Rachel Hagerman graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Arts in English (Writing, Rhetorics and Literacies) in May of 2021.
With the help of her two English major besties, Makenna Knighton and Payton Kline, Rachel founded the ASU student-run book blog, The Spellbinding Shelf, to give college students practical writing and editing skills as they build an online community for fellow book lovers.
During her time at ASU, Rachel helped spearhead projects for the university's first-year composition program as a Senior Writing Mentor. She also interned with the online literary magazine, Superstition Review, as a content coordinator, blogger, social media manager, and student editor-in-chief, where she developed a love for collaborating with authors and sharing their work with the world. Additionally, she was a publishing intern at SparkPoint Studio, where she learned how to take a book project from start to finish.
Today, she works as a Client Project Manager at MDS Communications Corporation, where she has the opportunity to help nonprofits organize their fundraising efforts so they can carry out their important work.
Spring is a perfect time for fresh starts. From spring cleaning to admiring the growth of new flowers, the season is a chance to reflect on your yearly progress and turn over a new leaf by building healthy habits. With spring right around the corner, why not take this chance to embrace the cheerful season of change and create good habits to sneak more joyful reading time into your days? Below, I’ve shared a few quick tips to help you find more reading time this spring.
Create a Bedtime Reading Routine.
Nighttime is great for reading. Not only does it give you the opportunity to relax after a long day of work, but research suggests that reading just six minutes can reduce stress levels by 68%, readying the mind for bed. (Of course, I recommend reading for longer if you can!) So, ditch the phone before bedtime and delve into your current read instead.
Bonus Tip: As you work to build this new habit, consider leaving your book on your pillow or bed stand as a reminder to read a few pages before you hit the hay.
Embrace the Audiobook Life.
Listening to stories is an age-old tradition, and the audiobook craze is the newest spin on ancient oral storytelling. Audiobooks are a great way to slip extra reading time into your day. You can listen to books during a long commute or while you cook dinner, clean the house, or run at the gym.
Not surprisingly, many bookworms take advantage of this reading opportunity. In fact, audio book sales grew nearly 25% in 2018. If you want to embrace this new audiobook life (with ancient traditions), be sure to check out your local library’s collection and free online audiobook collections. Of course, you can also purchase the newest audiobooks at several bookstores and sites too.
Find Your Book Tribe.
Friends, classmates, and teachers can help hold you accountable for meeting your reading goals. For a more structured reading routine, consider joining a book club or enrolling in a literature class for a college elective.
On top of helping you more formally commit to additional reading, book clubs and literature classes can help you find your book tribe. And, as author Gabrielle Zevin explains, “There ain’t nobody in the world like book people. It’s a business of gentlemen and gentlewomen.” You might even find your new best friend over a conversation about Jane Austen or Stephen King.
The artwork featured on our blog post above was provided by artist Deandra Lee. You can view more artwork from Lee in her online portfolio or on Instagram @dan_wonders.
Publisher: Anchor Books Genre: Nonfiction Format: Paperback Pages: 240 Buy Book My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
In this nonfiction book, journalist Jon Krakauer uncovers the story of Chris McCandless, a young man from a successful family who donates his money, abandons most of his possessions, and adopts the name “Alexander Supertramp” on an adventure across the States and into the Alaskan wilderness north of Mt. McKinley.
Four months after his descent into the wilderness, a moose hunter found his body, and several news stories follow, stirring up public criticism about his supposed reckless behavior.
Krakauer follows clues to discover more about McCandless’ adventure and to answer the questions he has about this young man. What exactly was McCandless’ motivation? How should we understand his surprising death? What can we learn from his story?
My first interaction with the true story of Alexander Supertramp was not from Krakauer’s bestseller, nor was it from the 2007 award-winning movie adaptation. Instead, I learned about his legendary travels through my older sister Jessica, who adores this story so much that she begged our parents to stop by the famous Slab City and Salton Sea (which Chris McCandless visited on his journey) on the drive home from a vacation. 11 years old at the time, I hadn’t read the book or watched the movie, nor did I appreciate this lengthy detour in our already long drive. However, it proved extremely memorable, filled with bizarre creations and interesting caricatures, including Leonard, an artist of the desert.
