Bookworm: “The Survivors”

the survivors by jane harper

You feel at first like you’re walking into a room mid-conversation the minute you crack open Jane Harper’s “The Survivors,” 4/21 in my #21in21 reading challenge.

You don’t know what happened in Kieran’s past in this gripping beach town whodunit, but you know it was something tragic, something some townsfolk blame him for — and something he blames himself for, too.

After a young woman’s body is found on the beach, details and secrets from the past are dredged up, piecemeal, it seems that the murder is somehow connected to that fateful stormy day 12 years prior when the entire town and its residents were forever changed by more than the weather.

And just when you think you’re starting to figure it all out and connect the dots between the two events, Harper’s deftly written riptide throws you in a whole other direction, and you’re left with your mouth agape.

Harper’s writing is quite detailed. You can practically smell the salty sea air, see just how pitch-black the dark of night is on the beach, feel the anxiety of being in or near the caves as the tide rushes in — and the cutting pain that Kieran has lived with for so many years.

“The Survivors” kept me on my toes with the turn of every page, and I know this isn’t going to be my last read of Jane Harper. I’m so glad I got the chance to read “The Survivors” though Book of the Month before it came out on Feb. 2.

Up next: “Hunger” by Roxane Gay

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Bookworm: “These Violent Delights”

These Violent Delights Chloe Gong

At 400-plus pages, Chloe Gong’s debut novel “These Violent Delights” is a massive and engrossing take on “Romeo and Juliet” — and 3/21 in my #21in21 reading challenge.

I’ve long been a sucker for any story about star-crossed lovers, so it should be no surprise that “Romeo and Juliet” is my favorite Shakespeare play.

I loved the idea of Gong’s Roma and Juliette as dueling and deadly gangsters in 1920s Shanghai and wanted to know their whole backstory. The tension and anger between them, their gangs and other power-hungry groups in the city is a palpable ticking time bomb that would be an interesting story in and of itself.

But as that powder keg is getting ready to blow, a “monster madness” begins sweeping through the city, causing Roma and Juliette, the heirs to their respective gangs, to try to figure out why so many of their rank and file and other citizens are suddenly ripping their own throats out.

As they keep running into each other while they investigate on their own, Roma and Juliette realize they have the same goal: finding out who is responsible for this pandemic and how to stop it. So they reluctantly, and secretly, decide to put aside the longtime blood feud between their families and join forces to get answers before it’s too late.

“These Violent Delights” is such a timely read, what with its all-too-familiar raging contagion and culture and race wars, and despite its doorstop size, it’s a quick one.

Gong’s lines are so descriptive that you feel the fear and anxiety of the characters as they race through Shanghai — and every time my scalp itches now, I get the heebie-jeebies.

This is a two-parter, and the second installment, “These Violent Ends,” is slated to be released in November. I definitely look forward to seeing how the story ends for Roma and Juliette — though maybe we already know …

“From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life”

Up next: “The Survivors” by Jane Harper

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Bookworm: “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires”

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

As soon as I saw “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” by Grady Hendrix all over the feeds of the readers/reviewers I follow on Instagram last year, I was intrigued.

The eye-catching cover and title are, ahem, killer, and the premise made this vampire lover’s fangs tingle. Bored Southern housewives in a true crime book club suddenly find themselves facing a supernatural evil right in their own tony backyards? I’m in!

So when I started reading it as 2/21 in my #21in21 reading challenge, I wanted to love it. I thought I would love it — yet I found it infuriating, but not because of the horror or gore.

The characters have no redeeming qualities and their constant inaction to plot points like A) the deadly threat against the poor children in the area; B) blatantly ignoring 10-year-old Blue’s obsession with all things Nazi; and C) kowtowing to their husbands’ racism, sexism and misogyny — in the ’90s, not the ’50s, mind you — left such a bad taste in my mouth.

And, in my humble opinion, it was such tired way for a man to write from a woman’s perspective.

While I will admit that intriguing premise on its own did make “Southern Book Club” a page-turner — and that I’d love to be part of a book club like these ridiculous women were in — I was severely disappointed by this book.

