(Nearly) Back

What up, urrybody!

I’m heading back to England tonight.

On the one hand,

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But on the other hand,

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I had such a good time seeing/talking to people I miss like woah after months apart. I wish I could stay a little longer. However, there are people I miss in England, too. And cats (who apparently hid under the bed the entire time I was gone. Poor things).

I may or may not blog this week. It took my body a couple of days to adjust to the West coast’s timezone, and then another day to readjust to the East coast’s, so it’s fairly likely that I’ll be dead to the world for a while when I get back.

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So I wanted to check in before slipping into a week-long coma, and tell you how much fun I had. I ate amazing food on Thanksgiving, exchanged gifts with my mom (since we won’t see each other on Xmas), and did my first escape room (and SUUUCCCKKKKEDD worse than anything XD ). I saw my best friend, and watched Steve Jobs, and wrangled drunks. I also got my first subscription boxes, but was so pumped to get them that I just tore them open without making a video/blog post. Whoops.

In other words: Good times.

We’ll be back with your regularly scheduled programming by next week.

In the meantime, Happy almost-Xmas!!!

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Pre-departure Montage

What up?

I’ll be heading back to the good ole US of A tomorrow (EDIT: for the holidays; not permanently!) and am STILL preparing, so instead of a week of normal posts, I’m going to give you everything at once. I’ll be visiting with loved ones until the end of the month, so I’m not sure if next week will be back to normal posting or if I’ll just take that time to be away from my computer completely; we’ll see. In the meantime, here’s a week’s worth of posts in one!

Treat Yoself Tuesday: Brunch @ Darwin Brasserie

Susan and I went for the All Day Sunday Brunch at Darwin Brasserie, one of three eateries at the Sky Garden (which is inside the Walkie Talkie building at 20 Fenchurch Street). Walking into the restaurant, you pass a full to bursting cold buffet table with tons of eats, including salmon, bread, prawn salad, deli meats (prosciutto, ham, salami, and the like), fruit smoothies, and a dessert table covered in creme brulee, jam and chocolate-filled donuts, blueberry cheesecake, and other lovelies. In addition to taking your pick from the buffet table, you have a Bloody Mary bar (which we took advantage of — traditional for Susan; oyster & Chinese chili for me), a “milkshake” bar, a juice bar, and a hot dish of your choice from the kitchen. I went for the Beef Hash with fried egg; Susan went for the full English Breakfast. Susan enjoyed her full English (except for the black pudding). I would have enjoyed mine if not for the brown sauce mixed into the dish. They gave me a dish of brown sauce on the side in addition and honestly I would’ve preferred to just have it on the side — that way I could choose how much I wanted to use. Other than that though, the food was fantastic, and the after-brunch-views were of course spectacular. I’d love to go back to check out the garden more closely some day soon.

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Writing Wednesday: What I’ve Read Lately

I have a habit of reading several books at once, but since I’ve only just had my Confirmation, I’ve only just started reading fiction again. As such, I’ve only finished 2 books so far.

Less Than Zero is Bret Easton Ellis’s first novel. He started writing it while he was still in highschool; finished it in college. He grew up in the Valley with rich friends who lived in the Hollywood Hills, so this novel about jaded college freshmen from LA with too much of everything definitely has details scoured from his own experiences (at least as far as the indiscriminate sex and drug use). For me, this book hit a little too close to home, not that I know what it’s like to grow up with rich, film industry big-wigs as parents in a Beverly Hills mansion; but it did remind me of what it can be like to be young in Los Angeles… in this case, not necessarily a good thing. Clay comes home for his winter break from an East Coast college and pretty much falls back into the life he had with his friends before he left. But his mindset’s shifted slightly, so the things his friends do (which escalate from “Oh, they’re just young” to “WTF?!”) don’t always sit well with him, especially as they get more and more outrageous. This is not a book for the faint of heart.

If you’ve read The Bone Clocks, the events of this story will be somewhat familiar to you as they take place within the same universe. This story has at its center a mysterious residence which becomes something different depending on who visits. The people in charge of it want one thing in particular, and will do anything to get it, including manipulating reality. I can’t say too much without giving vital things away, and I think the less you know going in (excluding what you may have gleaned from The Bone Clocks) the better.

