Introduction / Introducción

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English

Hello! I am Monique Sanchíz de Mihalitsianos, and I am a writer. I was born November 14, 1990. I live in Panama City, Panama.

In this blog I review books and art, dabble in poetry, reflect on my writing process, and post the results of my spiritual research. Welcome!

 

Español

Hola! Me llamo Monique Sanchíz de Mihalitsianos, y soy escritora. Nací el 14 de Noviembre de 1990. Soy de Panamá.

En este blog, me tomo la libertad de criticar libros y arte, experimentar con redactar poesía, reflexionar sobre mi proceso creativo al escribir, y publicar los resultados de mis investigaciones espirituales.

Siéntanse en la libertad de explorar la página y comentar lo que quieran. Mi casa es su casa.

The Artistic Process

My thing is literature—that’s my domain. Stories often showcase a mix of the beautiful and the ugly; there is a conflict between these two poles which is eventually resolved.

But even in music, poetry and also paintings, I think, we can see this conflict arise and then resolve itself (within the same piece of art).

The world can serve to inspire the artist so that they may faithfully represent this conflict in their art. Every artist suffers… they bleed and feel and are constantly transforming themselves through the conflict that is created when their inner lives confront the outer world.

It is the artist’s purpose to transform this hurt and suffering, this conflict and turmoil, into something that inspires and uplifts the human soul… and this frequently produces and results in something beautiful.

Beauty alone can be shallow or vain, but beauty with meaning can inspire the soul.

The Art of Living #BookReview

The book is translated from ancient greek into easy to understand & modern english, and features the maxims of the ancient greek stoic philosopher Epictetus on the art of living. It is a practical manual on how to practice virtue, happiness and effectiveness in our day to day life.

The key to happiness, according to Epictetus, lies in the freedom to be fully oneself. One can only acheive this by focusing their energy on the things that one can contol: Our Inner Lives.

Everything else, including our wealth, bodies, reputation and even the impression we make on others is out of our control, and as such we should not let our happiness be affected by it. If we have wealth and then lose it, our inner lives should not be affected by it. We should remain calm and go on with our work and life in the way we can. If our reputation is tarnished, but our character and integrity remains steadfast, then all the better, because our character matters more than our reputation and has withstood the test of infamy. If we fall ill, we understand it is the nature of our bodies to grow ill sometimes, and accept this with dignity. If we lose someone, if someone dies, we understand that our flesh is mortal and that dying is a part of life, but our spirit is eternal.

Things that are in control, such as the quality of our thoughts, the energy we pour into the work we were meant to do (disregarding results and monetary gains and working because we love what we do), and the evenness of our temper should be the focus of our daily practice.

The maxims of Epictetus are transcendental and are just as applicable today as they were 2000 years ago. Things that stuck with me were: Making use of everything we have, discovering our talents and putting them to use, using our resources and everything we have been given to better ourselves; not acting merely to cause an impression on others, but acting rightly by doing the right thing regardless of what others think; and the practice of the use of reason and logic to acheive clear thinking.

This is a wonderful translation and a manual I will surely keep using through all the stages of my life.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas #BookReview

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YA Fantasy

When I started reading this book, I enjoyed it very much, thinking I had finally found a new fantasy series that I could absolutely obsess over and love, like I hadn’t in a long time. And the first half of this book is very good. The writing is fast-paced, the plot is well-constructed, the characters are engaging, everything that has to work for a story to be good… works.

But then the second part of the book comes along, and things start, well, not exactly falling apart, but changing. This is supposed to be a re-telling of the beauty and the beast fairy tale, and for the first part of the book it is. But when the second part of the book comes along, something serious starts to happen. It’s the main issue I had with the book, and it is this: Character assasination.

Tamlin, who is supposed to be the love interest of the heroine and main character, Feyre, goes from being strong and protective to being weak and bland. Of course the reader could always blame the circumstances. Tamlin was kidnapped by an evil Fairy Queen and whatnot, but he did absolutely nothing to help Feyre out or to change said circumstances. He became a victim, and went from being an active character who would do anything to keep Feyre safe, to being a completely passive pawn. This change didn’t sit well with me at all, and it felt forced.

