“Writing that Changed My Life”

Many of us have a particular piece, some sort of text that has changed the way we look at literature and writing forever. The members of The Dulcimer have listed their favorites below and described how it has inspired (for good or for worse) what they read, what they write, and even how they live their lives.


Amanda Barrentine (Publicity Manager)

“No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.” –  Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why

This work was a complete masterpiece. It’s about a girl who has committed suicide that leaves behind a set of tapes for thirteen people she has designated as the main reasons why she killed herself. It looks into how bullying is wrong and how much one person can affect another’s life, even in the smallest of ways. This book changed how I look at the world, and its message is so profound. It opened my mind to the idea of being kind instead of persecuting people who are different. Everyone should read this book if they have a chance.

Jennifer Champagne (Editor in Chief)

“When I write, it’s everything that we don’t know we can be that is written out of me, without exclusions, without stipulation, and everything we will be calls us to the unflagging, intoxicating, unappeasable search for love. In one another we will never be lacking.” –  Hélène Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa”

I first read “The Laugh of the Medusa” for a literary theory class. And while many students in that library were meandering their way through textbooks or chugging cups of coffee to stay awake, I was having a revelation. Cixous snapped me awake; she pulled me out of my world. I found myself highlighting every sentence, every word. What she said excited me. All of it made me want to write, but not just anything. Cixous made me want to challenge everything that pulled me back, to confront myself and write in ways I never thought I could. For writing is where you can find your freedom, where any barrier can be broken down with the flick of the wrist or the typing of words.

Chelsey Guy (General Staff)

“I like the night. Without the dark, we’d never see the stars.” – Stephenie Meyer, Twilight

I have had a love affair with books since I was three years old. So, I have read a lot of books. Out of all the books that I have read, the one book that truly changed my life had to have been Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. Although I hated the way it was written, I was enchantingly mystified by the characters and plot. My hatred of the Twilight’s writing style was what motivated me to write my first novel at the age of 12. I have to thank Twilight for making me the writer and reader that I am.


Monica Hoyle (Publicity Manager)

“The circus comes without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.” – Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

I can’t really say what literary work has changed my life. My favorite book as a child was Little Women. I don’t really know why, perhaps it was because I didn’t have any sisters, so I enjoyed reading about something that I always wondered about. If I had to pick a favorite book now, it would be The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. When I read it, I was immediately taken back into the fantasy world of life behind the circus that I had created in my head as a child.

Hannah Hyde (Copy Editor)

“A sailor chooses the wind that takes the ship from a safe port. Ah, yes, but once you’re abroad, as you have seen, winds have a mind of their own. Be careful, Charlotte, careful of the wind you choose.” – Avi, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

I’ve always had a weakness for stories, so choosing just one that impacted my life is incredibly difficult. But, aside from the dreadful math books that forever turned me away from a career in the sciences, I’d have to say The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi is one book that has stuck with me since my childhood. I think I was about 10 years old when I first read it and, among Charlotte’s adventures on the high seas, I felt the beginnings of a greater awareness of the forces within the world and their impact on individual lives. I find it eerily poignant that, as I’m finishing my undergraduate career and having to choose my next move, outside forces (read: my editor-in-chief) would bring me back to that lesson I first discovered over a decade ago.

Allison Kim (Art Editor)

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked. “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.” “How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice. “You must be,” said the Cat, “otherwise you wouldn’t have come here.” – Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass appears in many forms in art and pop culture. The aspect of it that attracts me the most is the very concept of a world built on absurdity that does not collapse on itself. I grew up creating fanciful worlds and embracing the innate madness in them and I still do. I don’t control the characters or mechanics in them. Instead, my worlds become independent universes of their own, constantly growing and developing with or without me. I also enjoy a mad tea party every now and then.


Avery Lewis (General Staff)

“Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost.” –Hiromu Arakawa, “Fullmetal Alchemist”

“Fullmetal Alchemist,” a manga series by Hiromu Arakawa, boasts the most compelling plot into which I have ever been drawn, and it also introduced me to a multitude of lovable characters whom I miss dearly now that the series has concluded. Mixing steampunk, fantasy, and both religious and scientific lore, Arakawa crafted a masterpiece which inspired me to try and match her level of writing. I decided I want my audience to have the same emotional connection I had to “Fullmetal Alchemist”. I want them to cry, laugh, and cheer alongside the characters as they complete their journey, just as I did with Edward and Alphonse Elric as they searched for a way to restore their physical bodies after a disastrous attempt to resurrect their deceased mother using alchemy.

