Author Archives: cmbowers2

Expanding Literary Narrative: A Response to Bernardine Evaristo’s “Girl, Woman, Other”

By Stefan Cozza

As avid readers, we are always looking to find the next piece of literature that will challenge and force us to put our reality and privilege into perspective. Published in 2019, and winner of the that year’s Booker Prize, Girl, Woman, Other, will surely satisfy your itch for that next gripping novel. I am having the privilege of reading Evaristo’s mesmerizing work for my contemporary British Literature course, which highlight’s people of color’s experience living in and around England. Evaristo provides the reader with a unique insight into the lives of 12 complex and fascinating characters, all of which are women of color, and many of which do not fall into the traditional gender binary spectrum. Evaristo not only presents narratives that push back against traditional ideals about femininity, gender, and race, but she does so while acknowledging the historical, political, and social factors that create the reality of many of her characters. Each character in Evaristo’s novel gets their own section, in which the author jumps around various points in that individual’s life. Her narrative is not linear, but it never feels jumbled or confusing. I feel like I am going into the mind of each and every one of these 12 individuals: Evaristo picks the events that define her characters and we as readers are meant to find the commonality amongst them.

Evaristo steers away from traditional prose, opting for a more poetic, free-flowing narrative that rarely utilizes punctuation. This creates a “stream-of-consciousness-like” feel to the story, making it feel as if the reader is truly inside these characters’ heads, getting their first-hand,

authentic reactions. Evaristo does not write in complete sentences, rather she uses fragmented clauses and stand-alone phrases that function similarly to stanzas. These stylistic choices not only reflect the intricacy of the human thought process but elevate Evaristo’s rich narrative beyond the level of greatness of simply being a good novel. I would recommend Girl, Woman, Other to any fiction fan unsure of their next read because they will come out of it so happy they picked it up. Evaristo’s work is interwoven with narratives that you can easily lose yourself in for hours, and I found myself entranced by the way Evaristo seamlessly transitions from character to character without losing momentum, all while opening my eyes to a diverse range of characters.

How the Pandemic Has Changed the Way We Read

Coronavirus pandemic could have caused 40 million deaths if left unchecked  | Imperial News | Imperial College London

By Matthew Lomas

2020 has come and gone, but we continue to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. It has not been easy, as we have each had to radically change the way we live. I have found myself more glued to my computer and phone in order to maintain contact with friends and find entertainment. Scrolling through social media over the last year, I began to notice an increasing number of people posting about the last thing that I would expect my generation to ever post about: books. Specifically, they were sharing thoughts on the books, as well as goals for how many they planned to read.

According to a poll done by Independent UK, “Respondents generally reported that they were reading more than usual. This was largely due to having more free time (due to being furloughed, or not having a commute, or the usual social obligations or leisure activities).” (Boucher). The Conversation provided similar findings about US readers, stating, “While many people are finding more time to read due to Covid-19, not everyone has access or money to buy new books. Some people also took to re-reading books because the stories were familiar. In a world where things are continually changing and fear fills our lives, it can be nice to find solace in the familiar. Re-reading a loved book helps the reader avoid any suspense or unwelcome surprises. The pandemic has certainly changed America’s reading habits, but it remains to be seen whether it will continue once the pandemic passes.” (Contributing). Such a result bodes well for published works, libraries, and people’s perception of books overall. For most of my life I have often heard that my generation could be the one that begins the end of the book industry. However, this pandemic (despite all the bad it has brought to the world) appears to be proving that books and other written forms of literature are just as important as ever.

I work at a library near my home, and we were forced to shut down our building during the beginning of the pandemic due to state laws. After three months, we began to reopen slowly to the public with limited services. While we are still limited in what we offer to the public, we have had an enormous amount of people from all over Delaware County come to visit us. I remember one day, I had a dozen customers come in within two hours asking to sign up for a library card. This has led to a boom in the number of items checked out, as well as the amount of library accounts that have been opened in the last year.