Of course the story then takes a different romantic direction by introducing a new character, Rhysand, and making him compelling and interesting in all the ways that Tamlin is now not. It felt like the author grew tired of Tamlin or something, or didn’t want to continue building on the romance and relationship between him and Feyre (the protagonist), so she decided to assasinate his character by making him passive and unresponsive just so she could introduce another romantic love interest and make that relationship strong.

So you see, it’s not at all a beauty and the beast re-telling, but something else entirely. Because the beast and the beauty had true love, while Tamlin and Feyre merely had… a fling. And this is the issue I had with the book. Why get readers (i.e., me) all excited over a relationship if you’re going to make the romantic interest a bland coward by the end of the novel, when at the beginning he was anything but? Character assasination. And I wasn’t okay with it.

Also, the tone of the novel changed throughout the book. At first it was romantic and fantastical, and then it turned gritty and very urban. It was like reading two different books in one.

But alas, I liked the fairy world the story was set in, and the new male romantic interest is compelling and engaging enough on its own, despite how he was introduced (at the expense of the other character), so I will read on. I’ve been told the second book in the series, A Court of Mist and Fury, is better than the first, and I am looking forward to see how the story develops. I just hope that the author won’t change her mind about this new guy and make Feyre fall in love with yet another character just because she grew bored or whatever.

I recommend this book to fans of fantasy with romance.

Rating: ***

 

“Strange the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor #BookReview

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This is the first book from Laini Taylor that I read. I had high expectations because I had heard from different sources that Laini Taylor was a spectacular writer. I didn’t know what to expect from this book, but it turns out it was a fantasy, which was great because fantasy is my favorite genre. And while I liked Taylor’s writing, the hype didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

Don’t get me wrong, Taylor is by all measures a fantastic writer and story-teller. “Strange the Dreamer” was interesting and gripping, even when nothing major happened until the very end of the book. Everything that happened was propelled forward by sheer force of character, and it worked. So no complaints there, I loved the story and will read the sequel for sure.

But the thing is when people hype up a book by saying that the writing is “absolutely beautiful”, I guess I’m expecting some Gabriel García Márquez-level writing… and this was not it. By which I mean, my standards are pretty high. I get annoyed with hype, which is why I’ve gotten more skeptical through the years. People had made it sound like this was some literary masterpiece, but no. I would consider this a well-written and nice commercial read, a compelling genre book with a unique story and three-dimensional characters that are easy to love. But not literary.

The story takes place on another world, and the main character is called Lazlo Strange, an orphan raised by monks who goes on an adventure with a group of foreign warriors to a mythical land. What I liked the most was the mixture between fantasy and science-fiction that tinted the story. The “gods” that appear could actually be aliens, only that the people in this medieval-type society don’t know what aliens are, so they call them gods. It is in this land that Lazlo Strange discovers his true destiny and who he really is, but not before his life gets really, really complicated.

Along the lines of “gods” and “aliens”, I’d like to mention that there is a subtle theme that was barely mentioned throughout the story but that I really liked: the contrast between what is magical and what is scientific, a recurring theme that could be expanded upon in the second installment of this series. Possibly the most interesting theme from a philosophical standpoint. The book ends on a cliffhanger, and like I mentioned before, I would be happy to continue with this read. I recommend this book to fantasy readers.

Rating: ****

Beatriz at Dinner #MovieReview #FilmFriday

beatriz at dinner

Okay so first off, I want to say kudos to this movie for not being stereotypical like I thought it would be, and for not relying on the overused liberal vs conservative tropes. No, instead of doing that, the movie gives us something much deeper. The main character, Beatriz, played by Salma Hayek, is an inwardly tortured soul, genuinely affected by the atrocities of a rampantly capitalistic world, and has much depth of feeling.

