Writing Wednesday: When Language Imitates Life.

Heyyyyyy, everybody!

Today’s topic is…well…y’all can read.

What I mean by language that imitates life is words put together in such a way that you immediately recognize the emotional experience they’re meant to portray. One of my favorite things about reading is recognizing a character’s emotional experience as my own. When I can point at the page and say “I know exactly what that’s like!” That’s a golden moment, one that I try to produce in my stories as often as possible. That, to me, is what makes a story immersive. People connect with what they know, and it’s the writer’s job (however fantastic the tale) to give the reader an entry point to the story, a foothold.

For my critical bit, I am (re)reading a bunch of Stephen King. I’ve begun with The Shining, a book I’ve actually never read before. In Chapter Four, Jack Torrance’s son, Danny (who is waiting outside for his dad to get home), has his first vision of the awful events to come at the Overlook Hotel. As the vision fades, Jack’s VW pulls into view, and Danny is still utterly shaken by what he saw in his mind.

He went to his daddy and buried his face in Daddy’s sheepskin-lined jacket and hugged him tight tight tight.

Not only does the lack of punctuation in the sentence add to the sense of urgency Danny feels — the words staggering one after another toward some invisible exit — but the repetition in the end — “tight tight tight” — drives home the reality of Danny’s desperate relief at seeing the man he loves most and views as his protector right there in front of him in the aftermath of a hideous vision. This is a thing that Stephen King is REALLY good at. He infuses his stories with bits of emotion that seem pulled directly from the fabric of reality. And the moment is so small, but it’s something any person who is coming down from indescribable fear in the arms of a loved one can relate to. Especially as a child (that “tight tight tight” immediately says “under-the-age-of-ten” to me).

Here’s another one from the end of one of my favorite novels, Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves :

     Fern stood heavily and came to me. She placed her own large hand opposite mine, fingers curling slightly, scratching, as if she could reach through and take the poker chip. I signed my name again with my free hand, and she signed it back with hers, though I couldn’t tell if she’d remembered me or was simply being polite.
     Then she rested her forehead on the glass. I did the same and we stood that way for a very long time, face-to-face. From that vantage point, I could see her only in teary, floating pieces —
     her eyes
     the flaring of her nostrils
     the sparse hairs on her chin and rimming her ears
     the tiny rise and fall of her rounded shoulders
     the way her breath painted and unpainted the glass

This is one of the only moments in a novel that has ever made me cry. Everything about this evokes movements and emotions one would recognize, especially considering the characters involved (one of whom, Fern, is *spoiler* a chimpanzee). Fern “standing heavily”, her fingers “curling slightly” are recognizable to anyone who has seen a chimpanzee move. What follows is an emotionally familiar moment: the narrator making herself known — baring herself in a way — and, after receiving a response, being hopeful and unsure about what that response means. Then — THEN — the “teary, floating pieces.” UGH! THIS is something that anyone who has ever cried (aka most humans) and tried to see through their tears, will recall. You catch a detail here, another one there… And the fact that each detail is begun in lower case & without punctuation which, similarly to the Stephen King excerpt, implies a lack of a clear beginning or end to the details given, conjures up what the world is like through the blur of tears. Through that lens, every detail you catch is equal. And then Fern’s breath “painting and unpainting” the glass…

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I mean, c’mon, people.

What are your favorite recognizable moments in fiction?

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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!

Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction

What up, y’all?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

L is for Life Diary

Whut up, y’all?!

Like I said Wednesday, and as you may have noticed, I haven’t been around much lately. So today’s episode is brought to you by the letter L for Life Diary, which just means I’m going to spew photos all over you from the last month or so and add helpful captions so you know what I’ve been up to lately. FYI, these photos are going backwards in time. Your scrolling hand just might start to ache. So heeeerrrreee we go!

A visitor showed up in our back garden the other day.

Choko spied on him…

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…and was an all-around beauty queen while doing it.

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Neal said “Beauty? Pshhh…I’m too tired for all that.”

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I spent an afternoon in Richmond, loving life…

…and had a deelicious steak, salad, and sweet potato fries for lunch at Buenos Aires (the restaurant, not the capital of Argentina).

Choko was her radiant self again during a photo shoot by the window.

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I got a new throw and a couple pillows from Home Base; the little ones tested them out…

…and Neal sunbathed on the rug.

