Wordy Wednesday: Actor on a Stage

Thank you SO MUCH to all the wonderful guest posters this summer. You guys are my favorites. 

I’m (semi) moving back to college today, which means things will be getting back to normal soon, so prepare for lots of posts this semester!

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is song lyrics.

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VERSE1
I know no one cares
At least not the way they should
But that’s okay, I’m just a number
Marching on, towards the greater good

It’s okay to be afraid,
It’s the way we were made

CHORUS
My friend you have changed
Since you were a different age
Since the rain came down with rage
And your life became a cage
And you, you, became
An actor on a stage
Built of broken promises
And you, you became an actor on a stage
Built of broken promises

VERSE2
And I want nothing more
Than to tell you you’re beautiful
But your ears stopped working
Miles and miles ago

So I write a letter
And let it blow down the road

[Repeat CHORUS]

BRIDGE
And tell me where’s this ship sinking today?
You might find a bank if you lead it that way
But I can’t tell you anything, not when you’ve forgotten how to read
So now it’s just the blind and deaf, leading those who’ve forgotten how to lead

[Repeat CHORUS, 1.5x]

END
And you, you became
A number on the ledge
As you stepped off the edge
Of the world

Walking in a line with the other numbers

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Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

 

Hey there, USA

I’m back! After two months in Europe, I have returned to the land of white sneakers and deep fat fried Twinkies. (Not that I’ve seen either of those since the plane landed, but that’s primarily because the state of Michigan seems to think its the set of an apocalypse movie right now. SO MUCH STORMING AND FLOODING.)

Tomorrow I begin the move to my first apartment. Sometime in the next few days I need to finish my work for Oxford and start my work for Ch1Con 2015. Fall semester begins a week from tomorrow.

And while I’m excited to see my friends again and for fall semester to start (YA lit class! film classes! choir and creative writing!), I’m also really, really sad. And a big part of me would rather be in England. But that’s just something I’m going to have to deal with, because I love U of M, and Michigan in the fall, and this is where I need to be right now.

Before I left, I stood and made a wish on Point Zero in Paris. I whispered promises to the raindrops as our cab drove out of London. I traced words into the walls of Oxford.

So if I can help it, I will go back. Just not right now.

Right now, I need to reset the hands on my watch. I need to unpack my suitcases and pack my moving boxes. I need to pull off the Oxford sweatshirt I’ve been sleeping in since my programme ended and finally wash the disgusting thing.

Maybe I’ll have to wait one year to go back. Maybe I’ll have to wait fifty.

But I will go back.

And in the meantime, I’m ready to have some adventures on this side of the pond.

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~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Interview with Rachel

I’m currently on vacation in Europe with la familia, so this week’s Wordy Wednesday is one of our many wonderful interviews and guests posts for the summer!

Please welcome the incredible Rachel!

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Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am Rachel, I have been reading Julia’s blog for over two years and she is the reason I write and have a blog. My blog is rachelrecaps.wordpress.com and I have been doing it for less than a year. I am a college student at University of Rhode Island and have completed my first year as an environmental science major with a film minor. Ideally I want to save the world through film so documentaries (I like to edit) starting with water purity or plastic/energy alternatives.
What kind of writing do you do?
I write for fun and do not plan on publishing a novel or any large body of work but life takes you in unexpected ways so I really don’t know. I am currently working on my novel that I started in November for NaNoWriMo called Collin and Jade. The first draft is almost done. I think in another 10k words it will be there. I want to finish writing it before I start a new project. I have never written a “novel” completely before so this one should be my first. But writing is rewriting so in like a year or two I may feel good enough about it to show people the entire thing. If you want to read some of the story the first four chapters are on my blog just search Collin and Jade.
If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
 If I could travel anywhere I would want to go back to Ireland, it’s so green and beautiful and the vibe is really chill I would trace my heritage and never leave. Well maybe I would like to visit Scotland occasionally but I loved it so much I do not understand why anyone would want to leave.
Favorite drink?
Water
Favorite activity outside of reading and writing?
Quidditch (like from Harry Potter, it is a real sport you can look it up.)
Favorite Youtube channel?
VlogBrothers (I have watched all of their videos in under 2 months that is 7 years worth of content 1200+ videos.)
Favorite book?
The Hunger Games
Favorite board game?
Clue FX
Favorite language (other than your native one)?
Latin (I took 3 years in high school and really respect it)
Favorite candy?
Candy Crush (I have run out of levels a few times)(I don’t really eat candy so I know this answer is cheating but it’s honest because I do not eat chocolate or gelatin so that eliminates most of the candies)
Favorite instrument?
Bass Guitar, because I used to play it in a girl band
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Thanks for letting me interview you, Rachel! And thanks for reading!
~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Muffins Don’t Fly (Guest Post)

