What do you see?

What do you see when you look at me?

I’m trying to understand why black people who are unarmed, non-threatening, and compliant with police demands are being shot to death in the country I was born in. I gave up trying to understand why people are so antagonistic towards those of us who are hurt by it. Why people are making such horrible comments, telling us to “go back to” somewhere we’re not from, and acting as though it’s “no big deal” because other people have been killed by police. Yes. Other people have. But does it happen as often to others? People who don’t look like me but who openly attack the police are taken in peacefully. But people who look like me… for some reason our very appearance is threatening.

Do I threaten you?

Look at me.
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I love my friends, like you love yours.
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I love my mother, like you love yours.
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I love food.
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I love a good sale at a thrift store.
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I’m a human being. What about me scares you? Do you feel fear looking at me? Tell me what it is that bothers you. Let me know. Because I don’t understand why these things keep happening again and again.

And I REALLY don’t understand why “they choked” is an adequate excuse for when an officer of the law, trained to deal with serious threats, takes an innocent, unarmed person’s life.

We are people. Living our lives. Yes, there are differences much of the time. You might make more money. You might have enjoyed more privileges. But that doesn’t make the people who are different from you threatening. We’re people. We love. We have hard days. We make mistakes. All of that is the same as what you experience. People are people. Please understand that. And if that’s difficult for you, put yourself in a position to learn things about any person who is different from you. I’m sure they’d be happy to share their experiences and to hear about yours. We can learn so much from each other. The most important thing we can learn is how alike we are.

Don’t be afraid of what’s different. Be curious. Check it out. Look into it.

Don’t be afraid.

A Quick Catch-Up!

Hey y’all (or anybody still keeping an eye on this blog)!

Things have been a little cray, lately. I work in retail, and now that it’s fall/autumn (YAY!!!!) we’re finally closing in on the holiday season (O.O) and I can feel it in the air. Everyone who comes into the shop has that weird, electric, holiday energy radiating from them. If you’re just out and about, living life, this feeling is exciting. If you work in a shop… get ready.

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Anyhoo, in the midst of the coming onslaught, I’ve come up with a few things to write about here, after which I was immediately distracted by nightmarish thoughts about this coming Christmas. So I’m going to cram all those Writing Wednesday topics into one post, but condensed (lucky you!).

Eimear McBride & The Lesser Bohemians

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I recently attended the launch event for Eimear McBride’s second novel The Lesser Bohemians at Foyles. She read, answered questions, and signed books for people. She read her work beautifully, and made a lot of great points that made me think. My favorite was when she talked about how female authors always get the “How has motherhood affected your writing?” question, and how the expectation for women is that they write something somehow based on true events, as though women have a lesser capacity for imagination than men. This was even more interesting considering The Lesser Bohemians is about a young Irish girl who moves to London to attend drama school… like McBride once did. Her point still stands though, and it made me realize that the premises of a few books I’ve read by female authors lately were based on/connected to their personal or family histories. Then again, those were all considered literary, which is typically “more realistic.” I wonder if female authors of sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and crime have different gendered expectations foisted upon them. Hmm….

After the event, I went up to get my book signed. This was the exchange:

E: *signs my book… looks at what she just wrote… looks at me*
Me: *blink*
E: “Are you Gianni?”
Me: *nods*
E: “That’s unusual.”
Me: *blinks more… grins nervously*
E: “I like it.”
Me: “I’ve grown to like it, too, over the years.”

Then we both laughed. I hadn’t thought about being a woman with a man’s name in a while. Growing up, I didn’t like that my mom had essentially gotten my name off a shoe box (she named me for one of her favorite designers as a nod to her past and b/c she thought the name was pretty and unique. I hated it.) In America, people had just thought it was an interesting name. Now that Italy is fairly close by, I get more eyebrow raises than I used to, but I love my name.ūüôā

The Responsibility of Ethnic Creators

I was listening to the Linoleum Knife podcast from September 12th where they review the film When the Bough Breaks. The guys who do this podcast (Dave White & Alonso Duralde) are two of my favorite film critics. They are also white. This is relevant to what I’m about to say. Now, When the Bough Breaks is one of those Lifetime-esque psychological thrillers. It’s about a relatively well-to-do couple (wife is a chef, husband is a lawyer) who wants to have children but can’t so they find a surrogate. At first she seems like a nice, normal girl (with an abusive boyfriend). Of course, the girl actually turns out to be violent and dangerous, and becomes obsessed with the husband and tries to seduce him into leaving his wife.

The entire main cast of this film is black, but the film isn’t about race. Dave and Alonso reacted to this aspect of the film by saying it was not representative of anybody’s reality in 2016. Because the only thing minorities in America experience is racially-motivated violence and devastation. And of course there are NO black people with good jobs or who live in nice neighborhoods, or who have any. other. problems in life. I’m sure what the guys were getting at was that the lack of inclusion of any aspect of what we now see on the news on a regular basis made the film that much more unrealistic. But here’s the thing: when I or other black people I know hear that there’s a film with a black cast that is not about slavery or being black, there’s generally celebration. Because the slave and the ghetto person on the rise seem to be the only narratives we fit into on a regular basis. But we’re people, people who like to be entertained just like everybody else. Sure, you want what you’re watching or reading to resonate with you, but you also want to be able to forget about the real difficulties plaguing you, even if it’s just for a few hours. I am not entertained by the news that yet another black person was murdered by police (which apparently just happened in Charlotte, NC where my family is). I want to have the option to enter a fantasy world populated by people who look like me. And if in that world there’s no mistreatment of black people, so much the better. It makes me feel normal for a little while.