Katie Montgomery (Design Editor)

“And I have known them all already, known them all. / Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, / I have measured out my live with coffee spoons; / I know the voices dying with a dying fall / Beneath the music from a farther room. / So how should I presume?” –T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

I was a junior in high school when I first read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot. The poem is so beautiful, so bizarre, like nothing I had ever read. From that moment, I knew I was going to major in English Literature in college. No one else in my class showed interest, and my teacher seemed like she was just repeating the explanation in her teacher’s edition of our textbook. I had so many questions and ideas that I wanted to discuss about the poem rather than just reading it aloud in class. I haven’t been able to talk about Prufrock in a classroom setting, but majoring in English has equipped me with the skills to make my own interpretations about Eliot’s iconic poem.

Farah Rafi (General Staff)

“I feel like a wet seed wild in the hot blind earth.” – William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying

In my AP Literature class in high school, I read the book As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. I wouldn’t say this book changed my life except for maybe that I wouldn’t pick it up and read it again.  The interesting thing about this novel is that it is a stream of consciousness, so most of it is really the author’s narration of the novel through the voice of the characters. On top of that, the book is written in first person with several different characters; the most prominent one, Darl, is sent to a mental asylum after he tries to set his mother’s coffin on fire. Throughout the whole novel, Darl was the one narrating most of the chapters and being sent to a mental asylum made me wonder whether or not he was a reliable narrator and that what he had explained in the chapters was true or just a figment of his imagination. Although I would not read the novel again, I definitely learned how an author can mess with a reader’s mind which is something I like to incorporate in some of my pieces.


CJ Triplett (Submissions Editor)

“Being in a minority, even a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.” – George Orwell, 1984

Orwell’s 1984 changed me in a number of ways, I think. For one, it was a very grim but compelling look at a world that our own is in danger of becoming, which gave me insight into a lot of different aspects about our reality. I learned to never trust what was being said, but to understand what was not being said. I learned that the truth, much like the quote says, is not always the truth, and it is not always the one people want you to believe. There are so many ideas and themes present in this novel.

Five Tips for NaNoWriMo Success


by Avery Lewis (General Staff)

National Novel Writing Month, known in the writers’ world as NaNoWriMo, is a month dedicated to churning out novels. The goal is to complete a novel of at least 50,000 words within the month of November. Amateurs and professionals alike sign up for the challenge every year. Many become disillusioned, lazy, or sidetracked, and few actually complete the challenge. Here are five tips to help you stay on the path of NaNoWriMo success:


1. Start with an idea and nothing more. If you stop to focus on all the details, mapping out characters and plots, you’ll undoubtedly get too bogged down in the planning stages. All you need is a concept and a starting point, and from there you write whatever comes to mind. The story will take shape on its own as you progress. This is not to say you should not put thought into your writing, but don’t become obsessed with making sure you have everything figured out and perfect before you start.


2. As Hemingway says, write drunk. Don’t worry about the tiny imperfections here and there. Expect to have imperfections in the first draft. Inconsistencies, illogical character choices, rough dialogue, and laughable grammar are common, even welcome in first drafts! And that’s exactly what NaNoWriMo is about – first drafts. You’re not preparing for publication during November; you are simply getting the story written, rough edges and all.


3. Media can wait. New episodes of The Walking Dead, Legend of Korra, Sleepy Hollow, and The Originals will be available on the Internet, so don’t sacrifice your writing time just to catch the original airing of an episode. You can catch up during a scheduled break or even after NaNoWriMo is over. Grand Theft Auto V, Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, and Pokemon X and Y? They’ll still be in stock once November is over. Unless you are one in a million, don’t try to use video games as a break, because you will become sidetracked and lose precious hours of writing time.