What I find most fascinating about this sudden change in the amount of reading is what people are putting in their hands. BookBub reports that “Others are looking for books to bring them comfort. “11 Feel-Good Books to Read Right Now” is one of the most popular recent articles on BookBub, and Barnes & Noble’s “Feel Good Fiction” list, which includes similar lighthearted, uplifting novels, is also trending, according to Flareau. Draft2Digital reported an unusual bump in romantic comedy sales, particularly compared to March-April 2019, and Google searches for topics like “uplifting books” and “happy books” have increased.” (Robertson)

The question that I have is simple: Will this trend continue beyond the pandemic? Free time is a major contributor to this wave of reading, but once our schedules go back to normal,

will people still be willing to pick up a book on a Sunday evening? Only time will tell. For now we will have to continue to cuddle up with good books and wait this virus out. Why not check out Ciana Bowers’ article on John Gardner’s classic The Art of Fiction?:

Independent UK article mentioned above (Reading between the lines: How our bookish habits have changed during the pandemic)

AZBig Media Article mentioned above (How the pandemic has changed American reading habits)

BookBub Article mentioned above (How Reader Behavior Is Changing During the COVID-19 Crisis)

Stefan Cozza and the Wizard in Downtown Chicago

By Evan Davis 

On a chilly Wednesday night, I spoke to Stefan Cozza, a junior English and Creative Writing double major at Widener University ’22, about his experience with a wizard in downtown Chicago. Stefan is the Editor-in-Chief of The Blue Route, an international undergraduate literary magazine. It takes its title from the nickname of a stretch of highway local to campus. 

About joining The Blue Route and assuming its top leadership position, Stefan told me, “That it is a club and organization I finally found myself able to fit into and contribute meaningfully to. [It is] something I am actively involved in. I’m actively part of the gears that get it going and keep it running.” 

Using one of my famous get-to-know-you questions, I asked Stefan what is something people wouldn’t believe about him and why? Here are some unbelievable facts about Stefan Cozza: 

“I started cooking, that’s something people might not expect.” 

“My favorite animal is a capybara, that’s a good one.” 

“I like dark comedies, horror movies a lot.” 

“There was a four year stretch where I was obsessed with The Beatles, that one’s pretty weird. I mean I was, like, obsessed. I would research facts and it was obsessive.” 

To close out our interview, I set out to ask a hyperthetical question. Written by the author Chuck Klosterman, hypertheticals are a series of 50 questions which can be asked at random to spark insane or intriguing conversations. The point of playing the game is that whoever fields the question not only answers it, but explains the thought process and reasoning behind the answer. 

We played through the following hyperthetical: “You meet a wizard in downtown Chicago. The wizard tells you he can make you more attractive if you pay him money. When you ask how this process works, the wizard points to a random person on the street. You look at this random stranger. The wizard says, ‘I will now make them a dollar more attractive.’ He waves his magic wand. Ostensibly, this person does not change at all; as far as you can tell, nothing is different. But–somehow–this person is suddenly a little more appealing. The tangible difference is invisible to the naked eye, but you can’t deny that this person is vaguely more attractive. This wizard has a weird rule, though–you can only pay him once. You can’t keep giving him money until you’re satisfied. You can only pay him one lump sum up front. How much do you pay the wizard?” 

Stefan’s response: “I’m gonna say $10, okay? And I’ll give my reasoning: It’s not an outrageous amount of money to where I’m gonna lose that much. And if something happens, like, either way, it’s gonna be crazy because something happened based on some crazy wizard doing some crazy stuff to me. I can’t go over that because that would be a weird waste of my money. But, I know that if one unit isn’t significant enough to make a significant change but then 10 units….If one unit made a slight change in how I perceive that person’s attractiveness then $10 has to do at least ten times that. So $10 isn’t enough of a risk to outweigh the benefits of it, if there are benefits.” 

