enter that world.

Finally, I came across this other article on Book Riot about how, according to Slate, Banned Books week isn’t really necessary anymore because books are widely available online or at other libraries or stores you can easily  drive to. The author, who is rebutting Slate’s idea, makes a good point about what libraries are there for;

When books are challenged, even when the result is not a full ban!, nobody wins.

Consider that libraries aren’t there to shrug and suggest Amazon when you’re looking for a book. They’re there to provide the books, not only to those who can’t afford to purchase all of their reading material, or are unable to drive to the next nearest library, but to anybody with an interest.

Libraries are a marketplace of ideas, and if they’re going to operate in a truly democratic fashion, all ideas should be represented. ~Michelle Anne Schingler

The point is, just because we can order everything on Amazon, it does not mean that everyone else can too. It doesn’t mean that challenging or banning books is ever going to be okay simply because you can then go online and buy it. There are many who cannot do that. Who will never know the sadness of reading The Diary of Anne Frank or the mind boggling medical mess that is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. There are many who will not get to read some of these banned books because they are banned and they’ll never cross those people’s radars. Banning books is wrong, it is futile and it is a problem that has persisted for hundreds of years. This is why Banned Books Week is important, because it reminds us all of the power of the written word and it brings to light all those books that maybe someone hasn’t gotten a chance to read but now will see and read and it will change their life view just a little bit more.

Make sure to pick up a banned book this week and every week!

What do you think about banned books? Have you read any that you love? Do you agree with the parents that try to ban books? Sound off in the comments section below. I want to hear your thoughts!

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