I’m currently on vacation in Europe with la familia, so this week’s Wordy Wednesday is coming at’cha from super awesome guest writer Allison Rose!

Allison Rose has been writing seriously since the age of ten.  Since then, she has penned a handful of short stories; some longer, still unpublished works; and a variety of fanfictions. When she’s not writing stories, she’s reading them.

Aside from the time she cared for her grandmother’s cat, who loved cream cheese, dusty shelves, and scratching innocent people, Allison has owned no pets.  But she does have a blog, (as blogs are much easier to maintain,) which she invites you to check out at: http://www.allisonthewriter.wordpress.com.

And now, I have the honor of sharing Allison’s hilarious short story “Muffins Don’t Fly.” I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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Muffins don’t fly, right? I mean, they’re food. You eat them. A muffin levitating itself through the air is just about as conceivable as, say, a secret society of hamsters plotting to take over the world! Well, considering that has actually happened, I guess it’s definitely conceivable for a muffin to fly, too.
Weird things always happen to me when my parents aren’t home. This time, it was the first week of summer vacation, and my mom, who works in the children’s room at our local library, was there at a meeting to decide on this year’s summer reading list. My dad was out, too. I think he was playing golf or something. I was, as you would expect, home alone with nothing remotely interesting to do.
In the kitchen, I rummaged through the pantry in search of something to snack on. All I found was a lunchbox-sized container of FruitLoops, and all the artificial flavors and colors didn’t look too appetizing.
Dejectedly, I was about to turn around and head back to the living room when I saw the answer to all my troubles. There, on the kitchen counter, as if it had been put there just for me, was a box of blueberry muffin mix!
According to the box, all I needed to do was add milk, three eggs and oil to the prepackaged muffin mix with freeze-dried blueberries, stir, and bake in a muffin tin. Now, that may sound easy, but like most things, it’s easier said than done. Nowhere in the instructions did it say that you should have more than three eggs on hand because, chances are, one of those three allotted eggs might break somewhere along the way from the egg carton to the mixing bowl. It also never said that the term of art, “cups,” refers to the liquid measurement, not your average drinking glass.
Approximately half an hour and five broken eggs later, I had the blueberry muffins sitting in the oven and was waiting for them to bake. But that would be too easy. While I’d set the timer for fifteen minutes, I hadn’t actually turned on the heat.
Eventually, the muffins actually finished baking, and when I took them out of the oven, the kitchen was filled with the scent of heavenly muffiny goodness.
I poured myself a big glass of cold milk and was about to reach for one of my delicious culinary creations, when—
“Hey, you!” a little voice said from somewhere below me.
Immediately, I looked down on the floor. Better not be one of those stupid hamsters trying to play tricks on me, I thought.
“Not there! Look up!”
Obediently, I looked up. Had the Hamster Liberation Society enlisted the services of talking pigeons?
“No, stupid! On the counter!”
Incredulously, I looked down and saw only my baking tin of blueberry muffins. And sure enough, all half dozen of them were looking up at me with big blueberry eyes.
“Egad!” I exclaimed. “You can talk?!”
“Yes,” they answered in unison. “Thank you for freeing us from our powdered state. Now, we can take over the world!” With that, the muffin in the lower right of the tin nodded ever so slightly (it’s pretty hard to nod if you’re a muffin,) at the muffin next to it, and slowly, ever so slowly…
…The muffn tin began to levitate.
“Faster, muffins, faster!” The lead muffin cackled. “We shall fly to the White House and overthrow the president! Then, the world shall be ours!”
Oh, no! I thought, nervously looking around the kitchen to see what I could do to stop these muffins from threatening my country, and the world. No, a fly swatter probably wouldn’t do the trick. If these muffins could fly, who knew what else they could do?
At that point, my survival instincts must’ve kicked in.  In utter desperation, I picked up the entire pan of hot, steaming muffins and hurled them out the kitchen window into the backyard. Mom would just have to be understanding when I told her why her prized muffin tin was sticking out of her equally prized bed of petunias.
While I’d done away with one problem, namely evil flying muffins bent on taking over the world, I was still hungry. So I went to the refrigerator for one last look.
“Hey!” I heard a little voice say from the depths of the refrigerator. “You could’ve just had one of me, a V8!”
I slammed the refrigerator door shut. That was it. I was ordering a pizza, and that’d better not fly, too.
(C) 2014 Allison Rose
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Thanks so much, Allison, for sharing your short story! Again, you can check out her blog at http://www.allisonthewriter.wordpress.com (which I highly recommend).
Thanks for reading!
~Julia