As for what I’m in the process of reading, there’s The Loney (Andrew Michael Hurley), The Road to Little Dribbling (Bill Bryson), Lunar Park (Brett Easton Ellis), Never the Bride (Paul Magrs), and various comic books and graphic novels.

Travel Thursday: Heading “Home”

I told you all that the concept of “home” is sort of complicated for me. Well, I’m going back to the country of my birth this week XD Hahahaha. Sounds so formal and dumb when you say it like that. I’m going to a couple of cities to see some of my favorite people. The thing I’m looking forward to most is having an early Xmas with my mom 😀 (since we can’t spend the actual holiday together) We’re gonna eat everything in the world on Thanksgiving, watch our favorite movies/TV shows, decorate her tree, and exchange gifts. I’m super excited to give her her presents (and to eat her cooking again)!

The last time I visited the US, it felt really weird. Every morning I woke up anxious, thinking I had to get to work, before remembering that I don’t live there anymore. It’s f**kin weird going back to a place where you had a life when your current life is elsewhere. And it’s so easy to fall back into the same routine. Going to your favorite restaurants, watching your favorite stuff on TV, hearing people speak the way you remember (and regaining your accent for a while). But there’s also this feeling that everything you’re experiencing is somehow new, even though it isn’t. It’s crazy.

OBSESSED: “BMO Noire”

I love cartoons. A lot. One of my favs is Adventure Time. There’s one character that’s a computer — his name is BMO. He can walk around and talk and think independently. Recently, I fell back in love with an older episode where BMO has his own story apart from Finn and Jake. They go to a party and leave BMO home on his own. Finn’s pissed b/c he can’t find one of his socks, so BMO spends the whole episode pretending to be a Raymond Chandler-esque detective who finds out what happened to it. The voice actress who does BMO’s voice is Korean and she keeps her accent when she does his voice; his dialogue in this episode is also full of  misinterpretations of American/Western phrases from old detective novels. It’s hilarious and adorable. The video above is a preview of the episode from when it first came out. If I could post the episode in full, I would. But I can’t. So you should find it and watch it.

So that’s everything. I’ll probably say hello at some point while I’m away — on Twitter or in a post here. But for now, I’ll say: Have a great week, y’all!

The Perfect Day for Murder

It’s Friday the 13th.
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And I’ve got just the thing for it. When I find a show I really like, I’ll binge-watch. Right now, I’m working on a show that first aired 18 years ago, called Midsomer Murders.

It follows a Detective Chief Inspector named Tom Barnaby who, with the help of his Sergeant Gavin Troy, solves grisly murders in small English villages in the (fictional) county of Midsomer. I’m only on Series 4 at the moment, but apparently John Nettles (who played DCI Barnaby) is only on for 13 (BOOO!!!) and the actor who plays Troy is on for even fewer than that! 😥

Generally (at least in the episodes I’ve seen so far), the villages where the murders take place are affluent, as are many of the people involved (not ALL of them of course — there’ve gotta be haves and have-nots for the sake of tension). Despite dealing with some real jerks, Barnaby never loses his cool. He’s clever, honest, funny, observant, fair, and kind — but gets tough when people try to push him around. And even though I’d love it if he did sometimes (b/c some of those people deserve it), he doesn’t run around punching people in the face. He’s low-key, but he always gets his man (or woman as the case may be). He’s my new favorite TV detective (sorry Sherlock).

Ever watched Midsomer Murders? What shows are keeping you glued to the screen lately?

Sorry about the erratic posting this week.

Have a great weekend!

Can Characters “Speak To” Writers?

Hello again!

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Last week, I told you guys about the New Writers’ Evening at Foyles and that some really interesting writerly issues were raised. Another good inquiry made that night, which I’ve seen come up again and again, was about the idea of characters “speaking to” their authors and somehow guiding the writing process. What struck me most when it came up at the Foyles event was how differently the idea was interpreted by each author.

Kirsty Logan was quite literal in her interpretation, citing a belief in a “higher power” that the writers who make that claim — that their characters speak to them — must have, and stating that she conversely believes that it’s she and only she who drives her narrative. Ruth Ware’s take on it was that the writers who say that are likely alluding to the effect a well-developed character has on the writing process. I’m in Ruth Ware’s camp on this one.

