Month: August 2013

Writer’s Blergh

This is how I know my ideas are good, mleah mleah.

This is how I know my ideas are good, mleah mleah.

The other day I was at a barbeque with a few friends and plenty of strangers, and when I mentioned that I was a writer I got the usual barrage of strange and slightly insulting questions. Questions like “Where do you get your ideas, and how do you know if they’re any good?” and “If you’re not published yet, are you really a writer?” I’m mostly used to this kind of thing by now, and have a collection of stock answers up my sleeve that satisfy even the most inquisitive soul. But this time one guy asked me a question that gave me pause. “What do you do,” he queried, “when you get writer’s block?”

Now, I think this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask. But there were a few things about the way it was phrased that struck me as unusual. First, he said when you get writer’s block, as opposed to if–he clearly assumed that all writers, at some point or another, are struck by the affliction of writer’s block. Second, he asked what do you do when this happens. Not when does this happen, or why does this happen, but what do you do. I’m not sure exactly what answer he was looking for (“I chant arcane incantations to the Nightmare Gods for inspiration”) but the question got me thinking a lot about writer’s block, and peoples’ perceptions of what exactly that means.

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American Radiator Building, seen from Bryant Park. Photo belongs to me.

American Radiator Building, seen from Bryant Park.
Photo belongs to me.

This past weekend, I took the bus from Boston to New York City to meet up with my husband, who was there for work reasons. Now, I know this probably isn’t the most common view in the world, but I kind of hate NYC. I’ve never lived there, but I usually find myself visiting once every couple years, and every time I arrive with high hopes and depart feeling angry, stressed, and overwhelmed. I hate the ubiquitous skyscrapers that block out the sun, darkening the streets even when skies are blue. I hate the garbage piled on sidewalks; the smell of piss and trash in alleyways; the scaffolding and construction on every other street. And most of all, I hate the crush of humanity elbowing me aside, reminding me that I am nothing, as important as a single drop of water in a vast ocean. In New York, I am anonymous, meaningless, and hopeless.

But something about this visit was different. Maybe it was because the weather was perfect. Maybe it was because we had no stressful itinerary, nothing we had to do or see or visit. Maybe it was because we avoided Times Square like the plague. But for whatever reason, I actually enjoyed myself in New York City. Relaxing in Bryant Park, I could close my eyes and hear the rhythms of New York: the steady heartbeat of a million footsteps on pavement; the thrum of a thousand subway trains rushing through underground tunnels; the syncopated beeping of hundreds of impatient yellow cabs. Gazing at the skyscrapers, I didn’t see ugly monoliths but the syncretism of history, architecture, and industry. Instead of a pockmark on the face of a nation, I saw instead a beating heart, vital and alive.

I wasn’t always a city girl–I grew up in a small town in the South. But since I graduated college I’ve lived in Washington DC, London, and now Boston. I’ve come to love cities, with their contradictory personalities and fast-paced cultures. And the longer I’ve spent living in cities, the more I’ve realized that each one has its own identity, individual and unique. They are like people, complicated and hypocritical and beautiful, and you never stop learning new things about them.

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Review: Delirium, by Lauren Oliver

Delirium, by Lauren Oliver

Delirium, by Lauren Oliver

Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing.

But now, everyone knows better. In the not too distant future, amor deliria nervosa has been classified as a disease and the root of all the bad things in the world; war, suffering, violence. Thankfully, a cure has been discovered, the administration of which is mandatory for anyone over the age of 18. Lena Haloway has just graduated high school and only has three months until she can get the procedure; she can hardly wait. She’s seen the havoc the infection can wreak, and she knows the truth; love kills you when you have it and kills you when you don’t. A life without love, on the other hand, is safe. Happy. But when she meets Alex, things start to change. Will she be able to stave off the infection until she can get the cure, or will the unthinkable happen–will Lena fall in love?

I had mixed feelings about this book, so I’ll start off with the things I didn’t love about it. Primarily, I thought the execution of the premise of Delirium was absolute rubbish. In theory, the premise of Delirium is fascinating; future society has classified love as a psychological disorder requiring extreme treatment. Oliver’s execution of the premise, however, leaves something to be desired. She offers the reader zero scientific proof or research behind the demonization of love, nor any biological/chemical/hormonal basis for the disease. She only tells us that Scientists know it’s a disease, and Scientists found a cure using Science. As someone who happens to know that Science isn’t a monolithic organization who know everything and always agree, this premise was silly bordering on laughable.