So my verdict is this: I don’t believe that creators of color (or from any marginalized group) are duty-bound to include the trials and tribulations they have experienced because of their minority status in the art they make. Yes, the world needs to know these things, but the world also needs to know that race (and sexuality and gender) is only ONE part of a person’s identity.

What I’ve Been Reading/Will Read

So the book I’m writing (yes, still) is mostly horror with some sci-fi, gothic (which is slightly different from horror) and other biz mixed in. So I’ve changed tack on the critical part of my dissertation/thesis and will likely end up rewriting the whole thing (just the critical part — HELL no, I’m not throwing out the novel and starting over… I’m almost done with it!) with a focus on horror fiction specifically.

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SO, I’ve been reading more horror-focused stuff and have made a list of authors whose work I still need to read asap:

— Clive Barker
— Arthur Machen
— Peter Straub
— Dean Koontz
— Kathe Koja
— Ray Bradbury
— Ursula Le Guin
— Octavia Butler

*The last three are sci-fi/fantasy, not horror

I also want to read the rest of the books shortlisted for the Man Booker this year. I’ve read Eileen. Not a fan. I think my expectations for it were too high (and different according to how the book is described. It is NOT a thriller). But I’m interested in checking out the other five!

I’m currently still reading Lesser Bohemians. I only read it at work before our meetings for some reason. On my next day off, I’m gonna try to buckle down and finish it. I really like the book! I just don’t pick it up when I’m at home. No idea why.

So, there you are; all caught up.

Happy Writing Wednesday, everybody!

 

Weird Phrases That Work

Heyooooo! It’s Writing Wednesday!

I’ve just finished reading a book on the history of the horror genre (in literature) which made me want to read some more horror fiction right away, so I’ve started on the Penguin Classics edition of two of Thomas Ligotti’s short story collections combined: Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe.

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Awesome cover, right?

There’s one story called “Alice’s Last Adventure” about an elderly, ex-children’s author named Alice who starts experiencing “curiouser and curiouser” things. She has a tradition of reading to the local children from one of her famous books at the town library every year. Just before recounting the events of her latest reading, she says “Children have made me nervous ever since I stopped being one of them. Perhaps this is why I never had any of my own — adopted any, that is — for the doctors told me long ago that I’m about as fertile as the seas of the moon.” I had to go back and read it again. The phrase “as fertile as the seas of the moon” caught me completely off guard and I cracked up. It got me thinking about other odd turns of phrase that have stunned me while reading due to being gorgeous, profound, hilarious, eerie, or a combination of those things. Whenever I come across one of these gems, I turn my brain inside out trying to come up with something equally weird-but-perfect. Then I fail. THEN, I mess my brain up again trying to figure out how these writers even came up with something like that in the first place.

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One phrase that I constantly go back to is “trampled calmly” from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This phrase is used to describe what Richard Enfield (kin to our reader-proxy, Mr. Utterson) sees on his way home one morning at 3AM. Enfield witnesses a man (whom we come to learn is Mr. Hyde) encounter a young girl in the street. Enfield says the man “trampled calmly over the child’s body and left her screaming on the ground.” For me, the word “trample” evokes images of animal stampedes and crazed people at Walmart on Black Friday. It’s a word I never associate with calm. The first time I read those words, I thought, “you can’t be calm and trample someone… can you?” But what we’re meant to take from the word trample isn’t the frantic aspect often associated with the word, but the brutality of the action. That, combined with the fact that it was done “calmly” — in other words, deliberately and without remorse — is meant to illustrate how evil this dude is.

Another beauty that blew me away when I first read it can be found in the story “The Outing” by James Baldwin in his magnificent collection Going to Meet the Man. (If you haven’t read this collection, do it IMMEDIATELY. Especially the title story.) The outing is a religious one on a boat full of church members. It’s part recreational, part spiritual, as they hold a service on the boat. The moment of beauty comes during the service.

And the Holy Ghost touched him and he cried again, bending nearly double, while his feet beat ageless, dreadful signals on the floor, while his arms moved in the air like wings and his face, distorted, no longer his own face nor the face of a young man, but timeless, anguished, grim with ecstasy, turned blindly towards heaven. Yes, Lord, they cried, yes!

Did you spot the golden phrase? If you answered “grim with ecstasy,” congratulations! You’ve won nothing, but thanks for playing.

“Grim” and “ecstasy” are another pair of words you probably wouldn’t put next to one another if given the choice. But in this context, it totally works! The phrase is almost Gothic, especially within the larger framework of the scene. The service taking place in the story is, I believe, a Pentecostal service. There tends to be a lot of energy and emotions flowing openly at these services. People holler, they cry, sometimes they writhe and their bodies contort because they’ve apparently become a vessel for the Holy Spirit. James Baldwin was the step-son of a Pentecostal preacher and therefore grew up attending such services (and even leading them during his brief period of conversion to the faith). Thus, he was able to recreate it, infusing it with that unique mixture of awe and peculiarity which familiarity and distance provide.

Why do “grim” and “ecstasy” work so well together here? The members of the church in this story are fervent believers. In the above passage, the Holy Ghost, the spirit of God Himself, touches one of them. This is a moment where I imagine emotions run so high, they become almost unbearable. In this case, we’re shown a euphoria so extreme, it’s almost painful. The word preceding¬† “grim with ecstasy” is “anguished”. Can you imagine that? Baldwin may have based that combination of words on memories of past church members, or he may simply have used them because of how striking they are together. Either way, I love it.

What’s the most surprising set of words you’ve ever read?

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Happy Wednesday!

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 Beyonc√©

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.ūüôā

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)!!!ūüėÄ

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.ūüôā

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!