If you’re working with a well-rounded set of characters — with fleshed out personalities, motivations, and ideas — and you allow the events of your story to unfold organically (i.e. according to your character’s fully constructed identity) you can actually experience your own writing as a reader and be surprised by what you wrote! This is my favorite writing-related discovery and my favorite thing to experience while writing. This is also, in my mind, what a person who says their characters “speak to them” is referring to (though there may be folks out there who have acid-trip level hallucinations when they write. Sounds kinda fun, tbh…). To me, it means disregarding what you want to happen in a story, and allowing things to occur as they would when people with a specific set of traits are involved. It’s usually pretty easy to tell when a writer has pointedly ignored what would’ve come naturally to their character in favor of shoehorning in a plot device or event just because they were dead set on including it in the story (Ruth Ware gave a character on EastEnders as an example who apparently inspired fan anger by acting in a way that was totally unlike her).

When a character thoroughly comes to life in your mind, they’ll begin speaking for themselves… as long as you loosen the reins and encourage those fully formed aspects of their personhood to come through. And this isn’t to say that you should throw your entire plot or any sense of structure out the window — both can coexist quite comfortably. But it’s often beneficial to let the emphasis be on who the people in these situations are and not the situations themselves. This also isn’t to say that your characters will take over your zombified mind and write your story for you. It’s still you doing most of the work; but a lot of that work is in building your characters and the worlds they inhabit. Once you’ve done that, the rest should (hopefully) come easier and the real fun can start. 😀

Happy Wednesday, y’all!

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I got Confirmed yesterday!

This is me after I passed. via

This is me after I passed.
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If you’re not familiar, a Confirmation is basically practice for the Viva (aka the final PhD thesis defense). Members of the faculty make sure the work you’ve done so far is worthy of PhD status. And I passed! Which means of course that I had to go out drinking to celebrate. In other words, no post today. Sorry! But I’ll add one asap!

Have a great Tuesday everyone!

OBSESSED: Sea Calls Me Home

Hey y’all 😀 Here’s this week’s obsession:

My manager played this song at work and I was hooked. I love the chorus, the saxophone break, and how it makes me feel like I could drop through a portal into another world (I also love that the title reminds me of the movie Song of the Sea, which I’m still obsessed with by the way…). Julia Holter, you’re my ears’ new bff. Why don’t you and my old buddy Rufus Wainwright get cozy together on my playlist…

Have a great weekend everyone!

Travel Writing Favorites

Happy Travel Thursday!
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I’ve read a lot of travel writing. Memoirs, guides, essays, anecdotes, you name it. It’s so much fun (to me anyway) to read about someone’s adventures abroad (which is one reason why I love reading people’s blogs!). When I found out I’d be moving to England, I took the first chance I could to stock up on English travel reads. So I thought I’d share a few of my favorites with you! (Yes, yes, I know it’s a book post and this isn’t Wednesday, but it’s still sort of travel-related so shhh!)

Favorite Anthropological Study: Watching the English, by Kate Fox

I can’t even remember how I heard about this book — I probably just did a google search on books about England — but I’m so glad I found it. Kate Fox’s observations about behavioral codes in England are both informative and entertaining. Even more so because she’s English. She covers everything from the incessant talk about the weather, English humor, and manner of dress, to class identification, sexual stereotypes, and the rules of recreation. This book made me think about why everyone does the things they do, not just the English. And while it did scare me a bit before coming here (“Will I ever know what an English person really means when they say something to me, or is everything code?!”) I’ve found since living here that one of Fox’s points is dead on: cultural rules change over time — even in England.

Favorite Book of To-Do’s: Mad Dogs & Englishmen: A Year of Things to See and Do in England, by Tom Jones

Have you read/seen/heard of Tom Jones’s first book, Tired of London, Tired of Life? If not, it’s a book that gives you daily suggestions for what to do in London. Apparently Tom’s inspiration for writing the first book was that he had indeed begun to tire of London and became motivated to rediscover what makes his city so wonderful. After covering London, he decided to expand his search for things to do to the entire country, which is how this book was born. All of Tom Jones’s books (there are three now) are full of colorful illustrations, and this one’s organized by month so you’ll know ahead of time what activities are available. You’ll never be bored in England again!

