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Let’s talk about journaling as a writer. Some writers swear by keeping a journal, others have never felt the need for one and that’s fine too. But, for the sake of this post, imagine you are interested in starting one and have been asking yourself this question for a while. Should I start a journal? I’m going to talk about my own journaling practices and how that ties into my fiction writing.

First question: How do I begin?

There is no right or wrong answers when it comes to journaling. I’ve known writers who keep a journal and write in it, sure, but also fill it up with pictures and stickers and sketches. If you’re looking for direction, I like to start with an intention.

Set out with an intention that is writing-related. If I just started a new journal, I might start by describing some of the projects I’m working on. I’ll try to think through them and kind of try to understand what I’m aspiring to do with them.

Later, I might try to plan out a story or play with ideas for a scene. I talk through it on the page. It becomes a kind of sounding board for myself before I sit down to start writing. If I like how it’s sounding, I might start drafting the scene or story by hand.

Next question: How do I keep it up?

I think of my journal as a space for me to think through something privately. Journaling is an effective tool for thinking through emotions in your personal life, but it also can be used effectively in your writing life. For instance, if I read something I’m really excited about or had a strong reaction to, I might go back to my English-major mindset and start picking it apart. I’ll analyze the element of craft that’s being utilized and try to figure out why I was so drawn to it.

Those are notes better left for myself than in a blog post. The book I’ve been over-analyzing lately is Bunny by Mona Awad. It’s a book that is set in a stylized, but realistic world that somehow manages to bring in a lot of fairy tale elements. It left me mesmerized and a little obsessed. So, naturally, I’ve been spending way, way too much time picking apart scenes just to try to figure out how Awad pulled it off.

I’m still obsessed with this book and maybe what I’ve learned from her technique I will eventually try in my own writing. Why not?

What else do I write about?

There’s nothing you need to write about, but I like to jot down things that might inspire a story or a scene, for example:

  • A vivid dream. I often will even try to decrypt it in some way so that I can make sense of it or find a narrative within the dream which could lead to a story.
  • An awkward interaction or uncanny moment. Someone once waved for me to pull my car over while driving in rush hour traffic. He’d thought I’d rear-ended him. I hadn’t. I generally don’t drive close enough for it to even be a question, so I was really confused. He got out of his car and inspected by his bumper and then mine. Both were just fine. It’ll go in a story of mine one day, I’m sure of it.
  • An interesting fact or true story that inspires you. I am always jotting down random things I learn while listening to podcasts. It can serve as a great place to do research for writing projects, especially when you’re relatively new to the topic.

Reading time: 3 min

So I know I’ve been hiding under a rock for months now, but I’ve emerged with SO MANY BOOKS and there are a few I have been dying to talk about. The selection I’ll be talking about today are specifically SUMMER READS – they all just belong in your hands on a beach somewhere. So, whether you’re planning an end-of-summer getaway or like me, just planning on sitting in a park and imagining you’re on a beach somewhere else, these books should put you in the right frame of mind.

1. Bunny by Mona Awad

When I think of summer, I think of fun and that is why Bunny by Mona Awad tops this list. This is probably the most fun I’ve had reading a book in months. It’s a playful mix of satire, MFA humor, and drama, described as “The Vegetarian meets Heathers” or once I heard someone call it “a light-hearted Secret History.” It’s marked as literary fiction and I’m obsessed with the prose, though it definitely blurs all kinds of genre lines.

The novel is set in at a fictional, prestigious, New England MFA program where protagonist, Samantha Mackey encounters a clique who all call each other “Bunny.” It’s a little bit spooky, and beautiful, and also hilarious.

2. Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton

Okay, so this one is a little more winter than summer, but in all the winter scenes I was so glad I was sitting on a very sunny bench. Wild thriller Social Creature sits pretty at #2 on this list because for me, I love summer vacations and this novel transports you to the epic parties of New York City. This book is full of real places in New York that actually exist – it’s New York as I know it and it’s a lot of fun.

So, Social Creature is a book in the spirit of The Talented Mr. Ripley, set in the social media age. It’s a compelling thriller about a chance encounter where a struggling writer meets a charming socialite.