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Things got a lil cray-cray when the bottom rail broke off of one of my living room windows.

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Remember my post about The Killing Joke and how it’s been adapted into an animated film? Well to celebrate, I went out and dropped crazy £££ on some comic/cartoon loot.

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I also went to Kopapa for the first time and had a tasty tuna steak.

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Neal tucked himself in since I didn’t get home fast enough to do it myself.

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I bought my first Jo Malone candle and felt like a fancy-schmancy adult.

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Velvet Rose & Oud. Amazing. I also bought Mimosa & Cardamom (but I haven’t started burning that one yet). Yes, that is a skeletal hand holding the candle. I’m a creepy little weirdo — didn’t you know?

I went back to my beloved Claridge’s for their Easter themed afternoon tea! The champagne was so good I shelled out for a second glass.

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I met up with Emma, Flick, Frankie, & Sophie at Dirty Bones for some good eats. I ordered The Asian hot dog: “kimchi ketchup, wasabi mayo, crispy seaweed, pickled sushi ginger and sesame seeds.” 😛 More pleeeasseee!

Neal did MORE sunbathing…

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…and looked kinda like roadkill…

I had a mega-good haggis toastie from Deeney’s at Broadway Market. I ordered the Hamish Macbeth, which is haggis, grated cheddar, rocket, caramelized onions, mustard, and bacon on granary bread. Try one. You won’t regret it.

I had the Charlie & the Chocolate Factory themed afternoon tea one day at One Aldwych. Quite good.

Neal decided that my desk chair looked better under him than me.

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And waaaaay back at the beginning of March, I returned to Cheltenham and my beloved No. 131 where I had good food and drink…

…saw some sights…

…and relaxed.

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So that’s what I’ve been up to for the past month-and-a-half! Well, that and trudging back and forth to the gym.

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…and preparing for a blizzard, clearly.

This weekend I’m heading to Bristol! I’ve only ever heard good things about it (a couple I sat next to in No. 131’s restaurant was from there and gave me another 50 reasons why I should go asap) so I’m excited to finally visit. 😀

What have you been up to lately?

K is for The Killing Joke

I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it is literally going to take me until the end of time to make it through the alphabet on this blog XD I wish I could tell you life has gotten so head-explodingly exciting that it’s near impossible for me to find even a single, spare moment to blog. I wish I could tell you that.

But something exciting IS happening this summer. Well, something that cartoon & comics-obsessed nerds like me find exciting. What is this thing I probably won’t care about, you ask?! The seminal 1988 graphic novel The Killing Joke is being adapted and released as an animated feature. AND the original cast of voice actors from Batman: The Animated Series (AKA one of the best cartoons EVER MADE) are climbing back into their old roles. This means my favorite Joker of all time, Mark Hamill, will be (figuratively) donning his purple suit again, and I couldn’t be happier.

The Killing Joke is the product of a collaboration between two comic book giants and members of the “British Invasion” into American comics in the 80s, Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. Moore’s name is likely familiar to you; he’s the writer behind Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman — all of which were adapted to the big screen — not to mention a gang of other comic classics. He also created John Constantine…

…another comic book character I bet you’ve heard of thanks to good ole Keanu.

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Brian Bolland is an illustrator who specializes in awesome AF cover art, mostly for DC Comics.

Bolland did both the cover and interior art for The Killing Joke. According to Bolland’s afterword in the deluxe edition of The Killing Joke, he asked Alan Moore to collaborate with him on the project after having “known each other for quite a while and [having] narrowly missed working together a couple of times.” He also says that despite the project “not [being] a labor of love” for Moore, he is glad Moore agreed to write the story. I think a lot of people, myself included, are glad this collab happened. I mean, look at this:

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If you’re thinking, “that looks pretty f*cking intense,” you’re right.

The Killing Joke centers on the day that changed the Joker forever from average Joe to psychopath, and his philosophy that it only takes “one bad day” to take a person from normal to off their rocker. The story takes place in present-day Gotham, and begins with Batman seeking the Joker out at Arkham Asylum for a chat. He believes they’re doomed to kill each other in the end unless they sit down and talk things over once and for all. But the Joker has, once again, escaped. The Joker is on a mission to prove that even the sanest man on Earth will go crazy if he has an adequately horrific experience. As he’s putting his plan into action, Joker flashes back to the day his life went irrevocably off course.