Up next: Chloe Gong’s “These Violent Delights.”

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Bookworm: “A Woman Speaks” by Anaïs Nin

Anais Nin A Woman Speaks

I always turn to Anaïs Nin when I need a reset, so choosing “A Woman Speaks,” a collection of her lectures, seminars and interviews from 1966 to 1973 edited by Evelyn J. Hinz, was the perfect way to kick off my #21in21 reading challenge.

Reading Anaïs calms me, opens up my mind, and “A Woman Speaks” is no different. It’s as if I’m sitting in the audience of these lectures, connecting with her, absorbing her words and her being.

Though released in 1975, “A Woman Speaks” it is, quite possibly, even more timely today than it was then. Anaïs saw what was coming — too much, too fast technology and media — and how it would irrevocably change and desensitize humanity. I mean, look at the horror that happened in the Capitol this week. We’ve reached a dangerous tipping point we’ve long been heading for, and the aftermath is only going to get uglier.

I’ve written before about my love of Anaïs, especially her diaries and erotic story collection “Delta of Venus.” As a lifelong journaler, her diaries, and her relationship with them, have long fascinated and inspired me. Her writing is so passionate, so profound, and it opens up my consciousness in a way no other writer has.

“A Woman Speaks” is a most consuming, intimate and powerful read about Anaïs’ thoughts on womanhood, relationships, creativity, writing, self and psychoanalysis. There are so many lines to savor, to use to sustain me that my copy is already dog-eared and filled with underlinings of passages and lines that resonated with me.

It affected me so much that I’ve bought a copy to give to my 22-year-old stepdaughter in hopes she’ll find it just as eye-opening and inspiring as I did.

Even though my #21in21 just got underway, I am going to make the bold statement that “A Woman Speaks” will definitely have a place on my Best Books of 2021.
(If, of course, we’re all lucky enough to make it to the end of 2021.)

Some favorite lines from Anaïs Nin’s “A Woman Speaks”

“I think we are living now in a period which in some ways resembles the time of the plague. It sounds like a very exaggerated image, but we are confronted every day with despair and horror.”

The above, mind you, was said at a 1973 lecture — but could be from this year, this week, this exact moment, as can this quote from a lecture in 1972:

“We don’t need revolutions provide we evolve, provided we are constantly open to new experience, provided we are open to other human beings and what they have to give us.”

“I have much less fear since I confronted fears. What’s frightening to me is people whose unconscious leads them, destroys them, and yet they will never stop and look at it. That’s the minotaur in the labyrinth, which many people never come face to face with.”

While the entire book is so moving and inspiring, “The Personal Life Deeply Lived” chapter spoke to me the most. It’s where Anaïs discusses at length her diary writing. So many of her thoughts hit home for me, such as it being a “safe space” to write my truth, what I really felt about whatever it was I was experiencing at the time, to help me gather my thoughts to communicate outside my journal. As Anaïs says, “The writing was training me to express my feelings.”

“The diary became a companion. … I had been able to build it in this shelter, as it were, in this spirit house, where I felt protected from censorship, from criticism and from vulnerability.”

“I was always hiding in the diary; the diaries served the purpose of a retreat for a shy person who doesn’t want to come out in the world.”

“The diary obliged me to stay there, to stay whole, and to continue to feel. I had to tell the diary everything.”

“No matter what the human condition, no matter what kinds of infernos and destructive wars our dictators plunged us into, there was always this escape, this power to transfigure, transform, transmute.”

“Paint first and read the papers afterward.”

“I think we do have terribly toxic and destructive experiences, but the main thing we have to focus on is how are we going to transform them so that they don’t damage us.”

“Life is an adventure, and you’re going to find very great difficulties, great obstacles and monsters and minotaurs. But if you are prepared for that you are also prepared to look at it as part of the adventure.

I’ll end on this last passage from the final chapter of “A Woman Speaks,” which, again, is scarily timely given the current climate in America.

“How do you keep a thing intimate in America where everything is always multiplied by people who have not really approached it sincerely, organically, individually, but just because they heard the name or because they saw it on TV.”