3. My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

So, I want to preface this with the statement, there are horror stories on this list, but despite the title, I wouldn’t consider My Sister, The Serial Killer to be one of them. There’s murder and lots of it, but it’s so darkly funny it feels about as frightening as Showtime’s Dexter. This is a book too that needs to be made into a TV series. It’s full of plot-twists, sister-drama, and romance.

In My Sister, The Serial Killer, protagonist Korede gets a call to help her sister Ayoola hide a body. What else are sisters for? But there’s tensions bubbling up that have been there for years. Ayoola was always the favorite sister. It’s only natural that she’s getting away with murder.

4. The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

Now for something really scary, but also summery? I don’t know. The Shining was always one of my favorite vacation getaway reads, so now I’ve got to recommend The Cabin at the End of the World by horror-master Paul Tremblay. I love horror and this book is terrifying. It’s got an ending I didn’t see coming and a plot that kept me reading late into the night.

I don’t want to ruin one piece of this book so just imagine you’re in a remote, scenic cabin in the woods for a well-deserved vacation and then, that four cryptic strangers are trying to break in.

5. Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett

Mostly Dead Things finishes this list because, I confess, I haven’t actually read it yet! But it’s one I’ve been dying to get my hands on since it first came out. It’s gotten some rave reviews from my writer friends, the Moon-birds and that’s good enough for me. From what I hear, it’s a humorous and eccentric novel about love, loss, and family that includes quite a bit of taxidermy.

Reading time: 3 min

We might only be a week into September, but let’s be honest – it’s never too early to begin embracing the Halloween spirit. And one of my resolutions for the new season: read more horror by women.

While my list of favorites is still ever expanding, here are a few spine-tinglingly spooky reads to get started. All synopses are borrowed from Amazon.

1. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson is perhaps the queen of horror and The Haunting of Hill House is arguably one of her spookiest novels. Her novels We Have Always Lived in the Castleand Hangsaman are also notable mentions, but this classic haunted house story takes the cake.

The Haunting of Hill House  is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

2. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Okay, so it’s not a novel, but this book of tales is delightfully chilling and incredibly gorgeous. Which is why it’s earned a spot on this list! This book puts new twists on old tales to make them much more frightening than I’d ever remembered them, reinventing “Beauty and the Beast,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” and “Blue Beard” to name a few and inventing some new ones along the way. First published in 1979, this literary gem has inspired countless writer that have come since.

Another notable mention – if you liked The Bloody Chamber, check out Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt! Angela Carter is also the author of another one of our favorite’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman.

3. What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine

This book might not be the spookiest on the list, but I can’t recommend it enough. Debut novel by Julia Fine, What Should Be Wild is easily a new favorite of mine and while it’s not strictly scary, it’s a whimsical story that embraces all kinds of horror.

The synopsis, courtesy of Amazon: It’s the story of a highly unusual young woman who must venture into the woods at the edge of her home to remove a curse that has plagued the women in her family for millennia.

Additional books we love include The Lovely Bones  by Alice Sebold, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised By Wolves by Karen Russell and Swamplandia! also by Karen Russell.

4. Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Before it was the movie starring Daniel Radcliffe, Woman in Black was a book by Susan Hill, and just one of her many notable ghost stories.

Arthur Kipps is an up-and-coming London solicitor who is sent to Crythin Gifford—a faraway town in the windswept salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway—to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of a client, Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. Mrs. Drablow’s house stands at the end of the causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but Kipps is unaware of the tragic secrets that lie hidden behind its sheltered windows. The routine business trip he anticipated quickly takes a horrifying turn when he finds himself haunted by a series of mysterious sounds and images—a rocking chair in a deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child’s scream in the fog, and, most terrifying of all, a ghostly woman dressed all in black.

5. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

This one is a favorite at the moment, and kind of a hot book since it was a Finalist for a National Book Award last year. And what’s more exciting, it’s currently in-development to become an anthology TV series!

In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. While her work has earned her comparisons to Karen Russell and Kelly Link, she has a voice that is all her own. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.

