Author Archives: Alisa O'Donnell

About Alisa O'Donnell

I am an alumna of Western Washington University, born and raised on the Puget Sound. I live in Modesto, California with my husband and my cat, reading books and writing anything.

Entering a new world

Lately I’ve been working on doing only one thing at a time. For example, if I’m watching TV, I’m trying not to be on my phone, or checking my phone while reading. And while I’ve only just started writing again, I’m definitely going to carve out specific time for it, without other distractions.

Most of last week was spent working on the beginnings of an outline for my newest project. It’s only partial, and not overly detailed, but it’s enough to start from.

Set in a dystopian world (which, I always thought I didn’t like, but, turns out it’s just specific kinds of dystopian stories I don’t like. Usually the predictable and boring ones.), society is broken into two groups: those who live in the cities, connected to technology through, essentially, virtual reality, and the fringe society who lives outside the cities, living off the land and as much without technology as possible. This fringe society generally believes themselves to be better than the city folk, who spend all their time creating fake worlds and fake identities to live in.

Aliyah (I think I’ve chosen this as her name. It’s what I’ve begun using, anyway) is part of the fringe society, and while she recognizes some truth in what her leaders say, she also finds herself discontent with the way they live, turning their backs on most advancements and help, because it isn’t done with a person’s own two hands.

She’s on the verge of being ostracized because of her love for books, and it’s this same love for books that causes her to cross paths with a city girl during a scavenging mission. This city girl (name unknown, at the moment) is also discontent (surprise!), finding it hard to have meaningful and genuine relationships in a virtual world where a person can recreate themselves at will. It’s impossible to know who anyone truly is. The two determine to find a middle ground, and try to make both halves of society recognize the benefits of the other, while also seeing the flaws in themselves.

 

When I started writing the first chapter, I was surprised at how much I wanted to lose myself in the world and in my writing (though it was hard because other stuff was going on in the background). I only wrote a couple paragraphs, but it was enough to help me remember what it feels like to get lost in creativity.

I know that as the days and weeks go on, it’ll be a challenge to make myself set aside specific time for just writing. It’ll be tempting to turn on the TV and pretend that I can watch something and write at the same time (I can’t, and I’ve always known I can’t. That’s why I used to pretend to study with the TV on during finals, because I felt obligated to study, but I knew I didn’t really need it.). But, as long as I keep making it a priority, even just 15 minutes in a day, I’ll hang on to that feeling of getting lost in this new world of my own creation. And that’s exactly what I’ve been missing lately. I’m glad to have that joy back.

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Learning to Fly

Do you ever read a book that makes you want to absolutely uproot your life and go chase an outlandish dream? That’s how I feel when I read Steph Davis’ books.

A well-known climber and skydiver/base jumper, Steph Davis lives the adventurer’s dream, going wherever she wants, attacking whatever project catches her fancy, and not weighed down by the mundane everyday trivialities of a job (at least not for very long, only until she’s boosted her bank account enough to afford getting back out into nature).

In Learning to Fly, her second book, Davis opens with honesty, sharing a pretty raw look at what her life looked like when she hit rock bottom. With no where to go but up, Davis went about as high as one can–channeling her emotion into a single-minded dedications learning and mastering first skydiving then BASE jumping.

Davis takes readers along in her journey of healing, wrestling with fear and learning to stretch in new ways. Davis’ second memoir is an emotional roller coaster, full of inspiring moments of overcoming, as well as moments of despair and sorrow. I wasn’t quite prepared for it, when I dove into the book. But Davis’ honesty within her writing strikes a nerve, and I think even people who aren’t into outdoor adventures can relate to the emotions Davis shares in her book.

Each time I’ve read a book by Davis, it’s made me want to quit my job and go live out of my car, exploring nature and climbing anything and everything I can. This book in particular struck a cord, Davis’ journey to rediscover herself and her purpose feeling extremely relatable right now. Not gonna lie, part of me feels like I might find myself if I look 14,000 feet in the sky. But, I’m not sure taking up skydiving is the answer right now, no matter how fun it might be.

I’ve got the adventure bug something awful now, thanks to Davis’ book. And more than that, I know how being outside allows the simplicity and beauty of nature to put the rest of life into perspective. Coming into a fresh new year, that’s exactly what I’m looking for.

New year, new projects

I’ve never really been one for New Year’s Resolutions, but I can’t deny that the start of a new year makes the perfect time to think about what I want to accomplish in the coming year, and to set some goals, even if I refuse to call them by the same name everyone else does.

