Pantsers & Plotters

Hey hey hey — it’s Writing Wednesday!

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Apparently there are two big categories of writers: “pantsers” and “plotters” (or “planners”). Until this year, I’d never heard those terms before, so I’ve been living in one category my whole life without realizing it. I… am a “pantser.”

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“Pantsers” are writers who “fly by the seat of their pants” or write without using an outline. I’ve never outlined something before writing it. If a teacher assigned me an essay and an outline, I’d write the essay, then tailor the outline to fit what I wrote.

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I begin with characters. Once I’ve gotten to know them, I think about what situation I’d most like to see them react to. Then I sit down and watch it unfold. This isn’t to say that I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen over the course of the story. Wherever there are categories, there are people who don’t fit into them without gray-area caveats. I tend to have big scenes planned out in my head, and sometimes an ending that I’m working toward. But I like to be surprised by how we get from one scene to the next. When you and the characters both have your hands on the steering wheel, there’s room for them to react in ways you didn’t expect. If what happens in the story catches you off guard organically, there’s a good chance your readers will be surprised, too.

But just because every single piece isn’t planned out doesn’t mean you aren’t in control of the story. I nudge the flow of the narrative in the direction I ultimately want it to go, but I don’t force anything. Generally, you can tell when an author’s stuck their hand in and shoved characters into place inside a shoehorned event because what’s happening doesn’t make sense when you think about what you’ve come to know about each character. However, you also run the risk as a “pantser” of losing control of the story, which means you might end up with a totally different story than the one you intended to tell. In a bad way. (Stories that veer off and become completely different stories is actually one of the reading pet peeves I mentioned in an earlier post.) How do you avoid losing control? By staying connected to what you’re writing. There are several ways to do this: making notes, listening to music that puts you in mind of your story’s mood, thinking about how characters would react to things that are happening to you, etc. I stay connected by working through the next bit of the story in my head — specifically, how to begin the next section, which usually sets me on course right away.

Outlining makes me feel constrained. While I know logically that I can always change an outline, I’d probably end up changing it so many times that it wouldn’t even make sense to have one. I think a bit of pantsing and a bit of planning over the course of either type of writer’s process can be helpful but, in the end, you have to work in the way that’s best for you.

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Are you a “pantser” or a “planner”?

 

How to be more responsible with money, even though you kind of suck at it.

Hi, y’all.

So… summer is drawing to a close.

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Um, I mean…

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Anyway, summer is typically a season when people go on holiday, do all the things, and spend more money because sustained sunlight (especially in a place where the sun is like an estranged relative)

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makes people so happy that they begin to feel like the glass is half-full ALL the time. “Money is for spending! Let’s do all the things, ALL THE THINGGGSSS!!!”

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There are also those people who aren’t super into summer (because hayfever, and bugs, and it’s too hot out, and bleeaarrrghhh), but who spend too much sometimes anyway because they are emotional shoppers, and spending money makes them feel better in the moment.

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If the intro wasn’t a big enough hint, I fall into the latter category. When I’m bummed, I buy books (yes, with an “s”), fancy food, and expensive tickets to luxury cinemas (b/c once you’ve been in a comfy armchair with an ottoman, eating good food, drinking booze, and covered with a cashmere blanket in a cinema, it’s just disappointing experiencing a movie any other way) among other things. However, there is hope even if you are like me. There are small ways a-plenty that you can save money every day!

Cook!

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You don’t have to eat out all the time. You don’t even have to eat out half the time. I usually do, because my stove is basically a set of 4 hot plates. And I can never be precise when heating ANYTHING b/c all the numbers were rubbed off long before I got here. That aside, groceries are generally cheaper and better for you than restaurant food. Save a few bucks by cooking something simple and delicious at home. That is… if you can.

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Home theatre!

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Invite some friends over, snuggle up with your fuzzy roommates, or just have some “Me” time in front of your laptop with a movie. If you’ve been to the cinema in the last five years, you’ve noticed how spensive it’s gotten. It costs me more than the price of two paperback books to see a film at my favorite cinema. Isn’t that crazy?! Do y’all remember dollar theatres? Or the regular theatres that didn’t ask for the deed to your house as payment to see a movie you already knew you were gonna wish you’d never seen anyway?

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Well you can relive those glory days by using Netflix or Hulu, renting from iTunes, or for next level money-saving, just watch a movie you already own. Keep that £18 tucked safely away. When the day comes that you don’t have quite enough to cover your phone bill, you can whip out that money from the secret money hole behind that painting on your wall and pat yourself on the back for thinking ahead.

Study up!

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Wait! Before you submit all fifty of those credit card applications, look at them closely, side by side, and figure out which one is actually right for you. Maybe there are a few contenders that look good, but only two out of five will accept your application either because you’re a student with next to no credit history, or because your credit is horrendous.