Jack, an amateur comedian with a wife and a baby on the way, needs money badly. He agrees to help some crooks navigate through a chemical plant he used to work in so they can break into the playing card factory next door. The day he’s meant to go through with it, he learns that his wife died in a freak accident at home. Even though he no longer has a reason to be involved in the heist, the crooks won’t let him off the hook. He attempts to do the deed, but gets caught in the process. The crooks are killed in a gunfight with plant security, but then Batman arrives intending to take Jack in. Jack jumps into the water surrounding the plant and escapes, but when he removes the helmet he’s been wearing to resemble the leader of the crook’s gang, The Red Hood, he finds that the water, tainted by acid, has changed him.

The flashback isn’t fed to you in one go; you get bits and pieces of it as the story progresses. One of my favorite things about this graphic novel is the way the transitions are done. When we leave one character to follow another, or when we jump between the past and the present, the actions in the last panel of one section are mirrored in the next.

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While this book presents only one of many origin stories attributed to the Joker over the years, the events of TKJ have since become canon — primarily, the shooting of Barbara Gordon (the Commissioner’s daughter) aka Batgirl. In later comics, she is reintroduced as Oracle, a paraplegic computer genius who gets information for the cops and crime-fighters of Gotham City in order to help them catch criminals.

The same team behind Batman: The Animated Series is handling the adaptation of The Killing Joke, which means this thing is gonna be good. It has to be. ::knocksonwood::

If you’re interested, here’s a behind-the-scenes video on the making of the animated adaptation of The Killing Joke.

Happy Wednesday, y’all!

H is for Hitchcock

Hi there (if anyone is still bothering to read this, haha).

It’s been too long, I know. I’ve been doing stuff and seeing things. One of the things I saw last Friday was a documentary on the book Hitchcock about — you guessed it — Alfred Hitchcock, written by the French director François Truffaut.

Through interviews with directors like Scorsese, Wes Anderson, James Gray, and Olivier Assayas, the documentary discusses the making of the book — mostly through the establishment of the friendship between Truffaut & Hitchcock and their subsequent interview which make up the contents of the book. According to the documentary, Truffaut considered Hitchcock the greatest director working at the time. His decision to take on the book project was inspired by his desire to elevate Hitchcock in the eyes of his detractors. Back then, film critics largely considered Hitchcock an entertainer and not a legitimate artist. But he did many things in his films which demonstrate how unique his visual instinct was.

For one thing, he did a lot of shooting from above, the “God’s eye view” as some of the directors called it. One example the film gives of this technique being used well was of a scene in the movie The Wrong Man, where the accused is taken to a prison cell. When he enters, we watch from above — an omniscient point of view. Then the point of view switches to the prisoner’s own as the camera cuts from his face to the different corners of/objects in the cell that the man is looking at. There was also a lot of discussion of Hitchcock’s obsession with particular objects — a piece of rope, or keys for example — and the way he often chose to focus in close up on the action of an actor handling a particular object.

The most interesting things I learned had to do with Hitchcock’s relationships with actors. He did not collaborate. He directed every. single. action his actors took. He’s quoted as saying “Actors are cattle” and that’s exactly how he treated them. They were tools, instruments used to realize his vision. Like life-sized dolls. It’s amazing to me that a person could have such a clear idea of what they want and how they want it that they would control every aspect of the process. Naturally, the actors weren’t thrilled about it XD

I’ve only seen 3 of Hitchcock’s films so far: The Birds, Psycho, and Rear Window. The next will be Vertigo. It’s about a man who kills his wife, then obsesses over her to the point of withholding  his love from a woman who’s in love with him, unless she agrees to change her appearance to look exactly like his dead wife’s. Disturbing, right? Right up my street, haha. I’m not just interested because of the plot, though. Vertigo was one of the films the documentary spent the most time on. According to a few of the directors, the events in the film aren’t necessarily believable, and there are a few plot holes. But, supposedly, Vertigo shows off some of Hitchcock’s best visual storytelling. He said he “wrote with the camera” rather than with a pen, pencil or typewriter, and you can definitely see that in his work.