Now, almost a decade later, I’ve returned to the story with Krakauer’s book for a proper explanation of Chris McCandless…and a new understanding about why Jessica dragged us out an hour and a half into the middle of nowhere. (Jessica, I might not have been grateful for this detour at the time, but thanks for urging us to take this mini adventure while Leonard was still around!)
I enjoyed reading this book, not only for an explanation of this Slab City visit, but also for Krakauer’s excellent, detailed storytelling and writing style.
Krakauer’s Into the Wild is a book about a journalist’s interest in a young man’s adventure as much as it’s a story about McCandless’ travels into the wild. While it details clues about McCandless, it also provides a deep look into Krakauer himself as he reflects on why Chris’ story resonates with him so much. He even reserves two chapters to discuss his own story and the connections he feels it might have to Chris’ life.
Throughout the book, the author includes pieces of evidence to explain how he constructed an understanding of the Alexander Supertramp adventure: postcards, letters, a journal, photographs, book annotations, and several eye witness and family interviews. Later, when he tries to pinpoint the cause of Chris’ death, he even describes his encounter with researchers and critics as he explores different possible explanations. Since Krakauer unravels little pieces along the way, it sometimes reads more like a mystery than nonfiction, adding intrigue and a need to continue reading.
Each chapter begins with a passage, either from Krakauer’s own choosing or, in some cases, a passage highlighted in one of the books McCandless carried into the wild. Krakauer points out these highlighted passages to show a progression in the traveler’s ideology, ending in his famous scribbled annotation: “HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.” I found this detail extremely interesting, and, being a bookworm at heart, it makes me wonder if Chris would have drawn the same conclusion if he were carrying a different set of books with him into the wild. That is, was this revelation a discovery bound to occur from his life experiences, or were these books essential to creating this understanding?
Now that I finally took the time to appreciate a more concrete telling of McCandless’ story, I’m excited to watch the film, which gives more details about Leonard himself, to learn more about the Supertramp adventure.
If you’re not much of a nonfiction reader, it’s worth noting that the author’s prose often reads more like fiction than dry facts, which made Chris’ story beautiful and enjoyable to read. I’d recommend this book to any lover of nonfiction, adventure, or mystery.
Like any lover of books and cinema, I’m always excited to watch a film adaptation of a book I’ve finished reading. Most recently, I’ve been interested in the literary miniseries trend, where producers transform a book into several television episodes, often adding complexity to the story with additional characters and storylines. The HBO miniseries Sharp Objects, based on the book by Gillian Flynn, does exactly this.
Both the book and miniseries follow Camille Preaker, a mediocre reporter who is sent on an assignment to cover the murders of two preteen girls in her tiny hometown, Wind Gap. Camille’s editor, Curry, senses a compelling story is waiting to be uncovered in the southern town, but he also believes sending Camille to her hometown could be healing for her since she recently had a brief stay at a psych hospital after self-harming. Once in Wind Gap, Camille receives a chilling, unwelcoming greeting from her mother, meets her half-sister for the first time, and struggles to find any information on the case from townsfolk, the police, or the dapper detective from out of town. Amidst her own troublesome memory and trauma, Camille feels she must unravel the story of her town and her own past to make sense of this mystery.
While I think the miniseries was excellently cast, I think actress Patricia Clarkson (as Adora, Camille’s mother) was particularly accurate. From her appearance, to her mannerisms, costume, voice, and acting, Clarkson’s portrayal of Adora felt spot on. Clarkson captured the Adora I had imagined while reading the book, and it was amazing to see her acting on screen in this series.
While there were several changes made in the miniseries—including an additional storyline about Camille’s rehab roommate, a scene about Calhoun Day that created a toxic Southern Gothic atmosphere, and more town drama in general—I think the most substantial change between book and television was the removal of the first person narrator.
In Gillian Flynn’s novel, we receive all of our information through the mouth of Camille Preaker. On the other hand, in the HBO series, we lack this narration and are not limited to one perspective. I think this cinematic choice made Camille’s alcohol abuse much more apparent in the story. While there were certainly murmurs of alcoholism in the novel, the first person narration did not emphasize this self-medication issue as seriously as the miniseries did.
