Submit to the iWrite Youth Club Blog!

The Prompt of the Month: Take a big event that happened in your life, and twist it so that it happened to a character of your design. How would this character’s traits and personality affect the aftermath of the event? Say the event was the birth of a sibling. While you might have been excited, depending on the personality of your character, the reaction, and by extent the story, might be very different.

Feel free to keep it as long or short as you want! There are no constraints whatsoever. If you are interested in submitting your creative work to the iWrite Youth Club, click here!

Spark by Alex Zhang: A Review by Eshaan Mani

Ladies and gentlemen, the wait is over… iWrite Youth Club member Alex Zhang’s book Spark is finally out! Spark is a young-adult science fiction novel which traces the journey of Jackson and his friends Wesley, Subulo, and Ruby. Spark is the first book in a triad under the label Ember. 

Jackson and Wesley are just two normal teens who are sucked into a parallel universe after their dealings with mysterious Subulo, an otherworldly creature. On their journeys, they meet Ruby and other characters who are best described as… well, unique. There’s Ibeti, with his lolling purple tongue, Icelandic zombie Russell, and Subulo’s murderous alter ego Croweley, who has some questionable intents. And at the end of their journeys together, Jackson’s life is wrenched from his hands… in more ways than one. 

You can tell that Spark was written with lots of love, thought, and passion. One big thing I loved about this book was the comic timing and sharp wit throughout. If you know Alex, you know about his killer sense of humor, and that humor comes across in his writing as well. Even the most morbid of scenes are lightened by Subulo’s sarcasm and Wesley’s millennial sayings. I’m not really an avid sci-fi reader, but I was hooked on Spark and wished it was longer than 158 pages. 

The unpredictability of what is going to happen on the next page is also something to admire. There’s no set path for the characters, and some of the turns border on the ridiculous side of the spectrum. But it’s all well and good in a sci-fi novel, isn’t it? 

Overall, Spark is a must-read to add to your library checkout lists, and I rate the book 10/10 – it’s captivating, humorous, and a perfect read for a cozy evening. Congrats to Alex on his first book and I hope that you, reading this blog post now, enjoy it!

For more information please visit: longtalepublishing.com/product/spark

Pen and Paint Bringing the Community Together: How a Nonprofit is Spreading the Universal Language of Art in Houston

By Eshaan Mani

            With the world being brought closer by social media, increased global mobility, and the ability to share knowledge with the tap of a key, America’s diversity is increasing, and a prime example of this is in the city of Houston. Houston welcomes more immigrants and refugees than any other city in the US, and is a melting pot of languages, cultures, ideas, and faces. The Gulfton neighborhood in Houston is home to the majority of these immigrants and refugees, and there is an organization whose vision is to unite the community under the magic of art for these newcomers to Houston. 

            That organization is CHAT, or Culture of Health – Advancing Together. CHAT started what they would love to see as an annual creative writing contest last summer, in association with Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Complete Communities initiative and as part of the Visit my Neighborhood program. This contest gave kids and adults of all backgrounds the opportunity to share their talent and submit their writing.  In its first writing contest, twelve writing pieces were chosen as the inspiration for murals, which would be painted along the ‘Gulfton Story Trail’, encompassing the whole neighborhood. 

            My involvement with CHAT was rather by chance. I was bored one day last summer and was browsing the internet for any writing contests I could enter, as writing is my passion. I found CHAT’s website and read about the contest. I was immediately intrigued and loved the initiative. Fueled by the motivation of a good cause, I began writing a multi-faceted poem about family, belief in oneself, and diversity. I submitted to the contest and waited.

            In mid-October, nine artists employed by CHAT chose the pieces which they were inspired by and began the creative process. My poem was chosen by Vivienne Dang, a wonderful and talented artist, to depict on the wall of Jane Long Academy. “The mural took me six days…This is my hobby, so I came on the weekends and at night after work, and painted. I worked with the administration at Jane Long, and I needed to portray the school’s spirit as well as honor the Gulfton Story Trail’s initiatives for the project. I really believe that diversity is seeing beyond the colors of our skin and embracing our differences,” Ms. Dang said. 

