Book Review: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Lately I’ve been craving horror and suspense novels as if they were going out of style. Of course, nowadays it seems that everything horror related is banal and splattered with cliches. It’s safe to say that finding a good horror novel (or movie, I might add) is as hard as finding a needle in a haystack. That’s where Paul Tremblay steps in with his novel A Head Full of Ghosts.

I’m all about the paranormal and weird shit that goes bump in the night. It’s really thanks to my overactive imagination, which lets me see creatures peeking out of closets and hiding behind corners as if they were as real as you and me. Unfortunately, my imagination isn’t always a positive attribute, especially coupled with my overanalyzing personality, but it does make for easier enjoyment from even crappy horror novels and movies. The chance of being scared is more likely for those who just believe in everything (also known as gullible). Thankfully, my imagination doesn’t prevent me from realizing when I’ve stumbled upon a good horror and suspense novel that will keep one turning pages until its finished. Tremblay’s was definitely that kind of read.

A Full Head Of Ghosts photo from multimedia.

A Full Head Of Ghosts photo from multimedia.

I was skeptical that I would get bombarded with the typical paranormal shit that is a part of every exorcist tale, and I was definitely right. However, Tremblay takes all those details and makes them new. It wasn’t the usual “girl is possessed, so some priest comes and does some weird shit to her” read that I was expecting. Instead, from the perspective of a child, Tremblay lets the reader live through the horrors (heh) that engulf a family as they deal with child meltdowns and economic troubles. We are Merry, outside in New England November, kicking a soccer ball. And if a writer can make me think I am living with the characters, than that’s some good storytelling.

Unfortunately, with these great chunks of texts that made me stay up at night turning pages came some weird, out of nowhere blog-style writing that I wasn’t thrilled about. Although they aren’t a huge part of the reading, they would take you out of the bubble the rest of the story kept you in, and I found it hard to stay connected with what was happening. Maybe it just isn’t my cup of tea, but if I wanted to read blog-style writing (which wasn’t really that great, to be honest), I would go to my old Xanga page or LiveJournal posts I did when I was thirteen.


With that said, I do believe this is a novel that should be read by those looking for some new take on paranormal and/or exorcist stories. Even with its bit of faults, the story could sweep you back into the fold quickly. Then, you can continue to cringe at the images Tremblay made for you, while also realizing how crazy people can really get.

And the ending? You’ll have to let me know what you think!

You can purchase A Head Full of Ghosts here or here.


What to Read on a 15 Hour Flight?!

This summer, I headed to China and Thailand to visit my boyfriend and work as an English Camp teacher. My time in China was extremely eye-opening (for a variety of reasons) and I loved every minute of it. However, the traveling to and from Asia was brutal to say the least. For those of you that may not know, I live in Boston, MA. That makes me approximately 6,000 miles from my destination of Qingdao, China. I am twelve hours behind and basically living a day before them. If you have ever traveled across the world, then you know the pain and sleep-deprivation one is exposed to on such epic journeys.

Time is weird and I don’t fully understand it (if I can admit that without seeming uneducated or stupid), but you never really notice its importance until you’re suspended in some time vortex flying across over the world. I remember booking my flight and seeing the daunting number that indicated how long I was going to be on a plane – sitting with a barely reclinable seat, no internet , and stuck in a row with limited bathroom access. I was flying straight from Boston to Hong Kong: no stops.


I’m the kind of person who can barely sleep on planes. Instead, I slowly zombify and half watch whatever selection of movies are available, fidgeting endlessly and wasting the hours away. But for my longest flight yet – over 15 hours straight – I didn’t want to spend it uncomfortably shifting around and unintentionally annoying my neighbors. Cue: reading.

You’d think that I would have picked this choice ages ago, having traveled a good chunk in these last few years. But, nothing has ever been as intimidating as my flight to China. Sure, I’ve read books on planes and written some basic poems/stories. Yet, the flights only lasted up to 7 hours (and I have managed to binge watch series for longer periods than that – thank you, Netflix). Nevertheless, I just could not imagine myself watching whatever was available for that long, so I knew I had to find something else to do to stay occupied.

