Book Reviews

Scribbling Scrivener Reads: The Gem of Acitus and Reefer Snakes! by Jay Requard

No, that’s not the title of one book, but two novellas written by Jay Requard. Because they are short, I read both this month and will review each.

First up is The Gem of Acitus which follows Manwe, a master thief better known as “The Panther”, after he steals the famed Gem of Acitus. He gives it to his lover and business partner so he can fence the jewel. Unfortunately, Manwe’s lover quickly disappears and Manwe is falsely accused of raping the daughter of the powerful man whom he had stolen the gem from

What I appreciate about the story is it doesn’t focus on Manwe clearing his name rather it focuses on Manwe trying to find his lover in order to re-steal the stone. This is where the real story is and in a short amount of time, approximately 26 Kindle pages, the reader gets a lot of emotion and character development.

Mr. Requard does an excellent job quickly getting the reader immersed into the story’s world and the character of Manwe. Manwe is very likeable. Yes, he’s a thief but he does it for honorable reasons, he doesn’t pocket a lot of the money what he steals brings instead giving it to a rebel cause. He is selfless and cares more deeply about his lover than the gem.

This was one of those stories I felt at the same time the appropriate length yet I wanted to see more of the world. On a scale of 1 to 5 pencils, I give The Gem of Acitus three-and-three quarter pencils.

Next I read Reefer Snakes! and it is very different from The Gem of Acitus. Where The Gem of Acitus has a love story at the core of it, Reefer Snakes! is essentially a stoner comedy set in a fictional Iron Age world. Jishnu is the main character and member of a mercenary group called the Grinders Sellsword Company. A bureaucrat approaches the Grinders to protect the cannabis fields overseen by a shaman named Spliff and a naga (man-snake) named King Patta.

I’ll just let that description sink in for a minute.

However, all is not what it seems. Despite the constant haze, the Grinders Sellsword Company is still able to get the job done demonstrating what amazing warriors they are. It is during the final showdown the reader learns the true intent was in sending the Grinders to the cannabis fields.

Reefer Snakes! is funny and very odd. Its world is gritty, like The Gem of Acitus, but unlike that world, this one is even more brutal. While I liked this story and it made me laugh several time, it is what it is. It’s meant to be humorous and bizarre but nothing more than that. It doesn’t have the emotional pull of the other novella, which is fine.

If you want something fun to read, that won’t tax your brain, then Reefer Snakes! is for you. On a scale of 1 to 5 pencils, I give it two-and-three quarter pencils.



Weekly Musing: Living Creatively

My own creativity is something I finally started listening to when I was already into adulthood. What I mean is that is when I started giving in to urges to just do something, anything, to get ideas, thoughts, emotions, my voice out I always held back. Eventually I figured out it to let it out. And guess what? I think it has made my life so much better.

Creativity has been something that has always fascinated me. Even as a kid I remember watching behind-the-scenes specials about how Fraggle Rock was made, how HBO’s opening sequence before each show was made, or special effects behind movies. The older I got the more I was still fascinated by how people came up with their ideas for books, movies, songs, art, whatever and however people expressed themselves. I am one of those people who still buys DVDs mainly for the special features and commentaries. I love searching for interviews with my favorite musicians and writers whenever they talk about their process and inspiration.

I was jealous because these people had managed to tap into a side of them I hoped I had. Deep down there was a voice desperate to get out but I couldn’t figure out what my avenue would be. I can’t draw; my stick figure people look like they have orthopedic problems. I can sorta play an instrument but I’m a mediocre musician on a good day. Composing my own songs is out of the question and my singing voice is best left to the car. I’m okay at taking pictures but not enough to fire up my creativity. Dancing is out as I trip over flat surfaces.

Finally it dawned on me to explore creative writing. After all I was a strong writer in school and had on and off come up with stories, even beginning some. The more I got into writing, not only did I become a happier person, the more I wanted to explore creativity and what fuels it. It has also given me confidence to explore other avenues of creativity.

It’s interesting to see how doing one creative activity can snowball into others. For example, I have always enjoyed cooking, more so when I started going off script. With the exception of baking, an activity I only do around Christmas, I view most recipes as suggestions. If I don’t have a particular spice, I’ll substitute. I like being able to increase or decrease the level of heat in a dish. I love playing around with different flavor combinations especially since I enjoy food from all over the world.

Another example of expanding my creativity is recently I have taken up coloring. Now on the surface this doesn’t sound like much, but for me coloring is a way for me to create art. I never really liked coloring as a kid because I was too busy trying to stay within the lines and color realistic-looking cats and dogs. But with adult coloring books, the designs are abstract so I don’t feel as if I have to conform to the norm which I sorta natural rebel against. Conformity = confinement as far as I’m concerned.

