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Book Review: Impossible James

Impossible JamesImpossible James by Danger Slater

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a ride from beginning to end. There were many twists and turns, and back and forths, but in the end, they all came together and, somehow, it all worked. And it was something I can’t really properly put words to, but I’ll try. Possible spoilers ahead, maybe.

James is a nobody with nothing and no one. He’s not successful by any stretch and leads the world’s most boring, unfortunate life possible. His wife wasn’t even nice to him, and he’s infertile. Of course, when he walks into his doctor’s office one day, he finds out that everything will just get worse. Everything always did for James. That is, until the end, which I’m not even sure how to describe, other than the fact that James finally becomes something much bigger than what he ever thought he was capable. Quite literally.

And all because of a screwdriver. All because of pure, near impossible luck does he find a purpose and more meaningful outlook. And that’s where Impossible James finds his life’s goal.

I’m a sucker for philosophy, and this book was filled with it. I stopped a few times and went into thought about a lot of it, and it made me think deeper about myself as a person, what it means to be alive, and what it means to have goals. What it means to have fears, and what fears are even there for. I’m an irrationally fearful person of about, well, everything, so this was an unexpected and interesting trip during my reading of Impossible James.

Also, the twisted quantum physics-like science? Super interesting. (If I’m even thinking of the right kind of science here. I know scant about quantum physics, but I think that’s what I’m going for. I could be completely in left field and people are scratching their heads at me right now.)

Danger has a very interesting mind, and I found myself unable to stop turning pages. Even though we know the outcome, and we know inevitably how everything happens before it happens — sort of — you still want to read more. You must know the little details in between, and they help to paint such a grotesque picture that it’s almost impossible to conjure in your mind. Thankfully, Danger’s vivid and disturbing descriptions do the work just fine. And they are grotesque. For example, imagine a flesh room. A room with bones growing out of the wood. Rooms that act as organ gardens to keep a house consumed by a man’s deformed, growing body alive.

I will admit, I haven’t read much in this genre yet, but based on what I have read so far, this book made me realize that I really do love bizarro fiction. I read this in one day, taking a break in between. I knew I wanted to process something like this all at once instead of splitting it up, and I’m glad I did. At least, the philosopher in me wouldn’t let me put it down. Can I mention enough how that was one of my favorite things about this book?

It was definitely written in a curious way, with 116 chapters (I believe they were chapters) and three parts. I won’t look too deep into it, unless there’s a deeper reasoning, which my brain always wants to find. I could have missed something there, but that’s not important.

What is important is if you love books that make you think, definitely give this a read. If you have a weak stomach, though, be prepared for some pretty wicked imagery, such as body parts being detached and sewn back on, and amateur surgery to disembowel poor James, although it didn’t really seem to bother him too much. In fact, in this world, people (and animals) seem to survive some pretty crazy and awful body horrors.

Lastly, the ending? This isn’t a bad thing, but it… just is. It is what it is. Maybe that’s a part of the philosophical message of the whole thing, in which case, message delivered.

This is something you have to read for yourself to get the full effect. No review is probably going to be able to properly convey how interesting, and kind of brilliant, this book is. So give it a read.

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Book Review: Unchained (Blood Bond Saga #1-3)

Unchained (Blood Bond Saga #1-3)Unchained by Helen Hardt

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

(Spoiler warning)
This book definitely has an interesting story, but the delivery fell short for me. Please note, this is just my personal opinion and in no way is an attempt to say anything bad about the author or her talents. This may have just not been her best book or series. Spoilers, so beware.

The first part begins with Dante, a vampire who had been imprisoned for many years. He is stumbling around the city looking for blood, and he ends up in a hospital to meet the woman who will ultimately possess him for the entirety of the book: Erin. They become absolutely obsessed with each other from first eye contact, and there is a deeper connection between them that hasn’t happened between a vampire and human for some time. That’s the basic premise from the start.

Now, beyond this, the story fell apart for me. There is a lot of filler — or so it felt like. Dante goes here. Then he leaves. Then Erin goes here, then here, then leaves, then goes here. Dante is constantly uptight and arrogant, and he’s suspicious over his grandfather for who knows what reason. By the end of the third part, I still have no idea what his problem with his grandfather was, or even why we are supposed to suspect… something from the man. Unless his reason for anger was not justified and it escaped me.

