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 XD ), 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!

S is for Shut Up, Stupid.

Hey, you guys.

The last few days have been rough, but the problem’s not new. I bet you deal with it, too. By “it” I mean that shitty voice in  your head that tells you you’re failing. The voice that tells you you’re worthless. That you shouldn’t bother trying because there’s no point. Nobody likes you. You’re too this, too that. Not enough this. Not enough, period.

“Shut up, Stupid.”

That’s me, but in two different ways.

It’s me telling me that every good thing I think about myself is wrong. That every positive thing someone says is something they don’t really mean — it’s just a white lie told to avoid embarrassing the weird but well-meaning girl who doesn’t know what to do with herself.

But…

It’s also me telling that voice to fuck off. It’s me saying, you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s me saying, I’m trying, and that’s what’s important. I’m doing my best, and that’s the most anyone can do.

Every time I move someplace new, I manage to underestimate how lonely I’ll inevitably feel some days. I forget that there will be days when I feel like it was all a big mistake, because I don’t belong. Not here. Not anywhere. People either know how to be normal, or they don’t. I don’t. So what am I doing here?

But you’re here — on Earth — for something. I do believe that chaos rules. But I also believe that you can create meaning in your own life. Whenever I talk to the friends of mine who are still searching for that thing they can do like no one else can, I feel lucky to have formed a connection with reading and writing early. When everything else falls apart for me, I have words. And that’s something. Not everybody has a passion because they’re still trying to figure out what it is that lights their fire, which is a wonderful journey to be on. But at the same time, it’s nice to be at the end of that journey (for now, anyway 🙂 ). And even though I have horrible days — some to do with writing, some not — I have something to do with my hands. I have something to do with my mind that will (however briefly) quiet that caustic voice. I have a plan. When nothing else works, I can throw myself into reading a book, or writing something.

This post is as much for me as it is for you. So from me to me, and to you: Don’t worry — there will be bad days, but there’ll be good ones, too. Everything will work out. Keep your goals in sight. And keep trying your best, at everything.

Happy Friday 🙂

Writing Wednesday: (What I’m) Reading

Helloooooo!

I thought I’d give you guys another combo post. This isn’t going to be a book review post; I’m actually in the middle of a few books and am going to tell you what they are. This list does not include books I’ve started but am not particularly keen on/iffy on whether I’ll continue; these are books I plan to finish. Who knows…maybe one will strike you and you’ll wanna get stuck into it yourself.

Let’s get started.

The Palace of Curiosities by Rosie Garland
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Rosie Garland actually came to speak at my uni on March 1st about her writing life and process. Among other things, she’s a poet, novelist, and member of a post-punk band called The March Violets. As soon as she opened her mouth, I thought of David Bowie. Needless to say, I became a fan more or less immediately. (She’s also a nice person.)

Palace of Curiosities was her first novel — she’s since penned two others: Vixen (2014), and another coming out soon. Set in the 1850’s, Palace of Curiosities follows a young woman with hypertrichosis (she’s been covered in hair from head to toe since birth) named Eve, and a young man with strange abilities and only flashes of memory named Abel. Eve and Abel become attractions in Eve’s husband’s “Palace of Curiosities” — the Lion-Faced Girl and the Flayed Man. The chapters alternate between Eve and Abel’s perspectives. I’m about halfway through this one and mostly feel heartbroken for the both of them. All Abel wants is an answer to the questions “Who, and what, am I?”; all Eve wants is to be loved, genuinely, for who she is. I’m eager to see how things end for both of them.

When We Collided by Emery Lord
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I’ve been searching high and low for a book subscription box that won’t cost me 10 jillion dollars in shipping b/c it’s based elsewhere (like all the good ones seem to be). Finally I stumbled upon UK-based Illumicrate, which is a quarterly subscription box that offers all the loveliness of Owl Crate, but only every three months (plus free shipping in the UK!). I got so many cute things: a black travel mug that says “What happens in book club stays in book club,” a gold and black book-shaped pin that says “Readers gonna read,” a cuuute clip/bookmark with a paper cut-out caterpillar reading a book, buttons from Jenny McLachlan, a “To Be Read List” notepad, and a fox stamp. Not to mention a sample of a new YA Fantasy book by Laini Taylor coming out in September called Strange the Dreamer. I took photos of everything, but they turned out horribly, so I think you’d be better off clicking on the link above and checking out the Instagram photos of other people’s opened boxes.