Having different creative outlets benefits my writing. Firstly, I have to concentrate completely on whatever that other activity is. Once my brain loses focus is when I start making mistakes. Secondly, engaging in another form of creativity rests the part of my brain I’ve been using for hours to write. Anyone who thinks using one’s mind isn’t physically exhausting hasn’t really ever used his or her brain. Thirdly, it allows for expressions of emotions and thoughts which simply cannot be express in the written word. This is why music, art, dance, etc. exist.

Perhaps I’m odd but somehow I’m able to turn off my writer’s brain when I do other activities. Or maybe I’m burying whatever issues I’m struggling with subconsciously yet my mind isn’t really “off”. No matter how I do it, the rest refreshes me so that when I turn on my writing brain it opens up the flood gates. I think this might be true for other creative types. I know writers who also paint, draw, or are musicians. There are actors who also sing, dance, or write for fun. Artists who write, make films, or play music as well.



Weekly Musing: Take Your Beta Readers to the Max

A term I never heard of before I threw myself into creative writing was Beta Reader. I wondered what this meant. Is it like one of those fighting Beta fishes? How is a Beta Reader different from a critique group? Why do I need one? When do I need one? How does one become one?

Simply put a Beta Reader is a person who reads the complete manuscript of a writer’s novel, novella, screenplay, or play. It is helpful to get feedback early on so that as a writer you can polish the manuscript before sending it out to be published. If you are at this stage with your story then you probably have read and re-read it so much yourself you probably are sick of seeing it.

How is beta reading different from just submitting work to a critique group? For one thing the idea of enlisting a group of Beta Readers is to give them the entire finished product. More often than not critique groups have restrictions on word count and frequency of submissions. While you can give your critique group each chapter at a time, it’s like giving pieces of a puzzle to someone and expecting them to put it together without having all the pieces. It’s also more difficult for members of a critique group to remember what previously happen in the story and see if there has been any character development.

Beta Readers get all the pieces to the puzzle. They get to see that whole picture, from the beginning to the middle to the end, experiencing the journey the reader would take in real time. Thus their feedback is probably a bit more solid than just having piecemeal feedback on a chapter here and there. That’s not to say to never let your critique group see the chapters. There are certainly areas where you know the writing is weaker or you’re struggling with how to write a scene or when you’re first starting the project. This is when your critique group can come in handy with feedback.

So how does one go about choosing Beta Readers? In order for the process to be beneficial, it’s a good idea to pull your Beta Readers from different walks of life. In addition to having a fellow writer or two read your complete work, invite non-writers as well. Fellow writers are looking for certain things but may suffer from tunnel vision. Invite friends and family who frequently read in your story’s genre. This type of reader is looking for certain things that a non-genre Beta Reader wouldn’t necessarily pick up on. After all, the majority of book readers are not writers. Good idea to get a feel for how the book reads for the average public. Finally, make sure you pick Beta Readers who is capable of giving constructive criticism.

When you’ve got your readers picked, make sure you give them plenty of time to adequately read your manuscript. This is especially important if the writer is facing a deadline. Even if you aren’t, still give your readers a deadline. After all the revision process is far lengthier than the initial rough draft stage. If you have any specific questions or concerns you’d liked addressed then let your readers know that. Tell your readers who you’d like to receive feedback. Are you okay with a hand written mark-up of the manuscript? Would you prefer an electronic version?

What are the responsibilities of a Beta Reader? People have lives so in addition to providing the most honest and constructive feedback possible, try to get your comments back to the author as soon as possible. When I beta read, the process is slower than my regular critiquing for my writers group and it is much, much slower than when I’m reading for fun. Keep that in the back of your mind when you accept or decline the offer to read. If you notice grammar and spelling mistakes and you feel confident enough, go ahead and note the errors. Naturally there are readers who focus more on this than others so don’t get bogged down too much in checking every single sentence. Remember, you are reading for content mostly. That being said, it can be quite frustrating to be spending more time correcting grammar and spelling, then actually absorbing the story.


Asking people to beta read your baby is scary. I get nervous whenever my work is critiqued and at this point I can only imagine how nerve-wracking it’s going to be when my novel is ready enough to be review by others. Be nice to your readers by thanking those who accept the offer as well as those who decline the invitation. Beta Readers, be respectful and honest to the writer. We’re can be fragile creatures and the author has placed a lot of trust in you. Hopefully the experience can be fun and beneficial for both sides.