Up next: “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” by Grady Hendrix

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Bookworm: My Best Books of 2020

my best books of 2020

2021 is here, and I’m looking forward to turning the page — by starting a brand-new annual reading challenge.

(Of course, like most of us on Earth, I loved watching 2020 finally come to an end for a great many other reasons, too, but let’s keep this convo to books, shall we?)

2021 will be my sixth year doing a reading challenge, something I began in January of 2016. The goal is to read at least as many new-to-me books as the year we’re in. So in 2020, for example, I used #20in20 as the hashtag to document the challenge and give my capsule reviews of each book on social media.

2020 was a year I really broadened my reading horizons with a lot more biographies, history and more diverse authors. Within the 27 books I read in 2020, there were a lot of standouts and several that stayed with me long after I finished reading, like Ta-Nehisi Coates’ lyrical and vivid “The Water Dancer,” and Riley Sager’s truly scary “Home Before Dark,” which legit kept me up all night after I read the Kitchen Incident scene.

“The White Album” was my first Joan Didion read — and not my last, as I loved the vignettes of her truth peppered into each story, the glimpses of who she is and how she was navigating a tumultuous time. I savored learning about Regina Anderson Andrews in Ethelene Whitmire’s “Harlem Renaissance Librarian,” which detailed how integral Regina was to the era, the NYPL and neighborhood arts scene — and her infamous salons in her St. Nicholas Avenue home, which I unknowingly walked by a zillion times when I lived in Harlem/Sugar Hill.

But, like “The Highlander,” there can be only one Best Book of 2020, so without further ado, here’s my Top 5.

Can’t wait to get started on #21in21. Follow along right here on Ink for Blood and Instagram — and join in if you so desire as I love talking about books and getting recommendations!

My best books of 2020

5. “The Paris Hours” by Alex George

the paris hours

I chose this as my April Book of the Month because A) it sounded incredible and B) we were to honeymoon that month in Paris to see our daughter, who was studying abroad, before railfanning northward to Antwerp and Amsterdam, where we would spend the bulk of our trip. Sadly that didn’t happen due to COVID-19, so cracking this one open was bittersweet — and so was closing it because mon dieu, I savored every single page.

It was haunting, devastating and frantic. Alex George’s lines are delicious morsels that paint a vivid, nearly tangible portrait of 1920s Paris. The storytelling was immersive — each chapter is a different vignette of the characters’ lives and are woven together masterfully and intricately. The final act took my breath away and Camilla, Souren, Guillaume and Jean-Paul stayed with me long after I finished reading.

And, I suspect, they will be with me again when I one day do make it to City of Light.

4. “Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann

killers of the flower moon

This is page-turning historical non-fiction horror. If you investigate US history beyond the marketable events we’re taught in school and lionize, you find blatant corruption, racism and greed.

Like the Tulsa massacre, which took place around the same time, the Osage murders are horrifying — and yet another example of exactly who we are as a nation. From the moment this land was ripped from Native American hands, we’ve been careening to this exact moment in time.

It was very surreal and unsettling to read this book in 2020. But I’m glad I did, that I cried and raged and laid awake at night haunted by the murders, which David Grann details with stunning prose, precisely because this truth is uncomfortable. It should be. But reading about it is nothing compared to the actual horror the Osage experienced — and what so many Americans are STILL experiencing 100 years later because Americans have yet to evolve enough to understand the meaning of equality.

3. “The Office of Historical Corrections” by Danielle Evans

office of historical corrections

This razor-sharp and incredible collection of stories about race, culture, being a woman and so much more gets you right in the gut, repeatedly, as Danielle Evans’ writing brings each story vividly to life. I found myself immediately rereading each one because it was hard to move on from them, as eager as I was to devour the next one.

Like in “Flower Moon,” the title novella really hits home how skewed — read: how whitewashed — the US history we’re taught in school is. My heart ached for “Happily Ever After’s” Lyssa and all she had to face that would surely break anyone else, while “Anything Could Disappear” completely wrecked me.

This collection was absolutely riveting and extremely poignant given our current climate. A must must must read.