What I Considered When Choosing a Book

I’m a thinker by nature, so there was a lot of things I had to consider about the book that would sustain me for 15 hours. There are tons and tons of books out there, so this wasn’t an easy task. As I’ve shared before, choosing a book is a struggle for me; it takes me hours just to narrow down my search. But I knew there were a few things I had to consider that would make my search a bit easier:


1. I needed a book that would last me the entire flight.
Page length was a major issue in choosing a book. I’m a rather slow reader, so my options were pretty wide for book selections, but even I can get through a 300-page book in the time allotted. I needed something long enough to get me to Hong Kong. Although the chance of me reading for 15 hours straight wasn’t quite high, I didn’t want to take any chances. What if my TV screen didn’t work? What is my headphones broke? What if there wasn’t anything good to watch? What if, what if, what if…

2. I did not want a book extremely complex.
Because I would be confined to my seat for most of the flight (I was sitting by the window, which is both a good and bad thing), trying to focus on complex plots, deep analogies, and big words didn’t seem like the best route. Sure, it would keep me focused on something, but once that restlessness kicked in and I slowly drowned in insomnia, I knew I would regret my decision. Just imagine trying to read and understand philosophical concepts when you can barely move and running on “e.”alejandroescamilla-book3. I needed a book that wasn’t too simple.
From one end of the spectrum to the other, a book too simple would be a huge failure. A plot that required little to no thinking would lose my interest and I would be back to square one. I would also probably finish it quickly and have nothing else to do (if the TV didn’t work, headphone broke, etc.). Or, even worse for my frugal lifestyle, I would have to buy multiple books, which would be so bad if I wasn’t always tight on money.

4. I wanted a book that steered clear of anxiety-inducing issues.
I sometimes struggle with anxiety, and I knew that having an anxiety attack on a place would be the worst thing ever. Trying to stay in control of your emotions while they decide they have a mind of their own is hard enough, nevermind while you are in the middle of the air, cut off from the world, and trapped by the window seat. I’m not a nervous flyer, but taking precautionary measures is never a bad thing, so a book with a plot too intense, scary, or jarring was not the route I wanted to go.


5. I wanted a book that I would enjoy.
Of course everyone wants a book they will enjoy. But the scary part is choosing a book and not knowing if it will be enjoyable. I asked people to give me suggestions and I browed my Goodreads account to see if there was something I was willing to take a risk on. We are encouraged to not judge books by their covers, but I like to judge them by their cliff-hanging summaries on their backs. That’s the closest thing I can get to knowing if I will become engulfed in the plot and attached to the characters.

So, What Did I Choose?

Using these five points, I managed to narrow it down to two books that seemed long enough to keep me occupied on a direct flight from Boston to Hong Kong:

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2) by Deborah Harkness
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo.

Harkness’s book is what I consider a “guilty pleasure” that I knew would keep me entertained. For me, it is the equivalent of a catchy pop-song (think Taylor Swift, whom I love). I knew I was going to enjoy it because I had enjoyed the first book, even though most of my friends thought me silly for wanting to read it in the first place. On the other hand, Choo’s book was a bit different. Suggested to me by Jessica and Gillian (lovely poets whom I’ve written about here and here), this one I knew would be right up my alley. Choo uses fantastical elements, a pinch of suspense, and a “love” story, all while a young girl tries to save her soul – literally. It wasn’t too insane or horror (though I love this genre), but still included ghosts and demons; I had to give it a shot.


I read both of these books during my flights to and from China, and I am pleased to say they were great choices for me.

What are some things you consider when choosing a book for a flight? Or, what are some books that you have read when traveling? Let me know!

Images: Danist Soh (2), Arnold Lee/Unsplash; Ryan McGuire/gratisography; Alejandro Escamilla, James Tarbotton/Unsplash.

Dustin Lee

When Should You Read and When Should You Write?