My other problem — I’ll just say this: abbreviations for words. Certain words were abbreviated that just made me stop and I groaned (vamp, being one). It took me away from the seriousness of the story. I honestly wasn’t a fan of the general writing or style, but that is most likely my problem and not the author’s. I only mention it as it was a big factor in my rating.

Now, I do get the back and forth, hot and cold between Dante and Erin after reading through the book in its entirety. But, I have to admit, it’s extremely frustrating in the way it’s written. It goes back to my point of the constant back and forth, person A goes here and then goes there, and then person B goes here, and then decides a minute later to change locations for some reason or another, usually an upset. I was getting whiplash from all the moving around. And then we get another mystery introduced that hit out of nowhere, about Erin having mysterious marks on her leg? What I don’t understand is if she’s supposedly bonded to someone else, how can she be bonded to Dante? I was under the impression the bond was pretty solid and existed between a fated human and their vampire, but I’m confused even now. Maybe it’s explored in later books.

The story has promise, but I wasn’t inclined to read any more of the series. I feel like the story was dragged on for the purpose of it being longer, at least, that’s what it felt like to me. The cliffhanger was just so epically huge and after reading the first three, nothing felt good about the ending. ‘Read more books to finish the story,’ basically. And I understand how a series works, but in book series I’ve read before, I at least felt some sort of completion at the end of each book. Something was wrapped up in some way, and while in the 3-in-1 version of this book we did get one ‘kind of’ answer to the story (the explanation for the blood bond was also confusing and I felt it could have been explained or worked out better), I’m just so… underwhelmed? I’m not sure. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. If nothing else, I felt bad for the grandfather because he seems to be getting a lot of flack for just wanting to be helpful or keep Dante safe. But Dante? My goodness man, just say something. I understand why you might be stuck in a teenager’s mindset, but speak!

I don’t like writing negative reviews, and this definitely isn’t a bad review per se, but I personally did not like how the book was written or the pacing. I did enjoy what story there was to enjoy to a point, but I wish the author had at least moved things along a bit better and left out the extremely energetic characters’ traveling. If the ending had been more fulfilling in some way and not as confusing, I’d probably have given the story more of a chance. But maybe serials just aren’t my thing.

As always, kudos to the author for writing a story and getting it out there. I’m sure Helen has other wonderful books, and I’m sure many will enjoy this one where I did not.

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Book Review: Hunting Annabelle

Hunting AnnabelleHunting Annabelle by Wendy Heard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked up this book because I wanted to expand my reading interests as well as to discover new authors. I was extremely happy I gave this author a chance.

Hunting Annabelle is about a young man named Sean who has a pretty gruesome past, as well as severe mental illness. It’s set back in the 80s in Texas, where he lives with his mother who is a respected doctor. Sean is an avid drawer and people-watcher, and so far he’s managed to stay out of trouble. He hasn’t hurt anyone and he does his best to keep in line, but everything falls apart when he meets Annabelle.

Oh, Annabelle.

But I won’t get into spoilers. The story begins with Sean meeting Annabelle at a popular amusement park, and he hangs out with her and ends up drawing her picture. He’s immediately taken away by her and he falls for her pretty quickly, and she seems to be an interesting and quirky character herself. There is a lot of mystery surrounding Annabelle and we don’t get answers until the end, which is definitely worth waiting for.

The book started to hang a bit near the middle, but the steps Sean takes to find Annabelle after she’s been supposedly kidnapped are necessary to the story. But that’s not to say it becomes uninteresting. We learn so much about Sean and how he tries so hard to fight down the urge to harm other people, and he does fail more than once. He’s an interesting and well thought out character, and I found myself loving him even with his horrible imperfections. I love characters who have quirks, darker moments, and flaws. It makes them feel real — human.

The mystery of the entire book continues to the end where you’re still guessing on what could really be going on. We do get clear answers, and maybe, just maybe the reader will suspect all the wrong people. You most certainly will be surprised, at least I was. I had a very strong emotional reaction to the scenes leading up to the end, and the ending itself made my sick little heart scream with joy.

If you enjoy dark and gritty, even disturbing, romance, then you’ll love this. Wendy has hit the mark with her debut novel, and she’s an excellent writer and storyteller. I will definitely be reading more books from her!