Throughout the movie she tries, and fails, to connect with the rest of the characters, who are rich and shallow, but who honestly–and viewed from a commonplace perspective–do nothing so extravagantly evil throughout the dinner as to merit Beatriz’s increasingly incendiary reactions.  They try to humor her, but they are so stuck in their own petty worlds that they fail to understand where Beatriz is coming from, and cannot connect with her wider perspective of things at all.

Interestingly enough, the person Beatriz most connects with is Doug, the film’s antagonist, a billionaire mogul who builds hotels and contaminates the environment and displaces people from their homes and the whole nine yards. They connect because they are opposite extremes of the same pole, and thus understand each other. Doug even has some respect for Beatriz towards the end of the film, recognizing the genuine depth of feeling that she projects, or tries to project, outwards into the world, but he lives by his own selfish philosophy and will not be changed, no matter how much anybody argues against him.

Beatriz, on the contrary, hates Doug and everything he represents. He’s the embodiment of evil, in Beatriz’s eyes.

As the movie progresses Beatriz becomes increasingly aware that she does not fit in with this crowd and that they will never accept her, no matter how much she tries to connect with them. She also realizes how the lives of these people stand diametrically opposed to her own principles and beliefs, and thus her campaign to speak her mind and make them aware of a reality outside their own sheltered homes becomes more and more urgent, which lands her in trouble.

The movie is good, but it falls apart at the ending. Beatriz, instead of becoming stronger with this confrontation, becomes weaker. The ending leaves us wondering, why did she give up? She broke under the force of the perceived evil around her, something that stands in direct contrast with the first two-thirds of the movie, when she refused to be broken or silenced. It is only because of the ending that I don’t give the movie a higher score.

Rating: **

La Poesía Celestial

poesía

Un renombrado artista, cuyo nombre, irónicamente, no recuerdo, dijo una vez que la poesía es el arte más difícil para un escritor. Más fácil es escribir una novela, en donde se cuenta con cientos de páginas para narrar una historia y transmitir la esencia de lo que se quiere decir. Un poco más difícil es escribir un relato corto, ya que el espacio para expresar una esencia particular se ve más reducido. Y lo más difícil de todo, es la poesía, en donde sólo se tiene como formato unos cuantos versos para transmitir una esencia, un sentimiento, y la totalidad de lo que resuena dentro del artista.

No sé si estoy de acuerdo con esta definición o no. Me parece que escribir una novela tiene sus propias dificultades, que aunque sean diferentes a aquellas relacionadas a escribir poesía, no considero menos complicadas. Pero entiendo a qué se refiere. La Poesía es inspiración pura hecha palabras. Escribir buena poesía, palabras con trasfondo, sustancia, emoción, y forma, es un arte sumamente complicado. Hay muchos más buenos escritores, que buenos poetas. Y es por lo intricado que resulta componer poesía que este arte se ha visto mermado a través de los años. Ya casi nadie escribe poesía. Ni hablar de buena poesía.

apolo

Apolo, el antiguo dios griego del sol, el tiro con arco, y las artes, convocaba a sus nueve musas cada vez que sentía ganas de crear. Eran nueve musas en total, cada una de ellas dedicada a un arte en particular. No considero una coincidencia que Apolo requería no de una, sino de dos musas para inspirarse al crear poesía. Tenemos a Erato, la musa de la poesía amorosa, que lleva una corona de mirto en su cabeza y una lira en sus manos, y también a Calíope, la musa de la poesía épica, quien porta una corona de oro y se expresa con suma elocuencia. Se necesitan de dos musas, no solo de una, para comprender todo lo que la poesía puede ofrecer.

No me jacto de ser una gran poeta. He llenado un número de cuadernos con mis versos aficionados, pero lo mío es la novela. Aún así, gozo de leer y absorber buena poesía. Nada eleva al ala más–salvo la música–que perderse en unos buenos versos inspirados que nutren el alma y ensalzan el corazón. Apolo veneraba la poesía, y con razón. Es una de las pocas formas de arte que nos permiten realmente trascender lo humano para entrar en el reino de lo divino, de lo puramente celestial.