This question seems simple to answer – “you should read when you want to and write when you want to.” Great! Problem solved.


As writers, it is constantly reiterated the importance of nourishing our creativity with books written by other successful writers. It keeps our imagination from rotting and inspires us for our own writing. However, we are also encouraged to write every single day to keep the juices flowing and make it a habit to write (it’s so easy to avoid writing and get rusty). Obviously, it’s expected that both reading and writing be done on a daily basis, but as a busy bee that works two jobs and also tries to stay healthy with exercise, the chance of me finding time to do both in a single day seems iffy. On top of that, when you’re in the zone on either of these tasks, stopping simply because “you have to *insert read/write*” is just not cool.

I’m all about spontaneity to keep me from getting boring (to an extent, of course). I am also a lover of finishing tasks before beginning another because perfectionists just can’t move on until something is absolutely right. However, I tend to take things too far and easily forget that I must read or write depending on which one I’ve thrown myself into. I am a black hole, really. Or maybe I am like a kid alone in an amusement park with no self-control to know when to stop riding the rollercoaster.

When should you write?

Green Chameleon : Unsplash

I’ve come to figure out that I use reading as a form of procrastination. Sure, there is nothing wrong with not being able to put a book down (see Elena Ferrante’s book review). But there is something wrong when you can’t put the book down because you have self-doubt. I’ve written about this topic before, but it is something that doesn’t just goes away once you’ve dealt with it. Self-doubt lingers like the stench of burnt bread.

If you find yourself reading and reading with no end in sight, maybe you should stop and admit to yourself that you can also write great things. Practice makes perfect (sometimes) or at least lets you learn who you are as a writer.

There are also these rare moments when a piece of literature just sparks inspiration. You are reading furiously, intensely… intimately and you begin to wonder how you could use a similar voice for a short story or pick apart a scene for a poem. These moments are amazing, but sometimes they are fleeting that by the time you put your book down, they’ve vanished and you just don’t know what you were thinking.

If you find yourself with these magical thoughts, stop! If you’re anything like me, jotting down the ideas won’t cut it and you have to actually submerge yourself in your own creativity. Write like there’s no tomorrow. Write, write, write – don’t lose inspiration.

When should you read?

DeathtoStock_Creative Community6As I’ve said before, I’m a perfectionist who has a hard time stopping things without some form of closure i.e. finishing the task. I’ve tried to write through the dreaded Writer’s Block countless times until my eyelids drooped and my words were incoherent. I’ve struggled – like many of you – to really come up with something to write, but have failed repeatedly. It is the unfortunate journey of the writer: not everything you write is great.

If you find yourself in these situations repeatedly or that you’re actually struggling to finish something because every which way you phrase it, rearrange it, or describe it isn’t melding right, stop and read. They really don’t encourage reading as a key aspect to a writer’s life if it actually wasn’t useful. Maybe you haven’t given yourself enough reading time or material to nourish your creativity. Maybe you need to seek out different reading material and simply spend time in another writer’s world before you can complete your task. Reading is wonderful and a powerful tool to writers.

Reading is also something that should be done if you are trying to write about new topics. This may seem obvious, but I don’t know how many times I’ve met other writers who simply began a topic without actual knowledge of what they were trying to write. Find writers who have written on what you are interested in. Read other stories that are similar to your writing style, so that you get a general idea on how those writers have successfully written stories. These are our “Bibles,” our instruction manuals for how things get done. I’m not saying every published book is great, but if you really dig around, you’re bound to find a story that speaks to you and can help you out.

Cliff Johnson

Ideally, as writers, we should be doing both as much as possible. Unfortunately, life demands that our attentions stay on other tasks (working and working because cash rules everything around me), so finding the time to do both is more difficult. Play around with a schedule to see what works best for your creative style. Read one day and write another. Take turns on a task (read a book, write a story).

Nevertheless, don’t let it stop you from reading/writing, if that’s what you need.

What are your thoughts for when you should read or write?