2. “Circe” by Madeline Miller

When I read Madeline Miller’s “Circe” in November, it definitely put the top pick that had held from January in question. That shouldn’t be surprising as this was BOTM’s 2018 Book of the Year winner.

I was obsessed with mythology as a kid and loved reading “The Odyssey” in high school. “Circe” was just as in-depth, transportive and enthralling as those stories, but so much more conversational and descriptive. I felt the fiery fury of Circe’s Titan father Helios, smelled the briny air of her island Aiaia, winced at the cruelty of the gods (so like humans) and ached from Circe’s tangible and relatable loneliness and yearning. I honestly can’t stop thinking about this book.

1. “Daisy Jones & the Six” by Taylor Jenkins Reid

daisy jones & the six

Back in January, I made the bold statement that 2/20, Taylor Jenkins Reid’s “Daisy Jones & the Six” would be my Best Book of 2020. I loved loved loved everything about it, and it’s no wonder why it was named BOTM’s 2019 Book of the Year — and why it held onto my top spot all year long.

I love the 1970s, and I’ve always been fascinated with the decade’s sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll scene. There was even a time when, if you asked me what era I would’ve liked to live in other than my own that I would’ve immediately answered “the 1970s so I could be a Led Zeppelin groupie.” I mean, Robert Plant, amiright? Drinking Jack at the legendary Rainbow in LA was a bucket-list item for me, one I happily (and tipsily) crossed off in 2002 while tucked into one of its red leather booths and hoping to absorb its history.

“Daisy” brought that all to life like it was juiciest “Behind the Music” episode ever. The ingenious writing style — what The New York Times called “an oral history” as each band member tells their own narratives interview-style — blew me away, and Daisy proved to be a tough act to follow on the fictional stage and my list.

Honorable mentions

“The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson

Yes, I know I’m 17 years late on this one, but this captivating historical nonfiction tome was most definitely worth the wait.

It melds two stories: the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair — from its initial planning and complications to the site’s successes and demise — and the diabolical evil that was serial killer H.H. Holmes. Erik Larson’s research and descriptive lines are haunting, and while it’s a massive read, it read like a novel I couldn’t put down.

“Magic Lessons” by Alice Hoffman Paris Hours” by Alex George

I had never read Alice Hoffman before or even saw the movie version of her “Practical Magic,” but she’s definitely someone I plan to read again — and soon.

I lost myself in her bewitching, lyrical prose as she unfolds this beautifully heartbreaking and all-too-familiar story of love, mothers and daughters, redemption and the seemingly never-ending fight of women for equality and against the suffocating claws of religion enforced by men who do not hold themselves to their own standards.

My complete 2020 reading list

  1. “The Glittering Hour” by Iona Grey
  2. “Daisy Jones & the Six” by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  3. “The Sun Down Motel” by Simone St. James
  4. “The Masterpiece” by Fiona Davis
  5. “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov
  6. “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins
  7. “A Good Neighborhood” by Therese Anne Fowler
  8. “The Nest” by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
  9. “The Paris Hours” by Alex George
  10. “We Should All Be Mirandas” by Chelsea Fairless & Lauren Garroni
  11. “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson
  12. “The Knockout Queen” by Rufi Thorpe
  13. “Regina Anderson Andrews: Harlem Renaissance Librarian” by Ethelene Whitmire
  14. “Logan’s Run” by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson
  15. “Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann
  16. “The White Album” by Joan Didion
  17. “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things” by Bryn Greenwood
  18. “Home Before Dark” by Riley Sager
  19. “The Shadows” by Alex North
  20. “Calypso” by David Sedaris
  21. “The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes” by Elissa R. Sloan
  22. “The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  23. “Magic Lessons” by Alice Hoffman
  24. “Circe” by Madeline Miller
  25. “Winter Counts” by David Heska Wanbli Weiden
  26. “The Office of Historical Corrections” by Danielle Evans
  27. “My Friend Anna” by Rachel DeLoache Williams
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Bookworm: Book of the Month changed my reading life

Just a sample of my BOTM books.