Last year felt like I wrote the least I’ve even written in my life. I struggled to get motivated with projects, I skipped NaNo, and even though I did get a short story published, that little burst of motivation and pride lasted only a week or two.

I journaled semi-regularly to try to help quiet my mind and my anxiety before bed, but even that felt like a chore some times.

Overall, last year was just hard. It was full of ups and downs, my husband putting out job applications, waiting, hoping, being let down, and waiting some more. Last year, everything felt draining. I just wanted to lose myself in worlds of someone else’s making whenever I had free time. I watched a lot of tv and I read a lot of books (62, to be exact).

This year, I feel better. I’m getting to a better mental place, slowly, and I’m recognizing my creativity as a necessary part of that process. Last year felt like I wasn’t passionate about anything. But, I’m ready to pursue my passions again. I’m ready to set goals, to have dreams (small ones to start with), and to start achieving things again.

I know that I’m starry-eyed right now, forgetting (ignoring) the fact that writing is hard work, and that I’ll want to quit a lot. But, I’ve got a few ideas I’m excited about. And if I make a point to work just a little bit a few times a week, it’s a starting point.

I’ve already started fleshing out my first idea, and I intend to at least start a detailed outline this week, if not dive right in to the writing. I love seeing the worlds other people create, but I’m ready to start creating my own again.

Several people will be excited to know that I’ve got an idea on how to make my published short story, Hope Unchained, into something longer and more detailed. It’s only in early stages of plotting, but the general idea is there. We’ll see if it can live up to your expectations.

The Fork, The Witch and the Worm

When I heard Christopher Paolini was returning to the world of Alagaësia, I was really excited, though I didn’t quite know what to expect. Now that I’ve read The Fork, the Witch and the Worm, I think there’s a couple things to know before you pick it up.

While I knew from the beginning that this wasn’t simply a continuation of Eragon’s story, part d me still assumed it was, I think.

Instead, we get a brief look at Eragon holed up in the Easter Reaches, little snapshots before being shown three different little stories. The first is a glimpse of what Murtagh is up to, just enough to make you wish you had a full story on him post-Inheritance.

The second little story is a scattered bit of biography by Angela the herbalist (written by Paolini’s sister, the inspiration behind the character). And while I think many of us would also enjoy a full story of Angela’s, I personally felt this section was largely nonsense, neither giving insight to the character, nor really furthering any part of the story or series.

The final story was an Urgal legend, and it was probably the best bit, though maybe a little longer than it needed to be. It was the story of a young urgal and her long-standing vendetta against the dragon who wreaked havoc on her village. Of all the stories in this anthology, this one made sense to have among the brief glimpses of Eragon’s new life, as we see him learning a lesson from the story and recognizing that there will always be some challenge to face, even after you’ve defeated one.

All in all, I think it wasn’t the book we wanted. It wasn’t quite a book of histories or legends, which would have been interesting (thinking Tolkien’s works relating to the Lord of the Rings), but it wasn’t really a story about Eragon and the world we grew up with and loved. It comes across as a collection of tidbits that didn’t find their way into the series.

I’m indifferent about it, to be honest. It’s a short book and a quick read, and if you love the world, I’d say read it. But at the same time, it’s not crucial, nor a must read for all fans of the series. I think it could have been more, even without being a full continuation of the story. And that’s a hardest part, I think. I was excited for something new from a world I loved, but change a few words and terms, and the stories could have been pieces of any fantasy story. It wasn’t fleshed out enough to really feel like Alagaësia.

Series Review: The Inheritance Cycle

I remember when I first read Eragon, I immediately loved it. I devoured the series as it came out, but somehow I never read the final book.

When I learned a few months ago that Christopher Paolini was returning to the world of Alagaësia with a new book, it seemed like the perfect time to reread the books and finally finish the series.

The Inheritance Cycle follows the life of Eragon, a young boy growing up in a rural farm who suddenly finds himself in possession of a beautiful blue gemstone. The stone turns out to be a dragon egg, and Eragon is suddenly thrust into the world of his namesake, a dragon rider who helped keep the peace long ago. Now, with the help of the village bard, Eragon must avoid being captured by his enemies at the same time learning how to control his new abilities.

In the second and third books, Eragon has allied with the various races to fight against.m the evil king, once a dragon rider who went mad when his dragon was killed. Eragon and his dragon Saphira have found teachers hidden among the elves, but with his allies ready to invade the empire, Eragon must rush to join them, or concede defeat before they’ve even fought.