The choice to remove the first person narrator also makes it harder for the viewer to access Camille’s complex mental states. In the book, the reader gets to see Camille’s thoughts and trauma unveiled—or, at least, as unveiled as Camille is willing to let her thoughts be. In the miniseries, the viewer must rely on fairly chaotic flashbacks to Camille’s haunting memories to understand her mind instead. This reliance on flashbacks to explain Camille’s mind seems to downplay Camille’s sexual trauma, which was more apparent in the book. It also makes Camille’s mental illness more mysterious since the viewer is left to fill in his or her own conclusions.
Of course, most obviously, the miniseries’ removal of the first person narrator also allows the viewer more information to which Camille is not privy. For example, the miniseries provides much more insight into the out-of-town detective and Camille’s editor, making them both more likable characters.
Another (albeit less significant but still interesting) change was the miniseries’ inclusion of music. The soundtrack is entirely diegetic, so whenever a song is featured, it’s because a character turned on a radio, pulled out an old iPod, or started a record. In order to accomplish this feat and avoid creating a dull soundscape, the miniseries gave Alan (Adora’s husband and Camille’s stepfather) a strange obsession with music. In much of the series, the viewer finds Alan tinkering with his stereo system, turning a blind eye—and ear—to the more sinister things happening around him. The miniseries also gave Camille a cracked iPod, which belonged to her old roommate from her stay in the psychiatric hospital. These two additional items provide most of the soundtrack for the series.
In large part, I think the television series and original novel both use their literary and cinematic advantages to highlight the dangers of denial. Throughout this suspenseful story, we see both young and grown characters deny traumatic memories of rape, abuse, and bullying. We see Camille struggling to accept herself and denying vulnerability, pain, love, healing, and truth. We see a townswoman named Jackie who denies a horrible truth she has uncovered about a lifelong friend that she refuses to reveal. And we see the town denying the reality of the two murders as they place more importance on maintaining their own social reputation and standing.
I usually say the book is better than the film adaptation, but I think this HBO miniseries gave Sharp Objects a run for its money. All the same, I recommend starting with the book so you have the opportunity to see dreary, ominous Wind Gap through Camille’s own eyes first.
Network: HBO No. of episodes: 8 Rating: TV–MA Main actors: Amy Adams (as Camille Preaker), Patricia Clarkson (as Adora Crellin), Eliza Scanlen (as Amma Crellin)
Each year, Arizona’s Maricopa County Library District kicks off the summer with a reading program designed to encourage literacy in young students with reading challenges and prizes.
This winter, the library district has created its very own reading program just for adults! Targeted at helping foster a lifelong habit of reading daily, the library challenges adults to log at least 20 minutes of reading daily through February 16.
By meeting reading goals and logging reading time online, adult readers can earn points, unlock badges, and win prizes. And, if you log at least 60 minutes each week , you have a chance to win an awesome weekly prize. Or, if you log at least 500 minutes before February 16, you have a chance to win tickets and a suite for a Spring Training game at Camelback Ranch-Glendale or a Maricopa County Parks Annual Day-Use Pass.
The reading program also offers a selection of unique reading challenges to earn reading points, like the Audiobook challenge, Books to Film in 2020 challenge, and the New Year, “New” Book Challenge.
To register for the reading program, visit your local Maricopa County Library, or click here.
Publisher: Algonquin Books, 2014 Genre: Contemporary Fiction Format: Audiobook Time Length: 7 hours, 2 minutes Narrated by Scott Brick Buy Book My Rating: 5/5 stars
With pitiful book sales, the theft of his most prized rare book, and the loss of his beloved wife, irritable A.J. Fikry begins to dread his life as the sole bookstore owner of Alice Island.
Soon though, a mysterious woman leaves a toddler in Fikry’s bookstore with a simple note: “I want Maya to grow up in a place with books and among people who care about such kinds of things. I love her very much, but I can no longer take care of her.”
As A.J. searches for Maya’s mother, befriends a local cop, and reaches out for childcare help, Fikry begins a journey of transformation that catches the attention of his local book readers as well as the eccentric Knightley Press sale rep, Amelia Loman.
I picked up an audiobook version of this novel after a good friend from our Spellbinding team recommended it to me. (Thank you, Payton, our lovely Managing Editor!)
Listening to this audiobook during my long commutes made me excited to drive to and from school. If you are not a local reader, I can assure you that traffic in the Phoenix area isn’t exactly a pleasant experience. Side effects include grumpiness, checking the time incessantly, boredom, and annoyance. While I might be dramatizing the state of Phoenix’s rush hour traffic, claiming that The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry made my commute enjoyable is, without a doubt, some high literary praise.