Here’s a bit of trivia (that they didn’t even mention in the documentary!): Did you know Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter, Patricia, had supporting parts in 3 of his films? Instead of telling you which ones, I’ll leave you with this lovely photo I found of Hitchcock, his wife, his daughter, his son-in-law, and his granddaughters. Let me know below if you recognize Patricia from any of Hitchcock’s movies.

Bye, y’all.

“Writers and artists aren’t machines.”

Hello again.

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I know I said I’d decided to leave off doing the themed posts, but this super cool chick said she digs the writing posts, and I dig writing them. So here I am!

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Heads up — this is gonna be a long one.

I follow Neil Gaiman on Facebook. The other day, he posted a link to one of his old blog entries — from waaaay back in 2009 — called “Entitlement Issues,” which he brought up because the same issue that inspired its composition has once again reared its ugly head. I’ll use the same excerpt below that he used on FB; it sums up his blog post nicely (though I highly recommend reading the post in its entirety).

People are not machines. Writers and artists aren’t machines.

You’re complaining about George doing other things than writing the books you want to read as if your buying the first book in the series was a contract with him: that you would pay over your ten dollars, and George for his part would spend every waking hour until the series was done, writing the rest of the books for you.

No such contract existed. You were paying your ten dollars for the book you were reading, and I assume that you enjoyed it because you want to know what happens next.

If you haven’t already guessed, the “George” he’s referring to is George R. R. Martin, author of the extremely popular Game of Thrones book series. Gaiman wrote this in response to a missive from a fan of Martin’s who subscribed to Martin’s blog but became “frustrated” by the lack of news about the next book in the series. Other people have made snide comments recently, as his latest installment is not yet finished, about how they’ve seen Martin out and about. Living his life. *Gasp* How dare he?

As an avid reader, I understand full well how hard it can be to wait for the next book from an author you love. I also understand how it feels to end one book in a series and immediately want to tear your own face off because you have to wait for the next one. It’s tough.

But…

As a writer, I believe that every point Gaiman makes in his post is true. No artist is beholden to their audience to produce work on demand. That’s not how good art is generally made. If you’re a professional writer, as in producing work for public consumption, you are putting something very personal out into the world to be viewed, judged, and commented upon. Wouldn’t you want it to be something you felt good about?

It seems to me that the biggest problem with series books is that either readers complain that the books used to be good but that somewhere in the effort to get out a book every year the quality has fallen off, or they complain that the books, although maintaining quality, aren’t coming out on time. — Neil Gaiman

Several opinionated articles have been written about Martin’s failure to meet his book deadlines. One (that kind of grated on me) concluded that Martin is in danger of becoming irrelevant to the series that he created since the show is set to outpace the novels. That to me is ridiculous. For one thing, the two are completely different projects in different mediums which have now veered away from one another plot-wise (according to this and other articles I’ve read). For another, I tend to agree with the last lines of yesterday’s Guardian article on the subject: “David Benioff and DB Weiss, the producers of the television show, may be ahead of him, story-wise. But those characters and events will always be his.” He created this world that people are obsessing over. And there will always be a population of readers who appreciate him for that.

Another interesting point brought up by the Guardian article was the idea of “the muse.”

“In the four years from 1996 to 2000 he published three books; in the 15 years since he’s published part of one,” wrote Tim Marchman at Deadspin, in a piece published a few days before Martin’s admission. Plainly, this line of thinking held, Martin is physically and intellectually capable of producing faster. Does he ever plan on finishing the thing, before he dies?

Well, the muse doesn’t quite work like that, most writers would cluck.

The muse actually has very little to do with it. Many writers will tell you that if you aspire to any kind of writing career, you need to get over that whole “but I’m just not feeling inspired” thing. I’ve heard and read that piece of advice more times than I can count. You just have to DO it. But that doesn’t mean that once you do, the words will come flowing out all shiny and chrome. It also doesn’t mean that you’ll see every story through to the end. Sometimes you just don’t feel connected to what you’re working on anymore. In his apology to fans, Martin wrote, “I am months away still… and that’s if the writing goes well. (Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t.)” And that’s true. You might write 5,000 words of utter garbage one day, and the most perfect 200-word paragraph known to man the next. The artist is the only one who knows their vision. Therefore, only they know what, of the work they’ve done, is ready to be seen by others (or if the whole thing should just be scrapped).