4. Schedule writing, but also schedule breaks. Sure, during NaNoWriMo, it’s good to write whenever a spare moment presents itself. But it’s also good to have set times that you are committed to every day. That being said, don’t spend whole days glued to your computer screen. Keep your health up by taking scheduled breaks. Go for a jog, play with the cat, get lunch with a friend. It’s important to stay healthy and maintain social contact during NaNoWriMo. You want to get as much writing done as you can without turning into a social recluse. Scheduled breaks are also needed for inspiration. Participating in different activities can provide an assortment of new ideas for your novel. You never know what you’ll find! Just make sure your breaks don’t distract you for too long…


5. Finally, don’t fret. Is it Week 3 and you’re only at 10,000 words? Don’t worry, and certainly don’t think that there’s no longer a point to continuing. Keep writing. Don’t sacrifice sleep, grades, income, or meals for more writing time. Just keep writing as much as you can without sacrificing too much. Sure, you may not complete the 50,000-word challenge, but that’s not what NaNoWriMo success is all about. NaNoWriMo success is about getting your idea down on paper (physical or pixelated). It’s about transitioning your ideas from abstract to concrete. It’s about getting started. NaNoWriMo, in its simplest form, is a gateway, the starting line for your novel. You may not finish it in November, not even the rough draft, but the important thing is that you’ve started. You have a place to continue from. All that’s left is for you to keep writing, even after November, and get your novel to completion. What defines NaNoWriMo success is that a writer keeps writing even after the deadline and does not fall victim to the “I didn’t complete the challenge, so there’s no point continuing” syndrome that plagues participants. So no matter how far you get during NaNoWriMo, don’t let that be the endpoint. Even if you meet the challenge, refine your story, because your first draft is always the worst draft. No matter what, keep writing.

“ParaNorman”: for the kid (and college student) in all of us

Read Brittani Howell’s engaging review of the recent animated movie ParaNorman here at Mercer’s Cluster website.

Brittani’s review discusses the enjoyable, thought-provoking, and somewhat dark events of the movie sufficient to entertain the college student and kid alike.  The review covers aspects of the movie from the stock characters who turn their traditional traits upside down, to the retro and innovative animation techniques, to the unsettling macabre scenes designed to make the adult viewer shudder (while the kids in the audience innocently laugh away).  Film aficionados, here is your insider’s look into the most recent film from the studio who brought us Coraline.

Craving Avetts: New Album “The Carpenter” Released 9/11/12

I got another chance to review a band I’ve been in love with forever, and I’m so excited to share it. It’s feels like sharing a part of my life, because these guys have been with me since I first discovered them when I was a teenager. Their music still resonates with me. I’ve grown up with them.

The Avett Brothers, founded in Concord, North Carolina, started small for a very long while. I first saw them play in a small bar in downtown Augusta, Ga., and now they’re headlining festivals all over the nation. They sing about love, music, country life, sadness and basically everything that makes good, bluesy bluegrass. But they also sing about death, rebellion, religion, anger and all the basic formulas of hard punk rock. And they do all of these things at the same exact time.

Naturally, I’m personally drawn to beauty in the form of angst, and these brothers have it. (And no, I’m not just talking about their beards.)

Anyway, they gained a much bigger following with their 2009 album I and Love and You, and finally their much anticipated follow-up The Carpenter has been released under production by Rick Rubin.

The kind editors at The Cluster let me publish another love letter and called it a review, so you should check it out and learn more about what I think about their new album before you look them up yourself.

Post by: Michelle Meredith

Stream of Consciousness

Dr. Beasley’s classes were always full. For twenty years, he taught at the same high school that he graduated from. Everyone wanted to take one of his eclectic courses in which the only textbook you used were black and white photocopies of his notes on legal paper. He used any and every method to teach other than lecturing from a powerpoint. These included hundreds of bouncy balls flying across the room, and psychoanalyzing Mean Girls. My favorite activity happened every Friday. On this last day of the week, he would bring to class his old tape player. While he played anything from AC/DC to Bach, the class would silently gather their thoughts on notebook paper for around twenty minutes. Dr. Beasley called this our “stream of consciousness.” It didn’t matter if you were in his Civics, Economics, or Psychology class- this was on the lesson plan. Of course, this activity had no relevance to what we were learning. However, it is a valuable activity that helps to clear the mind- a sort of meditation for writers. Anything could be written down on the paper- a drawing, a  poem, an explanation of what you were going to do that weekend. On the other hand, you could write about your concerns and worries- something that happened in your personal life that you couldn’t tell anyone about, but needed to think through. Today, in my life as a college senior with never-ending worries and tasks, writing a “stream of consciousness” has helped me to maintain my sanity. I may not remember the inner-workings of the stock market, but this activity was one that has stayed with me as I passed through various stages of my life.

Check out this blog for more info.

Post by: Beth Manley