4th Novel Coming Soon

In another day or so, my fourth novel How Black is the Shadow will arrive on Amazon. It’s a wonderful story about how the loss of a brother motivates a simple peasant girl named Kat to journey across the world for a relic to bring him back to life. Along the way, Kat grows into a strong, sassy heroine with more sass than she has sense. Once the book is approved and comes out on Amazon, I highly recommend you get it to follow Kat on her quest. I know you’ll love it.

Originally I wanted to find a publisher for the novel. I’m confident in my writing and I know an agent will take it. But I’ve recently done some big edits and need to resend query letters. I’m sure that soon enough an agent will pick up How Black is the Shadow, so get the book while you can. Once I get picked up by an agent, I’ll have to take the book off Amazon, and when the book returns to the market, the price will be hiked up from the $2.99 I’m selling it at.

So stay tuned, folks!

Spring Break in the City

While the rest of my classmates spent spring break in warm, beach resorts, getting drunk off their asses, I stayed in New York City. My girlfriend Kita from Britain came to visit. We can’t see each other often, so it was a meaningful week for the two of us.

A blizzard rolled through on Tuesday, closing down just about everything. All the days after, slush and snow covered the city. We often reached our destinations wet-footed and shivering, but it didn’t stop us. My girlfriend and I went to the Natural History Museum, the MET, Chelsea Market, Joe’s Pizza, Doughnut Plant, Centeal Park, Staten Island, and the Bronx Zoo, which was dead at this time of year. The weather complicated things, but we enjoyed our time together regardless.

Now that the week is over, I realized how much I hate daily life. The week showed me how good life could be without classes or work. It wasn’t perfect by any means. I still worried about my responsibilities for the following week, I stressed about money, and I didn’t sleep well because a twin-sized bed just isn’t enough space for two people. Yet, all this showed me where I want to be.

School is necessary. Work is necessary. Maybe even stress is necessary. It guides us on the path to a steady, prosperous life. But I don’t want to start myself on this path. I don’t even want to be on the path. I want a steady life to spend with my girlfriend without worry or stress or the restraint of a tiny bed. My future is uncertain. All this work and suffering could be for nothing. I want every week to be like a vacation and I want it like that now.

I don’t mean to bitch, but I’ve been floating through life, aimless and apathetic, just going through the motions. I didn’t even realize how unhappy I was. I needed to express myself or else I might explode.

Columbia University: A Review

As my senior year at Columbia University comes to a close, I am as sick of this place as I am reminiscent of the times I’ve spent here. With that said, I think I’m in just the right place to critique the university.Image result for columbia university

Academics

From an academic standpoint, Columbia is one of the best universities. In fact, Columbia University is ranked 5th in the country by US News and World Report and 15th in the world by Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Whatever your major, you are sure to find an expert staff to prepare you for your future. For graduates there is everything from a law school to a Jewish seminary. For undergraduates, you can find whatever you’re looking for either in the liberal arts education of Columbia College or in the science-focused School of Engineering and Sciences. Economics and finance are two of the most popular fields, though, and a large portion of Columbia students end up on Wall Street or in large banks or firms.

Since I’m part of Columbia College, I can tell you more about the liberal arts. The main thing to know about liberal arts at Columbia is the core curriculum. The core is Columbia’s most prized possession and one of the students’ most hated part of the institution. The core is a list of required classes: University Writing, Frontiers of Science, Masterpieces of Western Literature, Masterpieces of Western Art, Masterpieces of Western Music, and Contemporary Civilizations (philosophy), as well as a science requirement, global core (foreign history) requirement, foreign language requirement, physical education requirement, and a swimming test.

The idea is to make well-rounded students who have knowledge in just about everything. However, as you can tell, the core takes up an enormous amount of time. That’s time that could be spent on attaining your major, attaining a minor, or taking courses you don’t need, but might find interesting. With the exception of Frontiers of Science (that’s a useless course) the core classes are difficult and engaging. You can learn a lot from them. But do you really need science if you’re majoring in literature for example?

Finances

Let me be frank, unless you’re rich, you can’t afford Columbia. When I met with a worker at the Columbia financial aid office, he told me I would have to go into debt to study here. Although Columbia University owns a ton of property in NYC and is rich beyond comprehension, they will not give you enough money to cover full tuition. You can get a large grant and also do work study, but it probably won’t be enough. Without any financial aid taken into consideration, it costs around $90,000 a year to study at Columbia University and live in NYC. It’s a wonderful institution and an amazing city, but your wallet will hate you.

Student Life/Life in the City

Chances are you won’t have a lot of time to relax here. The stress culture here is unavoidable. A recent study has stated Columbia University is the most sleep-deprived university in the country. In addition, mental health is absolutely terrible here. Judging by people I’ve talked to and by the extremely busy schedules of Columbia’s psychological services, I would estimate that 40% of the university struggles with some form of anxiety or depression. In January alone, two students have already commit suicide.