            On April 2, I received the news that my writing submission served as an inspiration for Ms. Dang’s work, and was told that the tour of the murals would be that Saturday. So, I woke up bright and early, and journeyed to the Gulfton neighborhood. I had the privilege to meet the founder of CHAT, Dr. Aisha Siddiqui. Dr. Siddiqui explained her shift from Doctor of Public Health to nonprofit founder. She had always wished she could help society in a significant way. Through her doctorate at UT, she met many immigrant women who faced troubles adapting to a new society. Then she realized that she needed to help the immigrants and refugees in Southwest Houston live a better life in the United States. 

            Dr. Siddiqui informed me that “more than one hundred languages are spoken in this area, but art is the universal language… there is no need to understand any language for art. The pen and paint can touch hearts and change lives, and by combining them, I hope to bring together this community of multiple ethnicities”. While we were driving around the area, I felt a renewed affinity for art as I looked at the murals painted on such a grand scale. As Dr. Siddiqui said, “you can just take a full day standing here and looking at these paintings, taking in each detail and how the colors pop out at you. It is magical”. 

Happy Thanksgiving, iWriters!

A Time of Thanking and Praying

by iWrite Historian Eshaan Mani

That crisp aroma is back,

As the serene green foliage is turned to a warm amber,

And tart cranberry pies are set in the ovens,

So flavorful you can taste them.

 

A nippy breeze whooshes by as blackbirds swoop about

As wool sweaters are dug out from the far reaches of closets,

And the sun’s blazing glory is muted by autumn tinges.

During this time of penitent and grateful reflection

When hands are folded and ginghams are laid,

The whole family gathers to give thanks.

 

We give thanks for the storms that have touched and gone,

We give thanks for the great times we’ve had together,

We give thanks for the content lives we lead.

But we also pray.

 

We pray for those

whose Thanksgivings are stained red with blood,

We pray for those who’re subject to any and all evils of the world.

We pray for those whose homes were washed away,

For those who still tremble from the cold nights outside a fast food joint

Whose homes are a slab of pavement in a land of kings.

We pray that they be well on this day,

And forever.

Writing Sucked

By Alex Zhang 
iWRITE Youth Club Member & Published Author

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​​There once was a boy called Alex,
Who thought writing was a chore.
It was tiring, frustrating, hopeless,
And most of all, it was a bore.
He hated it with a passion,
He thought it was a waste of time.
Why think of really good poems,
When you struggle even to rhyme?
But one day, everything changed.
His parents had had enough.
They said, “Fool, silly, enter this thing!”
So Alex wrote down a poem with a huff.
Alex entered that contest,
And forgot about it for a while,
But then one day he got an email,
And what was inside made him smile.
It said, “We’d love to feature you,
Alex, your poem is great!
If you ever want to join us,
Send an email; don’t hesitate.”
Of course, that’s not what it said,
But he had won himself a name.
Alex joined this wonderful group,
And he was never again the same.
He actually liked writing now,
As he wrote and he wrote with delight.
And so, my gracious audience,
Ends the magical tale of iWrite.

The Video Game Turned Reality: A Review of Tomb Raider

By Alyssa Reid

iWRITE Youth Club Secretary & Published Author

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Director: Roar Uthaug
With: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, Nick Frost, Hannah John-Kamen, Antonio Aakeel, Alexandre Willaume, Tamer Burjaq, Adrian Collins, Kennan Arrison.
Release Date: Mar 16, 2018


This review contains spoilers.