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Whatever the case, there are places you can go. Internet places. Like Credit Card Insider, which has credit card reviews, and a page full of information on everything from what makes up your credit score alllllllll the way back to how credit cards even work. There are also old favorites like Credit Karma, which offers free credit scores. What I’m getting at here is that there are resources available to help you stay on top of things. Give ’em a try.

Make a budget!

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I know, I know — you like to live on the edge.

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But it really doesn’t hurt to be prepared. In fact, it can only help to know how much you’re spending every month on certain things. Rent, utilities, and holiday transportation are all examples of things you know the cost of before you spend the money. Food, clothing, and fun activities can be tricky, since you never know when you’re going to happen upon that can’t-miss sale or be invited out to a new restaurant by a friend. But for those unknowns, you can designate monthly allowances for “incidentals” and “entertainment,” etc. The more you’re able to plan ahead, the slimmer the chance you’ll have to sell everything you own to make rent next month.

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Some things just…shouldn’t be sold.

Hope this was helpful to at least one other rain-maker out there, and that you’re eventually able to swim in all the money you save.

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There’ll be a new Writing Wednesday post up this week. Until then, happy Monday, y’all!

 

Darkness, Villainy, and Zeitgeist

Hey there, y’all. It’s — you guessed it — Writing Wednesday!

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Today’s WW is actually inspired by my recent trip to the cinema to see Suicide Squad, but this isn’t a movie review (if you’d like to read one here, let me know). I just wanted to bring up one aspect of the film that made me think. **Though this isn’t a review, there may be some things in here that you’d consider spoilery, so feel free to split if you’d rather avoid that.** The trailers leading up to the release of Suicide Squad painted the picture of a dark, violent, irreverent film full of bad people who love doing bad things, or who’ve never even considered the concept of bad vs good as it applies to them (as is generally the case with the most impactful villains). These villains are not like that. Maybe the only one of the gang who gets close is Harley Quinn, but even she succumbs to the cheesiness eventually.

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In the trailer, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) says she wants to create a task force using the “most dangerous people on the planet,” the “worst of the worst”– “bad people” who “could do some good.” The thing is, these so-called “worst of the worst”… aren’t. The Suicide Squad is made up of 2nd and 3rd tier villains. In fact, Amanda Waller turns out to be worse than any of them and she’s considered a “good” guy (at least in the political sense). Villains that might actually fall under the “worst of the worst” heading — like, say, the Joker — 1) don’t allow themselves to be caught by government entities, and 2) are far too selfish and volatile to be part of a task force or group of any kind. The worst of the worst have absolutely nothing to lose, therefore the threat of death means nothing to them. People with nothing to lose can’t be controlled.

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You need someone you can lord something over. And these people, most of them, have things — people — they care about, which causes them to stay in line (for the most part). Harley has the Joker; Deadshot has his daughter; El Diablo, arguably the most powerful member of the group, had someones, but doesn’t anymore, which is why he has to be forced into action as a member of the Squad. They all want their freedom, which hasn’t exactly been promised by Waller, but their cooperation ensures that they get to live. There’s also the possibility of having time shaved off their prison sentences.

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By the film’s climax, the squad has formed a bond (one you might argue wasn’t exactly earned, but eh…) and actually act in the best interests of one another, with one character calling the rest their friends before striking the finishing blow against the movie’s ultra-villain. Which leads me to my point. These villains act more like heroes than any villains I’ve ever seen, and I wondered if the movie I thought I was going to see based on the trailer became the movie I ended up seeing because of the current social/political climate. Terror groups are a major concern; weird politicians who talk out of their asses and promote division within the nations they represent are enjoying a heyday (not exactly new, but the degree of extremity is nonetheless frightening); the people meant to protect citizens are allowing their unfounded fears to overtake logic again and again, leading to unnecessary violence and death; anger, discrimination, and confusion have all come to a head — this is the world we live in.

So when we go to the movies to escape our daily lives, watching a group of baddies terrorize a city and enjoy every minute of it regardless of the destruction they cause and the lives they destroy might take viewers to a place they aren’t prepared to go mentally or emotionally. Maybe the filmmakers humanized the Suicide Squad to the point of barftastic cheesiness as a way to provide relief. Like, “Look! You don’t really have to be scared of these people!”

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Superman’s comic book tenure began during wartime, a light in the darkness for the American people meant to inspire hope and optimism. Marvel movies are coming out back to back, with Captain America in particular enjoying a resurgence in popularity. And the movies that we used to see about Batman (and even the Superman movie that came out before Batman v. Superman) were more insular in their concerns. Batman fought against his own enemies, enemies who threatened Gotham, not the world. Superman caused insane amounts of destruction in Metropolis without batting an eyelash because his main deal was stopping Zod no matter the cost. But now, in Batman v. Superman and Captain America: Civil War, we’re seeing concern from heroes about how their actions affect the citizens of the world. I believe this, just like Suicide Squad‘s lack of real darkness in its villains, has at least a little to do with what’s happening now.