Aside from the immediate entertainment value, I adored this book for its narrator’s unabashed quirkiness and love for books. I felt as if I could befriend both A.J. and the book’s narrator, and I could see them fitting in well with the college and literary community here in Phoenix. There were murmurs of bookish preferences throughout the entire novel, from small praises of authors like Flannery O’Connor to an abrupt and hilarious quip about a well-known thriller author using a ghostwriter. Zevin is even comfortable and masterful enough to playfully poke fun at her story’s own intentional cliches.
On top of winning me over for its clear focus on books and the reading life, I easily fell in love with the novel’s main characters. When lovable characters were in pain, my heart sank; and when they triumphed, my heart soared.
I will say, some of the plot was fairly predictable, but certainly not in a disappointing way. It was more a mark of good craftsmanship, as Fikry might suggest.
This book is absolutely perfect for any bookworm with a hunger for literary references and a good story. Any book lover will feel right at home in the cozy bookstore of A.J. Fikry with its stacks of ARCs, Moby Dick-themed restaurant, and both disastrous and successful literary events.
And since I can only imagine A.J. Fikry himself would be appalled at my choice to include an audiobook (Heavens! At least I didn’t include information for an ebook!), I’ll include a link to a locally-sold paperback as well.
It’s hard to believe how quickly this year has flown by! Before we head out to celebrate the new year and make those New Year’s resolutions, we thought we’d take a moment to reflect on 2019 and the gorgeous reads we’ve discovered. Each of our bloggers and editors have reflected on all the books—both old and new—they’ve read in the last 12 months and have chosen one book to highlight that impacted them most this 2019 calendar year. We hope this list inspires you to pick up a new book for your 2020 TBR list. Until then, The Spellbinding Shelf wishes you all another fantastic year filled with happy memories, adventures, time with family and friends, and—of course—lots of good books!
Staff Writer Roxanne Bingham
Harlan Coben’s Run Away follows Simon Greene as he tries to find his eldest daughter, Paige, who has become addicted to drugs and her terrible boyfriend. When her boyfriend winds up dead, Simon and his wife team up to find Paige and encounter danger along the way. With two other stories interwoven, the mystery complicates and leads the reader to wonder why Paige spiraled and how the characters are all connected. As the mystery unravels, so does Simon’s life as he knows it, with secrets about his wife coming to the surface.
I love everything Coben writes, but I really enjoyed this one because it highlights familial love and what one is willing to do to save their child. We receive clues as the characters do, making it a real page turner to get to the heart of the mystery. For any crime novel or mystery lovers, I definitely recommend Run Away!
Staff Writer Abhilasha Mandal
Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 is about two people in Japan, Tengo and Aomame, who are pulled into a dystopian world parallel to the year 1984, where a series of inexplicable events envelops them and they are left wondering if time itself isn’t a loop in the world they nickname 1Q84.
It is so rare to find a book written for an adult audience that employs elements of fantasy that I recoiled in surprise when I first reached the page that revealed the supernatural theme of the novel.
The story is so captivating and unpredictable that for two whole chapters I found myself questioning which of the two worlds was “real.” This is a must-read for fans of fantastical thrillers.
Staff Writer Brandi Martinez
Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous presents a letter to a mother who might never read the message’s contents because she cannot read English. This makes the outpouring of Vuong’s heart even more poignant. In this exposed and emotional account of the author’s life growing up with a single mother, he examines their relationship and how these experiences have shaped his view of the world. The author knows that he may never receive answers to the many open-ended questions which he asks his mother throughout the work, but his need to voice these questions is laced through the memories which he recounts.
Vuong utilizes the beauty of the poetic language to weave together the pieces of his youth. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is at once urgent in its need to find meaning in the memories, and languid in its wandering quality which relishes the moments for their own unique beauty. I was entranced by both the beauty of Vuong’s words as well as the sincerity and openness of his self-perspective. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to swim in a sea of haunting beauty and fearlessness.
Staff Writer Jade Stanton
Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time provides an summative explanation of the history and theories behind our current understanding of the universe. Hawking’s aim was to create a book to explain complex theories that could be understood by anyone with an eighth grade understanding of math and physics.