So this one’s a bit of a cheat b/c I’ve only read the first couple of pages, but I’m already on board for the ride promised by the splashy paint colors on the cover. When We Collided is about a teenage boy named Jonah who is forced to become the man of the house after his father dies. Then a free-spirited chick named Vivi rolls into town and he falls for her. The tagline on the front of the book is “Can you fall in love when you’re falling apart?” So I’m guessing the conflict involves Jonah trying to juggle his grief over his father, his newfound responsibilities, and falling in love, which is something I haven’t really seen in the YA I’ve read. While I’ve barely begun the story, I already love the relaxed, natural way it’s written. Some YA books are written in voices that are meant to sound like teenagers, but end up being over-the-top caricatures instead. So I’m digging the normalcy of When We Collided so far. Hope it’s as good as it seems!

The Bricks That Built the Houses by Kate Tempest
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If someone were to ask me what this novel is about, I could sum it up in three words: South East London. Every page, every line of dialogue, every mannerism screams SE. The protagonists are South East Londoners who take that place with them wherever they go. Their pasts, their hopes and dreams, their hatred, everything about them is also about South East London. Kate Tempest is actually a slam poet born and raised in SE London whose work can be quite political. This definitely comes through in the novel, so much so that I wonder from time to time which opinions and dreams are the character’s and which are hers. Her prose is image-heavy and there are often stories within the larger story in the form of character biography. I haven’t spent much time at all in South East London, so this is an interesting read for me. Stories within stories usually take away from my reading experience, but in this case, because the novel is so much about the people in it, including backstories that make up the overall fabric of the novel is fitting. I’m enjoying it so far!

Patience by Daniel Clowes
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Here’s a graphic novel (just to shake things up 😉 )! Yesterday, I went to the Cartoon Museum to check out their graphic novel exhibit. I learned about some artists and writers I hadn’t heard of and was reminded of a graphic novel I’ve been wanting to buy (Arkham Asylum). On my money-spending mission, I saw this bright and colorful cover on the shelf beside other new titles. Clowes’s style reminds me of the comics I read in the newspaper on the weekends when I was a kid, but the dialogue between characters and their thoughts seemed more natural (esp. all the cursing lol). It intrigued me, so I bought it. I read a good chunk of it last night. I really like it!

It’s about a man whose pregnant wife gets killed, so he spends the next twenty years obsessing over her and the life they could’ve had. He meets a prostitute whose client invented a time machine, so he uses it to go back to before he met his wife in order to find out who might have killed her. His ultimate goal is to keep her safe and make sure their child gets born. It’s kinda like Looper, minus the telepathy. So far the main dude has beat the shit out of a group of guys who pulled a dirty prank on Patience (the wife/woman on the cover), and they just recognized him in the street! I’ve actually been gasping and laughing out loud at what I’ve read so far, which means this is pretty good stuff. The subtitle is “A cosmic timewarp deathtrip to the primordial infinite of everlasting love.” That pretty much sums it up.

What are you reading right now?

Q is for Query

Today’s post is a combination alphabet-writing post. I’m fast approaching the time when I need to start putting together query letters to send out to literary agents and publishing houses.

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I’ve been searching for information on do’s and don’ts (b/c you can never start too early!) and figured I’d share some of what I’ve found so far with you.

Strike a tonal balance
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You don’t want to be too stiff and business-like, but you also don’t want to be too familiar either. No “HEEEEEYYYYYY! Wassup! Thought I’d drop you a line since I wasn’t really up to much of anything.” And no “Dear Sir or Madam, It is my distinct pleasure to present to you my manuscript for the literary novel Sunsprites and Jellybeans.” Give them the information they need to know in a way that demonstrates both professionalism and your comfort and familiarity with your work.