How Lucky I Am

How Lucky I Am

For the past couple weeks, this quote has been stalking me.

One friend shared it on Skype. Another captioned a photo with it on Facebook. Another tweeted it.

At first I thought it was coincidence that, out of nowhere, a quote that so perfectly fit what was happening in my life was blaring from every direction. Then it happened again. And again. Like someone REALLY wanted to make sure I got the point.

And I do. I am so incredibly lucky to have had this summer term at Oxford. I’m so lucky to be friends with these people and so lucky to have done these things and so lucky to be sitting here right now, shoes and papers strewn across the carpet as I pack my memories into suitcases and scrub adventures from my feet.

I’m sitting in a dorm room in England, cozy in Magdalen sweatpants and a University of Oxford crew neck. I’m sitting in a dorm room in England, where I wrote papers on Narnia and Middle Earth and bought tickets to West End shows. I’m sitting in a dorm room in England, where so much fell together again.

I love Oxford. I love these people. I loved my time here.

But everything ends. And this is when I say my goodbyes.

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

How lucky indeed.

I’ll talk to you once I get back from Europe. In the meantime, be nice to the guest posters the next couple weeks as I travel with my family. I hope the last of your summer is every bit as amazing as you are!

Love you.

 

~Julia

PS. Currently listening to this song on repeat, because I am a masochist.

PPS. Ch1Con 2015 news hopefully coming soon!

Wordy Wednesday: On Playlists

The one problem with being in Europe for so long (you know, outside of being away from my dog) is that because SO MUCH is always happening, it’s impossible to keep up with it all.

Like I had an amazing trip to London over the weekend, during which we saw Richard III with Martin Freeman (he was AMAZING); toured the National Gallery; got dinner with my fabulous writing friend Shelby, who’d I’d never met in person before (read her blog here); got hit on in the weirdest way by French guys at a bar; visited Platform 9 3/4 twice (different people got their pictures taken at different times); visited the Sherlock Holmes Museum (*cough* Gift Shop) (the line for the actual museum unfortunately was too long); spent a fairly significant amount of time hanging out in Trafalgar Square; and finally had an incredible time going through the Harry Potter set tour again.

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Then Monday, my final project for my class was due and class ended and I CAN’T BELIEVE MY CLASS IS OVER and I finally endured my turn to sit at High Table during our last formal Monday night dinner.

Then yesterday a group of us trekked through the countryside for an hour to reach an amazing pub, where we ate out in the misty rain and picked apples and toured some tents that were borderline Weasley. Then I spent a couple hours walking the nature paths in my college and then we went to a rooftop bar to watch the sun go down above the city and then we watched Pride and Prejudice in the student rec room.

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And today we went to Bath, where we toured Bath Abbey and the actual Roman baths and saw the Royal Crescent and got afternoon tea at the Pump Room. Then when we got back, a couple friends and I got some really good mac and cheese (a true feat in England) at a pub then went over to the Eagle and Child, where we spent a couple hours playing Scrabble and ERS.

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And now I’m sitting here in my room and I only have a couple days left before my programme’s done and I’m not ready to leave. I am not ready at all*.

If you ever have the opportunity to study abroad, DO IT. Do whatever it takes to be able to do it. But also be aware that you are likely to fall in love with a place you can’t keep.

We’ve been our own little world the past five weeks, the forty or so people involved in my programme. It’s going to be weird seeing them out-of-context once we’re all back at Michigan (and even weirder, and way worse, not having those who aren’t Michigan students around anymore).