When a person has a career in the arts, people seem to think that 1) they only ever work on one project at a time, and 2) they just sit around scratching their privates all day until they “feel like” doing some work — but the actual work only takes, like, an hour, right?

Making any kind of art is fun, but it can also be a real challenge to bring your ideas to life. Especially when you really care about getting it right. And even in those moments when you aren’t actually working on a particular project, you’re thinking about it. Every artistic passion has its difficulties. And the artist creating the work is going to be harder on themselves while making it than any critic or reader or viewer could ever be, because only THEY know what their goals are for their work.

And, hey! There’s also the fact that George R. R. Martin has to write a book series AT THE SAME TIME EPISODES OF THE TELEVISED ADAPTATION ARE BEING MADE AND BROADCASTED. That’s a lot of pressure… and a lot of promotion to do…. and a lot of events to attend. And this is on top of any engagements he has that are purely book-related, and any non-GoT projects on the burner. Most authors likely have more control (overall) over what gets done when. But then, most authors aren’t competing against adaptations of the work they’re writing…as they write it. I’d be pulling my hair out and punching people in the face if it were me. Just sayin’.

Bottom line: if George R. R. Martin didn’t care (as some disgruntled fans claim), the series would be over by now, long before its time. He would’ve crapped out a bunch of nonsense, bound it up, said “There ya go,” and went on his merry way. When an author takes their time with a story, it’s a good sign they’re making something that they — and by extension, their readers — can be proud of. It’s what I imagine most authors mean when they say that they write first and foremost for themselves. That’s the kind of work I want to read — a story the author is proud of.

I haven’t read a single GoT book yet (though I intend to), but from what I’ve gathered, the stories are long and the world is complex. I doubt any of his readers would be cool with a watered down version of the world he’s created in exchange for having the book in their hands faster. It doesn’t seem worth it to me.

Writers are human beings. They have lives. They have good days and bad days. Sometimes you’re pumped and can’t stop churning the words out; sometimes you’re mentally defeated and can’t even bring yourself to crawl out of bed, let alone write. And there’s everything in between, too; there’s life to deal with. Everyone should be allowed to work at their own pace. Everyone should be allowed to make mistakes. Martin missed his deadline. It happens. It doesn’t mean that he or any other author who does the same is lazy or doesn’t care about their readers.

In fact, they’ve probably missed their deadline because they do care.

It will be done when it’s done. And it will be as good as I can possibly make it.George R. R. Martin

Illustrated Books

I love visual art almost as much as I love a good story. When the two are combined, I’m pretty much this || close to wetting my pants with the turn of every page. Many novels aren’t illustrated, unless they’re novels for children, and I’ve been wondering why that is. Sure there are other things you can pick up to get your picture fix, like comics, graphic novels, and the like. But sometimes it’s nice to see the world you’re reading about at least partially visualized.

One example of this that comes to mind immediately is the 1st American (Scholastic) edition of the Harry Potter series, in which each chapter begins with a relevant illustration.

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This is a poster including every single chapter illustration from the entire HP series. Want.

This method seems to strike a good balance between guiding the reader’s imagination, but still allowing them to do most of the work when it comes to picturing the people and places in their minds.

When considering what has the greatest bearing on whether or not to include illustrations in a book, here are some factors I’ve mulled over:

Genre

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Certain genres seem well-suited to the inclusion of illustrations — like fantasy or sci-fi — because their stories aren’t set in worlds we’d recognize. Therefore, it could follow that a reader might need some help here and there visualizing the complex systems or mythical creatures being described. Those genres are also a couple of the most fun to see rendered, exactly because the stories aren’t reality-based, and probably some of the most fun to illustrate, too. I’m one of those people who wonders whether or not my imagination is taking everything into account, so seeing illustrations is great for catching details an author has described but that your mind may have passed over.

Age Group

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The intended demographic for a book will of course have a lot to do with how it’s presented. Since kids have shorter attention spans than (some) adults, sticking pictures into whatever they’re reading probably helps keep them from flinging the book across the room. Illustrations also help develop their minds into crazy dream machines. Getting an imagination-boost wherever you can is awesome, but especially when you’re at that age of deciding what is and isn’t possible. I guess publishers figure grownups shouldn’t need pictures to keep them interested, but it’s not even about that. Sometimes it’s just nice to see a gorgeous illustration, amirite?