You know you’re a #writer when…

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I’ve had this same problem since I started working, no matter where or when. At the risk of sounding inmodest, I’m going to say that I consider myself a talented individual. I can probably thrive and excel at most things if I put my mind into it and back it up with effort.

Because of that, every time I started at a new job I did well in the beginning, and then something would happen that would discourage me, it didn’t matter what, it just discouraged me. After that I would fall back into this depressing apathy and inaction that affected my work. Because in reality I wasn’t really all that happy working at whatever it was I was working on, I just wanted to conquer the challenge. I came to realize that the reason for this sudden decrease in motivation was because my heart wasn’t truly in the work, even though I was talented at it.

Since I was little, whenever somebody would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said writer. Or painter (I used to paint a-lot when I was younger). My parents, like all parents do, tried to discourage me from this, telling me that painting is a penniless profession. The writing they never took seriously enought to even acknowledge (I remember all of this, it’s funny which memories stick with you).

And so I grew up, and towards the end of high school I met a man who was a lawyer who became my boyfriend (and later my husband), so when I graduated, I decided what the heck. I’ll study Law. I certainly have the brains for it. And my parents applauded my decision. The Law is a very interesting field of study, it’s mentally challenging and also very rigorous. I excelled academically, but when I started practicing I became disenchanted by the profession. I also became somewhat overwhelmed by the demands of it. To be a good lawyer you have to put in the hours. Also, it’s a profession where you’re surrounded by other people’s problems and you’re constantly trying to fix them. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but it can be overwhelming.

And then you have the whole ambitious side of it, like the desire to become a partner in the firm and even name partner down the road, and it can just become so exhausting after a while. And demotivating.

When I feel that way, I inevitably think back to that girl I used to be, the girl who always had a journal at hand, who wrote short stories and poetry and drew and painted and wanted nothing more than to make art… and I realize that’s who I really am. Because even though I have the brains for Law, and even the capacity for it, it’s not entirely fulfilling. I don’t derive much joy from it. The truth is, nothing makes me happier than writing.

And sure, from an outside perspective this sounds trivial. You want to write novels instead of practicing the Law? I imagine some people thinking. And yes, I do. Because it’s the only activity that manages to inspire me as I continually work at it, instead of draining me. It’s the best of myself that I can offer to the world.

But I cannot write full-time at this moment in my life, I can’t afford it. I must dedicate some of my time in the day towards practicing law, although if I’m truthful, nowadays I do much more administrative work within my firm than actual practice, because it’s what’s required of me.

But writing full-time is and forever will be my dream job. You know you’re a writer when you keep coming back to it, over and over again, despite the circumstances in your life. If you’re a writer, you will write. And the periods of my day when I write, whether it’s working on my novel or even only blogging about books, are the highlights of my day.

It’s something I feel that will never be erased. Like a burning unquenchable fire at the core of my being. This is how I feel towards it, and I know that I will keep at it even though my destination is still unclear. Because even if it is unclear, this is not enough to demotivate me. The truth is, writing–for a writer–is in and of itself itself pure joy.  And this is enough.

“Tender is the Night” by F. Scott Fitzgerald #BookReview #ClassicReads

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F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote this book in the middle of his battle against alcoholism and his wife’s neuroses and mental deterioration. Because art forever reflects life, this book is precisely about a man and wife who each battle alcoholism and schizophrenia, respectively. One of them gets better by the end of the novel and the other one gets worse, but it’s not necessarily who you would expect.

The novel’s prose is imbued with a certain lyricism that does not pull you away from the story. The best thing about the story are the characters. Each of them is so three-dimensional and well written that they jump off the page, filled with a life of their own. Fitzgerald was a master of observing people and understanding their moods and motivations, and it really shows in this novel. I dreamed about these characters last night, actually. That’s how real they felt for me.