But anyway anyway anyway: This post is supposed to be a Wordy Wednesday, not me vomiting emotions all over you. The winning option for this week is writing process, so here we go.

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This past summer, Birdy came out with a song called “Wings.”

Something about it felt so perfect for that time of year and life, I basically listened to it endlessly during the last month before fall semester began. Now whenever I hear it–whether I’m in Michigan or Oxford–it takes me straight back to that time. The sun is hot on my face, legs curled beneath me on a kitchen chair while Sammy snores by the windows and my fingers trip over my old laptop’s keyboard. Revision notes lay across the table before me and the last bite of a strawberry Edy’s Fruit Bar melts against the roof of my mouth.

Just like “Wings” so perfectly takes me back to the end of summer 2013, I also have songs that get me absolutely, perfectly in the mood for writing certain characters or settings or plot points.

It’s important to have things that do this for you, because sometimes you’re going to need to work on a story, or part of a story, that you’re not feeling. For you, it might be a matter of eating a certain food or sitting in a certain place (I have a friend who has a hard time working unless she’s drinking hot cocoa while snuggled up in bed with at least three blankets). For me, it’s definitely music.

Music is magic. It’s a time machine and a device to hop between universes and realities.

So: on playlists.

For a novel I’m working on right now, I’ve had albums I’ve listened to while writing, and songs I’ve listened to while revising, and one particular song that always gets me in the mood for the story overall. But I recently ran into the problem that I needed music to listen to while thinking through my protagonist’s character arc (because this is the sort of thing you have to deal with on long bus rides through the Welsh countryside). I needed a playlist that felt distinctly like the sort of music Protag would rock out to, but also wouldn’t be so distracting that I couldn’t zone out and think about writing-related stuff while listening to it.

So, time to make yet another playlist for la novela.

I chose the music based on a few factors:

1.) What I was making the playlist for. If it’s a brainstorming or revising playlist, chances are you can use more “distracting” music than if you’re putting together a writing playlist. Or at least that’s how it is for me. (I rarely can write to music with lyrics, but I can read and think perfectly fine with it on in the background.)

Because this was simply a brainstorming playlist and I wanted to fill it with music Protag would like, I was able to choose a lot of music with lyrics, which was nice considering, you know, most teenagers don’t go around listening to orchestrations in their free time.

2.) How long I wanted the playlist to be. If you want something you can pop on for five minutes to get in the mood for writing a certain scene, chances are you don’t want a playlist that takes forty five minutes to put you in that mind space.

The nice thing about brainstorming playlists is that they can really be any length. The longer, the better. This one’s twenty one songs right now and runs for about an hour and a half; long enough I’m not likely to get sick of the music, but also concise enough I can get in Protag’s head within the first couple songs and don’t need to listen to the entire thing if I don’t want or don’t have the time to.

3.) And, of course, the ultimate purpose of the playlist. More than anything, you want to choose songs that are going to do the job of getting you in the right frame of mind.

My protag’s the type of person who’d have pretty average, mainstream taste in music, so I chose lots of pop and soft rock for her. Think Adele, the Script, and OneRepublic mostly. For variety, I threw in a little country and indie-sounding songs. It’s a mixture of slower, softer songs and angsty, high energy ones.

A sampling:

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What are your tips for getting in the mood to work? Do you make playlists too?

Heads up that I’m going to be on vacation the next couple weeks, so it’s the Return of the Guests Posts! Treat our guest writers well and there might be a treat in it for you once things have settled down a little after Europe. (I get back to the States just in time to move into my apartment for fall semester, so who knows when things will have settled down a lot. But hopefully a little will be enough to run a giveaway.) (WAIT GIVEAWAY, WHO SAID THAT?)

Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

*AT. ALL.

England Trip Recap (Part 3)

If you’re wondering where Parts 1 & 2 of this series are, you can find them here and here, respectively.

You’ll notice that both those posts are from over a year ago. That’s because back last July, after returning from my first trip to England, I recapped everything we did while over here up until the very last part of our last day: the Leavesden Studios Tour. At which point I got too insanely busy doing Things-That-Must-Not-Be-Named (I swear someday I’ll give details of how I spent the end of summer 2013), and by the time I wasn’t insanely busy anymore, it felt like it was too awkwardly late to put up the recap.