Images: Dustin Lee/Unsplash; Death to the Stock Photo; Green Chameleon, Cliff Johnson/Unsplash.


Book Review: The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

I’ll cut the bullshit and quickly say that Ferrante’s novel, The Days of Abandonment, was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. A previous professor – one who has read through a ton of my short stories and poems to know that I love description and things most people wouldn’t find beautiful – thought that a book about a woman’s emotional turmoil after her husband leaves her was a perfect fit for me. And it definitely was.

Ferrante begins the story just as Olga’s husband, Mario, leaves her for another woman. Using a first-person perspective, Ferrante drags the reader along Olga’s mental state of mind and carefully, yet vividly describes the back-and-forth questions and problems that plague her as she scrambles to keep her life together. Through each short chapter, we are able to see the repercussions of decisions and the deep impact betrayal and loss has on someone fragile.

Roberto Tumini : Unsplash

The novel itself – rather short – is very diaryesque without the actual cheesy, diary entry format. Instead, it is almost as if we are Olga and we are experiencing these painful and quite depressing situations ourselves. There were times, while I was reading, when I had to give myself moments to breathe and to simply take in what I was feeling. Ferrante’s intensity and portrayal of emotional breakdown is raw, honest, and something that can ring a bell with anyone whose been hurt before.

I’ll be honest and say that it wasn’t easy. I’m quite an emotional person to begin with and I tend to truly find myself within the pages of the books I read, so I was very much attached to Olga’s life. But Ferrante’s beautiful, elaborate descriptions and imitation of real-life mental thinking is something all writers should appreciate. She was able to capture moments that sometimes seem as if they have no words and recreate them on the page for us to watch.

Volkan Olmez : Unsplash

Like most books that focus on topics that aren’t pleasant, I say to prepare yourself before you begin. But, please, please, please begin because this novel is worth a read.

You can find an indie bookstore carrying Ferrante’s book here. To learn more about Elena Ferrante, check out her website here.

Images: Mikael Kristenson, Roberto Tumini, Volkan Olmez/Unsplash.


Janaka Stucky’s “The Truth Is We Are Perfect” Book Release

In one of my favorite theatres in Cambridge, The Brattle, I was lucky enough to attend Janaka Stucky’s book release party for his first book The Truth Is We Are Perfect. I have had the pleasure of hearing Janaka read before in Brookline for the Bash Reading Series, so I was excited to attend and hear some of his recent poems. I will admit that I wasn’t able to stay the full night due to public transportation (my bus runs occasionally in the evenings). This, unfortunately, means I lack any knowledge of what happened after 10:45pm; however, I did catch some readings and interesting performances.

The night began with Janaka welcoming everyone and sharing a bit on his experiences ever since the book first came out. He shared the joys of celebrating on the spring equinox in New York City, along with the typical struggles of road-tripping on book tours. During his storytelling, he elaborated on thoughts that crossed his mind as he struggled to deal with a fever in the backseat of the car. Without faltering, he smoothly transitioned from thoughts to poetry reading.


Tranced and emotionally locked inside the words of each phrase, he slowly shared a few poems by memory with the audience listening intently. Janaka paused after each phrase, letting it sink in and allowing everyone, including myself, to truly meditate on the words he was delivering. There were phrases that have stayed with me from the first couple of poems, though I won’t share them here, but I felt very much emotionally connected to the pictures he painted. With each pause, I mulled over his words and how they could be seen (or not) in my life and writing.


After some by-memory poems, Janaka continued with some poems read from his new book before introducing Jennifer Hicks. Jennifer performed an improv dance using images shouted out by the audience, including one line from Janaka’s poems/stories, “move the back of your heart to the front of your heart.” This let everyone chuckle before she danced to some live instrumental music. Afterwards, a Rhode Island duo called Thunder Perfect, made up of violinist Hannah and accordion player Alec, came on stage and performed some acoustic songs with lots of Irish flavor.