In the final book, with invasion under way, Eragon and his allies still have no plan on how to defeat the ever-stronger king. The invading army can’t delay facing the king forever, and Eragon has to give everything he has to defeating the king, even if it turns out not to be enough.

I’d heard people say that it was clear in the last book that Paolini was ready to be done with the series, which was originally supposed to be a trilogy instead of a quartet. What I noticed, finally reading it an eternity later, was that in some places it felt drawn out, as though he felt pressured to reach a certain length. And the ending in particular felt not quite cobbled together, but rushed. While I liked that he wanted to have a better ending than simply the final battle, it felt like a quick recap of the next several months, instead of doing like a six months later epilogue.

All in all, I still love the series. And while I can spot the similarities to Lord of the Rings and even some to Harry Potter, I think it still holds its own as a series. It’s a fun series full of action and character growth, but one that you can get through a little easier, in case the classics are a little daunting.

I also enjoy seeing the growth of Paolini as an author. The difference between the first book and the fourth is not big in terms of style or voice, but the writing is smoother, with a more natural flow that comes I think with practice and experience.

I’m not quite sure what this new book will be. I’d first thought it was going to be life and history, but upon further research, it looks like it may be a continuation, to a degree, along with some side stories. And, as it always is with series, it could either be really great, or really bad. Either way, I’m excited to read it. Sometimes it’s nice to return to your childhood, even if it’s only for a few hundred pages.

The Nutcracker

A lot of retail workers avoid everything Christmas related, simply because we’re inundated for a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. And while sometimes I do get fed up with the chaos of the season, I do enjoy Christmas when I’m not at work. And that means squeezing in one or two holiday books toward the end of the year.

I’ve seen the Nutcracker play once or twice, but I never really knew its origins until I snagged a copy to read.

The story was first written by Ernst Hoffman, but it didn’t gain a lot of traction until Alexandre Dumas adapted the story to appeal more to children. It later attracted the attention of the Russian theater and became the story we all know and, mostly, love.

In the book, Mary and Fritz are eagerly anticipating Christmas and their new, elaborate gifts from Godfather Drosselmayer. One gift, given them to share, is an ugly Nutcracker, which Mary takes an unusual liking to. She stays up late tucking her dolls and the Nutcracker in for the night, and finds herself suddenly in the middle of battle between the toys and the rats. From there, Mary starts to learn the history of her Nutcracker, and the war. Mary is the key to winning and breaking the curse put on the Nutcracker.

All in all, the story captured by the ballet is the full story, though it maybe a little more fleshed out in the book (and I’m not sure why the girl’s name is changed to Clara, because Clara is just a snooty doll…). But it’s a fun, quick little read to get you into the holiday spirit. And even though it will probably never be relevant to life, I’m glad to know the origins of the story and ballet.

Then She Was Gone

I’d been trying to work my way through a sci-go book and finally gave up and decided to start Watching You by Lisa Jewell. Literally within 24 hours of that decision, my mother-in-law has sent Then She Was Gone home with my husband for me. So, it seemed a sign that it was time to get in to Lisa Jewell’s books.

Then She Was Gone is the story of Laurel Mack, mother of three who is still coping with the aftermath of her 15-year-old daughter’s disappearance 10 years ago. People don’t just vanish into thin air, but Ellie did, and Laurel’s life fell apart.

Now she’s finally getting a degree of closure, or was, until she meets her new boyfriend’s daughter, who looks remarkably like Ellie. As little clues start revealing themselves, Laurel begins to see a whole new story surrounding Ellie’s disappearance, one that affirms her disbelief in the police’s runaway narrative. But in the end, will the truth be the closure she seeks, or will it wreck her life anew?

Right off, I liked this book better than Watching You. I liked the storyline better, and I liked that we didn’t have a main character claiming they were genetically hardwired to make bad decisions, essentially.

In what I’ve come to recognize as her style, Jewell drops enough hints to lead you to her conclusion, but keeps enough hidden so that the story could go several ways. She keeps you uncertain, reevaluating your assumptions with each new revelation, and I like that. Her short chapters make the book seem to go by that much quicker, and make it perfect for fitting one or two in during a 15-minute break at work.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed my experience with Lisa Jewell, and she’ll definitely be an author I both recommend, and keep an eye out for when the opportunity comes to get new books.