Keep it short and sweet
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According to AgentQuery.com, your letter should be no longer than three paragraphs. They recommend this formula:
Paragraph One = The Hook
Paragraph Two = Mini-synopsisParagraph Three = Writer’s bio

The “hook” is like that tagline on a movie poster — it’s supposed to entice the person reading your email into wanting to read your manuscript. Here’s one of their examples:

The Kite Runner
An epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes us from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the atrocities of the present.

The folks at AgentQuery.com are apparently fans of the “When” hook. As in…

House of Sand and Fog
When Massoud Amir Behrani, a former colonel in the Iranian military, sinks his remaining funds into a house he buys at auction, he unwittingly puts himself and his family on a trajectory to disaster; the house once belonged to Kathy Nicolo, a self-destructive alcoholic, who engages in legal, then personal confrontation to get it back.

or…

The Corrections
When family patriarch, Alfred Lambert, enters his final decline, his wife and three adult children must face the failures, secrets, and long-buried hurts that haunt them as a family if they are to make the corrections that each desperately needs.

(FYI, they give other examples of ways to begin your hook)

The paragraph following your hook is where you build on your hook with the specifics of your story. Like I said last week, condensing an entire novel down to a paragraph or two is no cake walk. It’s a matter of choosing which details someone picking your book up from a shelf has to know to be convinced to read it. Even though it’s a headache, it’s totally doable. Just think about all the book jacket blurbs you’ve read in your life! Someone had to come up with them. Why can’t you?

The last paragraph is your bio, but should only include relevant info like your writing credits and education (if it has to do with writing). Going by the query letters I’ve read so far, this paragraph is where writers tend to include their manuscript’s title and word count.

Let them know how you know them
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This is pretty much a general rule of thumb when contacting anyone you want to work with. In the case of a literary agent, mention other clients of theirs whose work is comparable to yours in some way. Even if that’s not quite applicable, the point is to let them know you’ve researched them and that based on that research, they’re the best fit for you and your writing.

Don’t query an agent until you have a finished manuscript!
Almost forgot to add this important piece of advice! You don’t want to contact an agent until you have a completed project to send them. If you query them and they’re interested, they’ll want to read the entire thing before agreeing to represent you (duh).

There’s a looooooooot more info on this subject out there, as well as examples of successful query letters you can use as templates.

Have you sent out a query letter? What tips would you give someone who hasn’t?

Happy Thursday!

P is for Pete Rock & CL Smooth

Do you have a song that never fails to take you back to certain moments in your life and make you feel alllll the feelings again? You probably have a few. I do, too. But there’s one in particular that makes me consider and appreciate my entire life — even the things that haven’t happened yet. It’s called T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You).

CL Smooth raps about his upbringing, and memories of all the people who are important to him and have made him who he is. (If you listen to the song, you’ll learn the significance of the acronym in verse 3.) T.R.O.Y. is one of those classic hip-hop tracks that never fails to get those of us who love the genre hype. It’s representative of everything great about hip-hop: the perfect sample, chosen and looped with care; a hot (and timeless) beat that makes you move; words that truly mean something because they came from the heart. Hip-hop, GOOD hip-hop, always makes me proud to be African American because of the impact it’s made and continues to make around the world, and because we had such an important role in creating the genre (as did the Latinos, Caribbeans, and other people plugged into the scene at the time). But my love for this song goes beyond an appreciation for my culture. This song makes me think about my own life and the relationships — whether holding strong or broken — that have shaped my personality over the years.

Both of my parents LOVE music. My dad actually used to dj in high school and on into the early years of his marriage to my mom. The two of them together had a pretty extensive record collection. It hit every genre of music but country and gospel. And since he dj’ed, my dad had a sweet stereo system with massive speakers that he kept in the den in our basement. The majority of my memories of our townhouse, where I lived until I was ten, are of being in that basement. It’s where the big TV was where I watched all my favorite cartoons and learned to imitate the voices of my favorite characters; it’s where I kept my rabbit, Buttons; it’s where the sliding glass door was (through which I could see the ice penguin I’d made with my dad one winter); and it’s where I listened to music and turned my love of it into a capital letter kind of love. (It’s also where me and my first cousin used to introduce each other to a fake audience after plugging in my dad’s microphone. Cuz we were the absolute coolest.)