Unfortunately, this was when I had to leave. Nevertheless, before bolting for the train station. I stopped by the Harvard Book Store table in the back of the theatre to purchase Janaka’s book. As Janaka announced at the beginning of night, it was Indie Bookstore Day, so it gave me more reason to support a cherished local bookstore from Massachusetts (and, of course, because I have to support other writers too!). I was also lucky enough to snag the last of his limited edition coasters, which were given to the first 50 people to buy his book that night.

Even though I had to leave early, I was glad I had seen some of the performances that night and been able to share in celebrating one of the greatest accomplishments any writer can experience – the release of a book. Due to the recent events in Nepal and Baltimore, all the proceeds for the ticket sales went to Nepal; Janaka also promised to donate $5 for each book sold that night to the ACLU in Baltimore.

You can purchase Janaka’s book here:


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The Pros and Cons of Writing in Coffee Shops

What better way to write than with a nice cup of something? Currently, I am drinking mint tea out of my official writing cup: a Starbucks Qingdao mug my boyfriend sent me from China. It’s big enough to hold a decent amount of coffee, tea, or occasionally some Merlot. So, when I’m contemplating some difficult transition or staring at a blank screen, I can slowly sip on deliciousness to help me think. However, one can only spend so much time writing in the same place with the same things for so long. I, for one, eventually fall in a rut if things don’t change after a while. Sure, I will not switch my mug or the notebook I use to jot down ideas, but the environment could spice up my writing!

I like to blame the wanderlust aspect of my personality for causing me to have to put pants on and go outside with my laptop. One the other hand, it also could be the hipster side of me that just craves being stereotypical out in public. Whatever the cause is, I sometimes venture out to various coffee shops to sit down and do exactly what I could do at home for free.

DeathtoStock_Medium3Being a frugal individual, it seems quite the opposite to head out and pay god-knows-how-much for coffee and cookies. Yet, it seems that my little observant heart craves being out in public surrounded by a bunch of strangers who talk about the funniest things (yes, I do eavesdrop on your conversation, which you will later read in some short story). Having experienced writing in coffeehouses (that majority of which were) in Boston, Oxford, and Bath, these are the things I’ve gathered as pros and cons of typing away at these places.


  • Finding seating at a coffeehouse is the worst thing imaginable. This past weekend, I spent a good chunk of writing time running around to different places only to discover that there was nowhere to sit.
  • Once I do find a place with seating, it could still be a total fail if the level of noise is just insane. I’ve found myself comfortably writing and in a deep train of thought only to be scared to death by babies shrieking or the barista’s booming voice announcing that “Cindy’s soy chai latte with two espresso shots” is ready.
  • After awhile of sitting somewhere drinking large cups of whatever, chances are I am going to need to go to the bathroom. But if I am alone, which is most of the time, I have no idea whether I should leave my stuff at the table or take it all with me. I always end up leaving my jacket and having to pack up all of my things just to go come back not even five minutes later. Then I have to unpack, resettle, and begin getting comfortable knowing that in an hour’s time I am going to have to do it again.
  • This is only a minor con, but one worth mentioning. I have found that some people – actually a lot of people – don’t seem to take me seriously when I am writing at coffeehouses. Yes, I am aware that my presence with my laptop and notebook make me seem like every other typical “writer,” but I am a writer! I have heard people whispering about my “douche-y” or “stuck up” appearance just because I happen to be writing in the same vicinity as them. Thankfully, I usually forget about them once I start writing.
  • Like I’ve said before, I just hate having to spend money. I know I’ll never be able to make a Spanish latte at home like Pavement does, but it still hurts me a little when I pay for it knowing I have satisfyingly, cheap coffee at home.