A very rational reasoning, indeed. It is this skill in risk management and the spirit to pursue adventure which makes Stefan Cozza the splendid chief of The Blue Route

Stories are Everywhere

By Ciana Bowers

As creative writers we tend to write fictional stories about our lives or completely made up characters, but what about real world stories? I’m not talking about creative nonfiction, but stories about things happening around your campus or in the world as it affects us.

Recently Blue and Gold Widener’s news website came out with a new website and stories about its campus and real-world events. The creative writer in me wants to write stories about these events, but I was nervous to write articles instead of the usual short story or flash nonfiction that I write. However, as I got more comfortable with the process, I realized that there is no difference to writing articles versus writing short stories. Even though short stories are more entertaining to write, the process is still the same. You have to catch the readers’ attention for the story, find the story arc that will entertain the readers, and plan out your story. By plan I don’t mean write out the character description and world building, but research, ask questions, and find your ‘character’ who happens to be the person you’re interviewing or whoever is involved. Having an eye for telling fictional stories is no different than telling news stories. The story is there and reporting it in a newspaper with facts and details isn’t very different from writing a story with details about characters and important plot points

I find it benefiting to write stories in more than one way whether it be a feature, editorial, or news. Learning more about what’s happening in the world and on my campus only benefits me as a creative writer. I feel like it fuels my creativity and my imagination that I can take these events and turn them into a creative story because creative stories are everywhere.

What to do after your first draft

Whether you are writing a novel or a short story, the first draft is usually not so perfect. In fact, you may change it a lot of during the editing phase. Here are a few tips on how to approach the second draft.

Look at it with fresh eyes: Depending how long you have been working on your first draft, you may feel attached to it and think that it is perfect, but that is not the case. Step away from your draft for a period of time, whether it is a few hours or a few days. Doing this will allow you to approach your draft with fresh eyes when you go to reread it. Also, print out your draft (if you wrote it on your computer) so that it is in a new format and you can look at it in a different perspective. During this time try not to do any editing. Save that for last

Read as a reader: Read your story as if someone else is reading it. Read it as if your favorite author has written this piece. It will give you a better perspective on what your readers may feel or think about your piece.

Take Notes: If you are doing extensive editing after your first draft you may want to take notes on the story as you go. You can write things you may want to change or add, or a brief summary of the scenes in your story or novel. This can help you see if you have plot holes in your story. Taking notes can help you have an easier rewriting process, as well as help with the replotting stage to make sure your story doesn’t throw off its readers.

Hand it to someone else: If you are satisfied with how far you have come with editing, hand the story to someone else (the more people the better) and ask them to read it. Write down their feedback as it can help you edit your story further later.

Next time you struggle to write or edit your final drafts, take this advice into consideration. It may help you produce your perfect final draft.

By Ciana Bowers

Fictional Dream

During the long winter break before the spring semester, I gained a few new books on craft that have me learning how to become a better writer. The Art of Fiction by John Gardner is my newest book on craft. It was recommended to me by Widener University’s visiting writer Amina Gautier. Here is a tip for young writers like me to look into when writing a short story or novel.

When writing fiction, you want to make sure that your reader is in a “vivid and continuous fictional dream” as John Gardner stated in the book. This means you want to give signals in your book that your reader can see as if they are in your story. These signals not only let us see the setting but the character and the events that take place in the story. By doing this you don’t want to tell us about the characters in ways your reader would not understand or think about too critically but make sure that you appeal to the reader’s senses (sight, hear, touch, taste, and smell).

Sometimes writers will do something to make us fall out of that fictional dream that they have set up for us and cause us to think about the text. As John Gardner has said in his book “It is as if

a playwright were to run out on stage, interrupting his characters to remind us he has written all this.”

Next time you go about writing your stories make sure to appeal to all five senses to keep that reader in a fictional dream

By Ciana Bowers

Books for Creative Writers

Recently, I was able to get my hands on a series of creative writing craft books that have tips on writing setting and characters, which are some of the most important parts of a story besides plot. Here are some of my favorite books from the series, and a little bit on how they help writers.