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Zeitgeist plays a role in novels, too, and novels are like museums — their length and (typically) distance from the time period they’re reacting to give us the space to examine those periods in history and explore how we feel about them. I’ve been trying to think of a novel I’ve read that was a direct response to what was happening at the time it was written, but I can’t come up with many off the top of my head.

Can you?

Happy Wednesday!

Writing Wednesday: First Novels

Hi there, ho there! Welcome back to Writing Wednesday.

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Yes, that’s how books make me feel.

I’ve been thinking about first novels and how rare it is that an author’s first is the novel people remember or hold up as their best, or even one of their best. Rummaging through my book collection and brain, I made a mental list of the authors of my favorite books and then tried to remember what their first novels were, and…

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Yeah…kinda hard. I just finished reading Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman’s first (solo) novel. Putting that story beside his most recent work is almost like looking at the work of two different authors. Of course Neverwhere has certain elements that you can’t not recognize as Gaimanisms — like his penchant for dry humor, magic, and strangeness — but on the whole it’s quite different from, say, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, or the stories in his collection Trigger Warning in that his confidence and comfort in his role as a teller of stories is powerfully evident now (which makes a lotta sense). In his later works, everything flows. He’s not working as hard anymore to draw you in because it’s unnecessary; you fall in gladly. At least, I do. It’s like slipping into a warm bath. Neverwhere is still a noted work, but not the novel I usually hear referenced when people talk about Gaiman. American Gods, his third novel, is the one I’ve heard people cite most often as their favorite. After that, it’s either Stardust or Coraline. But never Neverwhere.

This is pretty common. An author’s debut intrigues readers enough to make them want more. As their career progresses, their writing gets stronger, they come into their own and start churning out their best work. (Just as an aside, this is one of my favorite things about writing as a career: unlike being a professional athlete or a neurosurgeon, age typically makes you a better writer.)

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However, there are a few anomalous authors whose first novels are frequently brought up as favorites or one of their best. Two examples I (eventually) thought of are Donna Tartt, whose first novel was The Secret History, and Stephen King, whose first novel was Carrie. What’s great about these two in my opinion is that each author exists at the opposite end of the writing spectrum. The first has an established pattern of publishing a novel approximately once a decade (she’s published short stories and non-fiction stuff in between), while the latter is regularly counted among the most prolific authors writing today. The Secret History and Carrie are both beloved by fans of these authors. The film adaptation of Carrie probably had a hand in maintaining people’s love for that story, but it’s far from a forgotten debut left to gather dust on bookshelves.

Some debuts are brilliant, but completely eclipsed by the success of later novels, like Brett Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero (which I wrote a bit about here). This is a novel I would never read again — it was that intense for me — but I would recommend that everyone (who can handle it) read it. Of course American Psycho is what you immediately think of when you hear the name Brett Easton Ellis — the friends I mentioned Less Than Zero to after I read it hadn’t even heard of it — in fact, all of his other books mostly fell through the cracks for me until I made a point of looking them all up and reading a few. Makes me wonder just how many amazing novels I’ve overlooked. Then again, there’s so much out there to read that we can probably all forgive ourselves for missing the memo on some of them.

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What are some of your favorite first novels? What’s the worst you’ve ever read?

Happy Wednesday!

Learning to be Beyoncé

Hey there.

I’ve been fighting the urge to fall off the face of the earth and drift into the abyss of time. It’d be so easy!
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When I first got to England, I was doing so many things! Now my life has fallen into a pretty solid routine. Not as many shenanigans to write about! But I like talking to y’all and I don’t want to leave this wonderful blogging community. So I’ve been hanging on by my fingernails, doing my writing posts here and there, but not posting much else. Sorry about that.

I’ve noticed that an integral part of my being, from the time I was little, has been the instinct to apologize. I apologize and explain as a way of curbing disappointment. Most people just live their lives without apology, which I’m now making more of an effort to do. But I still feel that tug, and hear that voice that says “YOU OWE PEOPLE AN EXPLANATION.” I’ve been doing it a lot at work, since this has been my first month working for this company, and I always feel bad when I can’t give someone the answer/info they’re looking for despite the fact that you can’t know something you don’t know. There’s a hidden object computer game called “The Scruffs” and in the second game of the series, there’s a character who freaks out whenever anyone even suggests that she’s made a mistake. “Freaks out” as in foams at the mouth and becomes almost homicidal. I’m kind of like that, except there’s less anger and more face-palming and curling up under the nearest desk when I make mistakes, so I avoid it whenever I can.