Hawking’s book, although published in 1988, is my staff pick for the year mainly because of the advancements made in our understanding of the universe in recent times, specifically the first photographed picture of a black hole taken on April 10th of this year. It is these advancements that show just how important it is for all people to have a basic understanding of the theories and concepts at work, so that they can better understand the importance of the discoveries being made today. Although Hawking has since passed, his work in the field (and in our lives) has remained extremely relevant, and we owe him so much for our current understanding of the world around us.
Staff Writer Edward Dolehanty
Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir, In the Dream House, explores Machado’s experience in a same-sex relationship that featured domestic abuse as well as the cannon of domestic abuse in lesbian relationships. Full of emotional depth and imaginatively told, this story attempts to show an aspect of the underbelly of modern queer culture through Machado’s personal story, literary and film criticism, and through the dissection of pop-culture.
I love this book because like Machado’s previous work, Her Body and Other Parties, it is unlike anything that I have read before. As soon as I was finished reading it I wanted to start reading it again. The world which Machado creates and so elaborately and seamlessly weaves together is equally impressive and immersive. While the story comes from her distinctly queer perspective, that is not to say that there is not something in this book for everyone as it shines light upon the emotional traumas that unfold in our everyday lives.
Communications Coordinator Makenna Knighton
Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward follows a girl named Spensa who wants nothing more than to be a pilot and clear her father’s name. However, she almost misses the test to get into flight school because she finds M-Bot, an abandoned starship, while exploring—and Spensa’s challenges only get more difficult from there. While juggling escapes with M-Bot, tensions with her classmates, and her own impulsiveness, Spensa discovers important truths about herself and her surroundings, making it through to the surprising future after an engaging journey.
I love how this novel blends the science fiction and young adult genres, like Ender’s Game and How to Train Your Dragon combined at Star Trek’s Starfleet Academy. With perfect pacing through the pleasantly long and thought-provoking narrative, you won’t want to miss Spensa’s riveting adventure—and the sequel, Starsight, released last month!
Managing Editor Payton Kline
Wendy Webb’s Daughters of the Lake begins when a perfectly-preserved body washes up on the beach near Kate Granger’s childhood home along the North Shore of Lakes Superior—but, the body has been dead for nearly 100 years, and Kate’s family had something to do with it. Through a series of dreams and stories told through Kate and the murdered woman, Addie’s, eyes readers see this chilling story unfold in the most unexpected and deliciously uncanny ways.
For those of you who have read the blog before, you know that I adore the Minnesotan author Wendy Webb—so it will come as no surprise that my absolute favorite read of 2019 was her newest book, Daughters of the Lake. With characters that still cross my mind to this day, a setting so gorgeous yet so ominous, and a plot so compelling that I often read into the early morning hours, I cannot sing high enough praises for this newest novel from the queen of Northern Gothic herself. For those of you looking for an entertaining, yet thought-provoking book to kick off the new year, look no further than Daughters of the Lake.
Editor-in-Chief Rachel Hagerman
Tara Westover’s Educated traces Westover’s journey from living with a survivalist family in the states without any formal education to earning a PhD from Cambridge University. This memoir reflects on Tara’s childhood working alongside six siblings in a dangerous scrapyard managed by her domineering father and learning from her talented healer and midwife mother. From here, it follows her departure from home into the seemingly secular world for education at BYU followed by Cambridge.
I heard numerous wonderful things about this popular memoir while I waited until it was finally available for pickup at my local library. I have to admit that I was suspicious that the book wouldn’t live up to the hype, but I was pleasantly proven wrong. I absolutely loved Westover’s writing style and reflection. I appreciated her brutal honesty about her mental states and her reactions to defining moments in her coming-of-age story. I found her educational journey inspiring and her relationship to faith, and the people who abuse faith, heart-wrenching.
The artwork featured on our blog post above was provided by local artist Bruce Black. You can view more artwork from Black at bruceblackart.com or on Instagram @bruceblackart.
ASU professor and poet Patricia Colleen Murphy will read from her second poetry collection, Bully Love, at Changing Hands Bookstore this upcoming Saturday.
The collection won the 2019 Press 53 Award for Poetry, and it offers glimpses into the harsh but beautiful Sonoran Desert, painful but important memories, and an unexpected but powerful love for landscape and people.
Check out a book review of Bully Love by Spellbinding Shelf’s editor-in-chief here.