It may have been just under five years since I last wrote a Bookworm post, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t reading. That, for me, would be like not breathing.

Ever since I learned to read thanks to “Go, Dog. Go!” by P. D. Eastman when I was 3, reading has always been my Happy Place. When I have moments to myself — with my Prince by my side, of course — I put music on and curl up with my latest book du jour.

In The Time Before, I could spend (and did spend) an afternoon browsing bookstore shelves — and once spent a record three hours wandering every square inch of The Strand with a friend who’d never been to the beloved NYC bookshop. That day resulted in a pirate’s ransom haul of books, including one on a slick uptown pimp, and remains one of my Top 5 days I’ve had in my city.

Since January of 2016, I’ve done a yearly reading challenge, in which I aim to read at least as many new-to-me books as the year we’re in. This year, for example, my review hashtag was #20in20 on my social media pages, where I document the challenge and my capsule reviews of each book.

In typical #booknerd fashion, I tend to go over that target most years. This year was no different thanks to Book of the Month. I’m a bit ashamed that I, a voracious reader for (gulp) 40 years now, wasn’t aware of BOTM — which was founded in 1926! — until a Post coworker told me about it during one of our many book chats last year.

I immediately signed up for it the second our conversation was over — and can honestly say that while I still pop into local bookstores when I’m able and download books on my Kindle, BOTM completely changed my reading life.

It put brand-new, hardcover books at my fingertips, with tomes by everyone from well-established writers to buzzy debuts across a wide-range of genres and topics. And I love the BOTM community and reading its reviews of each monthly choice, whether it be from an average reader like myself, a celebrity or an author.

And I cannot tell a lie: The swag is top-notch, too. You get free bookmarks every month, and after you’ve received your 12th box, you get a great tote bag (something I’m a sucker for) that has a special pocket for your BOTM book. My January box will include a candle for finishing a club challenge, and there’s opportunities to get free books as well.

book of the month BFF

I had vowed upon the dawning of this dumpster fire of a hate-filled year to seek out more diverse writers and stories, both fiction and non-fiction. I want to educate myself with other voices, perspectives and genres, and that’s a goal Book of the Month and its broad mix of monthly choices definitely helped with.

BOTM, which, by the way, in no way sponsored this post, was honestly the best gift I’ve ever given myself. It truly keeps on giving the whole year.

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Allow myself to (re)introduce myself

nikki mascali roarty new york post

Hello there, and welcome to Ink for Blood, a blog I started in 2010 — and am returning to in late 2020 after a nearly five-year hiatus.

I stopped blogging not just because of time and life, but because, as a journalist and news editor during one of the most contentious periods of our history, I was feeling burnt out, uncreative. While I still wrote/and write in my journal every day as a form of self-treatment therapy, I needed time away from words on the screen in my spare time because if I’ve learned anything in the past five years, it’s the importance of self-care, of self-preservation, of taking a step back for my sanity. Or what little of it is left these days.

Over the past few months as we’ve been in lockdown at home on Roosevelt Island in NYC amid the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve journaled a lot more — plowing through two journals in less than six months for the first time in my life of journaling, a practice I began in the way, way, way back year of 1994. I’m now scratching away with my trusty blue Papermate pen in Book No. 33 since then.

As a professional news editor, I don’t do much professional writing of my own these days, hence my return back to Ink for Blood. I need an outlet for my own creativity again, finally.

I’m ready. Even if it’s just for myself. And, hopefully, you, dear reader!

A few nuggets about me:

• I’m currently a digital news editor at The New York Post, a dream job at a paper I only dreamed about working at when I went back to school to study journalism at 27. I was the oldest intern my first paper back in Pennsylvania ever had, a badge I wore proudly — and still do.

• In the many, many years since that internship, I’ve worked as a financial, real estate, lifestyle and news reporter/editor and freelance editor and travel writer for other companies, including Metro, Facebook, Scary Mommy and TripAdvisor.

• I’m a former podcaster who started the “High Regard Show” with my husband, Tom, in 2015, which can still be found on SoundCloud and iTunes. We talked to many big-name and creative types about the things they hold in high regard — and shared our experience with Tom’s diagnosis of postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a little-known autonomic nervous system disorder.