But I went to a work party last week (the mere idea of which typically terrifies me) and had a great time. I wasn’t at all apologetic — about how I look, where I come from, what I say, or how I say it — and people didn’t run away. It was fun and I felt floaty afterwards (the alcohol probably had a little to do with that, but…eh, why be picky — results are results). I’m really glad to have this job because, despite how little energy I end up with at the end of the day, I’d spent previous days isolated and writing. So it’s nice to constantly be interacting with new people. What’s really inspiring and wonderful about my job is how creative everyone is. There are a good few writers on staff (and on the list of former staff), a couple of whom are in post-punk bands (how cool is that?!), visual artists, classical musicians… it’s amazing. I’m in awe of my coworkers and it makes that flame under my butt burn hotter knowing that these people are accomplishing cool shit every day.

They’re also super nice. One of them ordered the book I contributed a short story to as soon as I told him about it; another bought me the cutest cookie sandwich ever when I told her I’d celebrated my birthday a couple of days prior.

It was Neapolitan (vanilla, strawberry, chocolate) and delicious.

I just watched a video on YouTube by another American living in London who mentioned that making friends in the UK is different than it is back home. She said she’s been here for 6 years and still hasn’t made a British friend. She has drinks with her colleagues after work and whatnot, but by “friend” she meant someone you invite over who also invites you over, or who you take trips with; someone you can get in touch with at any random time to talk to about personal/hard things going on in your life. It made me feel better to hear someone who’s been here longer than I have say that. I’ve been wondering why it’s been so hard for me to make that kind of friend here, and I’ve worried that maybe, despite the research I’d done on people in the UK before coming here, I was doing something wrong. But her video reminded me that it’s nothing personal; it’s just a cultural difference. Despite sharing a language, Brits and Americans are different. People here don’t give much of themselves away very quickly. But patience is a virtue, as they say (and has never been a strong suit of mine) so it’s just something that’s gonna take time.

I think getting older is a great thing, because now, finally, it’s becoming easier and easier to be myself with strangers (and very recently) without apology. And I have definitely met people here who make me feel like it’s OK to be me. People who I think I can eventually become close with. I like how that feels.🙂

This is one of those weird, ramble-y posts. I had a lot I wanted to tell you, so I did. But I won’t apologize for it, because:
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Peace.

P.S.
Happy birthday, Harry (and Ms. Rowling)!!!😀

Writing Wednesday: the beginning of the end.

Hey, everybody! Guess what? Today’s mah birfdae!!!

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It’s the first day of my last year as a twenty-something.

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I’m not sure how to feel about that. Of course I’m thrilled to have lived long enough to type this. Being around to see what the world has become so far is pretty cool (and sometimes frustrating as hell). On the other hand, I really thought I’d feel more like an adult by now. And I do sometimes. Whenever I clean my flat, or de-ice my freezer, or pay my bills I think to myself, “Hey, that was kind of grown-up, right?” Then I sit in front of my computer and laugh uncontrollably at my favorite cartoons, or squeal with glee because I opened a blind box and got the toy I wanted and I think “Yeah…you’re more like Tom Hanks in Big. Better luck next year.” I’ve had this discussion with different people and many agree that “adulthood” is really just how old you are, not how you feel inside. You’re always going to feel like you. So it’s just par for the course that high school feels like something that just ended last year (and on some horrible mornings, like a thing that hasn’t ended yet). I’m still me. An almost thirty-year-old me (gasp!), but me nonetheless.

My mom is here visiting (YAY!) and today I have set her the task of coming up with a surprise plan for my actual birthday, then on Friday we’re going to do some stuff I’ve chosen. We’re operating around my work schedule while she’s here — doing stuff in the mornings and afternoons, then I go to work in the evenings. I’m trying not to feel like a walking corpse, hahaha. It shouldn’t be a problem today, though. Today I just feel good.🙂

So here is a present for you! A list of books I’ve loved and reread and wanted to live in while weirding it up here on Earth for the last 29 years. Some of these I have talked about here before. I was going to link those books to past posts and give you a short description of why the other books are important to me, but yesterday I got halfway through writing this post and it disappeared while I was writing it. So now I don’t feel up to making the attempt again in case the universe decides it’s not done pranking me yet. I’ll just give you the titles (I’ll come back and add the authors a bit later), and if you check them out, maybe they’ll become important to you, too. Enjoy.

  1. Lucky Puppy (Disney)
  2. Matilda (Roald Dahl)
  3. James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl)
  4. The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales (Jon Scieszka)
  5. The Time Warp Trio series (Jon Scieszka)
  6. The Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups (David Wisniewski)
  7. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (AVI)
  8. Dealing with Dragons (Patricia C. Wrede)
  9. The Giver (Lois Lowry)
  10. The Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster)
  11. The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
  12. Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)
  13. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
  14. The Vampire Lestat (Anne Rice)
  15. The Sandman series (Neil Gaiman)
  16. Crime & Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
  17. Pride & Prejudice (Jane Austen)
  18. IT (Stephen King)
  19. Needful Things (Stephen King)
  20. The Green Mile (Stephen King)
  21. Going to Meet the Man (James Baldwin)
  22. Tekkonkinkreet (Taiyo Matsumoto)
  23. Andrew’s Brain (E.L. Doctorow)
  24. Busy Monsters (William Giraldi)
  25. TTYL (the Internet Girls series) (Lauren Myracle)
  26. 13 Reasons Why (Jay Asher)
  27. Beasts (Joyce Carol Oates)
  28. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Karen Joy Fowler)
  29. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Susan Cain)

Have you gotten lost in any of these books? What are your thoughts on adulthood?