6. Bellefleur by Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is incredibly prolific and while not every book of hers is steeped in horror, she actually has a collection of novels that are referred to as “The Gothic Saga” – the first of which is Bellefleur which is incredibly gothic and eerie! It’s sure to get any reader in the mood for halloween.

A wealthy and notorious clan, the Bellefleurs live in a region not unlike the Adirondacks, in an enormous mansion on the shores of mythic Lake Noir. They own vast lands and profitable businesses, they employ their neighbors, and they influence the government. A prolific and eccentric group, they include several millionaires, a mass murderer, a spiritual seeker who climbs into the mountains looking for God, a wealthy noctambulist who dies of a chicken scratch.

7. The Phantom Lover by Vernon Lee (Violet Paget)

So this one’s not exactly new… quite the opposite, but it was new to me when I set out to find more horror written by women and it’s a delightfully quick and spooky read.

A Phantom Lover is a supernatural novella by Vernon Lee (pseudonym of Violet Paget) first published in 1886. Set in a Kentish manor house, the story concerns a portrait painter commissioned by a squire, William Oke, to produce portraits of him and his wife, the eccentric Mrs. Alice Oke, who bears a striking resemblance to a woman in a mysterious, seventeenth century painting.

Additional Moon Bird favorites for gothic fiction include the novels of Ann Radcliffe.

8. Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler may be “The Grand Dame of Science Fiction” but like another one of the greats on our list, Mary Shelley, her work sometimes transcends just the one genre. Wild Seed ranks as one of the current favorite haunting novels among my friends over at Moon-birds. We also like Blood Child and Other Stories.

Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex or design. He fears no one until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss and savage anyone who threatens her. She fears no one until she meets Doro. Together they weave a pattern of destiny (from Africa to the New World) unimaginable to mortals.

9. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Broken Monsters is very, very twisted and incredibly spooky. While it’s marketed more as a thriller than an outright horror novel, it’s not really a whodunnit, but a book where you hope and pray your favorite characters make it out alive. It’s gruesome to the point where the cover’s been made overly vague after a few more revealing covers were pointed rejected prior to publication.

Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit’s standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused together. As stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams?

If you’re Detective Versado’s geeky teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you’re desperate freelance journalist Jonno, you do whatever it takes to get the exclusive on a horrific story. If you’re Thomas Keen, known on the street as TK, you’ll do what you can to keep your homeless family safe–and find the monster who is possessed by the dream of violently remaking the world.

Other twisted thrillers we love lately include Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn and The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn.

10. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Where would horror be without Frankenstein? This is a timeless classic and beloved favorite for me and probably also for most women who aspire to write horror. For super-fans out there Penguin released Frankenstein: The 1818 Text – which includes the unedited voice of the author herself.

Few creatures of horror have seized readers’ imaginations and held them for so long as the anguished monster of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The story of Victor Frankenstein’s terrible creation and the havoc it caused has enthralled generations of readers and inspired countless writers of horror and suspense.

While there’s nothing quite like Frankenstein, fans may also enjoy the novels of Elizabeth Gaskell.

11. Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo

This collection by Argentinean author, Silvina Ocampo, is haunting. It’s loaded with eerie tales that twist the everyday into full-blown horror.

Thus Were Their Faces offers a comprehensive selection of the short fiction of Silvina Ocampo, undoubtedly one of the twentieth century’s great masters of the story and the novella. Here are tales of doubles and impostors, angels and demons, a marble statue of a winged horse that speaks, a beautiful seer who writes the autobiography of her own death, a lapdog who records the dreams of an old woman, a suicidal romance, and much else that is incredible, mad, sublime, and delicious.

If you enjoy Thus Were Their Faces, be sure to check out The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington and The Children by Carolina Sanín.

12. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Rebecca, first published in 1938, is a classic that is haunting to say the least. It’s a must-read, for Halloween or any other time of the year.

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

For more Daphne du Maurier, check out her collection of stories Don’t Look Now – which includes a short piece that inspired Hitchcock’s The Birds.

13. The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike

Finishing off this list with one final haunting tale – The Graveyard Apartment!

Originally published in Japan in 1986, Koike’s novel is the suspenseful tale of a young family that believes it has found the perfect home to grow into, only to realize that the apartment’s idyllic setting harbors the specter of evil and that longer they stay, the more trapped they become.