Level of “Seriousness”

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In a similar vein, I’ve noticed that books that aren’t…you know…like, War and Peace or something might be more likely to include an illustration or two. Not that people being ripped to shreds in a horror novel, or a spaceship exploding in a sci-fi novel isn’t serious within the context of the story. When I say “serious,” I really mean literary fiction aka fiction based on “real life” situations. But then that goes back to my first point because it implies that there aren’t typically illustrations in literary novels because we’re already familiar with that type of world. But in the end, I think it’s down to…

Author/Publisher Preference

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The nature of a project is ultimately what determines whether or not sections of a novel will include images of any kind. For example,

Yes, these books are categorized as YA. But there are plenty of YA books that don’t include images. In this case, the images are key to the Miss Peregrine’s trilogy, especially when you consider that manipulated photos were used instead of drawings. The black and white photos have the effect of making the story feel more like a history you’ve stumbled upon rather than make-believe.

What’s the point of all this? There isn’t one; it’s just something I’ve been thinking about. I really like the inclusion of drawings, photos, crazy fonts, and all that biz in the books I read…but only if it serves the story well.

Do you like your books with pictures? Any you’d recommend?

Happy Writing Wednesday, folks.

Halloween Happenings in London

Welcome back to Travel Thursday: Scary Pumpkin Time edition.
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There’s always something fun to do in London. And even though Halloween isn’t a super big deal over here (like it is in the US), there are still some cool, Halloween-themed events happening this week[end]. Since Halloween is only days away, you probably have plans already. But if you don’t (and even if you do), here are some ideas.

Haunted House of Vans

Head to House of Vans on Saturday for awesome skating, headbanging metal, a movie, and ghouls a-plenty. At 3pm, skateboarders will compete for a £1000 prize in “the bowl.” After that, there’ll be a screening of Lucas Fiederling’s video ‘Where We Come From.’ At 9:30pm, their haunted house opens with performances by Hang the Bastard and Bombus providing the soundtrack. Feel free to give your lungs a rest and your body a workout after as there’ll be DJ sets until 3AM. Admission is free, but if you want to see the bands you’ll need to book in advance.

All Night At The Electric

My favorite cinema in London, the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road, is hosting a movie marathon, starting at 11:45pm Halloween night. The line up for the night will include the Hitchcock classic Psycho, What Have You Done With Solange?, Blood and Black Lace, and that slasher gem, Friday the 13th. Tickets £40 and include an Espresso Martini upon arrival, a breakfast break, and they send you away with a special recovery pack. There are still tickets left! It’ll probably be tough for non-night-owls to stay awake in those comfy armchairs, but it’s worth a try 😀

Grub Club Halloween Dinners

If you’re a fan of the pop-up (or POPdown as the case may be), take a look at grubclub.com for a fun supper club experience. The dinners are hosted by chefs of every background — from the Michelin starred to the up-and-coming — in spots all over London that are sometimes quirky, sometimes funky, sometimes elegant, and sometimes weird (one of the most popular dinners happens in a tube car). Have a look through their Halloween offerings and nab a ticket before they’re all sold out. Ticket prices vary.

Wahaca’s Day of the Dead Festival

In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of loved ones and ancestors who have passed away. As one of London’s go to spots for Mexican food, it seems only right that Wahaca celebrate Mexican culture and recognize the Day of the Dead in a big way. Wahaca will bring together bands like The Horrors, Voodoo Love Orchestra, and a Morrissey tribute band called Mexrrissey (and the award for best band name goes to…), provocative visual art, a market selling artisan Mexican goods, and of course Latin American food for one big blowout that celebrates a beautiful Mexican tradition. This event is something you can attend after Halloween is over and you’re sobbing into your empty candy bowl wondering why! It kicks off November 7th at 1pm. Tickets are £29 in advance and £35 day of.

Of course, you could always try to grab a spot on a Jack the Ripper walking tour (a few of which are free!) or do your own costumed tour of the city (apparently there’s a Harry Potter tour route people can follow on their own, which I will totally do one of these days). OR you could stay home and draw the apocalypse on a pumpkin with a sharpie while you shove as much candy as possible in your mouth and try not to choke to death while you watch Michael Myers try to kill off his last remaining family members (and anyone else who gets in his way. Fools).

Yeah. You should just do that.
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Happy Thursday!