Pros: DSCF1860

  • Coffee. And not just any coffee, but the kind prepared for you with fancy swirls and shit that you know you could never perfect in the comfort of your home. This is both a pro and a con because, while I definitely just paid $5 for that cup o’ joe knowing I am satisfied with bad coffee, sometimes I just need that little heart-shaped foam in my life.
  • I can’t stress enough how amazing the conversations are in coffee shops. When people think you’re listening to something super hipster, like Spotify’s Indie Electronica (which I do, in fact, love), they talk about the funniest things that make for great writing fodder. I’m well aware of the fact that eavesdropping is rude, but I can’t help but listen when you decide to talk about the man in a bunny costume who you saw frolicking in your backyard last night.
  • I know that some days I have to go out because if I stay home, I’ll spend it in bed watching Netflix or reading. If I am at a coffeehouse, I am dressed and ready to work! The fact that I’ve put on pants is just a little annoyance, but well worth it.
  • What I love about coffee shops is being able to meet up with friends for writing dates or meet others who don’t mind conversing. I’ve met some great readers and writers while I’ve been out writing who have graciously spent time telling me about what they write, what books they found amazing, and what they thought about on topics we both found interesting or important. These kinds of conversations are totally worth putting on pants.

What are the things you hate/love about writing in coffee shops?

Images: Seemi Pletoniemi/Unsplash; Death to the Stock Photo (3)

Death To Stock Photo

The Writing Process: Writing Everyday

I may have written about this before, but finding the time to write creatively (nevermind everyday) is an issue that truly affects me. Now that it is NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month), I have been forced to confront my “laziness” or, for better word choice, “carelessness” for not writing enough. NaPoWriMo challenges poets to find the time to write a poem a day; it does not need to be the best poem that merits an award, but a poem nonetheless. NaPoWriMo challenges poets to find the time to write – that is the key.

Did I find the time to write?

No. Actually, I may still be trying to finish one of the many poems I started at the beginning of April. I am a careless, irresponsible, horrible, horrible failure of a writer. But can I defend this ridiculous behavior? Of course! I can come up with a million reasons for why I wasn’t able to sit down everyday and write a poem, or why I haven’t continued the short story I’ve been working on. There is always someone or something to blame for not being able to complete tasks; we can’t possibly take the blame for our own errors.

David Mao/Death To The Stock Photo

But, we can. We actually can. I’m going to take the high road and admit that I just didn’t do it sometimes. I could have, but I found other things to do (like reading, Netflix, writing other articles, or sleeping). Although it’s not bad that I gave myself some me-time, which is critical for my emotional state – if I’m not emotionally stable, I can’t function properly, which means I can’t work and make money (I work full-time and part-time for Bustle) – it’s bad that I didn’t find my creative writing important enough to find the time to write.

Yes, I remember now! I wrote about this in the first blog post for this website. I explained how Pressfield’s self-help book for writing gave me a major mental check for why it’s important to write everyday and keep that spark alive.

Obviously, I’ve let it burn out. Or maybe I’ve transferred that energy to writing other things/reading (which is good). Nevertheless, I’ve placed one of my most important aspects of my life on the back-burner and now I’m here writing a post about how I’ve clearly forgotten the purpose of my existence.

Florian Klauer: Unsplash

I am a writer. I cannot forget that, for some odd reason, I was given this talent and urge to write. But writers are the best procrastinators, and goddamn, I’m an expert at that shit. This lack of creative writing must end. It’s detrimental to my life. It’s probably why I’m so confused right now because I’ve managed to diminish a part of me from my everyday lifestyle.

However, it’s not the end of the world. Just like anything, you can always pick yourself up and keep going. I haven’t ruined my life as a writer (yet?). I’m going to get back into the groove and hold myself to it. I’m going to finish my poem and complete my series of prose poems. I’m going to finalize a rough draft of my short story. I’m going to write now because it’s still possible for me to dive back into things. I haven’t forgotten how to write; I just forgot that I had to.

Images: Death to the Stock Photo; David Mao/Death to the Stock Photo; Florian Klauer/Unsplash.


Poem Published on The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society!

I’ve got some lovely news to share, it being that my poem has officially been published on RPD’s March 2015 literary magazine.

It’s always humbling when someone enjoys your writing enough to want to share it with others.

Check it out here and the rest of this month’s publications!

Image: Erin Celikovic/Unsplash.