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

What Grinds My Gears: Writing Wednesday edition

Hello, hello, hello!

Lately I’ve been making an effort to get back on top of my reading. There are currently 18 books in my To Be Read pile.

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But — butbutbutbutBUT — I’ve started every book in the pile (so I guess it’s really a “to be finished” pile…) and I’ve finished a few other books lately. The most recent one I finished was this year’s winner of the Baileys Prize, Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies (GREAT novel). I’ve decided to revert back to reading one book at a time because I was getting a little overwhelmed by reading, writing, and new-jobbing all together; it’s actually been nice settling into one book without switching to a new one. Especially when it’s a good book.

But I’m here to talk about the things that can make books bad — for me, at least — that I’ve seen in some of the fiction I’ve read so far this year.

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Here are a few things that grind my gears.

Overusing a character’s name in dialogue.
“Hey, Phil.”
“What, Ted?”
“I just don’t think going to the flea circus while a tornado’s ripping up the ground is a good idea, Phil. Know what I mean, Phil?”
“Yeah, Ted, I know you’re right but…I just can’t shake the feeling that I’d really regret missing it.”
“Yeah, Phil, I get that, Phil. But, Phil — PHIL — it’s just not worth risking your life over, y’know? Phil? Phil?! YOU HEARING ME PHIL?!?!?!?!”
“Yeah, I got it! Geez! …Ted.”

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Once I’ve gotten to know someone, I don’t need to use their name constantly, or at all, while talking to them. Even if we run into each other somewhere. I’ll just say hi, not “Hi [insert name here].” But even if I let the “name as part of a greeting” thing go (because some people do that), the rest is just unnecessary. If the characters have been well-developed, I don’t need to be reminded of who they are in every line of dialogue, or of the fact that they know each others names, or that the dialogue I’m reading will cover a serious topic. Yes, you might have one character say another’s name for emphasis in the midst of making a point — this makes sense (in the right context). But four or five times in one conversation? No. Please stop. This is one reason why one of the books in my TBF pile has been moved down the list. I needed a breather.

Losing the plot.
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I hate when I’m giving 110% of my attention to a story — it’s got me hooked, I’m totally on board — only for it to veer in a compleeeeetely different direction. And I don’t mean an unexpected twist. Those are great, and hard to come by now as I think that technique was single-handedly exhausted by M. Night Shyamalan. But what I mean is, when you’re following the thread of one narrative only to find that the actual point of everything was over here in this other narrative that the first one lead you into against your will, and basically everything you learned in the story you thought you were reading is absolutely useless.

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It makes me feel like a fool. A fool who didn’t just have the rug yanked out from under me, but was pushed backwards (as the rug was being yanked) by the person who hates me the most, so I could trip over the person who hates me almost as much as the first person as they crouch on all fours behind me, giggling. Then they both cackle as I scream “NOOOOOOOOoooooo!!!” up to the heavens. Yeah. That.

Pointlessly withheld information.
You know those stories that relentlessly hint at something? Something Earth-shattering that the narrator reeeaaally wants to tell you, but it just isn’t the right time yet? But you gotta keep hearing about the thing you’re not allowed to hear about yet because they want you to keep reading. So you turn every page, your butt creeping closer and closer to the edge of your seat. By the time you reach the page with the reveal, you’re practically levitating in front of your chair. And then you read the words, “My grandmother’s middle name…was Mildred!” DundunDUUUU– wait. What? That was it? THAT was your big mysterious news? Really?!
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Often, the longer I’m forced to wait for the one juicy tidbit that’ll make everything else in the story crystal clear, the more underwhelming that tidbit is. Waiting pages and pages for something clever/weird/random/amazing, only to have it be something you predicted ages ago, OR something so overused you don’t even care about it, is kinda the worst. Withholding info can be SUPER effective when you’re not reminded too often of the thing you don’t know yet — just often enough for it to gnaw at your brain like a mildly rabid weasel. But if a narrator beats me over the head with “Ah, ah, AHHHH! Not yeeeeet!”, it just feels like they’re taunting me. In fact, I bet they’re in cahoots with those holes who tripped me in that other section. Jerks.

But that’s just me.

What grinds your literary gears?

Happy Wednesday!

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

Hey there! It’s another Writing Wednesday.

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I’ve been adjusting to a new job and writing through some challenges, which has kept me away from the bloggerwebz. But I have returned this week after finally reading the 2014 winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction: A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride.