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Book Review: The Little Snake

The Little SnakeThe Little Snake by A.L. Kennedy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m not sure where to start or even how to review such an amazing story, but I can try. This is not normally a book I would have picked up, but I wanted to take a chance on something different.

In this very poetic fairytale-like story, we follow with both Mary and Lanmo the snake. Mary’s city seems to be crumbling around her as she gets older, and humans and technology are doing themselves in. Meanwhile, Lanmo, a very magical and special snake, who no human is ever to see unless it’s their time, becomes interested in Mary as a child. They become extremely close friends, and Mary teaches Lanmo, whether or not he realizes it, about what it means to love. This isn’t something Lanmo was ever meant to do.

This story pulled at my heart and the ending left me nearly in tears. With the interesting and unique way Kennedy weaves poetic words throughout the story, she chooses to not reveal a definite end with them. But it’s for the better, and I think when the reader comes to the end, they will know what truly happened.

I haven’t read something so amazing and quirky in a while, and it was refreshing. Kennedy’s love for strangely specific wording and pleasant-to-read run-ons give this book a rhythm solely its own. I’ve already started recommending it to friends, and I am going to definitely recommend it to anyone, of any age who can read it, for something more meaningful. And there is a lot of emotion, meaning, and subtle philosophy about humanity in this book, or so it felt to me.

In short, do yourself a favor and read this!

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Excerpt from ‘Bittersweet; Love Is War’ – my 2018 NaNoWriMo novel

I won my first year of NaNoWriMo! It feels pretty great, to be honest. I feel like it has been some of the best writing I’ve done in quite some time, and it’s worked wonders to jumpstart my vigor for writing again. Since, I’ve rewritten a short story and doubled its word length from an old favorite in high school, I’ve continued a few other projects — I work on more than one at a time sometimes — and I’ve just generally been extremely creative since my start in November. I’ve hit some major bumps in the road along the way (more like potholes), but I’m happy to say I’ve produced some pretty awesome things.

Here is an excerpt from my 2018 winning NaNoWriMo novel, ‘Bittersweet; Love Is War,’ and it is appropriate for all ages.


As the clock ticked loudly against the walls of the stone room, Byleth stood in the center of it all. The cold metal table beside him chilled his fingers as he drifted claws across its scratched surface, its sheen adding a glow to his already luminescent red eyes. So many times had he looked down at Faye from the doorway as she sat there — a spread out mess of a human hanging back in her chair and watching the smoke drift across the ceiling from her menthol cigarette. Although an immortal being, Byleth still couldn’t stand the smell of the cancerous stuff, and there was definitely plenty of it on a daily basis. He could almost smell its miasma now as the memory of it drifted across time.

He clenched his teeth and ran a hand through his jaw-length, wavy blond hair. ‘I could just imprison her again. Tie her to the chair and take away all of her free will, and I would find a way to make her fear me. That would dispel any kind of affection for me, surely. Then we can both move on.’ It would most likely do the exact opposite, knowing her. She was fearless and mad about him, which was a sick joke in itself. He chuckled. She’d probably get off over being tied to a chair by him anyway.

He was brought away from his reveries by the sound of pages flapping in the wind, and recognized the natural glow that had spread throughout the room. It shrunk to reveal a form that Byleth remembered all too well, and he instantly went on guard. The being was lucky he didn’t react on impulse and tear into its glowing, pale flesh. “What do you want?!”

“Hello, brother!” An angel with short, upswept blond hair smiled kindly at the Fallen, his soft features flawless and beautiful beneath the dim lighting in the room that had returned. “I see you are well, and that you have taken a turn for the better.”

“Voyeuristic, aren’t you?” Byleth scoffed and crossed his arms. “What brings you down here to pester me, Gabriel?”

“I’ve come to offer you a chance. As God’s messenger, I wish to make a proposition with you.” The angel’s blue eyes had a spark to them that caught Byleth off guard, and he realized that something was amiss. This angel had a different kind of aura than the one he knew all too well, although it most definitely seemed to be Gabriel.

He lowered his eyes in suspicion and decided to play along. “Oh yeah? What kind of proposition does daddy dearest possibly have to offer? Is he finally kissing my ass to get something out of me?”