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I remember the first journal I ever had. I was in 4th grade, and the journal was a gift for my 10th birthday. Square, slim, and emblazoned with a photograph of a beautiful horse on the cover (I was really into horses at the time), the journal was initially something of a mystery to me. What does one write about in a diary? I wondered as I flipped through sheet after sheet of blank, unlined paper. Is there anything going on in my life that’s worth journaling about?

(Okay, so I’m paraphrasing. My thoughts probably ran more along the lines of: Ooh, horsey! ….What now? Words are hard.)

Although I would never, ever dot my i's with hearts.

Although I would never, ever dot my i’s with hearts.

Either way, my journaling habit got off to a rocky start. I remember my first ever diary entry consisted of a laundry list of what I’d had for breakfast. Snoozers. I also spend an inordinate amount of time naming all the horses I would eventually own in some distant, unrealistic future. But eventually, I got into the hang of it. I started writing about the interesting or funny things that happened to me at school. I discussed my hopes and dreams for the future: professional show jumper; jockey; equine veterinarian. (I was really into horses.) I even penned my first work of fiction in those pages: a tale about an orphaned warrior princess named Jade and her trusty unicorn, who roamed the Forbidden Forest in search of the lost Wizard Bendar. Although the story was repetitive and heavily (and I mean heavily) influenced by Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, it was a start.

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How (Not) To Be a Good Writer

So, you think you want to be a writer? Have you read a few too many mediocre novels and subsequently thought to yourself, I bet I could do this whole “writing a book thing”? Have you gone so far as opening a Word document on your computer and staring at it for a few minutes? Perhaps even searched Google for ways to be a good writer? Well, today is your lucky day, because I have a few fail-proof ways to turn you into the best writer ever.

How To Be a Good Writer in Five Easy Steps*



1. Wait for inspiration to strike. Everybody knows that real writers have oodles of inspiration that comes blazing down from the sky like the lightning of imagination. None of your ideas or words will be worthwhile unless you wait for this moment. And no point in practicing until this elusive moment arrives–you wouldn’t want to waste any of your words. Save them up for your moment of brilliance.

2. Ignore the world around you. Pop in those headphones and hide yourself behind sunglasses as much as possible. As a writer, the most important world is the one inside your head, so don’t bother studying human behavior, listening to people engage in conversation, or observing the ways of the real world. Furthermore, never take note of your own experiences or emotions. This is all useless when it comes to crafting believable characters or building a fictional world. It’s better if you make it up entirely and don’t base it on real life.

3. Put down that book!!! What are you, crazy? Who told you to read any books other than the one you’re trying to write? This is madness. Other writers will only confuse you with their differing literary styles and unique structures. Remember, brilliant literature only occurs in a perfect vacuum. How else can you hope to be unique?

Don't let that bother you. Use it anyway.

Don’t let that bother you. Use it anyway.

4. Verb adverbly! I’m going to quickly introduce you to adverb. She’s your new best friend who will help wonderfully. Use her eagerly after every verb. In fact, I’ve heard rumors that you can even adverb nounly and adjectively. Just try it carefully. You’re not a writer without a big bag of adverbs helping you faithfully.

5. Never revise. Since you’re waiting for inspiration to strike before you write, then it stands to reason that your first draft will be pure creative genius straight from the mouth of the gods. You wouldn’t want to ruin that masterpiece by changing any of it, would you? Of course not. What if you accidentally removed one of your precious adverbs? Quelle horreur! Your writing should be perfect the first time. If it isn’t, then you probably shouldn’t be a writer.

Adhere to these simple steps and you’re well on your way to becoming a real writer! Now go stare at that open Word document a little bit longer. You never know when inspiration might strike!

*Yes. Clever girl. This advice is 100% tongue in cheek. Please do the reverse of this advice if you actually want to be a decent writer.

I, Robot?

I wouldn't mind teaching this robot to love.

I wouldn’t mind teaching this robot to love.

Last night I watched Ridley Scott’s latest science fiction film Prometheus, unsure what to expect considering the fact that I’ve never seen any of the Alien films. While I enjoyed the film for the most part, I was mostly intrigued and fascinated by one character: David, the cold and calculating yet charismatic android. I’m not sure whether it was Michael Fassbender’s excellent acting (and handsome face) or the premise of a humanoid robot living and serving humans, but David’s complicated characterization and motivations carried the film for me. And it got me started thinking about the intersection between man and machine.

Every day human technology expands further into our everyday lives. Newer tech like Google Glass and Oculus Rift promise a future of immersive virtual reality while advances in artificial intelligence and robotics presage a future in which machines walk among us. Slowly but surely, the gap is narrowing between where our bodies end and technology begins. So it makes sense that anxiety about the consequences of this synthesis between man and machine manifests in our media.