But now I’m in England again and I was in London over the weekend again and GUESS WHERE I SPENT SUNDAY NIGHT. THAT’S RIGHT. THE LEAVESDEN STUDIOS TOUR AGAIN.

So, who’s ready for an extremely belated (but once again relevant) recap post?

[Pictures are from both my 2013 and 2014 visits.] [In case you were wondering how my hair magically changes length and color throughout this post.]

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For those not in the know, Leavesden Studios is where the Harry Potter movies were primarily filmed. Now that the movies are done, they’ve opened the studios for all the devotees to be able to make pilgrimages to see the sets and props and costumes and models and concept art and blueprints and BASICALLY EVERYTHING AMAZING THAT WENT INTO MAKING THE AMAZING MOVIES.

Harry Potter Studio Tour 2013

My visit last year was with members of my high school theatre company and our families (they’d invited alumni and relatives back for the trip to England). This year I went with seven girls from my programme. (Coincidentally after stopping by Platform 9 3/4 both the night before and that morning, so various members of the group could get their pictures taken.)

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It was fun going through the tour a second time, because:

a) I hadn’t budgeted my time well my first time through, so I’d missed a lot of stuff in the second half.

b) I now knew how to budget my time going through the tour.

and c) I now knew when to expect the shock and glee and grateful and crying moments (and therefore got to watch my friends have those reactions).

IMG_5442Blurry Great Hall. Fun fact: They had to use actual flagstone for the floor in order to accommodate the furniture, actors, and equipment. Fake stone wouldn’t have been able to stand the weight or use. 

IMG_5454Mirror of Erised.

IMG_5459Harry, Hermione, and Ron costumes from Half-Blood Prince. Check out that cool green screen magic going on with the Invisibility Cloak.

IMG_5477Wall of portraits. The green screen ones are the ones that would move in shots. And if I’m remembering right, the others all have faces of people important to the films, like the producers and all that.

A highlight for me was definitely getting to learn so much about the behind-the-scenes stuff for the movies. As much as I love seeing things like the Goblet of Fire and Dumbledore’s office in person, I can’t get over getting to see all the green screens and lights and wires. It must have been so incredible to take part in putting all the pieces of these movies together.

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Another really cool thing about visiting the studio tour right now is that they’ve got a special promotion going on in which they have special displays up. My favorites were the broom-making exhibit (in which the actual broom-makers from the series talked to us and, you know, MADE BROOMS), a board game from a deleted scene (that apparently is so complex no one remembers how to play it anymore), and part of a chess board set up so you could interact with the giant pieces as they whizzed across the spaces.

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IMG_5500The girl working the board game display was super nice and complimented my Hogwarts Alumni tank–at which point I had to sheepishly explain that no, it was not some cool new official merchandise, but something I’d gotten off a street vendor at Oxford for like three quid. (Harry Potter merch designers: You need to get on making Hogwarts Alumni stuff.)

IMG_5525Rockin’ that subtle Ravenclaw pride.

We took a break at the courtyard that is the halfway point for Butterbeer and general fangirling.

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The second half of the tour focuses even more on the behind-the-scenes elements of Leavesden, with entire rooms dedicated to the prosthetics used to turn human actors into all the various, crazy creatures; blueprints; concept art; and the teeny tiny models used in the design process for later constructing the monstrous sets.

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But also, of course, Diagon Alley.

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The tour ends with what are arguably the two best rooms (but only arguably, because the entire thing is fantastic).

The first is the model of Hogwarts that they actually used in filming for the earlier movies. I cannot enter this room without crying. (Yes. Even my second time through, I got misty-eyed.)

IMG_5630It’s just… that IS Hogwarts. That is the Hogwarts, right there, that we grew up with and saw a thousand times on screen and dreamed about.

The final room is “Ollivander’s.” Floor to ceiling, shelves full of wand boxes inscribed with names coat the walls. Each person to work on the movies has a box. It’s beautiful.

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Last year, a worker used a laser pointer to show us where all the Big Name People’s boxes are. No one was there to do that this year, but I still remembered a couple.

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After that, all that was left to do was spend my (parents’) life savings in the gift shop and make plans for our next Harry Potter movie marathon. (Because Harry Potter = true love.)