One of my favorite things to do was turn the volume all the way up at the end of each song I listened to and see what words I could hear as the track faded out. I also remember how exciting it was to catch my favorite songs on the radio (or my favorite episodes on TV) back before people could just find and download whatever they wanted. My first attempts at harmonizing were in front of my dad’s speakers (and now I can’t help doing it whenever I sing anything). I had a lot of fun in that basement, and now, when I hear T.R.O.Y., my mind inevitably wanders back to that time and place. That basement was the first place I heard that song, and the lyrics about aunts and uncles, moms and dads, grandparents and friends, put me in mind of every important memory I’ve ever made. The good, the bad — I wouldn’t be me without all of it.

What song is your T.R.O.Y.?

P.S.
I was inspired to write this post b/c of the new speaker I just bought. It’s a UE BOOM 2, and it is glorious.

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O is for Ouch…

Do any of you go through your day normally, and all of a sudden some mysterious new bruise catches your eye? WTF is that about?!

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The latest.

The bruise shown above is actually far darker and uglier than it looks here. But since one of my light bulbs blew, my bedroom is like a cave so I had to stand right next to the window to get a photo that didn’t make it look like a sewage stain. The only reason I noticed it at all was because I was exercising in front of a mirror and the weird dark blotch I already have on that arm (from a bad burn when I was little) seemed to be in the wrong place. I stopped moving and got a good look. Then I poked at it. Then I scowled because I end up with a new one like every week. Am I sleep walking or something? (For the best real life sleepwalking story I’ve ever heard, please see Kristen’s post about her husband. I laughed so hard, I barked.)

It’d be fine if I were Kim Possible or some equally badass person whose life is so action-packed, I could logically forget having gotten random wounds.

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But I’m not. I’m one of those boring people who can’t somersault across a six-lane highway, or scale buildings. I can barely cartwheel. And I’m cool taking the elevator. Is my skin leading a double life with another body? Maybe the O in today’s post should actually stand for “occult.”

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Other than keeping an eye on my own carcass, I’m not up to much this weekend. Since I’ve heard so many good things about the new Captain America movie, I’ll probably go see that. And try to get some work done. I’ve hit a tricky bit in the story that’s been effing my brain up, so I need to spend some time working through it. What are you up to this weekend? I hope your skin stays unblemished.

Happy Friday!

Finding your title!

Welcome back to Writing Wednesday! Excited?

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Try to contain yourself, James.

Last week, I was working on a synopsis for my novel (tougher than it seems) and while I was re-reading what I’d written, an image came to mind that seemed to sum up what I’m writing really well. I looked up the term and you know what? It was PERFECT. So perfect, I felt like the king of morons for not making the connection sooner. But more than that, I felt so relieved and excited that I laughed like a maniac for about 10 minutes.

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You can arrive at a title in different ways. Sometimes it’s ridiculously simple; other times you can feel your brain cells wither and die while you spend five forevers trying to come up with something that gets to the root of your story without sounding silly or pretentious. Until this novel, I’d never had trouble coming up with titles I liked. I attribute that to the fact that I only wrote short stories before. For me, it was easy to decide on a word or phrase that hit on the main point of my stories and that felt right, too. But novels are, well, longer.

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What I mean is, “summing up” 100,000 words is a little tougher than getting to the heart of a 6,000 word story. Shorter stories mean less time and space to explore ideas, which means you have to choose which idea(s) you want to focus on. A novel on the other hand will likely explore a few major themes while also including unique technical aspects or several small events that are integral to the fabric of the tale. Not to mention characters that are fully fleshed out and whose thoughts, personalities, and interactions — in the ample space a novel provides — meld together in complex ways. Of course short stories attack ideas and themes that are just as complex as what you’d find in a novel. But with less space to fill, you’re left with a more incisive rendering than a novel, which is allowed to meander and loop until it makes its ultimate point. The difference between a novel and a short story is like the difference between a maze and a door with an exit sign over it: either way, you’ll reach your destination — just in different ways.