Matt Damon, part machine in Elysium

Matt Damon, part machine in Elysium

The last time I saw a movie in theaters (I think it was Man of Steel) I was amazed by this common thread running through many of the previews: Pacific Rim, in which humans join minds with massive robot warriors to battle an alien invasion; Ender’s Game, where a young boy interacts with a virtual game interface in order to wage a war for mankind; Elysium, in which Matt Damon’s character becomes fused with a robotic exoskeleton that gives him superhuman strength. In each preview, the theme was clear–can humans maintain their humanity when their bodies and minds become fused with machines?

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By Anonymous

In the summer before my senior year of high school I got a series of emails from someone who was, quite literally, my secret admirer. The anonymous author had gone to great pains to conceal his or her identity, to the extent of setting up a dummy email account and keeping secret any personal details that might have given me any hints or clues as to who he actually was. The notes were, besides being flattering, very well written and polite, and we corresponded for a short while before the emails abruptly stopped. Years later, I still have no idea who the secret admirer was. And the thing that bothers me the most isn’t that I may have missed out on a chance to get to know someone who purportedly cared for me, but that I never knew who he was. It still drives me a little bit crazy that this person was, simply put, Anonymous.

"Girl, why'd you have to pour hot wax on my shoulder?"

“Girl, why’d you have to pour hot wax on my shoulder?”

Fatal curiosity is nothing new for humanity as a whole. I trust that we all know the saying about the cat by now. So many myths, legends, and folk stories tell of the dangers of excessive inquisitiveness. The fall of man in Genesis is a great example of the dangers befalling men and women who allow their curiosity to overcome them. Pandora and her box. In the Greek myth Eros and Psyche and the Norwegian tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon, young women who have married mysterious men are tempted into spying on them at night, betraying their lovers trusts and setting them upon difficult and harrowing quests. The legend of Bluebeard. The theme is repeated over and over again: secrets are better left untold, and anonymity is best preserved.

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Open Sesame: Great First Lines

Maybe be a little more creative...

Maybe be a little more creative…

Happy Monday, folks! This Monday has afforded me the dubious pleasure of starting work on my third round of revisions now that most of my beta-readers have gotten back to me with edits. Although I gotta say, so far work has been going very sloooowly. On the upside, I’ve been able to take a long hard look at the way my novel opens: first line, first paragraph, first chapter. And it’s got me thinking a lot about openings in general.

There are so many amazing first lines in literature. No two are the same, but all share one important feature: they hook the reader’s attention, and then make the reader ask questions whose answers only lie in the following pages. Some begin with a musing or a remembrance from the main character. Others employ the technique of beginning a story in media res, dropping the reader right into the middle of the action without any context or background. But all great opening lines make the reader want to continue reading.

So, with no further ado, I present to you my top 10 favorite opening lines from literature!

10) “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger

9) “I’d always welcomed war, but in battle my passion rose unbidden.” Nightshade, Andrea Cremer

8) “A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins of a word of praise in exchange for a story … a writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.” The Angel’s Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafon

7) “There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.” Holes, Louis Sachar

6) “Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love.” The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater

5) “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

4) “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen

3) “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” 1984, George Orwell

2) “Birthdays were wretched, delicious things when you lived in Beau Rivage. The clock struck midnight, and presents gave way to magic.” Kill Me Softly, Sarah Cross

1) “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” The Gunslinger, Stephen King

Do you have favorite opening lines in literature? What do you think makes a successful opening? Leave you thoughts in the comment section below!

Book Review: Tempest, by Julie Cross

Tempest, by Julie Cross

Tempest, by Julie Cross

Nineteen-year-old Jackson Meyer’s life is pretty normal–for a time traveler.

Jackson goes to college, has a job, and has a girlfriend he’s crazy about. Time-travel is just this weird thing he can do, and it’s not even that useful–he can’t change the past or future. He’s only able to visit past moments for short periods before jumping back into the present. But that all changes when two armed men storm in on Jackson and his girlfriend Holly, and, in the altercation, Holly is shot in the chest. In his panic, Jackson jumps back in time, but this time isn’t like the others–he’s jumped all the way to 2007, and now he can’t get back to his present. Desperate to save future Holly, Jackson embarks on a quest to figure out just who exactly he is, and more importantly, how much he can do with his time travel abilities.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s definitely a quick read–the pacing is very fast and the story moves right along. Sometimes I wished the story would take a breather and slow down a little! Every page was packed with action, intrigue, mystery, and romance–sometimes a little too packed. There were times when I felt like this book could have benefited from just a little bit of simplification, and some moments of quiet interspersed with all the information and action. As Mozart once said, ‘The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” I think the same can be said for a story–sometimes the most important things happen in the lulls between action scenes.

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