Granted, every university will be stressful. But the university has been doing very little to stop the stress culture. And in my own experience with Columbia’s psychologists, they were too busy to find appropriate meeting times and when we did meet, I found the psychologists to be quite dismissive. Many students who struggle with depression and anxiety are simply told to go home. It’s truly appalling. But that’s one of the things you need to learn is that Columbia is a bureaucracy and it often seems that the bureaucrats simply don’t care about you.

BUT! Before this gets too depressing, there is a great list of clubs and societies to join when you do get free time. I myself am the editor of a Slavic journal called the Birch. I know people in photography societies, a cappella groups, science clubs, and so on. You name it. It exists. Can’t find it in Columbia? It exists in the city.

Of course, there are frats and sororities for parties or whatever you use them for. I don’t understand the appeal, but to each his own. But the older you get, the dumber the frats get here. There are clubs and bars everywhere in the city. You can find some place better. Not to mention, there are phenomenal restaurants, cafes, bakeries, museums, and lots lots more. You have no excuse to say you’re bored in NYC. You’re only excuse for boredom is that you’re too busy or too poor.

Athletics

Hahah that’s funny. No one cares about sports here. I hear we have a great fencing team though.

People

Columbia University, like NYC, is extremely diverse. Roughly 30% of the university is international students, but aside from that, there are people from all over the country, rich, poor, black, white, young, old, gay, straight, bi. This is a liberal campus. We accept people of all types.

With that said, you can divide some of the students into groups. There are the athletes, who got in because they’re adequate at sports. Generally, they’re not as intellectual and not as liberal as the rest of us.

There are the rich, white frat boys with their salmon pants and ugly Vineyard Vines sweatshirts. Money might have got some of them into the private schools, so a good handful are intelligent. Another handful are like the athletes.

There are the cool foreign students who smoke in front of the library. There are also the studious foreign students who don’t speak English well, but must be intelligent because they spend most of their time inside the library.

There are the Barnard girls. I forgot to mention Barnard College. It’s a girl’s college affiliated with Columbia. However, the acceptance rate there is 17% while Columbia University’s acceptance rate is only 6%. 17% is still a small acceptance rate, but that 9% can be the difference between an intelligent girl and a moderately intelligent girl who was popular in school and took a lot of leadership positions. But in their favor, Barnard girls are stereotypically quite pretty.

Anyways, people are people. They’re complex. They obviously don’t all fit into a neat little stereotypes. If you take anything at all from this, you should pay attention to the first paragraph. This is a diverse campus. You should have no problem finding the perfect friend group for yourself.

Summary

Columbia University is a tough school. Tough to get into. Tough to stay in. Tough to pay for afterwards. Not everything is perfect at Columbia. However, the name alone will take you far and the education will take you even further. You will struggle. That is for certain. But if you remember to explore the city when you have the time, you will find the stress relief you need. If you’re privileged enough to get accepted into Columbia University, you should accept what they offer. Odds are you’ll be making loads of money on Wall Street after you graduate, so don’t worry about a thing.

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Writing and the Writer’s Life

Any person who has ever taken an introductory creative writing course has heard this advice: “write about what you know.” Ironically, the very next advice seems to be “write about what you don’t know.” The instructors think they’re clever, but I can’t count how many times I’ve heard this.

You can’t accurately write about something you know nothing about, so write about experiences in your own life. You saw, heard, and felt them in vivid detail. It shouldn’t be too hard to describe them that way. Think of the people, the places, the emotions. It’s all fair game for a story.

But on the other hand, your life is boring. The majority of us are painfully average, you know. So don’t write to us about your daily grind, about how you got your mail or did your laundry. We don’t care to hear it and you hardly care to live it.

Okay, so this doesn’t mean you have to write fantasy or science fiction. Those are my favorite genres, but not every story needs to have magical and mystical happenings. Rather, consider what elements you can take from your own life to add to a more exciting content. You can cut out people, places, feelings, and then plant them in the context of adventure and intrigue. A masterful writer can make any situation worth reading, but don’t make it so hard on yourself.

Query Letter: How Black is the Shadow

I’m in the process of writing my query letter for How Black is the Shadow. I’d appreciate any and all feedback. If you have none, I hope the letter at least makes you excited to read my next novel. Here you are:

Dear Agent:

When Kat’s brother falls through the ice of a frozen river, she vows never to return home until she can find a relic to bring her brother back to life.

Devastated, Kat leaves her farmhouse in the dead of winter with a head full of fireside stories to guide her and a horn of her brother’s ashes to keep her company. Despite her stubborn attitude and sharp tongue, Kat earns a spot in the house of a king by saving the eldest prince from his servants’ treachery. The prince turns out to be a prick, but Kat finds a sorceress and a famous warrior to aid her as she investigates her stories of rebirth. However, Kat soon discovers life in the castle is but a series of plots and counterplots. Of all the lords and ladies Kat meets, the majority will betray or desert her in the end.