“Language, Byleth!” Gabriel wiggled a finger in the air with silent judgment. “It is something great — something you have been desiring for a long time, I am sure. There is something in Heaven you wish to reclaim, isn’t there?”

Byleth’s eyes grew wide and his breath came short. He’d spent the better part of his time as a Fallen plotting ways to get back into Heaven to reclaim his throne. Most often, it had been a violent fantasy that involved much force and a taking over of Heaven, but he knew it was an impossible and foolish thing to try. God was too powerful for anything in the entirety of time, even for Satan’s seven-headed dragon with his legion of demons to conquer, but if he could get back onto his throne and allow them all to think that he had been redeemed, he stood an honest chance of at least enacting revenge on a grand scale.

He snapped back to reality as Gabriel’s expression changed to become something darker. The angel’s eyes shone a pale gray for a millisecond, which a Fallen would not have missed. Although he knew no being immediately with eyes like that, the underlying darkness made everything quite obvious. There was corruption on the other side of the charade. “Who are you? Show yourself!”

The being laughed darkly and the form blurred and shifted as if it were warped, and came clear once more as Byleth’s suspicions were confirmed. The being that stood before him then, however, hadn’t been expected. It was one of the few times he had honestly been at a nervous unease. The name he was finally able to mutter was as quiet as it was dangerous. “Azazel.”

 

©2018 Shane Blackheart

NaNoWriMo; November 2018!

Another absence on this blog, and another reason. Although, it’s an amazing reason this time (I promise)!

I’ve made the decision to do NaNoWriMo this year. If you aren’t aware of what that is, in short, it’s a challenge to write an entire 50,000 word — or more — novel in 30 days. On the more descriptive end of things, NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organization that raises money for all kinds of good causes related to writing. One, in particular, is to fund kits to send to schools that need them and to encourage younger writers. Besides that, it is an event every year in November that has been going since 1999, and millions of writers join in on the chaos every year. This year is my first.

The idea is to start with a brand new manuscript; a clean slate. You may also begin with an outline, or a part of an outline and nothing else to go on other than your imagination. Either way, after you’ve created your own profile and filled in your novel’s basic details, you’re ready to begin.

Every day, ideally, you’ll log your word count in one of two ways. There are stats you can watch to see where you are at compared to the average person, and you can also see a projected completion date determined by your average daily word count, and how many words you have left to write to complete the 50k dash (or more!). Below are my latest stats, taken as of today.

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You write your novel outside of the website, and as you log your word count and interact with the site, as well as donate if you so choose, you will earn badges. There are also badges you can choose to give yourself based on an honor system, as they are achievements that can’t actually be measured in any way. For example, I gave myself the ‘Something in my eye’ badge for wringing my heart out over a few scenes or more. Sometimes writing really can be an emotional roller coaster, but that makes for some of the best writing out there.

From November 20th onward, you can claim your win by pasting the entirety of your first draft in their official word counter. They also give you the option to scramble your words if you wish, although no one is actually going to read your novel. Nothing gets uploaded to the website and your words are deleted as soon as they are counted. Once that process is complete, I imagine you’ll feel pretty good about yourself for your successes.

There are prizes, but there are no limits to winners, so be honest! They are small things like coupons to writing programs and online courses, and other little things that really aren’t a huge deal, but a help to writers to keep them going strong long after they’ve finished their NaNoWriMo novel. Personally, the feeling of accomplishment from completing an entire first draft of a novel in a month is the biggest win of being a participant. Even if you don’t complete your novel, you’ve still accomplished something great, and you still have words there that you didn’t have before. It’s even more incentive to keep going for yourself, and for the story you have to tell.

I’m well into 27k words on the eighth day, which isn’t something I thought I would be capable of. I passed NaNoWriMo by for a few years after hearing about it, mostly because I didn’t think I could do it. I sold myself short due to my own insecurities, and I was doing the very thing some people in my life have done to me in the past — I was putting myself down because of a lack of faith in myself. I believed my anxiety disorder and other mental illnesses left me unable to do much of anything, and I was destined to fail. I would become too stressed and spiral down into a mess of a human being.

Yet, it’s November 8th and I have come a long way from that mindset. On the first, I’d sat in front of my computer mulling it over. A friend from a Facebook writing group brought it to my attention again, claiming that she was doing it herself. She needed a writing buddy. I’d told her I wasn’t participating before, but on a whim, I signed up for the site and I locked myself in. I haven’t looked back.

It’s like something lit a fire under me (usually, that’s Byleth, but this time I did it myself. He and Lestan have been the best cheerleaders). Having a deadline with the goal of having fun and just letting loose on the page, not caring about editing as I went like I usually did, was freeing. The goal was to just go until it was time to stop, as editing during NaNoWriMo is heavily discouraged. All of that would come in the months to pass after ‘winning’, and the site also has a section for just that. My goal is to be able to open up that part of the site after my victory.

At 27k in after only the first week, I am certain I can ‘win’. I can safely say that if you go into this as a lover of words, stories, and a passion for the art of writing, you’ll win too. Just keep at it and don’t worry about the numbers while you’re writing. Focus on the amazing story you have to tell, and the rest will come in time.

The best of luck to anyone who is participating this year. I hope to be able to make another blog entry when I’ve finally reached the ultimate goal.

A positive absence, for once!

When I am absent, it’s usually due to a multitude of emotions destroying me from the inside out. I can’t manage more than the videos I barely take in on my favorite Youtube channels, and my creative drive has taken a vacation abroad for an indeterminable amount of time. Things have been different this time around, though.

My mind has been more stable since trying the injectable form of testosterone over the gel to get my transition going again. It had been hell during my first try with the injections, and since I’ve covered all of that elsewhere on this blog, I won’t get into it here. Long story short, it seems like a different mixture is what was needed. My mood swings, while still there in the background, have dimmed significantly. I didn’t expect this to cure my bipolar episodes or the interpersonal problems I have with my borderline personality disorder, but it has been much easier to calm myself as well as stand up for myself when I need to. I’ve had this fire within me that refuses to let me take shit from anyone. This isn’t a bad thing for someone like me, who was more likely to sit by silently while verbal abuse or any other kind of bad thing would happen. To be able to speak up when I need to has been a great change for me.

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Along with all of this, I’ve pulled my creativity back from its extended vacation. My writing is important to me again and I’ve made it my job, or at least, I’m treating it like one until I can officially call it that. I’ve become more involved in writing communities online and am getting braver about asking for critiques, and I am learning to give them. I have learned so much within the last week about publishing, editing, and I’ve gotten great advice from editors and published authors alike on how to navigate all of this. It was something I desperately needed, but I couldn’t possibly accomplish it while I remained in my little bubble of self-hatred.

Yesterday, I finished editing and looking over the fifth draft of a novella. I had finished writing it during the summer of 2015 during a manic episode while I was homeless, and it was the first book I’d written that I saw to completion. Although it was riddled with poor grammar and my sentence structure was just as poor at best, I was proud of it. Over the past few days, I went and I fixed the earlier chapters that had been started years ago. It was something I began and left to sit, unable to finish like I’d done with so many. I fixed the wording, added new things and explained others, and poured more emotion into the original draft than was originally there. After all of this and splitting it into chapters, I feel like I have a second book ready to send out.

I’m in contact with an editor or two, one of which I am certain I want to do the job for my longer book that I’d like to publish first. Hopefully I can build up a working relationship with them for my future projects. Having that thought alone makes my nerves jump in all of the best ways.

I’m no stranger to anxiety. I’ve seen it in its worst form and it’s left me sickly and bedridden. (I wrote about that here: From My Memoir – Two Years that Changed the Rest of My Life and I recorded it with Byleth and the others here.) To finally understand that there is good anxiety and be able to feel it is freeing for me. It feels the same in all of the physical sensations, but there is a different emotion attached. It’s not fear, but anticipation.

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If you want something bad enough, it will happen. I’ve been wanting the title ‘author’ officially for many years. I can only hope that my want and need for this is bad enough to make it all happen.

‘End’ is Such an Empty Word

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END.

As I finished typing the simple three-letter word, I fell back into my computer chair and stared at the screen. The cursor was blinking at me on the document page as if it were tempting me to write more as it always had, but this time it felt odd to look at. I rarely finish things after all, so the forever blinking of the cursor didn’t seem as foreboding as it used to. It usually meant minutes upon hours staring at an unfinished story, the cursor beckoning to me to just try and to just do something and maybe things will start to flow to move that little cursor down the page. I had started my writing today with that feeling, but I ended it with just three simple words.

Yes, I finally finished my first longer piece of work. Totaling 135 pages in Google Docs, 55,796 words, and page after page of an emotional rollercoaster. It all started as a dream I’d had one night a year or so ago and it ended up blooming into this gigantic, complex, crazy world. I never thought I would see it to the end, and I can’t say I won’t miss it not ever being the end. I feel sort of empty now that my biggest project is finally complete. I’m so used to things never being finished that I always felt whole in that vastness of incomplete work – I always had something to do and some work to look forward to. Now? I hear crickets. The tension has left my muscles and I am breathing calmly, and I am staring at three simple letters that have caused me so many emotions.

It may seem silly to be so excited over this. There are authors out there who have published several books and continue on to their next project, not skipping a beat (or skipping a few beats to get a breather in). But for someone like me, who has little to no self-esteem or faith in myself to do much right, to accomplish this is to accomplish a goal I set out for myself. The next steps will probably be that much harder. It always is as you climb up the endless ladder of goal-setting.

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Now, to edit all of these pages. I have to go back through it all and make a second draft and a third, and possibly a fourth. Then the formatting, the query letter, the summary that’s good enough to sell, and submissions to agents with no prior experience of my own to speak of. Goodness knows I’ll need one to navigate this hell I’ve just opened up for myself, and not the good kind of hell. I’ve already attempted to gather beta readers, close friends and friends from afar, but all I hear on the line is crickets. I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands since my support system is so small and practically not there, save for two or three loyal friends. I’ve accepted that I’m very much on my own for this one and no amount of teeth pulling and pestering is going to get me any response aside from the usual defensive response or endless reasons as to why no one can seem to find time for my manuscript, but have hours to post memes and watch endless Facebook and Youtube videos. If I sound slightly bitter, I admit that I am, but not so much bitter as I am hurt.

I wish I possessed the magical key to unlock this support system I see so many with. Reaching out for help and asking for help gains me silence. I see others receive answers where I am ignored, and I see friends uplifting and promoting other friends’ work but not mine. At first, I was afraid it was due in part to the fact that I was no good as a writer or creator, but I found over time that it would only be true if anyone would ever take the time to set aside and actually read my work at all. It genuinely makes me feel undervalued as a friend and I wonder what my friends’ friends’ do that is so great and different with their writing that is different from me. What they’ve done that is so different from what I’ve tried.

I promote others and help where I can. I support all of my friends when I can as well where I can. I spend a lot of time doing this when I stumble across their things. I will always do it without expecting anything in return because I love and support my friends, but it does sting to not feel that love back. I can be humble until I’m blue in the face, but in the end it does get frustrating when you put hours and, in the case of my books, a year or more into something and no one wants to even bother to open it, and this is despite their claims of the synopsis sounding very interesting and good. I’ve gotten that across the board when I give the synopsis. So why, then, can’t I get anyone to open to the first page?

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Maybe they genuinely don’t care. Maybe I’m not worth their time. Maybe I am fooling myself and people are just being kind so as not to hurt my feelings. But I cannot get answers if no one will tell me anything, good or bad. Even writers who have written things that aren’t up to par get feedback! It’s endlessly frustrating and I’ve found myself close to screaming out of that frustration.

How do you figure out how to not be invisible to people anymore? How do you do this, even though you speak so loudly, approach people directly, and try with all your might to do everything in your power to be heard, even among loved ones, only to be ignored or brushed aside? My whole life I have felt like a ghost drifting amongst people, and only a few can even see and hear me, and even then that’s a toss-up.

Being invisible when you work so hard to not be is exhausting. I know I started this entry with a positive outlook, and I still have that, but it brought up so many other feelings that I’ve been battling with throughout this process. It doesn’t feel good to know you have something you’re very proud of to tell the world, and no one will listen.

But to end on a lighter note, I am proud of my writing, at least. I am proud of myself for accomplishing the feat of writing an entire book to completion, and I am happy that I can continue to write even though I may be the only one reading it sometimes. I can only dream that one day I won’t have to say that and I can have others enjoy these things with me.