After browsing my bookshelves, I’ve noticed a few different types of titles, which can be helpful in deciding what direction to go in with your own. There’s…

The Setting-based Title
Some books center on a specific place that is crucial to the plot. Often, as in the case of The Loney (Andrew Michael Hurley), The Castle of Otranto (Horace Walpole), and Slade House (David Mitchell), the setting in the title is where the majority of the story takes place. Does the bulk of your story happen in one location?

The Simplistic Distillation Title
Some book titles are really just a super stripped-down answer to the question, “What’s this book about?” Like Andrew’s Brain (E.L. Doctorow) about a man speaking to a psycho-analyst about his life, which is written in a way that brings to mind (my mind anyway) the ability of the mind to think about itself. Essentially, it is a story about Andrew’s brain in that it’s about the way his mind works and how that’s responsible for his hang-ups and the way he reacts to people and things. Other examples are The Girl in the Red Coat (Kate Hamer), and The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins). Obviously these books are about more than just a girl in a red coat and a girl on a train, but those are distinguishing aspects of these protagonists, so the title’s aren’t inaccurate!

The Catalyst Object Title
Some stories have characters who encounter a particular thing that changes their lives and subsequently dictates the course of the story. The example I pulled from my shelf is The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink. A wallcreeper is a type of bird, and this is a story about a woman who marries a bird enthusiast after knowing him for only three weeks. They find this particular bird at the start of the story, and take it in. In all honesty, the bulk of the story has very little to do with this bird, but the finding of the creature is what gets the story going, and the bird does affect the husband and wife in different ways that reveal more about who they are as people (at least from the wife’s perspective).

The Story-specific Title
By “story-specific” I mean a term unique to the story that isn’t taken from real life. David Mitchell’s novel The Bone Clocks is titled after a phrase in the story. A “bone clock” is… a human being — one who suffers from mortality, unlike certain characters in this story who have found ways to evade it. There’s also Chuck Palahniuk’s Beautiful You, which is the name of a chain of sex toy boutiques that are the impetus for much of what happens in the story.

The Excerpt-based Title
One of my favorite books, Beasts by Joyce Carol Oates takes its title from a collection of poetry by D.H. Lawrence called Birds, Beasts, and Flowers (a simplistic distillation title 😀 ) which she excerpts as an epigraph for her book. The poem the epigraph is taken from is one of my favorite poems ever (b/c of this book), “Medlars and Sorb-Apples.” Here’s the epigraph:

I love you, rotten,
Delicious rottenness.

…wonderful are the hellish experiences,
Orphic, delicate
Dionysos of the Underworld.

Read the whole poem. Did it make you feel things? I bet it made you feel things. Anyway, this poem fits well with JCO’s novel — especially in the grotesque mixture of sweetness and foulness — and the word “beasts” nails exactly what the characters in her novel turn out to be.

The Symbolic/Thematic Title
This is the one I typically shoot for. It’s also the one that poses the greatest risk of sounding ridiculous if you get it wrong. I love when I finish a book, look back at the cover, and feel like the main idea of what I’ve just read is fully expressed in the title. Like the fact-based fiction How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti, which is basically about a young woman’s experience of living her life and trying to find the answer to that very question. Or the literary classic A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess) about an off-the-wall teenager whose next-level hedonism leads to his forcible transformation (by means of intense conditioning) into a “better” person. In his introduction to my edition of the book, Burgess says he meant for the title to “stand for the application of a mechanistic morality to a living organism oozing with juice and sweetness.” The novel challenges that notion, and invites the reader to do the same. In the case of A Clockwork Orange, content and title marry flawlessly.

What’s your process for coming up with titles? Do you have a favorite kind? A kind you hate? Hope this post has cut your title journey short by a few hundred minutes.

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Happy Wednesday!

N is for New City

I am deeeeetermined to make it through this alphabet, y’all.

I visited Bristol for the first time last weekend and fell in love with the easy vibe, the art all over the walls (and art shops everywhere! I spent so much money…), and the unguarded friendliness of the people I encountered. I went on an open-top bus tour and the driver called me “baby” in the sweetest way a male stranger has ever done. I was struggling to get to the stairs as the bus was booking it down the street. He said “Be careful, baby” like I was his favorite niece or something. It was precious.