Changing Hands Phoenix and the ASU Center of Science and the Imagination (Go, Sun Devils!) are partnering to celebrate the launch of Future Tense Fiction: Stories of Tomorrow, a new science fiction short story collection. The anthology explores the consequences—good and bad—of change and what tomorrow might bring for humankind. Authors Paolo Bacigalupi and Maureen F. McHugh—two of the contributors in this anthology—will be joining Changing Hands and ASU for the book launch.
Paolo Bacigalupi is the author of The Windup Girl, Ship Breaker,The Drowned Cities, Zombie Baseball Beatdown, The Doubt Factory, The Water Knife, and Tool of War. His work has won a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award and has been nominated for three Nebula Awards and four Hugo Awards.
Maureen F. McHugh is the author of China Mountain Zhang, After the Apocalypse,Nekropolis,Half the Day Is Night,Mission Child, and Mothers and Other Monsters. She lives, writes, and teaches scriptwriting in Los Angeles, California.
Interview with Author & Photographer Anna Jean Ouellette
Meet Anna Jean Oulette, a local author and photographer from sunny Arizona! Anna is the author of the Raz series, Soft Soul, and 46 Miles. She is currently working on her sixth book.
1. You’ve already published five books in the past six years, which is certainly a very fast pace! How were you able to keep up this writing speed and motivation? Do you have a regular writing routine?
My writing routine has changed a lot throughout the years. In high school I used to wake up at four o’clock in the morning to walk to the nearest coffee shop and write my stories. Since I was such a morning person, this was a regular routine for me and not a difficult one either. However, when I started college, I no longer had the motivation to wake up at four in the morning, and my writing routine began to slack a lot.
Now, I work full time at a daycare for some extra money, so when my two year olds nap each day, I use that opportunity to write. Even though that is only an hour a day, versus the two to three hours that I used to commit, sometimes even more, words still get on a page, and my creative outlet continues to thrive. Writer’s block is definitely something that has existed, especially when writing 46 Miles. However, I usually overcome it by skipping whatever scene I am working on and writing a future chapter, which excites me enough to continue my current scene.
2. You began writing at a very young age, with your first novel, Raz, published at age 14. Now, six years later, have you noticed any changes in your approach to or relationship with writing?
I unfortunately write considerably less now than I did when I was fourteen. I used to sit in my room all day, challenging myself to test how many words I could write in a single day, one time reaching 20,000 as I was writing Izz. Now, I typically only write 1,000 words a week, but I definitely have a lot more in my life to balance now with two full time jobs, my family, planning a wedding, and writing. I wish I still had as much free time to spend writing, but I definitely take what I can get and make the best of it.
3. How did writing your first book compare to writing your subsequent novels? Did the writing process get easier or did you face any unique challenges with your later writing?
One challenge that presents itself when writing each new book is the need to grow. Each new book needs to be better than the book before, but I think my stories have definitely improved since Raz. There was slightly less pressure when writing my first book both because of that reason and because now people are waiting for the next book to be published. It has been a year and a half since 46 Miles was published, and the pressure of having to finish my next book before people forget about that one sometimes outweighs how much enjoyment I get out of writing. It’s definitely different to write with other people’s opinions in mind, rather than just writing for the sake of the story.
4. Your first book was the product of a NaNoWriMo project, which is a writing challenge to complete a novel of 50,000+ words during November, or National Novel Writing Month. Some writers criticize this challenge, arguing that the process doesn’t encourage enough reflection time. Yet, other writers praise NaNoWriMo, saying that it gives them the motivation they need to devote their time to a single creative project. In fact, several amazing published works started as NaNoWriMo’s, including Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and—of course—your very first novel! What are your thoughts on the NaNoWriMo process? Do you think the challenge helped your writing endeavors?
I absolutely love NaNoWriMo! I have always been very competitive, so the challenge to write 50,000 words in a month definitely stuck out to me! I did it with some friends, so my competitive side made sure I was always ahead of them and on track to finish. I got trifold boards and planned out all my characters and a basic plot line during October and then actually began the writing process on November 1st. I think having some aspects planned out ahead of time helped a fair amount. This challenge definitely helped me write Raz, and then I made my own personal goals for Izz and Adz. I wrote Izz in a month, as well, and Adz in three weeks. I spent a much longer time revising the second two books, however.