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~Julia

Tales of Wales

This past week, my study abroad programme took us on a four day field excursion to Wales. It was absolutely UNBELIEVABLE there. So full of history and natural beauty.

The first day (Wednesday), we began with a visit to a field to examine some rocks that supposedly look like sheep (“supposedly” is an important word here), then stopped through the Avebury district, which is still in England, but near the Welsh border. It’s home to the big brother of Stonehenge, a group of trees Tolkien apparently used to write under, and several neolithic burial mounds.

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IMG_4667Please pardon my inability to properly take panos.

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From there we drove to our first stop in Wales: Tintern Abbey. Tintern Abbey is an old monastery that has long since lost its ceiling and floor–but the walls still stand.

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We also made quick stops in the Forest of Dean, explored the grounds of a castle at night, etc.

Throughout the trip, we mainly stayed in cute little inns that our group of twenty+ booked out. They fed us lots of hearty, home-cooked meals. Potato and leek soup might just be my new favorite thing (which is saying something since I normally abhor both potatoes and soup).

Day Two (Thursday) found us heading all over. We made stops in Caerwent, Wentlooge Levels and Peterstone Wentlooge, Caerffili Castle, Rhondda Valley, Brecon Beacons, Brecon, Builth Wells, Elan Valley, Cwm Ystwyth, and Cors Goch and Dyfi Estuary. (Basically: ALL THE PLACES.)

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IMG_4779Yes. Those are cows on the beach. (Also: the land on the horizon is Cardiff.)

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(Random note: I just finished watching the newer film adaption of Prince Caspian and it made me SO SAD about how my class is just about done and I’m leaving Oxford in a little over a week and I DON’T WANT TO GO.)

IMG_4841Our programme director made the mistake of stopping by a field with some horses in it to give a lecture on mountaintop removal mining’s effect on Welsh’s resources. The fact that I have approximately twenty pictures of the horses and none of the decimated mountaintops tells you how distracting they were.

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Day Three (Friday) was the highlight of the trip for me (and probably everyone else, too). We began with a visit to Barmouth, which is a gorgeous (but unfortunately polluted) touristy port by the Irish Sea. We then visited a beach and ate lunch overlooking a castle–followed by my absolute favorite part of the field excursion: hiking in Snowdonia National Park.

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IMG_4899I give you: Snowdonia. AKA The Most Beautiful Place This Side of Heaven.

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Also: Sheep.

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We hiked up some hills and around a lake.

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We spent the night in a cute town along the coast called Llandudno. A friend and I explored the pier before collapsing exhausted into our beds.

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Day Four (Saturday), we began with a tour of the Great Orme Mine, which is the oldest known bronze mine in Great Britain and SUPER. COOL. (Both in the literal and figurative senses.) I was really tired of taking pictures at that point, though, so I skipped the iPhone shots of that one.

After that, we were off to another castle (Caernarfon, this time), followed by a tour of of a hydro-electric power station hidden entirely in a mountain (no pictures allowed, unfortunately).

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IMG_5095In this shot you can see part of the old wall the English used to keep the native Welsh out of their special little walled city, back in the day.

We made a couple more short stops after the power plant, but mostly we spent the rest of the day on the bus back to Oxford, alternating between slaphappy singalongs and sleep.

Gorgeous where it’s wild, unique and fierce where humans have done their best to tame it, Wales is a place unlike any other. Just… amazing. I desperately want to go back.

(But first things first: My programme is currently having a blanket fort party/movie marathon. So see ya.)

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Regionalisms, A Cautionary Tale

Guys. I’m at the Eagle and Child right now. I AM WRITING AT THE EAGLE AND CHILD RIGHT NOW. (So yes, it’s a blog post rather than some brilliant work of fiction, but still. I AM FLIPPING. OUT.)

I’ll put up a post dedicated to our trip to Wales soon, but for now this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

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I’ve been at Oxford for about a month now and the setup for my class so far has involved writing one paper a week, based on the readings and lectures.

My first two papers went pretty well. Of our two professors, the same one read both papers, and she mainly left comments like “good argument” or “this needs more fleshing out.”

Then we reached our third paper.