  1. The Emotional Wound Thesaurus This is one of my favorite books in the series because I like to write stories and characters with emotional depth. This book mentions many emotional traumas that you might not have thought of, such as family issues and financial struggles. This book shows the signs or reactions when someone has these traumas but remember that everyone acts differently. I’ve been experimenting with this book in the series for writing stories.
  2. The Negative Trait Thesaurus This is my second favorite book in the series because it shows how to balance positive characteristics out with imperfect traits to make the character’s more realistic. It gives examples of negative these traits from other stories in literature and gives you multiple ways to convey them in your own story. There is a partner to this book, “The Positive Trait Thesaurus,” which like this book gives personality traits, but focuses on the positive side.
  3. Urban Settings Thesaurus– This is my final favorite book of the series because of all the possible settings that the book gives you that you may not have thought of. The book gives you sensory details for each of those places and tips on how to make your setting more unique. This book also gives you ideas on how to have conflict in the different types of settings.

All of these books come with worksheets and valuable information in the front and back of the book, such as tips and advice on how to make your writing better or stronger. This is how I learned tips and tricks for writing my characters and setting. You can get these books in a hard copy format or the pdf versions.

Four Ways to Show Emotions Through Characters

Yellow Smiley Emoji on Gray Surface

Showing and not telling is a tip every writer has heard. But how do you show emotions through characters without telling? Here are four helpful tips!

1. Vocal Cues– Shifts in the character’s voice can show/hint at their emotional state. This can be especially good for secondary characters as the story is not in their point of view. You can use hesitations, a change in tone, or pitch to show these signs when writing a character’s dialogue.

2. Body Language– How our body responds to events can be a hint of how we feel. The stronger the emotion the more our body reacts uncontrollably. When a character is angry, they may shake their leg without noticing, or when a character is disgusted, they may scrunch their face up or gag. These show your character’s emotions without having to tell the reader explicitly.

3. Thoughts– Mental responses can be how someone shows emotion. It can also show how a character sees the world. Showing a character’s thoughts on a situation is a powerful way to show the character’s feelings. If a character is depressed, has anxiety, anger issues, or is simply happy this can show be portrayed through internal monologue or thoughts. This can also help show the voice of a character.

4. Visceral Reactions– These are reactions inside of the body: faster heart rate, adrenaline, etc. These are triggered by certain things that can happen in the character’s world. If a character in your story is kidnapped and they are in the middle of an escape plan and they hear footsteps, their heart rate may go up in fear or adrenaline may course through their body. Everybody feels these types of internal sensations so the readers will be able to connect to the character.

These are some ways that you can show your emotions through characters without having to tell how your character feels.

By Ciana Bowers

Three Things to Consider when Writing Setting

Bench in the garden

When we write settings there are a lot of things to consider, such as location and time. But what if you want to use setting to bring more life to your story in and make it seem more then just a place? Here are three tips that I learned for writing setting.

  1. Sensory Details

When writing setting think about how your descriptions appeal to the five senses. What does the character taste, see, smell, hear, and feel? Maybe your character is in the park enjoying some fresh air. Does your character hear birds chirping or dogs barking? Are the seasons changing and they can see patches of snow that are still on the grass? Is your character stopping to get ice cream or maybe chewing gum? Appealing to the five senses gives life to your writing, which makes you and your readers feel connected with your characters

2. Backstory

Does the setting provide background information to your story that is crucial for the plot? Maybe your character grew up in the same village in the story. What kind of memories does it trigger? Setting can trigger flashbacks for your character that can provide information to drive your story forward or about a character’s past or present. Maybe your character isn’t in a neighborhood they grew up in. Your setting can have similar surroundings, statues, or any other physical element that can spark a trigger for backstory whether it be a hidden backstory or a visible backstory

3. Characterization

Setting can also characterize people in your story. Is your character in a dangerous situation and they must stay strong to survive? Does your character act a certain way because of the backstory and/or things that happen in your setting? Maybe your setting gives the character an idea, or a sudden change of heart that changes the direction of your story. Setting allows us to reveal attitudes, beliefs, and emotions about the character. Setting also can be a way to express what is happening to other characters in your story that may not be able to be seen through your character’s point of view. For example, if your character is at a gathering you can use the setting to show other character’s perspectives or actions.