5. In addition to being a published author, you are also the photographer behind AJ Photography, where you capture headshots, senior portraits, wedding events, maternity photography, as well as photos for couples, newborns, families, models, and more. Do you notice any connections between your creative work as an author and as a photographer?
I brainstorm creative ideas in the same way for photo shoots as I do for my books. I get my inspiration from dreams, things other people say, and ideas that I randomly get and pick apart, until they become an entirely different idea. I am constantly daydreaming, and these daydreams are what turn into my stories and photo concepts.
6. Although most of your photography is professional work, one of the photo collections that stuck out to me most was your creative project—the Invisible Illness Project—which portrayed eight different mental illnesses in an attempt to defy our modern misconceptions. Can you share a little bit about your creative process in this work? How did you decide the ways you wanted to depict these illnesses?
I definitely got a lot of help from both friends and the internet when brainstorming for this idea. I chose models who have struggled with (or known someone who has struggled with) one or more of the mental illnesses that I chose. The models were then able to help better the ideas that I already had and bring them to life. When I displayed these pieces of art in the RAW Phoenix Gallery, I received enormous appreciation for my work, and many people said that they were able to relate to each piece.
7. And, finally, we like to ask all of our featured authors to share their current read. Are you reading anything exciting at the moment?
My latest read is Different by Janet McLaughlin. It’s definitely an easier read, good for younger ages, but is about a girl with Tourette Syndrome, something I struggle with personally and that very few people write about in books. This author is amazing because she is helping spread awareness and overcome misconceptions of Tourette’s. I think that is why this book speaks to me so profoundly, even though it is written for a younger audience.
Learn more about Ouellette’s books here. You can also view her photography website here.
In honor of National Classical Music Month, we’d like to share some beautiful instrumental songs that were inspired by gorgeous books! We’ve even prepared a Spotify playlist for you that is the perfect length for a long commute to and from school or work. We hope you enjoy reading and listening along to some beautiful literary tunes.
Perhaps one of the most exciting ways books influence and inspire composers is in the creation of musicals. Take for example, how the composers of Les Miserables,Ragtime, and The Hunchback of Notre Dameeach captured the raw emotion of their respective fictional characters. Whether you’re listening (or singing along to) Éponine’s tears over Marius, Tateh’s excitement about his new home in America, or the gorgeous choral singers at Notre Dame, musicals have a special sort of literary magic that is distinct from other genres of music.
As a former orchestra member (Do I have any fellow violists out there?), I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about how literature has been an integral part of classical music. The first influential story that comes to mind is William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Tchaikovsky’s “Fantasy Overture” is an absolute masterpiece and my personal favorite musical take on Shakespeare’s writing. Hungarian composer Franz Liszt’s “Faust Symphony” is equally as fascinating. In this work, Liszt creates three character sketches from Goethe’s Faust: Faust, Gretchen, and Mephistopheles. Instead of recreating the drama’s plot, as many other composers do when inspired by a work of literature, Liszt writes musical portraits that explore the three unique fictional characters.
Operas lend themselves well to literary inspiration, needing dramatic narrative and compelling, emotional characters. Verdi adored Macbeth so much that he composed a four act opera that begins with an appropriately dramatic overture. Henry Purcell used opera to capture the betrayal of Aeneas to Dido from The Aeneid. What better way to musically express the stormy drama in these works than elaborate operatic arias?
Combining both music and dance, ballet is another beautiful art form that can benefit from literary motivation. For example, Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty inspired Tchaikovsky to compose the famous waltz in his “Sleeping Beauty.” (Also, can we take a moment to appreciate how well-read Tchaikovsky must have been to make all of his literary references?) Prokofiev tackles the classic Romeo and Juliet in his ballet, which he ended up using to build three orchestral suites and a solo piano piece later on in his life. I have to say, my favorite part of Prokofiev’s work is the scene where Tybalt recognizes Romeo. That particularly catchy song has definitely been stuck in my head a couple times!
What’s a play without a little musical accompaniment? Shakespeare is once again an influential force in the musical arena. Several of his plays are accompanied by well-composed music. In fact, Robert Johnson, an English composer and lutenist, is well-known for working directly for Shakespeare to provide music, like “Galliard” and “Full Fathom Five,” for his plays. Mendelssohn is another Shakespeare-admirer known for his music composed to accompany Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.