Dick and Nicole Diver, the protagonists of the story,  aren’t exactly relatable or even likeable. In fact, they are only likeable when seen from the point of view of Rosemary, the main secondary character, a young and self-absorbed naif who gets in between Dick and Nicole’s marriage. Rosemary sees Dick through the eyes of infatuation, when he had not yet deteriorated into bitterness and drink. In this first part of the book, Dick is seen as charming, well-mannered, and a true people-person. Nicole on the other hand is seen as strong and determined, but aloof and distant.

Rosemary’s impression of the couple may have been accurate at first glance, but when she leaves the picture for a while and we get to see Dick and Nicole up close in the second part of the book, we become familiarized with everything happening backstage in their marriage. And while Nicole, at first, seems to be the one dragging Dick down with her history of mental problems, the reader soon realizes that this is not the case, and that Dick is ruining himself and cannot blame his wife for it.

The affair with Rosemary had left Dick bitter. He started to grow bored and resent his wife and his problems, and he tried to escape this resentment through drink, but that only made things worse. And the more he drank, the more bitter he became towards everyone, until he had alienated himself from every friend he once had. Of course, towards the end of the novel we realize that Dick’s charm is so strong, that he could recover everything if he wanted to.

He could make his marriage work, he could bring his friends back to him, he could make his life better. But he chooses not to. Nicole, on the other hand, has no qualms about doing what is necessary to survive, and we see that the strength that Rosemary perceived in her was not at all imaginary, but very real, despite her perceived mental fragility.

On the whole, this novel is a story about the demise of a marriage due to the choices of one character, Dick. He decided to throw it all away because he couldn’t get out of the downward spiral that his addiction lured him into, and neither did he want to. Slowly his life turned from rosy, to cynical. And it seems that somehow, Rosemary was the inciting incident of it all, but truly she wasn’t all that important. Dick’s choice of attitude was what made all the difference in his life.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in getting to know Fitzgerald’s works a little better. Though not as good as his masterwork, “The Great Gatsby”, “Tender is the Night” shines with a melancholic light of its own and ends ambiguously, the world after all not being either black or white, but made up of different shades of grey. Like this novel.

Rating: ***

“Secrets of Southern Girls” by Haley Harrigan #BookReview

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Adult psychological thriller

Okay, so to start off… This book was supposed to be a psychological thriller but it didn’t really read like one. It felt more contemporary, not nearly gripping enough to be labeled a psychological thriller, in my opinion. The story doesn’t get its legs until halfway through the book, when things finally start to get interesting. Before that, there was just too much build-up, too many words, too many goings-on that while relevant to the plot, weren’t exactly riveting. One good thing about this book is how immersive the writing is. It’s a testament to it that I continued reading even though I wasn’t exactly hooked.

The book is about two girls, one dead girl called Reba whom we get to know through the pages of a long-lost and found diary, and another girl called Julie, the main character, who was Reba’s best friend. Julie thinks she is somehow responsible for Reba’s death, which is why she decides to go back to her hometown in the south to read this diary and figure things out for herself.

In terms of plot, that’s pretty much all that happens. Julie goes back to her hometown, reads the diary, and learns the truth about what really happened with her best friend all those years ago and how it affected the rest of the characters. That’s it. And even this didn’t feel that convincing… the diary didn’t read like a normal diary, but rather like a flashback, with dialogue quotes and all, which isn’t how people write diaries.

The use of the diary within the story felt like a plot device, like something artificial just to take the reader back in time instead of an actual diary. The fact that it didn’t read like a real diary dimished the substance of the story for me, because it served as a clutch for the writer to get things out into the open in the most direct way possible instead of a tool to make the story even more mysterious. But there was no mystery, no revelation, everything was contained in the “flashback” diary and all characters had to do was read it. Things should have gotten resolved in the present time somehow, not through the use of “flashbacks”.

The book also felt more like a lifetime movie than a psychological thriller. It was too fluffy at times, and even after the 50% mark when the story finally got grittier, it wasn’t enough to make up for everything else it lacked. Granted, I was hooked when the characters started to finally display their darkness. This was probably the best part of the book and what made it stand on its own two legs, but the other half of the book just wasn’t interesting enough and the whole artifice of the diary as a story clutch was disappointing. The cliffhanger the story ends on was also not very strong.