Although a peasant girl when she starts chasing after legends, Kat grows into a sorceress worthy of legend. All she wants is a normal life with her brother and her family, but the road changes her. She must become something more to revive her brother and avoid the nobles’ destructive ambitions, because they won’t just sacrifice Kat for their betterment, but anyone so long as they take power.

HOW BLACK IS THE SHADOW is a 130,000-word high fantasy novel. It combines the deceitful, history-rich environment of A Song of Ice and Fire with the individual experience and personal quest of recovering what was lost of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

All the best,

Andrew Layden

A Few Days in Montreal

What did you ask Santa for this Christmas? I asked for a trip to Montreal and since I was a good boy this year, Santa obliged. Lucky me!

I’m not much of a patriot and Europe has always seemed a better fit for me. The architecture, the food, the culture. I can’t get enough of it. However, the price tag on a trip to Europe is a bit too much for me. Montreal is the closest I can get, so I decided to go for just three nights.

The first night was a bit of a throwaway. After a long bus ride, all I wanted was a long rest. But before that I trudged through the snow to La Banquise for some poutine. The walk was terrible, but the poutine was worth it. Also, I’m an idiot and could’ve taken any method of transportation. Regardless, there were several styles of poutine to choose from and incredibly friendly wait staff, which is surprising for a restaurant that’s open 24/7. I expected more tired eyes and empty voices, but spirits were high and the smiles were wide. So if you’re in Montreal, make sure to stop there at any hour of the day or night.

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The next day, I set out, on foot once again, to see Old Montreal and the Contemporary Art Museum. Contemporary art is weird, but even the most conservative among us can find artwork we admire. I’ll show you some photos, but the exhibits are bound to change by the time you get there.

Old Montreal, however, will not change. The neighborhood prides itself on its past. St. Paul Street is especially nice. It has the warm architecture and skinny cobblestone roads of Europe with a myriad of quaint shops, cafes, and restaurants you might expect to find in France. Whether you have a specific place in mind that you want to visit in Old Montreal, the neighborhood is still worth walking around.

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I ended the day with dinner at O Noir. As the name might suggest, I ate in complete darkness. Not only this, but the waiters were blind. It was a phenomenal experience; as difficult as it was enjoyable. Without your sense of sight, you cherish every bite.

The next morning took me to the Montreal Fine Arts Museum. If you don’t like contemporary art, the Fine Arts Museum is a better choice. You have popular artwork from Monet, Bruegel, Picasso, Rembrandt, and so on. The main exhibit when I visited was Robert Mapplethorpe. I’d show you photos, but his art mainly concerned homoerotic themes. They’re powerful photos, but I’ll let you Google them on your own. Here are some other photos instead.

After my time at the museum, I headed to Mont Royal Park. The mountain from which Montreal gets its name is a beauty. During the winter, you can crosscountry ski to the top, but if that’s not for you, you’ll have to climb the stairs. Get ready for a workout. It’s all worth it, though. The view is astounding.

All that walking got me hungry, so I descended the mountain and made my way to Schwartz’s Deli. If you don’t know what to get, ask for a medium smoked meat sandwich. Medium doesn’t denote size, but how lean your meat is. Trust me, you want a little fat on it. It’ll melt in your mouth. But be careful. It’s hard to bite off a small piece of the sandwich because the rye bread can be a little stubborn. You’ll eat the whole sandwich in a matter of minutes and then you’ll sit there crying with mustard and grease on your fingers, wishing you took your time. That was my experience anyways. Schwartz’s sandwiches are as good a reason as any to convert to Judaism.

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By the time I got back to my hostel, I was hungry again so I headed out to Yokato Yokabai Ramen House. I’m a ramen fiend, and tonkotsu, my favorite ramen broth, is Yokato Yokabai’s specialty. You could also get a miso broth if you wanted, but why would you do that? Exactly. You know, when people eat ramen, they often complain about how salty it is, wish there was another egg, or wish there wasn’t any seaweed. You can control all of that on your menu. All you have to do is write in your level of saltiness and your amounts of seaweed, egg, and so on. Soon enough, you get a personalized bowl of rich, heavenly ramen. You might have to wait outside for a little bit, but the food is worth the wait.Image result for yokato yokabai

On my final day, I only wanted to relax with a cup of coffee and a tasty pastry. There’s no better place to do it than Maison Christian Faure. Located in Old Montreal, this patisserie is led by a French-trained professional who is an absolute wizard with his pastries. You can get brunch if you like, but I recommend asking for a pastry. They’ll bring out a plate of what looks more like artwork than food, and then they ask you to make a choice. It’s absolutely impossible. So if you pick more than one, who can blame you? I picked two. They’re not exactly cheap, but go ahead and live a little. You won’t regret it.Image result for maison christian faure