• I am a staunch follower of the journalist’s bible, the AP Stylebook, and even consult it for personal use.

• I’m a lifelong reader, who looks forward to sharing reviews of the books I’ll be reading on these pages.

• I’m the proud mother of a rescue pit bull, Prince, who is the best and most handsome boy in the world.

• My favorite word is Egyptologist.

• I love to write haiku and tanka poetry.

• Books and newsprint are my favorite smells.

• I also pen the blogs Run, Nikki, Run, where I recently started writing again about my quest to exercise more and eat better, and Nikki & New York, my love letter to the galaxy’s greatest city, where we moved in September 2012. While this one, too, has long been dormant, I plan to resurrect it in the coming weeks.

• It’s fitting that the name of my writing blog is Ink for Blood — I have a tattoo of a quill and ink on my back, with the words “may my quill never run dry.” Those words came in a thank you note I received many years ago from one of my favorite interview subjects, a then-homeless bookbinder named Stitch, who wrote “may your quill never run dry” on paper he made.

I’ve made a career that I truly love out of using a proverbial quill, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading my words from it.

NMMR

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Writers’ Wisdom

While I very much agree with the first half of this week’s wisdom, I can’t say the same for the rest of the R/GA COO’s statement. But as a whole, it works, so here it is.

Yes, creativity is a habit. It’s something to cultivate every day, something to tend to like a beloved houseplant sitting near a sunny window.

But the shower is one of those kinda weird hotbeds of creative spurts, at least it is for me. I don’t know what it is. Maybe, depending on when you usually shower, it’s the fact that it’s a full-body cleanse of washing away of the trials and tribulations of your day/life/night.

There have been many a time that I, and the fella, too, have stormed out of the bathroom damp from a shower to relay or write something down that turned into something, whether it be a poem, article headline, website design, episode idea for our podcast or funny social media post.

I personally think that creativity happens anywhere you are — if you’re creative enough to harness it.

(pulsosocial.com photo)

(pulsosocial.com photo)

“Creativity is a habit,
it’s not something that happens in the shower.”

Nick Law

NMM

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Writers’ Wisdom

OK, so there are two reasons I chose Mr. Oscar Wilde as this week’s wisdom giver:

1. I had to go with an Irish writer being that this week’s post falls on St. Patrick’s Day because, well, duh.

2. Whether it’s long, dark poems in my trusty black-and-white speckled marble notebook or dark haikus and tankas in my speckled teal notebook, I have been finding myself writing more and more poetry lately.

While I’ve always written such poems, I’m churning some out on an almost-daily basis. It’s been a pleasant surprise, especially considering that when the going gets tough in my life, I’ve always turned straight to my journal to make sense of it all.

That’s not the case this time around as I’ve been dealing with seemingly never-ending health shit etc. and so forth, and while I’ve generally tried to keep my spirits high, shit’s been dark on the page, real dark.

Minus the sarcasm and perennial RBF, I’ve always prided myself on being generally happy-go-lucky off-paper, so it’s not a complete shock for my on-paper writing to be dark, but the shock has been how much I’ve loved writing poetry lately.

So much so that I’m thisclose to considering a poetry-writing class to build up the cojones to workshop my past and current poems and attend — and maybe (gulp) participate in — a poetry reading. As someone who’s been a professional writer for more than a decade, it might come as a surprise to find that when it comes to my personal work — as in not writing from an interview or feature or news story — I am ridiculously private and shy. The thought of getting up to read in front of others gives me the heebie jeebies, but it’s time I overcome because I think some of these recent poems could be something. Maybe.

And those that aren’t, well, I’ll let Mr. Wilde give his thoughts on them.

(toptenz.net photo)

(toptenz.net photo)

“All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.”
Oscar Wilde

NMM

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Writers’ Wisdom

(maranathachristianwriters.com)

(maranathachristianwriters.com)

“Write what you know.
Write what you want to know more about.
Write what you’re afraid to write about.”

Cec Murphey

NMM

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