This tale of a young married couple who harbor a dark secret is packed with dread and terror, as they and their daughter move into a brand new apartment building built next to a graveyard. As strange and terrifying occurrences begin to pile up, people in the building start to move out one by one, until the young family is left alone with someone… or something… lurking in the basement. The psychological horror builds moment after moment, scene after scene, culminating with a conclusion that will make you think twice before ever going into a basement again.

Our additional honorable mentions include Now You’re One of Usand Body both by Asa Nonami.

That wraps up our list of 13 haunting reads for now. This article was originally written by me, but first published on Moon-Birds, a haven for spooky ladies who write.

Reading time: 9 min

I received an anonymous message the other day that is not all that unlike so many other messages I’ve received since I first started blogging. It reads:

”My parents always urged me not to become a writer. “Oh but, you need something that brings food on the table,” “I won’t be paying your bills,” “No one guarantees your success” stuff like that. I’m 18, about to enroll to uni for a degree I kinda sorta like and see myself liking more in the future. But I still want to write. And my parents’ patronizing always stops me, even if they aren’t there, I can’t develop a story further because I feel like I’m not good enough. I truly just want to write. Help.”

I want to help, but I think most young writers don’t fully understand the truth about writing as a career path. I know I had heard it several dozen times before I graduated. It didn’t once sink in until I realized, Oh wait, I need to make a living. I am not writing this to dash anyone’s dream, but maybe shed a little light on what it’s like to be a writer before it can become a sustainable career.

From the time I was about twelve years old, I’d been saying I want to be an author. I wanted to write great, amazing books that would become bestsellers and land me in history books. And as I got older, that dream didn’t exactly die. My expectations became a bit more realistic, but I still thought when I graduated college I could check a box somewhere, declare myself as writer and somehow live comfortably enough to write my books for the rest of my life. Really, I knew it wasn’t quite that simple, but I thought it would be easier.

It’s not easier. With writing, I learned, until your writing can support you, you’re going to need to have something else to help you get by. It was initially really hard to explain that to people, to friends, to my sibling, to my parents. You can work at it for years and never have any success. It’s a career-path that for the most part relies on you having some other way to support yourself for awhile.

When I say that, I don’t mean that you can’t make money writing. That’s simply not true. I write for my job. It is how I have an income. You can make money writing. It’s just important to note it’s not the same as becoming an author right away. Writing your novel takes time. Publishing your novel takes kind of a long time too. Those a tough years and for most people, it means finding a job that allows for you to have time to really work on your writing.

Almost every writer I’ve ever met has had to take up a day job at some point before achieving some level of acclaim and success. This should not be something to be ashamed of. Every writer I’ve ever heard of has been something else before they could write full-time. Stephen King had to teach high school. J.D. Salinger was an activities director on a cruise ship. Jack Kerouac took up so many different odd jobs, it’s hard to keep track of what he was exactly. Margaret Atwood was a barista. I heard from somewhere Nicholas Sparks used to wait tables and sell dental products over the phone. Everyone had to start somewhere.

So, again, I don’t mean to sound discouraging. Writing is a career that take a long time to work towards. It’s not easy and it takes a lot of seriousness and commitment. It may mean taking up odd-jobs to get by, but that’s not always a bad thing. Authors like Rainbow Rowell, Neil Gaiman, and Suzanne Collins were “writers” even before their bestsellers, as respectively, a columnist, a freelance writer, and a children’s TV show writer. You can become a writer no matter what you end up doing – even if you’re like me and want to do nothing else but write. I’m a writer now. I do a lot of freelance work. It might not be a the kind of writing I want to be known for, but just like any great writer, I’m working at it and maybe I’ll get there one day.

My word of advice, for everyone who has been asking, don’t think taking up a day job means ending your writing career. It’s something that almost every writer I love has had to do. One exception might be Edith Wharton – she was born an heiress, but outside of her prosperous career as a writer, she designed home interiors and gardens. I guess even she had a day job. If you want to write, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. You can make a commitment to writing even if it’s not the only thing you do.

Reading time: 4 min