Favorite Book of (Im)Personal Experiences The Anglo Files, by Sarah Lyall

Sarah Lyall was/is a New York Times journalist who moved to London after falling in love with an alluring Brit. While The Anglo Files includes some bits of Lyall’s personal experiences, those are really just contextual backdrops for the information she gives you about the English government, codes of conduct, cricket, the national attitude toward the media, etc. Lyall used her journalistic prowess to get direct quotes from people of note while writing this book. But it’s less a book about her life in England than it is about how the country itself functions no matter who’s in it. It’s an interesting, funny, and sometimes puzzling look at England through the eyes of an outsider.

Favorite Book I Haven’t Read Yet: The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island, by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is a well-known voice in travel writing. Actually, he’s a well-known writer, period. He’s written about his time as an American expat in England, his return to the United States, his time in Australia, Europe, Africa, his childhood, Shakespeare, Science, and nearly anything else you can think of. His new book is about his second trip around Britain, twenty years after his first trip around the island (which he then wrote about in the book Notes from a Small Island), to see what has changed in the country he calls home. I have a few of Bryson’s other books, so I was excited to hear that this one was coming out. When I picked it up in Waterstones and flipped it open to the London chapter, what I read made me laugh out loud. In the store. I didn’t even care who looked. That sold me on it. I can’t wait to dig in properly.

What are your favorite travel reads?

Are Short Stories Practice for Novels?

Welcome to Writing Wednesday.
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I recently attended another Vintage New Writers Evening at Foyles, a great event where debuting novelists talk about their road to publication and give opinions on other writing-related topics. There’s also free pizza and beer, which is cool, too.

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Last Monday, the writers Kirsty Logan, Ruth Ware and Vesna Goldsworthy were in conversation with Alex Clark, the host of Vintage Podcast, about their new novels The Gracekeepers, In a Dark, Dark Wood, and Gorsky (respectively).

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They answered some really good questions, one of which was whether or not they saw writing short stories as practice for writing a novel. Since Kirsty Logan had actually published an award-winning short story collection before publishing her first novel (and I believe she’s the only one of the three who had ever published a short story collection), she took the lead in answering the question. Her answer? No.

I started thinking a lot about the difference between writing a short story and writing a novel when I started grad school here. The novel I’m currently working on is my first attempt at writing one; until now, I’d only ever written short stories. The short story is a completely different animal from the novel, with different challenges and questions to consider. Because they occupy such a limited space, short stories often build toward a single weighty climax or revelation and can end just as the protagonist has begun reacting to that event or knowledge. There isn’t as much room for the kind of thorough character development or lengthy ruminations you find in novels; typically, a short story only gives you the info you absolutely need to know in order to contextualize what’s happening in the story and to whom.

Novels generally pepper realizations and bits of intrigue throughout, taking time to wax on about setting, memories, fears, etc. that can’t be explored in a shorter format. While writing short stories, I’ve thought, “I’m glad I can just get straight to the point — I have no idea how I’d add enough material to make this a novel!” And while working on the novel, I sometimes think, “Man, I’m glad I have the space to write about all of this — I have no idea how I’d condense this into a short story!” Figuring out what’s most important and shaving everything down to the bare essentials is a fun challenge of writing short fiction. Conversely, when writing a novel, training yourself to notice the small details of daily life and deciding how best to describe them (and also deciding which of those details the character you’re writing about would notice) is an interesting exercise, too. But switching suddenly from one type of story to the other can be jarring.

Kirsty Logan made a really good point while answering the question: she warned against trying to make a story something it’s not. Every concept has its ideal format. For instance, you might have an idea that’d be a stellar short story, but a shitty novel. So trying to stretch a good short story into novel-form probably isn’t a good idea. One of the stories in Kirsty Logan’s collection The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales is called “The Gracekeeper”, and while it inspired her new novel, the novel is a completely separate entity and in no way a continuation of the short story. Logan also mentioned the general lack of enthusiasm for short stories when compared with novels, which I’ve noticed, too. Writing a novel is a good way to get people’s attention, and to clear the way for a collection of short stories if you’ve written them. But typically, folks don’t go to bookstores looking for new short story collections (unless they’re already familiar with the authors of said collections), so starting out with one may not be the best way to gain a following (if that’s what you’re hoping to do).