This third paper was on the topic of the various representations of evil in Narnia and Middle Earth, focusing on the way Lewis and Tolkien treat evil in relation to their protagonists.

It was a fun paper to write and after the way my previous two papers had gone, I figured I’d get decent comments on it. Some constructive criticism, some compliments. Nothing too bad.

Nope.

Because of a mix up with rearranging classes due to being in Wales for four days, I ended up in a tutorial with the professor who hadn’t read one of my papers yet. The tutorial consisted of the prof, two other students, and me (my class is too big to warrant the usual one-on-one tutorial system Oxford runs on).

We spent the majority of the hour discussing the themes of our papers and it seemed to be going pretty well.

But then it came time for the professor to give us our individualized critiques. And she chose to give me mine last so that the other two wouldn’t have to sit through it.

And when she did slip into the seat beside me to go over the critique, she had absolutely COATED my paper in hurried scribbles of ink.

My stomach turned. My palms itched with moisture.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “It’s not that your paper’s terrible. It’s just that it could be a lot better.”

At which point she took it upon herself to tear my paper to shreds for primarily stylistic reasons—the worst being my use of regionalisms.

I’ve never thought of myself as someone who uses a ton of regionalisms in my formal writing. In conversations and fiction and blog posts? Sure. Totally. In formal papers written for classes and applications and stuff? NE. VER.

This, however, ignores the fact that generally the people reading my formal writing live somewhere in the USA. And this professor obviously does not.

So while the word “sects” is perfectly legitimate to use in description of different common types of Christianity in the United States, it’s apparently super offensive in the United Kingdom. Only to be used to describe the “radical extremists.” And I had this word right in the middle of my opening sentence, to describe the way Lewis was protestant while Tolkien practiced Catholicism.

This was just one of several regionalisms the prof pointed out throughout my paper as offensive, or simply WRONG, errors.

If I had realized these words were regional to the United States, I wouldn’t have used them in a paper for a class at Oxford. But I didn’t realize. Which is the point I’m getting to.

No matter where you live—whether it be Michigan or England or freaking Narnia—you will have words and phrases in your vocabulary that are specific to your region. This is okay when writing about and for your region, but when you expand either your setting or audience to somewhere beyond this, it’s important to be aware of these regionalisms. Losing or offending your audience (as I repeatedly did in my paper) is NOT a fun time.

So if you’re a New Yorker writing about someone who’s grown up in England, be aware that “pants” refer to American underwear and “trousers” refer to American pants. If you’re from Houston, writing about Detroit, be aware that we call carbonated beverages “pop,” not soda or Coke.

Regionalisms are so important in writing. They can either make or break your setting and character development. They show either an awareness of your audience or a complacent ignorance.

Don’t be that writer who uses “sects” to describe what the British strictly call “denominations.” Or you will find yourself having a very awkward conversation with your professor to explain that no, you do not think C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were religious extremists—and yes, believe it or not, you do know how to speak English. Yours just happens to be a different version of it.

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Thanks for reading! Keep an eye out for that Wales post if you want to see a multitude of crappy iPhone photos that in no way encapsulate how truly gorgeous Wales is.

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Make Those Suckers Cry

Hello from Tuesday! My programme’s taking us all to Wales for the next few days, so I’m writing this post while packing and trying to figure out what exactly counts as “fashionably late” for Bar Night. (The college is currently hosting two things: a service in the chapel for visitors and a party in the bar for students. This is clearly a good combination.)

Anyway: life here at Oxford has fallen into a bit of a routine, with afternoon tea when it’s someone’s birthday, overly excited trips to Blackwells when we need new books for class, and punting whenever it’s not too hot but also not too rainy (a weather condition it is difficult to come by).

Saturday, after getting back from Harrogate, some of us got Thai food for lunch and saw Boyhood at the Phoenix Picturehouse in the evening. Sunday we went on an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland-themed walking tour of the city and I wrote a paper about the importance of hobbits in Middle Earth. Then Monday was classes and one of our formal Monday night dinners (complete with croquet and champagne), and today I went to class (where we discussed Christianity and linguistics in Tolkien’s work), had cream tea with about half the programme to celebrate a birthday, and bought Christmas gifts for my CPs. And now, in a moment, I’m off to Bar Night.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is another writing process post based off stuff we talked about in class. (Ish. Not as much as last week. But, ya know, I needed a way to intro this and all that.)