The thing about video games, I’ve learned, is that it’s always about making sure everything that can go wrong will go wrong. And it is with this mentality that the screenwriters composed the 2018 action film entitled Tomb Raider.
It’s a rather enticing name, if I do say so myself—even if, by the time the credits roll, little has been stolen except a few lives. And, to be fair, that was stolen by the tomb itself.
Alicia Vikander is the woman behind a strong, female lead; she’s exactly what audiences came to see. Of course, as Laura, she is more agile and clever than those above her, as protagonists are; however, amid her stubbornness and bravery, she refrains from any choice quips about her gender. She allows Laura Croft to be defined by her own actions, and some lead to her finding herself trapped inside a coffin-enclosed mystery that her father once tried to lock shut.
On a more technical note, the cinematography was beautiful. Sweeping shots follow Laura as she dashes across Hong Kong docs; a shaky camera dashes through a sinking ship with her; and a steady hand walks across the tomb room with the characters. In a world where so many aspects of life are captured by screens, the storytelling through a film must be immersive; and immersive this is.
The CGI is coupled expertly with this; terrifying waves crash over the Endurance, the ship. Although the shots from guns can arguably look cartoonish and fake, it’s not something that has a high level of complaint for me.
There is also the element of coloring: Laura and her father’s memories all consist of similar hues: normally grayish tones with highlights of pink and green. It creates a faded look, but one that is reminiscent nonetheless.
The film was written expertly. Croft, a broke orphan and enthusiastic boxer, seems to have a way of getting in trouble—as seen when she joins a “fox-and-hound” bike race (where herself, as the fox, has to outbike many other competitors as green paint attached to her bike marks her trail) and ends up running into a police car.
And so begins the story of how Laura Croft ends up thrust into a world far more ancient than anything she believes exists and more mysterious than her father’s unfortunate disappearance.
“I’ll be back before you know I’m gone,” her father can be heard saying in Laura’s memories. They have a universal symbol; the kissing of two fingers before outstretching them to the other.
The film blends both faith and fantasy; blends religion and reality. Mathias Vogel, the “bad guy” ready to leave a myth-torn island, just wants to get the tomb of the privately infamous Queen Himiko so he can leave it, and Laura is with him; they both know there is no supernatural substance when regarding the myth of the Queen who was so demonic she killed people by touching them, who was so cruel that every story of her rein “ended in rivers of blood.” Her tomb is real, and that is it.
And even the finding of her father, the great Richard Croft, who firmly believes the Queen is alive and trapped in her coffin, does not sway Laura.
“Ladies first,” Vogel tells her when the tomb entrance is opened. And so Laura goes down into a cave that legend says she should never come back out of.
They make their way through various challenges where various crew members are lost along the way.
And they wait. The tomb is opened. Nothing happens, until it does.
The means for the end of the world lies in a cavern designed to keep people in, but Vogel, holding the key to all of that destruction, has other plans. Laura chases after him, the man who now walks towards leading the demise of the world. She’ll fight for this.
Perhaps, in the end, it is no mystery that the girl who was an expert with the bow would grow up to save hundreds from an imprisonment camp with that same weapon; that she would fight to the death for the man she thought was probably dead; that she would end up saving the world with little more than her own hands.
Despite her dislike of the supernatural and, for her, unbelievable, her story slots in nicely with other hero-like tales. She was a nobody, thrust into a world far different than the one she once knew, and now, she has to fight to know what she never could have imagined.
This is why, I believe, we enter theatres of all kinds: to learn something. Perhaps we learn the importance of family, or strength, or bravery; perhaps we learn that, no matter our pasts, we all have a greater responsibility to those who may never appreciate us or may never care. Perhaps some of us go to reaffirm the belief that myths are myths; but some of us learn that myths, no matter the amount of truth in them, affect us in ways we never could have believed, either: in fights, in bike rides, in adventures far beyond our wildest imaginations.
And perhaps, in the end of it all, Laura Croft becomes something of a myth herself.

A Beginner’s Guide to Dungeons and Dragons, Written by a Semi-Beginner to Dungeons and Dragons

By Annie Jones
iWRITE Youth Club Junior Officer & Published Author

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“Can I do a stealth check?” Andrew Nanna asked. Mr. Center looked at him, confused. “On… What?” he replied. “I want to sneak to the back of the cave,” he explained impatiently. Mr. Center said, “Nanna, there’s nothing in the cave with you guys. You don’t have to sneak up on the wall. It hasn’t noticed you yet, so I don’t think it’s ever going to.” The room full of boys erupted in laughter. Well, not full of boys. There was a girl (me) who laughed along with them. Finally, someone said, “Can I do a perception check?” He rolled the die and got… Drum roll… a 3 out of 20. Mr. Center said, “To you, the cave looks big and dark.” The next kid goes and rolls a 1. “OK, that cave is looking big and dark.” I raise my hand, “Can I do a perception check?” I reach for the dice. “Thank goodness! Go ahead,” he says. I drop the die onto the table. “16, plus my intelligence score adds 2, so 18.” Mr. Center goes into storytelling mode.