I only had one whole day to visit (two nights), and the start of my trip was not promising. When I got out of the coach station, I of course whipped out my phone and started up Google Maps. I was directed up a smallish hill towards the main road. It was drizzling out and I was carrying (along with a duffle bag and purse) a paper bag with a salad from Pret inside. After crossing the road, I followed Google Maps like a good little lemming and found myself at the bottom of the steepest hill I have EVER seen in my life. It was called Marlborough Hill.

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I cursed Google Maps and got going. As I huffed and puffed uphill, students passed me — all on their way down, of course. I shouted all the expletives I knew in my head and kept going until I reached the top. My heart rate gradually slowed to normal as I got nearer to Clifton House, a privately owned B&B on the edge of the University of Bristol’s campus. The woman who welcomed me was super friendly, which took some of the edge off my irritation. My room was on the top floor (of course) and as soon as I opened my door, the bottom of my now damp paper bag ripped and my salad container burst open all over the floor. Did I mention that it was a quinoa salad? That’s right — little bits of quinoa eeeevvverrrywheerreee. As if to punctuate my grand entrance, the trash I’d kept in the bag fluttered in all different directions, and my empty drink can rolled down the stairs I’d just climbed.

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After I cleaned everything up, I took a moment to plop down onto my bed and look at my room. It was a single so it was quite small, but perfect for one person. Everything was so clean! There was a sink and vanity with tiny bottles of shampoo and body wash on one wall. Across from that was the door to the shower and toilet. On the desk facing the large window at the front of the room sat a small flat-panel TV, a kettle, and a tray of teas, coffees, hot chocolate, and biscuits. The moment I put the kettle on, I felt 10x better. I don’t have any photos of the room because as soon as I finished cleaning up that salad, I flung my stuff all over the place and relaxed my face off. Since my salad was no more, I eventually decided to venture out for dinner.

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Bristol in the evening.

Now that I was in a better mood, I was able to appreciate how lovely and relaxed the atmosphere of the city was. On my way to the restaurant, I saw street art, pretty buildings, and I made a note of several shops I wanted to visit the next day. The food was just OK at the place I visited, but the beer was excellent. Walking back to Clifton House, I got more and more excited about the next day.

The next morning, I’d planned to take advantage of the free brekkie, so I set my alarm for 8:30am. When I woke up and tried to lift my head, my whole body screamed at me. So much aching. I wasn’t going anywhere for a while. Eventually, I got up and out, ready to tour the city. While I waited for the tour bus, I sat in a courtyard surrounded by the Wills Memorial building and had some breakfast.

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After that, I checked out the wildlife and Egyptian exhibits at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.

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On the tour bus, we pretty much made a loop around the city. I learned about what a huge role the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel played in the city’s (and world’s) evolution (he built the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship, the SS Great Britain; he developed the Great Western Railway; he also designed one of Bristol’s best known attractions, the Clifton Suspension Bridge.), I saw Cabot Circus and other hot spots around the city, learned lots of interesting trivia, went up to Clifton and Durdham Downs, saw the famous suspension bridge, and a cloud shaped like a heart.

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After the tour, I stumbled upon Tea Birds! I’d heard of the place before, so I was happy to have found it in time for lunch. I had salmon & goat cheese sandwiches and a bowl of butternut squash soup. Yum. Then I had a look in a bunch of shops. A couple of different shops sold what looked like new books for only £3 each! I got a couple of books, a Matilda print, a cool pillow, and a few other bits and bobs over the course of the afternoon. I also found the Christmas Steps!

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I wandered all the way down, and grabbed some cider on my way back up.

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I wish I’d been there around Christmas time. I bet they do everything up nicely there 🙂

As full as my day was, I really wish I’d had more time to spend there. I had so much fun that I started checking out estate agencies there, hahaha. I definitely wouldn’t mind living in Bristol. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’d love it. I’m definitely going back ASAP.

Have you been to Bristol? What should I do on my next visit?

Happy Tuesday!