If you haven’t read this book, just a heads up — it’s not your typical novel. While the story may be somewhat familiar — a girl facing harrowing challenges and familial drama as she comes of age (this is me putting it into the broadest possible terms) — the way it’s written will likely take the reader of traditional fiction a few pages to get used to.

Jesus that. Stink of that. City when I got off the train. Get a lungful of that in you and see how you do, she says cigarette filter fraying brown on her tongue. Thoo pthoo. Looking knackered, alright? Not too bad. Come on with me, Thanks for. It’s a good month is it since I seen you last. Is there loads to tell me? Ah there is oh loads. And aren’t you mighty I say. Coming all this way. In. Not much missus. You are. Well fuck and I am. Now I’d say, a good laugh’s what we need.

This is a story written with poetic sensibility. It focuses on the rhythm of words together, often forgoing full sentences in favor of percussive fragments. As you can see in the excerpt, words are left out, but the words that remain are always enough to allow your brain to fill in the rest, especially after you’ve been reading the book for a while and completely settle into how it’s written. One of the things I like most about this novel is that the sentence fragments are also sensory fragments: snatches of what the protagonist sees/hears/feels/smells/tastes/remembers all strung together. I don’t know about you guys, but that’s exactly how I remember things. Like someone taking a bag full of jigsaw puzzle pieces and dumping them out on a table — some pieces will be upturned (which is what you remember), some won’t. And McBride doesn’t just point out what the protagonist is experiencing, she allows the reader to enjoy the same sensory experiences. One example of this is in the writing out of sounds (“Thoo pthoo.”), which you both hear in your head and feel the shape of in your mouth as you’re reading.

There are full sentences in the dialogue (“Is there loads to tell me?”), but the dialogue isn’t set apart from the rest of the narrative. Dialogue and description are presented equally. No quotation marks, little to no punctuation. Sometimes a “sentence” will be made up of two phrases smushed together with no punctuation (“Ah there is oh loads.”) or odd punctuation. But once you fall into this story, it becomes easy to distinguish between characters and keep up with who’s saying what. You’ll also find one-word sentences/fragments in this story that either follow from the previous phrase or carry you into the next one (“Coming all this way. In.”). Encountering those one-word bits reminded me of moments when my brain thought it had formed a complete thought/sentence and then had to shove another word onto the end to actually complete the thought (which happens fairly often😀 ).

Not only is the novel technically interesting, the story itself is compelling and emotionally intense. I felt so much anger toward so many characters reading this book, hahaha. The mother is one of the most infuriating characters I have ever come across. Then again, the shittyness of some of the people in this story definitely makes it easier to feel sympathy for the protagonist (though there were plenty of times when I got pissed at her for not slapping the teeth out of someone’s mouth b/c they deserved it). She has tense/precarious relationships with every single person in her life. This is not an exaggeration. BUT! McBride doesn’t try to sell you a “woe is me” narrative or push your buttons in a cheap way. People make terrible choices as a matter of course in this book, but you get to understand them well enough that these choices never feel out of character. Don’t get me wrong — I definitely wished HARD with the turn of every page (especially towards the end) that people would get their friggin’ acts together — mostly for the sake of the protagonist — but at the same time, I was never surprised (for better or worse) by a character’s actions because those actions coincided perfectly with who each character had shown themselves to be.

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t said much about the plot. That was on purpose. Read this book — the story is worth discovering on your own. I think, as with any story, if you come to it fresh, it’ll make a greater impact on you.

Long pitch short: give A Girl is a Half-formed Thing a read if/when you’re in the mood to challenge yourself mentally and emotionally (and when you’re in the mood to break shit over how much you hate some of the people in this book. OK maybe that was just me. But probably not.) Thank you for all those feels, Eimear McBride.

Happy Wednesday, everybody!

Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction

What up, y’all?

Last night, I attended the readings of the work shortlisted for this year’s Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction at Cadogan Hall.

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One of the most prestigious literary awards in the world, the BAILEYS Women’s Prize for Fiction – previously known as the Orange Prize for Fiction – celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing from throughout the world.

It was a cool event, with a wine & nibbles bar on one level, a cocktail bar on another level, and a Waterstones book stall where you could buy copies of any of the six shortlisted titles. I, of course, had to buy them all. (Support authors and bookstores!) The ooooonly downside to the event was the fact that I could basically count the number of men present on one hand. Women have always been expected to read male authors, but apparently the reverse is unthinkable for some even today. It’s the same for books written by writers of color. I think many people automatically feel alienated when, on the surface, they don’t have much in common with an author (despite us all being human beings who live human lives and experience human things). It’s like “Ah, that book was written by a woman — must not have anything in it that’ll apply to me or my life as a beardy lumberjack spacecowboy.” But…don’t you, as a man, interact with women on a daily basis? Don’t you have female relatives, friends, co-workers, and/or acquaintances? Isn’t your life influenced by the mere existence of women on Earth, just as our lives are influenced by your existence? Male, female, black, white, Asian, Russian, alien overlord… We can, and should, learn from and be entertained by one another at every opportunity! How else can we squash misunderstandings and move forward?