“Jack starts to walk into the cave, but Annie throws out her arm and says, “Stop!” Everyone grumbles, but she lights a torch and waves it in front of the group. In the light of the torch, you see a thin, glimmering tripwire across the entrance to the cave. Jack backs away. You were all about to set off the trap. Alright, activity period is over. Time to go to class!”

At my school, we have activity periods where we get to choose what activity you want to do. I chose Dungeons and Dragons, and even though it had come out in 1974 (the year my parents were born) I knew nothing about it. And to make matters worse, I was the only girl in the group. Granted, I had told Mr. Center, the head of the activity, that I didn’t mind that (which I didn’t), but still. All of the D&D guides online used fancy words like, 1d20 Constitution saving throws or +2 charisma modifier. How was I supposed to know what all that meant? So I’ll be giving you the rundown in my D&D basic guide.

First and Foremost, how do you play? Well, you have your party, which is the people you’re playing with, and the Dungeon Master, or DM. Mr. Center is my DM. When you start a game, your DM might say,” all of you are in a tavern, minding your own business, when you overhear some dwarves talking about how they need someone to guard their wagon through the forest on a 3-day trip.” You can ask your DM, “can I walk up to the dwarves and say I’ll guard the wagon.” You walk up to the dwarves and your DM tells you what the dwarves say. The DM is the god of your D&D world. He tells you where you are, who’s with you, and what’s happening.

But you aren’t in this D&D world, are you? You aren’t in a tavern with dwarves. That’s where your character comes in. You have to design your character and their abilities to take your place in the game. First, you choose your character race. The races are Tiefling, Dragonborn, Half Orc, Elf, Half Elf, Dwarf, Gnome, Halfling, Human (at least, those are the basic races. Beginners should limit themselves to these). Next, you choose your class. I won’t list all of them, but some examples are sorcerer, warlock, ranger, barbarian, and rogue. Your class adds to your character’s abilities. If you are a sorcerer, you typically don’t have heavy melee weapons and instead rely on your spells. Barabarians are just the opposite. It helps to pick a class that works well with your race (i.e. barbarian half-orc, ranger elf), but it can also be fun to mess around with a contradictory character and write a more interesting story for them.

Once you choose your class and race, there are a lot of varied things you have to do, so check with your DM if you are a beginner on cantrips and proficinecies and things like that, but you really don’t have to know every single term to play for the first time. But something you definitely have to know is how to use the dice. Say you are being attacked by a cougar and want to use your “Acid Splash” spell. You ask the DM if you can do it. You have to roll the die to see if the spell works and if you miss.If you roll an 18 (and it isn’t a freaky magic cougar) that cougar will die. If you roll a 3, you miss and the panther gets back to trying to eat you. Pro tip: have someone else with you in combat. One bad roll and you’re dead without some backup. If you’re fighting something more challenging that takes a lot of hits to defeat and you’re swinging a sword at it, you also have to factor your strength score into the damage it makes. If you have a low strength score, it won’t damage the monster as much.

Finally, how do you determine that Strength Score? Well, you have 6 different statistics that describe your character’s strengths and abilities. These are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. If you are a sorcerer and casting a spell, you use Charisma. High charisma, stronger spell (same as in the strength example). You determine this charisma by rolling a die. Roll four 6-sided dice and add up the results. This number will be the points for one of your scores. Repeat this for each one, and voila! Just make sure to do this in front of the Dungeon Master so he knows you weren’t cheating.

So now you know the basics of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s a really fun game, encouraging the use of imagination and creativity. Make whatever character you want, with whatever race/class combo you want. As I’ve said, this game has existed since 1974 and in currently in it’s fifth version (if you ever google something related to D&D, put 5e at the end). It’s still as fun as ever and it’s awesome when you’re first trying it out. So mess around a bit, write a cool backstory, and don’t get eaten by an Undead Wolf. I hope this helped.