The good thing is that it’s such a character-centered book that I was able to power through it and finish reading it quickly.

Rating: **

Ernest Hemingway’s advice for #writers

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Ernest Hemingway was one of the great american authors. His slick, straight-forward and meaningful prose serves as direct contrast to flowery and purple prose, and it was this quality in his writing that earned him the Nobel Prize of Literature and a seat among the classic writers of the past. Reading Hemingway feels like stripping away everything that isn’t basic and primordial. It’s like studying the fundamentals, like reading raw feeling and thinking. His style serves as a great example of profound yet concise expression.

And as such, I find his advice for writers to be invaluable. Here are a few snippets it:

Pace yourself.

Take the time to sit down every day and put your thoughts into words, But finish when you still know what is going to happen next in your story. Don’t write until you burn yourself out and run out of ideas, but rather stop while you’re still excited and let your subconscious mind work on it. Next day, when you sit down to write again, you’ll start at a point in the story that you’re excited about, and the words will flow more easily onto the page.

Write, and then re-write. 

However, before jumping back into the story at the point you left off, take some time to go over what you wrote the day before. This serves to refresh your memory as to the mood and setting of your earlier scenes, so that the continuation is coherent with what you already wrote.

Edit as you re-write. 

As you go over what you wrote the day before, take out everything that is extraneous, and leave only the best. Stephen King also refers to this as “killing your darlings.” Everything that is not pertinent to the storyline has to go, no matter how fond you are of the way you structured a sentence or the words you used to describe that scenery. Don’t be afraid to move sentences around, as well. Look for the best structure in all the paragraphs you write, but make sure they are meaningful and add to the story instead of slowing it down with unnecessary fluff.

When you’re cutting things out that would be great in any other story but are not pertinent to the one you’re writing, you know you’re doing a good job.

Once a week go over your entire story, from the beginning until where you left off. 

This is important because you need to see your story as a whole every so often, and edit and re-write as necessary. Doing this is what makes your story all of one piece. I usually do this on the weekends because it’s very time-consuming. Going over 50 pages of my work takes me around 4 hours, so don’t underestimate how much work this is… but it’s also probably the most necessary thing to do. This way you become more familiar with your story, as well. You get to know it better, and can even get inspired to connect different ideas within the story and make it even more rich and ineresting.

Read the classics. 

The truly great writers of the past were great for a reason. You shouldn’t compare yourself to any existing writer, because we don’t know whether his or her work will outlast the passing of time or not. Classic works, however, have already stood the test of time. Read them often, and learn from them. Feel free to compete with them, if you’d like. It’s a good standard to measure yourself up against.

This way you’ll also know which ideas have been executed well by other artists. A writer who doesn’t read the classics isn’t really an educated writer, and his work will suffer for it.

Don’t think of yourself as being talented. 

We’ll never know whether we are talented writers or not, no matter how much praise or how much criticism we receive. So instead of focusing on that, focus on your creative work and becoming a better story-teller and writer in your appreciation every day.

upon a time

A-lot of this advice is technical. But writing well is a very technical process. The important thing is to find a balance between feeling inspired by your story and also working to refine it as you go along. Writing, re-writing and editing should be done simultaneously according to Hemingway, and I agree with him. It takes more time during the day (two hours for me, instead of one), but it’s worth it.

I know many writers work on their first draft without looking back at what they have written, and if that works for them and they’d rather not look back, then that’s up to them. But there’s a reason one of the great american writers worked this way. Personally, this advice has helped me become not only more disciplined in my writing, but also more familiar with it and more involved and invested in my own story. So I invite you to look over these tips, think about them, and implement what works for you.

Happy writing!

Source: Hemingway’s Advice on Writing, Ambition, the Art of Revision, and His Reading List of Essential Books for Aspiring Writers