Anyhoo, I really enjoyed this event. Then again, I always love hearing authors read and talk about their work. Unfortunately two of the shortlistees (Anne Enright & Hanya Yanagihara) couldn’t make it — each had male stand-ins — but Anne’s reader, Robin Robertson (her editor), was my favorite of the night. It was also really nice to hear him talk about how much he admired and believed in Anne’s work. It’s good to have people like that behind you.

By now, you’re probably staring at your screen thinking, “Well…?! What are the shortlisted titles, you f*%#ing tease?!” So here’s the breakdown (and I haven’t read any of these books yet, so I’m going to use their descriptions from the BWP website):

Ruby by Cynthia Bond
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Ephram Jennings has never forgotten the beautiful girl with the long braids running through the piney woods of Liberty, their small East-Texas town. For Ruby Bell, Liberty was a place of devastating violence from which she fled to seedy, glamorous 1950s New York.

Years later, pulled back home, thirty-year-old Ruby is faced with the seething hatred of a town desperate to destroy her. Witnessing her struggle, Ephram must choose between loyalty to the sister who raised him and the chance for a life with the woman he has loved since he was a boy.

The Green Road by Anne Enright
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A darkly glinting novel set on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, The Green Road is a story of fracture and family, selfishness and compassion – a book about the gaps in the human heart and how we learn to fill them.

The children of Rosaleen Madigan leave the west of Ireland for lives they never could have imagined in Dublin, New York and various third-world towns. In her early old age their difficult, wonderful mother announces that she’s decided to sell the house and divide the proceeds. Her adult children come back for a last Christmas, with the feeling that their childhoods are being erased, their personal history bought and sold.

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
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One messy murder affects the lives of five misfits who exist on the fringes of Ireland’s post-crash society. Ryan is a fifteen-year-old drug dealer desperate not to turn out like his alcoholic father Tony, whose obsession with this unhinged next-door neighbour threatens to ruin him and his family.

Georgie is a prostitute whose willingness to feign a religious conversion has dangerous repercussions, while Maureen, the accidental murderer, has returned to Cork after forty years in exile to discover that Jimmy, the son she was forced to give up years before, has grown into the most fearsome gangster in the city.

In seeking atonement for the murder and a multitude of perceived sins, Maureen threatens to destroy everything her son has worked so hard for, while her actions risk bringing the intertwined lives of the Irish underworld into the spotlight…

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie
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Meet Veblen: a passionate defender of the anti-consumerist views of her name-sake, the iconoclastic economist Thorstein Veblen. She’s an experienced cheerer-upper (mainly of her narcissistic, hypochondriac, controlling mother), an amateur translator of Norwegian, and a firm believer in the distinct possibility that the plucky grey squirrel following her around can understand more than it lets on.

Meet her fiancé, Paul: the son of good hippies who were bad parents, a no-nonsense, high-flying neuroscientist with no time for squirrels. His recent work on a device to minimize battlefield trauma has led him dangerously close to the seductive Cloris Hutmacher, heiress to a pharmaceuticals empire, who is promising him fame and fortune through a shady-sounding deal with the Department of Defence. What could possibly go wrong?

The Improbability of Love by Hanna Rothschild
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When lovelorn Annie McDee stumbles across a dirty painting in a junk shop while looking for a present for an unsuitable man, she has no idea what she has discovered.

Soon she finds herself drawn unwillingly into the tumultuous London art world, populated by exiled Russian oligarchs, avaricious Sheikas, desperate auctioneers and unscrupulous dealers, all scheming to get their hands on her painting – a lost eighteenth-century masterpiece called ‘The Improbability of Love’.

Delving into the painting’s past, Annie will uncover not just an illustrious list of former owners, but some of the darkest secrets of European history – and in doing so she might just learn to open up to the possibility of falling in love again.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
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When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel painter pursuing fame in the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity.

Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented lawyer yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by a degree of trauma that he fears he will not only be unable to overcome – but that will define his life forever.

The winner of the prize will be announced tonight! After getting to know these authors a little, I’m excited to find out who won. (The first audience member to get the mic during the Q&A asked the authors 1) if they’ve read each other’s work and 2) their own book aside, which would each of them want to see win? Too bad the chair of the judging panel vetoed the question before they could answer it.)

Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think?

T is for (another) Trip

Yo, yo, yooooo!

I have returned with yet another tale of travel and intrigue. OK, maybe not so much intrigue, but I DID go somewhere last week. I’ve been trying to make more progress on my UK exploration lately. In my letter N post, I told you about my visit to Bristol, a city I’d never been to before. This time, I returned to a place I’d already been, but not for a long time (eight years to be exact): Edinburgh!