Warning: Harry Potter, Divergent, Hunger Games, Random Middle Grade Books, and Lauren Oliver Books in General spoilers abound.

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In real life, I literally will not hurt a fly if I can help it. In fiction, if a story (minus light, feel good stuff) doesn’t deliver at least one good character death, I AM NOT HAVING IT.

This is less because I enjoy my favorite characters suffering as much as that I am a masochist when it comes to my reading experience. I want to feel something. I want to laugh, I want to Feel the Awk, I want my heart to pound, I want my hear to stop, I want to accidentally “Awww!” in public, and yes: I want to cry.

Character deaths can be useful in accomplishing about half of these. I’ll let you take bets on which ones.

This is because different types of character deaths exist. Not, like: the antagonist poisoned one character and another died from a natural illness. (Although, of course, that’s also a thing.) It’s more like you can write deaths in different ways to accomplish different effects.

1. The Shocking Death

Unless a character already has a death sentence on his head (cancer, prophecy, etc.), chances are his death is going to be unexpected to the reader. This is why a character death will seem so much worse the first read through than in subsequent rereads.

Shock is an easy emotion to instill in a reader. You literally need only pull the death out of “seemingly” nowhere. JK Rowling used this type of character death frequently throughout the Harry Potter series. Basically: her character deaths worked essentially as plot twists, with only side focuses put on them for character development and to add momentum to the plot.

Unfortunately, putting your largest emotional focus for a death on its shock value makes it less emotional for a reader who knows it’s coming. (Story time: I didn’t read any of the Harry Potter books until several years after Deathly Hallows had come out, so I already knew about all the deaths and they didn’t affect me a ton. Except one. NOBODY. WARNED. ME. HEDWIG WAS GOING TO BITE IT. I have never cried so hard for a fictional owl.)

2. The “Pity the Living” Death

(I’m giving up on not making absolutely everything a Harry Potter reference from here ’til the end of time. Sorry not sorry.)

This is the type of death in which you draw the reader’s focus away from the actual tragedy of death itself and instead place the focus on the survivors. These are the characters left behind; the ones who must now grieve; the ones who must keep going despite what’s just occurred.

A solid example of this comes from Divergent, in which Tris’s mother sacrifices herself for Tris–but directly afterward, Tris has to keep moving and fighting. She has no chance to properly think through what’s happened or grieve. It’s the type of death that makes you feel more sympathetic towards, and worse for, those left behind than those who’ve done the leaving.

3. The Unfair Death

This is the death where the character has done so much and tried so hard to save herself, but she dies anyway. Or someone else has been trying hard to keep him alive. Or she had so much more to potentially give the world. Or he quite simply didn’t deserve to die in the manner that he did.

Suzanne Collins does this type BRILLIANTLY in Mockingjay, when the rebels kill Prim. The entire reason that the plots of all three books in that trilogy exist is that Katniss wants nothing more than to protect her sister. Then, in the end, what it takes to end the conflict–what would finally make the world safe for her sister–is her sister dying.

4. The Accidental Death

This is similar to the Shocking Death, but different in the fact that it’s random. I feel like a Shocking Death generally involves an opponent of some kind. Maybe your character’s in a battle or she’s been duking it out with her arch nemesis. An accidental death, on the other hand, is something that just happens to happen. He steps into the street without looking or there’s a peanut in her salad. It’s a reminder to the reader that life is fragile and anything at all can happen.

This type of death presents itself a lot more in stories for younger readers, I’ve noticed. Primarily middle grade and chapter books. Good examples come from Walk Two Moons and A Taste of Blackberries.

5. The Sacrificial Death

This is my favorite type of character death. It’s the one in which the character goes into a dangerous situation knowing she won’t be coming back back–knowing she doesn’t necessarily NEED to do it, only someone else will get hurt if she doesn’t–but she does anyway. Lauren Oliver does this beautifully in both Before I Fall and Delirium. There’s just something so beautiful and haunting and intriguing about sacrifice.

Of course, all character deaths have some amount of each of these elements mixed in, but when writing a death, it’s generally a good idea to have an idea for the type of emotional response you’d like to evoke in the reader.

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What types of character deaths have you noticed? What types make you react the most? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia