Client Spotlight: A Hint of Darkness Book Release



When I made a deal with the Prince of the Underworld, I knew a lot of things could go wrong. But I never imagined it would be imprisoned-in-the-underworld wrong. My only goals were to escape and resist the blazing chemistry between me and the Dark Prince.

After he discovers I’m more than just a mere human who’s had a streak of bad luck, my escape becomes a game of survival. I’m warding off assassination attempts and caught in the crossfire of a ruthless political battle.

I’ll do anything to escape the underworld, including making another deal with the Dark Prince. But with what he’s discovered about me, can he be convinced I don’t belong here or some place worse?

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Book Review: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

There are probably a lot of people who read this book in high school. But not me. I genuinely cannot remember any reading section or book that was by an author of color, a women, and much less a woman of color. However, as I went to college and my horizon of literature was broadened, I ended up reading Beloved. That was my first true introduction to Toni Morrison and it certainly is one I will never forget.

“Love is never any better than the lover. Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love stupidly, but the love of a free man is never safe. There is no gift for the beloved. The lover alone possesses his gift of love. The loved one is shorn, neutralized, frozen in the glare of the lover’s inward eye.” 

― Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

Blue, blue, blue. It’s everything in the world of little Pecola Breedlove, and in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. The blue eyes of a yellow haired doll, Alice and Jerry’s blue eyes, blue-sky eyes, Mrs. Forrest’s blue blouse eyes, morning glow blue eyes, blue storybook eyes, a nice old man named Blue Jack, God with little blue eyes, Pecola’s blue eyes.

Thoughtful, and thought-provoking, The Bluest Eye is a book weighed down with sorrow and the exhaustion of the emotional, mental, and physical toll of being African-American in a society where white is best. Racism, poverty, sexism, classism, these concepts are all reflected in The Bluest Eye, and told through the POVs of a several different children. Toni Morrison allows us to see the learning of these things as black children grow up, and how they perpetuate the worst of things because their world doesn’t allow for anything else when whites control it all.

The Bluest Eye also highlights what is arguably the most oppressed – black women. They are the ugly and deformed in this book, they are the ones who are used and abused, in a constant cycle – visualized by the generational abuse of Pecola’s mother, to Pecola herself. Black men have options – even black boys, who can leave their homes and walk to a new life. Whereas the women, they are stuck at home, forced into four walls to take care of the home, where men can abuse them. We see this with Pecola’s brother Sam, who runs away from home, and Pecola, who is first assaulted by her father Cholly, while she is washing the dishes with the echo of a gesture her mother had done, itching the back of her leg with her foot.

The Bluest Eye displays the black narrative of buying into the white narrative – what is ugly is not fit for being human, and only pale skin, blue eyes, and corn-yellow hair, is pretty. This is not a book about hope, or about the better aspects of black and white society. This is a book that exposes the worst parts of black society and shines a light on them in an unsettling, desperate, and necessary way.

Since The Bluest Eyes’ publication, it has landed on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books consistently. Challenging a book is as easy as a parent walking into a school library and demanding it be removed from the shelves. Often, these books are simply removed without question because the librarian is worried for their job. This is unacceptable. Some of the reasons that have been cited for The Bluest Eye to be banned are: “sexually explicit material,” “lots of graphic descriptions and lots of disturbing language,” and “an underlying socialist-communist agenda.” One complaint simply called it a “bad book.”

I selected The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, because it was among the list of banned books currently in the United States. There are very forward depictions of terrible things, but while this particular story is fiction, the actions depicted in the book are not. These are things that real human beings have done, are doing, and will continue to do despite everything. Books that shine a light on the worst aspects of humanity are necessary, because there is no other way to learn to be better.

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Book Bans: They Aren’t Just History

When thinking of book bans, most often we think of the ones from history. We imagine vast fires in town squares full of burning books, or lines of people silently turning in books to the local church that the priest said was sinful. You likely imagine this was because these texts were considered heretical. Yet, the truth goes deeper than that: banning and burning books was a way to keep the lower classes illiterate, and therefore more controllable.

The History of Book Bans

  • 2019: In the U.S. there was a demand for the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling to be removed from public libraries due to depictions of witchcraft. There was also a demand for The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood to be removed due to ‘vulgarity and sexual overtones.’ 
  • 2016: The Vorkuta Mining and Economics College in Russia burned 53 books, and seized 427 more for shredding. These books included French surrealism, criminology and logic.
  • 2013: It was announced by a spokesman that there would be bans on I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. It was said that this book did not show enough respect for Islam, and it was co-authored by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb. In Mali, Islamist insurgents set fire to a library and incinerated 4,000 ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu.
  • 2012: Toni Morrison’s Beloved was demanded to be removed from U.S. public library shelves. This book explores the destructive legacy of slavery in 19th century America. Government officials in Kuala Lumpur raided bookstores to confiscate copies of Allah, Liberty and Love by Irshad Manji. This book received a critical report from the Department of Islamic Development, and was subsequently banned by Malaysia’s Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • 2010: Operation Dark Heart by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer focuses on the war in Afghanistan. The U.S. Department of Defense bought and destroyed the entire first printing – all 9,500 copies. Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry was burned at the gates of the University of Mumbai, and after pressure from students, the university removed the book from its syllabus.
  • 1998: Over the course of the year, the Kenyan government banned 30 books for ‘sedition and immorality.’. 
  • 1997: Over the course of the year, the Irish government censorship board banned 24 books and 90 periodicals.
  • 1992: Serbian troops during the Bosnian war in August bombed the National Library in Sarajevo. Between 1.5 and 3 million books were burnt, and soldiers shot at anyone who tried to save them.
  • 1988: Several countries worldwide, such as India and the Republic of South Africa banned The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie.
  • 1987: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou was removed from the list of required readings in a North Carolina town, because of a sexual assualt scene. The British government spent a great amount of money and time banning Spycatcher in Britain, and preventing it from being published in Australia. 
  • 1983: Members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee called for the rejection of The Diary of Anne Frank because it was “a real downer.”
  • 1977: Snepp, a former CIA employee wrote a memoir named Decent Interval. Having criticized the CIA, Henry Kissinger, and the U.S.’ involvement in the Vietnam war, the government seized all profits from the book and imposed a gag order on the author. The CIA has the right to cut any classified info within 30 days of receipt of Snepp’s manuscripts. There is a similar instance of this in 1974, regarding The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence by Victor Marchetti and John D. Marks.
  • 1960: Penguin Books was prosecuted for publishing an obscene book: D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, in England. Penguin won the case. In 1959, the U.S. Post Office declared it non-mailable, but a federal judge overturned that decision and questioned the right of the postmaster general to decide what was obscene.
  • 1959: After protests by the White Citizens’ Council, The Rabbits’ Wedding, a picture book for children, was put on the reserved shelf in Alabama public libraries because it was thought to promote racial integration.
  • 1954: Mickey Mouse comics were banned in East Berlin because Mickey was said to be an “anti-Red rebel.”
  • 1933: A series of massive bonfires in Nazi Germany burned thousands of books written by Jews, communists, and others. Included were the works of John Dos Passos, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Ernest Hemingway, Helen Keller, Lenin, Jack London, Thomas Mann, Karl Marx, Erich Maria Remarque, Upton Sinclair, Stalin, and Leon Trotsky.
  • 1929–62: Novels by Ernest Hemingway were banned in various parts of the world such as Italy, Ireland, and Germany (where they were burned by the Nazis). In California in 1960, The Sun Also Rises was banned from schools in San Jose and all of Hemingway’s works were removed from Riverside school libraries. In 1962, a group called Texans for America opposed textbooks that referred students to books by the Nobel Prize-winning author.
  • 1859: George Eliot’s novel Adam Bede was attacked as the “vile outpourings of a lewd woman’s mind,” and the book was withdrawn from circulation libraries in Britain.
  • 1859: Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species was published, outlining the theory of evolution. The book was banned from the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, where Darwin had been a student. In 1925, Tennessee banned the teaching of the theory of evolution in schools; the law remained in force until 1967. The Origin of Species was banned in Yugoslavia in 1935 and in Greece in 1937.
  • 1744: Sorrows of Young Werther by the famed German author Goethe was published in this year. The final chapter of the book drops the diary form and graphically depicts Werther’s suicide. Because a number of copycat suicides followed the publication of the book, the Lutheran church condemned the novel as immoral; then governments in Italy, Denmark, and Germany banned the book.
  • 1616–42: Galileo’s theories about the solar system and his support of the discoveries of Copernicus were condemned by the Catholic Church. Under threat of torture, and sentenced to jail at the age of 70, the great scientist was forced to renounce what he knew to be true. On his death, his widow agreed to destroy some of his manuscripts.
  • 1624: Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible was burnt in Germany by order of the Pope.
  • 1614: Sir Walter Raleigh’s book The History of the World was banned by King James I of England for “being too saucy in censuring princes.”
  • 1497–98: Savonarola, a Florentine religious fanatic with a large following, was one of the most notorious and powerful of all censors. In these years, he instigated great “bonfires of the vanities” which destroyed books and paintings by some of the greatest artists of Florence. 
  • 640: According to legend, the caliph Omar burned all 200,000 volumes in the library at Alexandria in Egypt. In burning the books, the caliph provided six months’ fuel to warm the city’s baths.
  • A.D. 8: The Roman poet Ovid was banished from Rome for writing Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love). He died in exile in Greece eight years later. All Ovid’s works were burned by Savonarola in Florence in 1497, and an English translation of Ars Amatoria was banned by U.S. Customs in 1928.
  • 259–210 B.C.: In 212 B.C., the Chinese Emperor Shih Huang Ti, burned all the books in his kingdom and the copies he saved for the Royal Library were destroyed before his death. He is also said to have buried 460 Confucian scholars alive, to control what history was written.

This list is NOT exhaustive, or indicative of the full list of banned books. These are just select examples. I highly encourage you to take a look at banned book lists.

Book Bans: On the Rise

The American Library Association (ALA) tracks challeneges and bans across the country, and the recent data is pretty damning. 729 book challenges targeting 1,597 titles were recorded by the ALA. That’s the highest number since they began tracking in 2000, and more than double the numbers of 2020. Truth is, the number is probably a lot higher because some challenges aren’t reported. 

PEN America did a recent analysis, and found that a good portion of the challenged books focus on things such as LGBTQ characters, communities of color, and the history of racism in America.

Here are the 10 most challenged books of 2021, according to the ALA: 

  1. “Gender Queer,” by Maia Kobabe
  2. “Lawn Boy,” by Jonathan Evison
  3. “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” by George M. Johnson
  4. “Out of Darkness,” by Ashley Hope Perez
  5. “The Hate U Give,” by Angie Thomas
  6. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie
  7. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” by Jesse Andrews
  8. “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison
  9. “This Book Is Gay,” by Juno Dawson
  10. “Beyond Magenta,” by Susan Kuklin

Dumb Reasons Books Have Been Banned

  • The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas: Contested by the police union in South Carolina that called it “almost an indoctrination of distrust of police.” 
  • Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh: It was banned because Harriet was a spy.
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? By Bill Martin Jr. & Eric Carle: Because an entirely different author also named Bill Martin, was a known Marxist.
  • The Merriam-Webster Dictionary: It was banned because it contained definitions deemed “too explicit for children.” 
  • Anne Frank by Anne Frank : Banned for being “too depressing.”
  • Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein: Banned for promoting cannibalism.
  • Where’s Waldo by Martin Handford: Because in the 1987 edition, you can supposedly see a woman topless sunbathing in a scene; she’s laying on her side and you can see a little sideboob.
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White:  Banned in 2006 in Kansas because ‘talking animals are blasphemous.” They also tried to do the same with Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne for the same reason, and because he doesn’t wear pants. 

Yes, these are some of the legitimate, but oh so dumb reasons that books have been banned from schools and public library shelves.

Combat Against Book Bans

Banning books is not only a way to control the masses (curbing literacy rates, and controlling what media is allowed to be consumed), it also stems artistry, creativity, and protesting. Much of what is written is a reflection of our world, whether it a full and accurate reflection, or simply bits and pieces that are amplified for the sake of the writing. 

So how can you combat against the Book Bans? Take a page out of these books:

14-year-old Joslyn Diffenbaugh, fed up by the book bans, created her own forbidden book club. “It’s really problematic, because books are the only way that you can be in another person’s shoes,” said Joslyn. The club meets regularly to read and discuss books that have been outlawed in schools.

Margaret Atwood recently auctioned off a fireproof copy of The Handmaid’s Tale, to raise awareness about book bans, as well as to fight against them. In a promotional video, Atwood tries and fails, to burn the book copy. Auctioned through Sotheby’s, the winning bid of  $130,000 will go directly to PEN America’s efforts to fight against book bans.

Lawmakers in Virginia have been attempting to draft laws to not only ban books from schools, but also from Barnes & Noble. If you’ve walked into one of their bookstores recently, you know they have entire displays of banned books. I recently picked up my own copy of Beloved by Toni Morrison from such a banned book display.

LeVar Burton created a video for The Daily Show where he began to read a book – only for it to switch to a content warning. He then went on to explain that the book was banned because ‘reading about segregation is divisive.” He goes on to highlight children’s books that are banned, due to some pretty bizarre reasons and tells you to read banned books.

Reading banned books is one of the biggest ways you can help fight against the book bans. Read them, buy them, teach your children, your siblings, whomever, about them. Speak out when you see it happening, and support your librarians who are under pressure to remove them at the risk of losing their job if they don’t.

Trigger Warnings and Their Role in Literature

In recent years, the use of trigger warnings has become more common in different forms of media. TV and movies have had a rating system for general warnings of what was acceptable to the audience. Many fandoms took it upon themselves to start creating warnings for specific situations and topics. This is a breakdown of the relationship between trigger warnings and the book world and all its pros and cons.

What is the Role of Trigger Warnings?

Trigger warnings started appearing on websites in the early 2000s as a way to warn readers about difficult topics such as sexual assault, child abuse, and suicide. It created a way for people who had trauma or felt uncomfortable reading about these things to either mentally prepare themselves or, more commonly, to avoid the articles altogether. 

This is based on what’s called a “trauma trigger”, a psychological stimulus that causes someone to have involuntary memories of a traumatic experience. It doesn’t always have to be directly related to the traumatic incident, things like a scent or a piece of clothing could cause a recall.  

In more recent years trigger warnings, sometimes called content warnings, have started appearing in books and other forms of literature. Books, especially YA and up, can deal with more and more levels of distressing topics that are often used to create tension, conflict, and character growth. Plenty of books have been labeled controversial for the topics and situations the protagonists have been put in. It can create quite a bit of debate on what should be put in a book for the sake of the story, as there can be a thin line keeping heavy topics from being exploitative. 

The Benefit of Trigger Warnings

Some stories handle writing trauma better than others and often help us normalize the discussion around the topic, as well as feel hope when characters achieve victory and happiness despite what’s happened to them. But there are also times when a story’s tone or genre leaves a reader unprepared for the topic they drop on us. While trigger warnings are primarily used to protect from trauma, having an idea of what to expect in the content we read can give us the best experience in our books.  

I remember reading a paranormal romance book that was on the campier side, that decided to have a subplot involving serial sexual assault. It was so strange and offputting that I never finished the book. It always stood out to me that the book could have benefited from a content warning for people that were expecting more of a fun, escapist romance. 

But even in books with more serious, gritty tones that set up how dark their world can get–the use of trigger warnings can help readers prepare themselves so they can be in the right headspace for the book they’re reading. Books are often used for escapism, but that can be ruined for readers that rely on trigger warnings to help protect them in a mental and emotional capacity.

The Con of Trigger Warnings

Trigger warnings are a useful tool to help keep people safe in a mental capacity. But there can be a bit of a downside when it comes to using these warnings for books. Mainly, how much is a story given away when specific content warnings are applied. 

Nobody wants a book spoiled for them and sometimes novels tackle heavy or serious themes throughout the narrative. Having the warnings layout in bullet points potentially the darkest parts of the story we start to only view the book as being about those points. 

It brings up the question of when we should put trigger warnings in works of literature. Specific traumatic experiences can make more sense, but we have to make sure we don’t whittle our books down to the grimmest plot points and miss the point of the book entirely. There have been a few times where I have seen people “call out” a book for having a problematic or distressing theme/scene without giving the overall context of the book. When we narrow a piece of literature down to its worst moments and nothing else, it affects our ability to think critically or even enjoy the content we’re trying to consume.  

What happens when you still mess up?

So you wrote a book and added trigger warnings for the things you thought were necessary, but still faced criticism for other things in your book. There have been many times authors have tried to be inclusive, progressive, or considerate, but misstep anyway. And it can feel overwhelming at times, while we want to progress as a society to do better–there’s also a tendency for fandoms to eat an author alive if they messed up one way or another. 

This is no different from trying to use trigger warnings. While at times it feels like people just want to criticize this thing you made, the best thing you can do is reflect on what went wrong. Consider why you didn’t think this heavy topic/scene in your book that distressed your readers didn’t deserve a content warning in your mind. Accept that maybe you couldn’t recognize it because you’re not educated enough on that specific experience and reach out to people who are. Or maybe you failed to recognize something as harmful because of unconscious bias. None of this makes you a bad person and it’s healthy to be able to look inward and figure out how to do better, even if you already feel you’re a progressive person.  

More than anything, when you hurt your readers–you apologize. You take accountability and find a way to do better and then you follow through on that. Trigger warnings are still new-ish for the book world, but it’s not very different than other ways of being inclusive or considerate to your readers. It is not a bad thing that you tried or that you want to be progressive, but growth never stops. There’s always more to learn and the only way you fail is when you stop trying.    

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Exploring Dark Themes Through Fiction

This is a topic I am admittedly excited to write about, as I always have interesting conversations with other readers and writers about it whenever the subject comes up. We’re covering a few different types of dark themes this month from the attraction of villains to discussing if dark themes in books can benefit us, and I could probably write a separate blog for each one, but I will try to restrain myself.

Shaming Readers 

Falling For the Villain

Probably the most debated topic I’ve seen floating around social media for readers is the morality around falling for a villainous character. This doesn’t just apply to the book world, it’s in TV, movies, and video games as well. As we try to become a more progressive society, we start to recognize a lot of things in pop culture that haven’t aged well and the desire to leave them behind. Unfortunately, that has created many spaces where fictional characters are put under a microscope and deemed problematic, therefore you are problematic if you like them.

It often seems like women are targeted for their enjoyment of villainous or morally grey love interests, treated as if they can’t consume media with critical thinking and understanding of the difference between reality and fiction. On the flip side, men are practically expected to lust after fictional characters they find attractive regardless of that character’s morality, which is honestly just as bizarre. 

Whatever reason a reader enjoys a villain, it’s largely used for a sense of escapism. Many of these villains doing terribly things are usually immortal and have magical powers in a fantastical world where the stakes are incredibly high. The draw comes from a character that is incredibly powerful caring only about their love and often treats them as equals. Whatever red flags they have that could be applied to real life, women already know what to avoid in the average man. Unless he reveals he has magical shadow powers or is a vampire with a fierce sense of devotion to her, she’s not going to trip over herself to get his number. 

Morality in Fiction

There’s a pervasive sense of purity culture when it comes to fandom spaces, in the context that if a piece of media or character is considered problematic, then it should not be enjoyed. I have watched people go out of their way to berate readers for enjoying protagonists that have done sketchy or questionable things in a fantasy series, even going so far as to claim the authors were glorifying harmful subject matters while ignoring the actual context of the book. 

Ultimately, everyone is free to have their opinions and express dislike of a character, just as they’re free to express their enjoyment. The fact of the matter is, most protagonists in YA or NA books would probably be in jail if you applied our society’s rules to theirs. But that would miss the entire point of reading being transportation to a different world. A world where there is most often magic, war, chaos, and characters that are meant to make different choices because that’s what creates a compelling story. If everyone remains squeaky clean through the adventure, then the stakes were never that high. 

Women Aren’t Children

It is true that books and any piece of media can help influence a person’s mind, but that remains more true with children. Even teenagers reading YA have a grasp of media literacy and can separate fact from fiction, even if they obsess over the bad boys. Women, as well as other readers that enjoy villains or dark romance, are fully capable of understanding media literacy and consuming fiction without thinking that’s how things work in the real world. The idea that readers need to be saved from something they enjoy or else they’ll fall for it in real life is ridiculous. I think it’s fair to say the argument “video games cause violence” is an unfounded one. In a similar vein, it feels bizarre to blame books for real-life problems. 

Discovering Dark Themes Safely

Sparks in Young Minds 

When pre-teens and teenagers start reading YA, it’s often their first experience reading about something like war and political corruption in a way that’s engaging and inspiring for them. And those are just the books about dystopias and rebellion. There are so many books that explore multiple themes like mental illness, trauma, bigotry, classism, and abuse.  

Part of growing up is learning how scary the world can be. Compelling YA that deals with difficult themes can often help teens understand these complex subject matters. And even normalize discussions of mental illness or the layers of different types of trauma. 

A Broader Understanding

There’s always been an urge for parents to want to protect their kids from different kinds of subject matter that may be too heavy for them. But more and more I’ve seen teenagers capable and having a desire to discuss these themes and the market in YA is reflecting that. Reading and following a character’s emotional journey, allows a reader to gain a better understanding of people in difficult situations without having to experience those terrible things themselves. And for teenagers that are going through a difficult time, the book can offer a sense of solace to know that the heroes of a story are like them. 

Books Reflecting the World

Forms of Protest

There’s a saying that all art is a form of protest. Most books have some kind of message to them, some philosophy being questioned or debated for the characters to find at the end of their story. And there are plenty of authors that look at the world around them and write a book to reflect something harmful to society as a way of speaking out against it. Similar to what was discussed in what teens learn with YA Books. Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale is a prime example of this. 

Dark Mirrors

A Handmaid’s Tale has been used many times as a mirror in the struggle for a woman’s right to bodily autonomy. It’s often presented as the darkest, dystopian option of the future if the United States continues the way it’s going with recent legislation. But as Atwood has stated many times, the things she’s described in her book have all happened at different points in history. Not all at the same time, but just about every horrific thing portrayed in the book (and the show) can be pointed to as something terrible done somewhere in the world in different time periods. 

It is effective in the chilling picture the story paints, speaking as a warning against repeating history and turning things into a nightmare dystopia that would ultimately lead to a societal collapse. 

Benefits of Dark Themes

Lessons to Learn

The world can be an incredibly depressing and difficult place to live in. It’s understandable that there are groups of people that want stories that are lighter with only characters that are intrinsically good. I also agree there is an issue with some stories being dark and brutal just for the sake of exploitation or “tricking” their audience at the last moment for the sake of shock, rather than giving a resolution that makes sense. But there are benefits to darkness in stories: letting characters explore that darkness, and letting readers experience heavy topics. 

Many times when a character is experiencing a dark theme, whether it be something like power told through a magical perspective or the more grounded theme of drug addiction; we can tell that while this protagonist may be charming or may even seem to enjoy themselves, they are merely coping. Sometimes we find characters that are unapologetic about the bad things they’ve done, and we are able to enjoy that character for what they represent in the story and still recognize they’re not a good person. I find readers that are willing to analyze and enjoy flawed characters are people that end up having more empathy because they understand the nuance of difficult situations.   

Darkness does not Equal Bleakness

There’s this idea that if a story tackles heavy subject matter or leans into characters deciding to be “bad”, the story can’t end well. Again, there is a problem with writers certainly treating stories that way. And there’s also a case for well-done tragedies being written. But to me, there’s nothing more powerful than characters that are stuck deep in the trenches of darkness throughout the story and manage to overcome things in the end. That manages to have hope or even a happy ending, to know that these characters faced great strife but were able to come out the other side of it. 

Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology comes to mind. The books are the most beloved in her Grishaverse series, despite being about a group of characters that are morally questionable at best. They’re thieves, assassins, and killers–but we adore them because we follow their struggles and empathize with the pain they each go through. Six of Crows touches on a whole string of darker topics like human trafficking, addiction, unlearning bigotry, and phobias triggered by trauma. And while the ending isn’t a happily ever after, there is a sense of hope and warmth–of being able to start again. 

Using difficult subjects in a book is all about what story the writer decides to tell. Readers can like a different assortment of them, people find comfort in different things and there’s no one kind of book that is the right thing to read. Most readers want the characters to be happy in the end, but how difficult the journey is before that can decide just how satisfying the ending will be. Overall, using dark themes in books can help us better understand our own world and even inspire us to do better. If our favorite characters overcome the darkness, so can we.  

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Crimes of the Fiction World

When a crime happens in the world of literature, the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is plagiarism. While it’s certainly the most common, now and then crime pops up in the fiction world that sparks debate among readers and writers alike. And that’s exactly what we’re discussing this month. 

I bought this book–now take it back

  • The Author’s Struggle

While not a genuine crime, lately there’s been controversy about the morality behind going and purchasing a book, reading it all the way through, then returning it with the expectation of a refund. Some may not think it’s a big deal, but this kind of thinking can be genuinely harmful to authors trying to make a living off their books. Unless they’re a big name in the industry like G.R.R. Martin or Neil Gaiman, an author’s primary source of revenue is the royalties they get from their book sales. Many authors struggle to even get their names out there and even authors with success are often making just enough to start living comfortably. 

It essentially goes, that an author creates their book and gets it out into the world. They get money based on how many copies are sold. If you buy a book, but then return it after you’ve read the entirety, you’re taking your money back directly from the author: not just whatever site or store you purchased the book from. 

  • Varying Hypocrisy 

One of the biggest issues people take with this practice of returning books after finishing them is that most stores don’t allow this for their different products. When you buy clothes, especially a dress or suit, you can’t return them after you’ve spent a day wearing them out and about. When the seal on a DVD or Videogame case has been opened, you can’t return it to the store. 

Not to mention the hassle it creates for vendors. If you’ve ever seen someone go into a food place and demand there’s something wrong with their food–while they’re still eating it, or they ate all of it–just so they can either get free, fresh food or get a refund for their meal, it feels irritating even as a bystander. That same irritation can be felt by people in the book world, watching people try and return books they finished. 

  • There Are Libraries 

Shopping online is convenient these days and if we’re honest, this bit of book drama comes from a certain major online store’s return policy with their book services. But I think what get’s people upset the most about returning books you’ve finished after buying them is that you could have just as easily gone to the library. A building dedicated to getting books, for free, and then returning them once you’re done reading. Even if you don’t want to take a trip down to your local library, typing in “online library” in your search engine of choice has a number of options pop up. There have always been alternatives to this strange new trend and we would do better to use the ways that respect the authors of the books we love.   

True Crime That Created Fiction

  • Grim Inspiration

Anne Perry is an author of two different detective series, but back in 1954, she was a fifteen-year-old girl named Juliet Hulme. She became an accomplice in the murder of her best friend, Pauline Parker’s, mother. Parker and Hulme thought they could kill Parker’s mother with a single blow to the head using a brick, but the whole gruesome thing took roughly twenty hits. Both girls were too young for the death penalty in New Zealand, instead, they spent five years in prison before being released separately. 

In 1994, Peter Jackson released his film Heavenly Creatures which recreated and dramatized the events of Parker and Hulme’s actions in 1954. Several months after the movie was released, Anne Perry was known as a mystery writer when she came forward and said she had changed her name after she was released from prison but that she was the very same Juliet Hulme. 

  • Tragedy Inspiring Creativity 

Sometimes there are murder cases that shock the world so much, that it ends up inspiring people to create something. The Black Dahlia is a cold case that had over 150 suspects and 500-plus confessions since the case closed, with nothing substantial ever holding up. Numerous books and movies were inspired by the crime, some just using it as a loose concept and others recreating the case with changes that create closure in fiction where it couldn’t be found in reality. 

Another gruesome instance was the acts of Edward Gein, a Wisconsinite that was arrested for the murder of two women, as well as for digging up graves. His intent had apparently been to create a “woman suit” so he could crawl inside it and become his late mother. He was arrested and died in a psychiatric facility, but he ultimately helped inspire the book Psycho; which soon became one of the most classic horror films ever. More recently, Gein’s crimes helped create Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs.

  • Respecting Those That Are Gone

While some fantastic books and stories can be told using the inspiration of real-life events, there’s always a fine line to be walked as you apply more and more of the truth to events in a book. There has to be respect for the victims, rather than a glorification of the crimes or a romanticization of the culprit. When writing a book based on true events, probably the best thing you can do is take nuggets of inspiration but otherwise create a story that’s all your own so you don’t risk just rewriting tragic events for the sake of a book sale.    

The World’s Strangest Book Thief 

  • Breaking News 

Filippo Bernardini is a 29-year-old Italian man that worked largely as a manuscript translator before he was arrested at JFK airport by the FBI back in January. He was charged with wire fraud and identity theft, accused of having a years-long con of pretending to be different people online in the literary world so he could gain access to manuscripts and steal them. But the odd thing is, these thefts were never for plagiarism or ransom, they seemed to be largely based on the fact that the thief wanted access to the books before the public could have them. 

  • Ambition or Ego 

Throughout the last decade, Bernardini wanted to be in the world of writing and publishing, having written his first book just out of high school, titled Bulli. (The Italian word for Bullies) He was an undergraduate in Milan majoring in modern languages and even worked as a proofreader for the publishing company that sold his book. But it was in 2015, having gone to London for his Master’s, that much of his personality seems to come through. 

Many of his classmates remarked that while he was an excellent student, he had an energy about him that was borderline arrogant and challenging to those around him. With the familiar strive to be the best in anything he was doing, he came off as one of those people that always had to have the best story at a party of the most to brag about after a weekend. It came to a point where his classmates and I quote “we’d eventually take anything he said with a pinch of salt.” 

This type of drive followed him into an internship at Andrew Nurnberg Associates the next year, where his colleagues seemed to regard him with a similar view as his classmates had. Intelligent, friendly, but always sizing someone up rather than truly befriending them. When Bernardini eventually applied for a job at Nurnberg, he was rejected. Someone that worked with him at Nurnberg recalled Bernardini accosting and swearing at employees on the street after the rejection. 

The eeriest thing is after he left Nurnberg, the company’s website was hacked, profiles defaced and personal information was released along with vulgar and cruel comments about the agents that worked there. But Nurnberg was never able to identify a culprit. 

  • The Thief’s Persistence 

Many things tie the culprit and Bernardini together over the years, one running theme is the sheer persistence when it would come to their goals. Bernardini began trying to get a job as a translator for Italian publishers, insisting on fluency in a number of languages and emailing multiple editors from the same publisher over multiple years. The thief would often impersonate publishers, agents, or foreign-rights managers from all over the world to try and get access to different manuscripts, but would often make mistakes that someone new to the publishing industry would make–all along the same timeline as to when Bernardini was trying to familiarize himself with the industry at Nurnberg. 

Even more so, the thief’s targets began to overlap with Bernardini’s profession in 2018. Translating for the Italian publisher La Nave di Tiseo, as well as a few others, Bernardini was able to have access to multiple manuscripts–he even worked on translating storyboards for Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite. Each piece he worked on was targeted by the impersonation scheme. 

That same year, agents at Curtis Brown were parrying the thief’s attempts to get their hands on Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. Maybe a few weeks later, Filippo Bernardini walked into the offices at Curtis Brown and interviewed for an assistant position that would give him access to several big-name authors. Another agency cited that when Bernardini came to interview for them, he stated that he enjoyed reading one of their main titles–the same book that the thief had tried to steal months beforehand.

  • What Happens Next

While Bernardini finally seemed to have a steady career at Simon and Schuster U.K. before he was arrested, the manuscript scamming had continued up until the day before he was arrested. What’s almost as intriguing and strange as his motivation–or lack thereof, is people’s reaction to finding out about this scammer. Some in the literacy world have expressed a strange admiration or even empathy for Bernardini, hoping he’s not given too harsh a punishment or admitting that they “hate that they love” his scheming. 

It’s strange to think how often writers are terrified someone is going to steal their work and publish it or try to claim it as their own. If he is indeed the culprit, Bernardini most certainly gave a number of authors and agents a frustrating and stressful time with his crimes–yet people in that same space are expressing a desire for leniency. Maybe it’s because he never actually did anything with the manuscripts he stole other than taunt an author with a passage from their book (which still isn’t great). Or maybe it’s just because crime outside of basic plagiarism doesn’t happen that often in the literary world. 

Authors That Snapped

  • Strange Claims to Fame

Back in 2018, a Chinese author by the name of Liu Yongbiao was convicted of the murder of four people in 1995. At a hostel in Huzhou, two men checked in with what appeared to be intent to rob their fellow guests. When one guest with the surname Yu discovered them, he was attacked and killed by the assailants. The police believed that in an attempt to cover up their crimes, the assailants also beat to death the owners of the hostel, as well as their 13-year-old grandson. 

During the two decades between that, Liu had modest success as a crime thriller and murder mystery author. After publishing a book titled “The Guilty Secret” he even spoke about following up with a story about a female author who eluded the police despite committing a string of murders. After being arrested, Liu admitted his work was inspired by the murders he did back in 1995. He also told the police he had been waiting a long time for them to find him and that he was relieved he no longer had to live with the “spiritual torment” of his secret. 

As gruesome as the entire thing is, Liu isn’t the first instance of an author that turned to murder either before or after they became writers. In 1991, a Dutch writer by the name of Richard Klinkhamer murdered his wife, then a year later went to his agent with a manuscript titled “Wednesday, Mince Day” which was said to have been subtitled “seven ways to kill your spouse” when translated. Krystian Bala, a Polish author in 2005, was arrested for the murder of a man that had been beaten and starved before being tied up a certain way and thrown into a river. The details of the murder had never been released to the public, but Krystian described the exact incident in his controversial book “Amok”.

  • Leaving Clues Behind 

When you look into it, there are quite a number of authors that have committed a murder that end up leaving clues to their crimes in their books. Many aren’t even subtle, once you realize their crimes. Even outside of genre, like with romance novelist Nancy Crampton-Brophy. She wrote an essay titled “How to Murder Your Husband” and seven years later, was arrested when her husband was shot in June of 2018. 

After looking through a number of instances where authors turned out to be murderers, many of them can’t seem to help want to either recreate or elude to the violence they caused. It begs the question if they took to writing to find some sort of outlet for what they did, or find a way to tell the world without actually admitting their guilt. 

  • Authors Are Indeed People

It can be nerve-wracking to think that authors we enjoy are capable of terrible things, let alone murder. Some authors are celebrities, and in the world of literature, even authors that are just well-known in their genre can feel like rockstars to readers. This is where it becomes important to remember that authors are ultimately just people, and people are capable of great and terrible things all at once. You can even appreciate their work, but still have to remember to hold them accountable for when they’ve hurt others. 

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The Science of Motivation for Authors

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Have you heard of C.R. Snyder? He has done work on Hope Theory, which is defined as: “Hope is a positive motivational state that is based on an interactively derived sense of successful (a) agency (goal-directed energy),and (b) pathways (planning to meet goals).” Those four distinct aspects come together to create motivation.

The Four Aspects of Motivation


This first aspect is about the assumptions you have about who you are, and what you can learn. This is all about using challenges and setbacks as opportunities to explore what you are learning about yourself, and what traits of your character the challenge is addressing. Simply put, agency is your belief in your ability to learn necessary knowledge, or gain the pertinent skills to achieve a goal.


The second aspect is about what action plan(s) you think will help you achieve your goal. Pathways are the routes you take to reach your goals, while considering the effort you want to put forth. When pathways are not clear, it can be difficult to commit to them. So spending the time to devise the pathway that is clear, concise, and only takes what effort you are ready to put into it, is best in the long run for your motivation.


Next comes goals. Goals are broken down into three stages: Stage 1 which is the preliminary decision making process. Stage 2 which is the action step analysis. And Stage 3 which is reflection and learning. These stages take you from making decisions around the goal, then you work towards those goals, followed by a period of time where you consider what it took for you to reach your goal.


Finally, we come to obstacles. Challenges and obstacles are necessary; they force you to rely on your skills, bring awareness and allows the obtained goal to be satisfying. 

The Different Types of Motivation

The type of motivation actually matters. It is what sparks your action, and energizes you to work towards your goals even when it seems tough.

When you can understand what motivates you to write, edit, and work towards becoming published and selling your books, you can learn what style works best for you. And then you are no longer relying solely on your willpower. You can create habits and systems that work for you, and keep you on track.

Conditional vs. Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is doing something or the love of the activity, or for the internal satisfaction of performing the task. You don’t expect any kind of reward for doing so, and you don’t find that lacking. Intrinsic motivation is hardest to develop, but the one that is easiest to make into habits for long-term sustainability. Conditional motivation is doing something for the sake of the reward. It’s not useless, and it works for short-term things. But long-term goals require more rewards, and less effort, for the same end goal.

Proactive vs. Reactive Motivation

Having proactive motivation means you want to continue forward based on the positive vision of what goal you are working towards. Reactive is being motivated because there is an outside influence, such as a deadline. Proactive is being motivated to something beneficial, whereas reactive is being motivated to move away from detriment.

Self vs. Empathetic Motivation

Self-motivation is fairly obvious. It’s motivation for the sake of yourself. Empathetic motivation is the opposite: being motivated for the sake of others.

Tips to Increase Motivation

Sometimes it can be incredibly difficult to find any motivation to do the things we need to do, such as actually writing. We run out of steam, or we suffer shiny object syndrome and get ideas for a different project.

You may think you are S.O.L – however, there are ways you can help develop motivation!

Here are 4 specific strategies you can use to develop your self-motivation and improve your overall success.

  • Set clear goals. Utilize S.M.A.R.T goals for good results. Not sure what those are? I have a post about them you can check out by scrolling down my feed.
  • Focus. Limit things that are distracting and lead you to procrastination.
  • Pace yourself. Break up long writing sessions into shorter sessions. Get up and walk to stretch your legs when you can.
  • Prioritize. Do the more unpleasant and challenging tasks right away. The boost you feel from accomplishing them will carry you through the easier things, and cut back on procrastination.

Putting It All Together

As writers, we hold motivation near and dear, so any advantage we can take to do so is important. Breaking it down into the four steps can allow you to take a microscopic look at motivation to determine how to best motivate yourself to finish your book and become a published author.

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Book Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

I’ve always loved faeries. My obsession began in childhood, from building little faerie houses to blaming the pixies when things went missing. All grown up, I write about them all the time, and even role-play them for Dungeons & Dragons, and World of Darkness.

“If I cannot be better than them, I will become so much worse.” 

― Holly Black, The Cruel Prince

So when a book involving faeries comes out, you can bet your ass I’m picking it up to at least try to read it. That being said – Holly Black is an amazing writer, who is a master at creating immersive, incredible worlds. When I write faeries, I tend to go dark. Which is part of why I liked this book so much. While it is still suitable for older teens, it touched upon the types of topics I like to explore in my own writing and reading.

Holly’s interpretation of faeries is also fascinating – melding the old world lore with the new facets of intrigue and interest in pop culture; merging their danger and beauty.

Another unique aspect were the characters and their relationships to one another. Jude was a protagonist that I adored. Fierce, unabashedly herself, and more than willing to get dirty to get things done. This is rarely seen – so often authors water down their protagonists to keep them from becoming the villain, but Holly balanced it so well with allowing us to feel for Jude at the same time.

Not only that, but we feel for Jude’s sister, and for Cardan throughout the book(s), and the family dynamics created by circumstances, nature, and nurture, are so unique and interesting.

Something else unique about the story tis that it’s not just a romance novel. There is romance involved, and it’s beautifully woven throughout the story, but the plot is about Jude and her place within the world, and the politics of it. It was good to see Jude getting to find herself, and be developed, rather than immediately falling for the pretty faerie.

All in all, The Cruel Prince is an amazing book. Whether you’re interested in faeries, political intrigue, or fantasy, this novel is a great read.

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Book Review: Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller was a book that I had heard so much about, and was worried it would not live up to the hype. But let me tell you – this book lived up to the hype. Full of gorgeous prose, memorable quotes that made me ache, and a storyline that cements what I believe is one of the many truths of Achilles.

In the darkness, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk. Their hands meet, and light spills in a flood like a hundred golden urns pouring out of the sun.”

― Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles

This is not a typical book that I would pick up to read, but sometimes conforming to the #Bookstagram and #BookTok world works out. In this case, it did.

Going into the book blind, I assumed this book would be told by Achilles. I was pleasantly surprised when it was told by Patroclus instead. It harkened back to the idea of Greek stories being told by orators, where the tales were spoken from an outsider’s point of view.

Song of Achilles was beautiful and heart wrenching. I enjoyed the story immensely, and how it was told. There have always been controversy (as much as it might be unwarranted) on whether or not Achilles had Patroclus as a lover, and so much has to be read between the lines of it.

Madeline Miller’s story took away the ‘guesswork’ and put it plainly; and in the most marvelous of ways. The love between Achilles and Patroclus was beautiful, innocent, and pure. The ending of this book murdered me, but in the best of ways.

Song of Achilles was a retelling, but fresh and invigorating.

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Author Brands: Why the Hell You Need One

Your author brand is the story you want to tell your readers. And no, I don’t mean your novels. What I mean is: the concept of you as the author and how you want to present yourself to your followers. 

For example, a horror writer might tell the story of an author who enjoys horror movie marathons, Halloween, and uplifting other horror writers.

A historical romance writer might tell the story of an author who dies over Jamie Fraser (and I mean, who doesn’t?), loves the Victorian era and shares facts about it, and wears historically accurate fashion.

When you picture these two authors, you can get a vibe from them, right? You already know the pictures, language, and the way they interact with their readers is going to be vastly different from one another.

Your brand is your image. Your product is your book. So when you consider how you’re going to sell your book, you need to consider your brand, just like any other business.

Why the hell should I even bother with an author brand?

Because you’re a business, with a product to sell.

Shouting off into the void (re: posting in random groups, or once in awhile on your socials) does not equate to sales. You might get one or two, but you aren’t going to make a career out of it. 

Businesses spend time marketing. They develop strategies and systems that allow them to market their product and sell that product.

Being an author is not much different. So what are the reasons you should have an author brand?

  1. Branding defines who you are to readers and followers. 
  2. Branding sets you apart from other authors.

These are incredibly important things for authors who want to make a career out of being an author. Now more than ever, brands are generating loyalty among consumers and this means lifelong buyers for authors, readers who generate buzz within their own communities, and engage with you.

Your author brand is the way you represent yourself and your books to readers and in the author community. It’s the way you are perceived and recognized.

How the hell do I make my author brand?

You’re probably wondering how to make that brand and what goes into it, because no one really ever talks about that part of things.

So what goes into it?

  • Your logo 
  • Your website
  • The style of your covers
  • The type of novels you write
  • The frequency you publish
  • The promotional materials you put out
  • Your messaging and content
  • Your price and position in the marketplace
  • Your public persona
  • Your colors
  • Your copy tone
  • Your visual aesthetic

Branding is often skipped over by authors, but it’s an important piece of your business and marketing strategy. It’s the way you are perceived and recognized.

Developing Your Author Brand

A brand is a promise; it’s what readers expect from an author. Brand is how authors build durable careers. Authors with strong brands enjoy numerous marketing advantages over those whose brands are weaker. Not to mention – the better your brand, the more loyal your followers – the higher you can price your books.

But, developing an author brand can seem daunting.

  1. Determine your end goal. Knowing what you want as your brand helps you plan your path there. Discovering on the way is valid in its own right, but the mistakes made along the way because you didn’t put together a plan and execute it costs you money and time in the long run.
  2. Be unified. From your author website, your book covers, social media, newsletters – anything and everything that features your name and brand – it should be cohesive and unified.
  3. Be consistent. Recognition breeds familiarity, which breeds loyalty. This means you need to be consistent from your books, to your social media and everything in between. Think of it like a Hershey’s bar. The one bought in California tastes exactly the same as the one bought in Rhode Island.
  4. Don’t disappoint. Don’t skimp on your covers, or your writing, or say you’re going to be some place and not go. Gaining the trust of followers and readers is hard, but it’s so easy to lose that trust.
  5. Always learn. Take classes on marketing, leap on relevant trends, and don’t avoid marketing opportunities just because you think you can’t learn them.

Be ethical. This goes two ways. Be ethical in the way you market. And be ethical towards people in the market. Don’t do things like pay for awesome reviews, and don’t be mean to your fans and other authors.

Your author brand is your promise. A promise to your readers, and your followers and it’s important that it is something true to you.

Want a step by step guide to building your author brand and discovering your ideal reader? Grab your guide right here and get started today!

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