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I was in town from Monday to Wednesday, which meant I didn’t have time for much besides scurrying about the city and snapping photos of urrythang. I went the Airbnb route and stayed with a lovely couple who lived about 10 minutes walk from Haymarket train station. The room was clean, and they had lots of advice on places to go and things to do, which I appreciated.

The first day, I walked to Victoria Street and did a bit of shopping. I was actually really good this time — I only bought three souvenirs on this trip (unlike when I was in Bristol and bought everything in sight)! This time around I restricted my purchases to a cool print, a Jessica Fletcher pin/brooch (she’s holding a copy of her book Murder She Wrote😄 ), and a small bottle of Apricot flavored brandy (not pictured b/c I drank it).

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I wandered. I photo’d. I ate. My first meal was haggis-stuffed chicken breast wrapped in bacon. It was just as delicious as it sounds. I love haggis, and I was determined to eat it at every opportunity on this trip cuz it’s been so long since I’ve had it. I didn’t take a picture of that first meal. I was ravenous. I ate it. I also drank some whiskey, which was a big mistake. Scotland, I love you — but I don’t love whiskey.

I went for an after-dinner stroll and poked my nose into more of Edinburgh’s nooks and crannies.

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After hours and hours of walking, I went back to my room and chatted with my hosts before knocking out for the night. Next morning, I headed over Stockbridge way to check out the Royal Botanical Gardens, which were lovely.Eburgh5

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The gate at the eastern entrance to the Botanical Gardens.

I saw some really interesting flora there. My favorite? Monkey Puzzle trees.

They’re native to Argentina and Chile, but are in danger of extinction in those places. Luckily, they’re apparently “a familiar sight” in Scotland. Cool huh? Don’t want people sneaking up to your windows at night, plant a bunch of these around your lawn. The leaves look like blades. This means only the most determined creeps will get a peek at you, in which case you should be flattered…I guess?

After the gardens, I was hangry, so before I had the chance to go Hulk on some unsuspecting stranger, I ducked into The Orchard, a nice little pub nearby. I had haggis fritters with apple chutney for my starter — SO tasty — and an epic tower of food made of pork belly, black pudding, and mash surrounded by a moat of gravy, potatoes, and carrots. Did I mention it was topped with bacon? Yeah. That’s what I call a meal, people.

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I rolled out of there and down the street. Since I had a bit of time, I decided to hop on a bus tour of the city. It was a lot of fun! I learned interesting facts and the whereabouts of other places in Edinburgh that I’d love to visit next time I’m there, like Dynamic Earth (where they have earthquake simulators and you can feel what it’d be like to touch a glacier!), and Surgeon’s Hall (which has fermented body parts in jars and a notebook made from William Burke’s skin. Awesome.). As I rode around on the tour bus, I managed to get a couple shots of some of Edinburgh’s natural gorgeousness.

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After the tour, I met up with Camila, another blogger and super-cool chick who lives in nearby Stirling.

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We hung out at The Elephant House — where J.K. Rowling spent a lot of time writing Harry Potter — which I chose because I’d never been and b/c we’re both writers and Potterheads. Camila had tea and a slice of red velvet cake, and I went for a boozy coffee and a slice of lemon lavender cake. So good. Great food and even better conversation? I will never say no to that. Thanks for hanging out, Camila!

After rubbing philosopher David Hume’s (statue’s) big toe for luck (and checking my hand for athlete’s foot), Camila dropped me off at St. Giles’ Cathedral where my ghost tour group was meeting up. The tour was…meh. I’d actually been on one (with the same company I think!) eight years prior. I learned a few new things on this tour, but it was mainly meant to scare you…and I wasn’t scared. Maybe because I knew what was coming at the end. At least I got some incense out of it! (From the tour company’s tiny gift shop.) The tour ended at around 9:30pm, by which time I was beat. I had planned to go to Waterstones the next morning, but when I woke up, I felt like I’d been on the bad end of a sumo match, so I slept a bit longer than planned, and went for one last meal in Edinburgh before I had to catch my train. I went to a place I’d passed a few times and been intrigued by: The Jolly Botanist. This time, I went for a burger and fries, but they were tasty! For dessert, I had a white chocolate and raspberry crème brûlée (which came with a cute lil cookie on the side).

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For the longest time, I thought that when I moved to London that would be it for me. I’d put down roots here and stay for good. After all the moving I’ve done, it would certainly be a relief. But after exploring more of what the UK has to offer, I’m not so sure anymore. Being reminded of the wonderful beauty and rich literary history of Edinburgh has definitely thrown a wrench in my little plan (especially considering how much cheaper it would be to live there). Hmm…

Have you ever been to Edinburgh? What other parts of Scotland would you recommend?

Happy Tuesday!