Next time you are writing setting, try to include one of these elements in your story.

By Ciana Bowers

Open Mic Reflection

Black and Gray Microphone

Writing is meant to be read and what better place to read your work then an open mic. Last week, Wideners Creative fiction class hosted a virtual open mic on zoom. One may worry about the awkwardness of staring a screen, wifi acting weird, or nerves from having to read their work to a bunch of alumni, current students, and faculty. No matter the problems one could have on a virtual open mic, it didn’t stop the community of Widener creatives to share their love for the arts as they kept the encouragement alive with the zoom chat and reactions features. Even though quarantine kept us away from being at Widener, the hospitality of our MC Stefan Cozza made us feel like we were back home at our Widener Pride. Below our host Stefan Cozza shares his experience about Wideners open mic event. – Ciana Bowers

Considering I am an English/Creative Writing Major, one might assume I have been to many open mics before, but this is actually not the case. Honestly, the introverted part of myself was surprised when the words “I’ll do it,” came out of my mouth in response to the question “Would anyone like to volunteer as the MC of the event?” Nonetheless, once they were out, they were out, and there was no turning back. Being that we’ve all been in Quarantine together for months now, simply being part of an event was enough to unleash the butterflies in my stomach. This wasn’t a bad thing; it was beneficial more than anything. Now more than ever, we have to create meaning in the small things.

There’s extra anxiety associated with hosting an open mic over screens; a plethora of issues can arise and the whole thing can descend downhill in a matter of seconds. Magically, the event could not have gone better. Perhaps it’s the loneliness, but the support encouragement was palpable from the audience. In a traditional open mic setting, applause is held until the end of a reader’s piece, and comments and questions are left until everyone has had their opportunity to present. In a virtual environment, if the host allows it, the chat is available the whole way through, allowing audience members to hype up the speaker as they are reading. I was pleasantly surprised by just how lively the chat was, and how easily the spectators lent their kind words.

As the voluntary MC of the event (MC, for those unaware, means Master of Ceremonies), my duties were to introduce upcoming readers and hand the event back over to the host after everyone had presented. While these were simple enough responsibilities, I felt I needed to personally address each reader after they presented. Maybe I was getting too big a head, but I kept imagining I was hosting the Academy Awards and needed to throw in my two cents here and there. I was up to my shoulders in anxiety, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from trying to make the most out of my job for the night.

Luckily for me, the words slipped out of mouth before I had the chance to overthink what I was going to say. Every single reader took command of the stage and had such an assertive poetic voice; it was wonderful to hear so many people be vulnerable and open with the audience. For those who have never attended an open mic event, this may sound melodramatic, but it really was the case. Poetry and creative writing are very personal crafts, they’re an up-close representation of the author’s psyche, and that in and of itself carries an important emotional component. I did my best to send each reader off with my own praise, trying to highlight what parts I found specifically endearing or effective. Hopefully, no one felt their response was lacking in comparison to anyone else’s.

Apart from being the MC, I was nudged to present a poem of my own. On top of this, I was pinned to perform first, a request which I happily (as well as nervously) accepted. Amazingly, reciting your own poem, while nerve-wracking, is a very cathartic experience. Even though my poem was amongst the shortest of the night, it still felt substantial. As I said, poetry is personal, and that is what makes it such a growing experience. With an open mic event, the audience is there to hear your work; they want to hear what you have to say. Presenting your voice to a respectful and accepting environment is an incredible experience. It not only gives the reader experience on how to act and perform, but it makes them feel that what they are speaking is  valid and important. And at the end of the day, that is all anyone wants to feel.

By Stefan Cozza