This latest New Writers Evening brought up some writing issues that have been fun to consider. What are your thoughts on short stories vs. novels?

Have a wonderful Wednesday!

Afternoon Tea at Claridge’s

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At first I held off on making this declaration, but I think I should just go ahead and admit it: I had the best afternoon tea of my life at Claridge’s. Afternoon tea at Sketch is a verrrry close second, but Claridge’s wins overall.

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Every inch of the place is beautiful, including the bathrooms where a polite attendant sets out a hand towel for you to dry off with after you’ve washed your hands, and offers to take your coat to the cloakroom. Even though I was early, they seated me right away (unlike the disappointing afternoon tea I had a couple weeks ago where I had to wait for a table despite having a reservation). The maître d’ kindly took me through the menu before leaving me to settle in.

I was reading Less Than Zero. Not exactly fancy tea reading, but there ya go.

I was reading Less Than Zero. Not exactly fancy tea reading, but there ya go.

A string duo (pianist and cellist) provides the soundtrack for what is ultimately a very relaxed atmosphere. Yes, people are well-dressed (I honestly would’ve felt like crap if the floral centerpieces had looked better than I did), and the place is pretty fancy, but here’s the thing: it’s not snooty. No one at Claridge’s makes you feel bad for not being a duchess or an earl. You’re spending money there — a hefty chunk, I might add — and they respect that. And you. I also wasn’t treated like a freak for dining alone (which can sometimes happen).

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My dinner-jacketed server arrived after giving me an adequate amount of time to choose from their selection of teas, of which there’s a good variety available. The server then explained that he would be refilling my tea cup by cup. From then on, he continually refilled my small teapot with piping hot water, instead of leaving me a larger pot full of tea that would eventually grow tepid over the course of my meal. Smart idea.

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The sandwiches I had (which are slightly different than what’s currently listed on the Claridge’s website) were Burford brown egg & watercress on onion bread; English cucumber, buttermilk and sorrel on white bread; corn fed chicken, thyme and cep mayonnaise on rye bread; Severn & Wye smoked salmon, whipped brown butter with lemon and samphire on malt bread; Dorrington ham, celeriac remoulade, smoked tomato chutney on white bread; and a piece of Quickes cheddar quiche with pickled walnut.

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Biting into each sandwich, I could tell that every ingredient had been chosen with care. The bread, the spreads, and the fillings all went together so well. My favorite sandwiches were the salmon and, surprisingly, the ham! Usually the ham sandwich is the throw-away that nobody cares about, but this one was fantastic. After finishing the first round, I was offered another plate of sandwiches, which I gladly accepted. I love that at most afternoon teas, you’re offered seconds.

The string duo played “Here Comes the Sun”, bits from the Harry Potter score, the theme from Goldfinger, and “Kiss From A Rose”, among other things. It was cool to hear so many songs I recognized being played live in a simple string arrangement.

At my server’s suggestion, I switched from green to black tea in preparation for the sweets. The scones at Claridge’s — one raisin and one plain — are smaller than I’m used to. They’re just the right size to stuff into your mouth alongside a plate of gorgeous pastries, on top of 2 plates of sandwiches.

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The pastries I had were a coconut frangipane tartlet with toasted meringue, pineapple & tonka; a hazelnut choux pastry with praline ganache, candied pink grapefruit & vanilla; a lemon & crème fraîche mousse with blueberry & violet; and a Kalingo chocolate brownie with raspberry cremeaux. None of the desserts were overly sweet, and each had subtly complex flavor and texture combinations. My favorite was the lemon mousse — it was covered in a granulated violet-flavored coating that went beautifully with its smooth insides.

I must have spent about 3 hours at Claridge’s. I relaxed, I read, I ate, and I had fun. No one rushed me out so they could give my table to someone else. I was left alone to enjoy myself, but never neglected. It was lovely. Without a doubt, I’ll be going back.

The Classic Afternoon Tea at Claridge’s is £55 per person, plus a 12.5% service charge. If you’d like to feel a little buzzy, there’s a Champagne Afternoon Tea option from £65 pp. And if you want to take your mini-me along, Claridge’s does an afternoon tea for children from £25 per child (which looks super cute).

Definitely treat yourself to afternoon tea at Claridge’s at least once. You deserve it.

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