So my birthday was earlier this week, which means that this is my first post as a twenty year old. Also known as: no longer a teenager. Craziness.
Twenty’s not generally a super huge year for people, since it’s conveniently caught between eighteen and twenty one. But it is a big year for young writers, because a lot of us have this sort of insane goal of getting published while still teenagers.
I did manage to succeed in this venture in little ways, with short stories and poems appearing in (primarily small-time) lit mags. But the ultimate goal–publishing a novel–never happened for me. And honestly I’m okay with that.
While some people’s writing is good enough to snag an agent and book deal when they’re fourteen or sixteen or eighteen, mine wasn’t. But that’s okay, because it was writing all those novels that weren’t ready yet, and getting all those critiques and rejections, and working so hard to construct better sentences, create more realistic characters, and craft more complex and interesting plots that allowed both my writing–and me as a writer–to mature.
Looking back on it, I would be horrified if something like my first novel had somehow magically made it to print. (It was called Pennamed. Basically a Hannah Montana knockoff. I am prepared to pay copious sums of money to the people who have the file to keep them quiet.)
So: I might not have been able to publish a novel before I turned twenty, but I still did do so much with my writing before now. And I’m really proud of that and grateful for all the support I received as I pursued publication throughout my teen years. And I’m glad I had the freedom that comes with being an Unpublished Little Nobody to explore, and make mistakes, and figure out my voice and the types of stories I want to tell.
I’m going to miss being a teenager. But I’m also really excited for what the next stage of life will bring.
Here’s to being an aspiring author without the “teen” part attached. Here’s to working hard and dreaming big and never giving up. Here’s to being twenty.
In other news, today was the Hopwood Graduate and Undergraduate Awards Ceremony. I was extremely grateful to receive the Arthur Miller Award for a short fiction collection.
Here’s me with my coolio certificate:
And here is my beautiful signed copy of Death of a Salesman:
This post is already a thousand years long, but finally getting to what it’s supposed to be about: This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a chapter from my 2013 Camp NaNoWriMo project The End Where I Begin.
As always, a reminder that this has seen little to no editing and I’m still in the process of writing the novel, so there will be mistakes and inconsistencies and all that fun stuff throughout.
By the time I finish collecting my missed assignments, it’s well pasted 1500 and the rest of the students are gone for the day. I walk alone to the subway station with my backpack heavy against my spine. The sun winks from between the tall buildings of downtown, and dampness collects beneath my armpits. It’s warm for the end of September.
I pull apart the top few buttons of my blouse so I can breathe more deeply, and trundle down the stairs to the subway station.
A heavier, middle-aged man falls into step beside me, smile plastered on his face like he has never frowned before in his life. Crow’s-feet crinkle around his dark eyes. “Hello there. Beautiful day, isn’t it?” He says the words with an unrecognizable accent.
I force a polite smile as I say, “Yes. The sun is lovely.”
“Have a nice day, Alexa.” He waves and moves further into the station.
It isn’t until I’ve passed through the Identiband scanners and boarded the uptown train that I realize he used my name, even though I have never seen him before in my life.
A cold alertness spreads through my limbs. I grip the safety pole I’m standing beside more firmly.
A woman reading a newspaper on her tablet glances at me then lets her gaze fall back to the screen. It is difficult to swallow.
It feels as if everyone on the train is staring at me. Was Ramsey’s attack on the news? Why would anyone care but me and the Clinic?
The train reaches the stop before mine, but my palms are sweating too much to keep my grip on the safety pole, so I exit here instead and hurry up the stairs from the station, eager to feel the sunlight on my cheeks.
The voices and automated announcements of the subway station fade behind me as I walk, and my heartbeat slows. I become aware of the weight of my backpack again.
I am a good twenty minute walk from home. I am only on the outskirts of Riverhorn. Sometimes the gangs who frequent the slums venture out this far, and although no one is in sight, I still quicken my pace as I walk past the condominiums and smaller homes that dominate this portion of the neighborhood.
I don’t know why I’m spazzing so much, but some of the earlier lightheadedness returns as I try to block out the thoughts of all that has happened today and all that might still be to come. I wish I’d gone to Joe’s with Eric and Amelia and the rest of them.
You’re being as crazy as Ramsey is, I tell myself as I turn a corner. My house is only three blocks away now. A couple passes on bicycles, on their way home from work.
I hold two fingers to the pulse at my neck and deepen my breathing. I slow my pace.
A footstep falls behind me.
I don’t look to see who’s there. I just take off running.
My backpack thumps against my tailbone in time with my frantic steps, and I race past house after house, street after street. The heavy stomps of a man out of shape chase after me. My breaths come in short gasps that leave me dizzier and dizzier.
It’s as I turn the final corner to my street—just as my house comes into sight, so close—that a body slams into mine. The man pins me to the sidewalk and shoves a needle into my arm. I thrash against him, try to call for help, but my tongue is heavy and clumsy.
My eyes refuse to focus, but I can just make out the squinty eyes and natural smile of the man who spoke to me at the station.
In a tone not nearly as chipper as the one he used before, he says, “It’s all right, Alexa. Go to sleep now.”
I don’t want to, but I have no choice, because my eyelids are already slipping closed and I cannot think anymore.
I’ve been dying to do a Fashion Friday post for a couple months now, but between school and other commitments, this is the first chance I’ve gotten.
The weather has been absolutely crazy this year. It was in the seventies last weekend, then it snowed Tuesday. We have had blustery, freezing rain, and light misty rain, and burn-you-just-from-glancing-at-it sunshine. Basically: Michigan experienced all four seasons in four days.
What all this means is that figuring out what to wear this spring has been really difficult. I’ll be in shorts one day, and my winter coat the next.
This all has led to an interesting spring in clothes.
I’ve noticed I’m not the only one on campus rocking lots of layers the past few weeks. U of M is a sea of denim, leather, fleece, and utility jackets over hoodies. My personal favorite pairing is something light–a tank top of v-neck–under a sweatshirt with my jean jacket over top. It gives me three options to wear, depending on what turn the weather’s taken and how high the heat/air conditioning’s cranked in my classes. (I really appreciate the comfy look of the thin, baggy utility jackets though, so I’m thinking of splurging on one of those.)
I don’t know what you call the shoes in the picture above, but I call them “hipster shoes.” And they are weirdly cute. And a fantastic way of adding some personality to your outfit (also: much comfier than most ballet flats).
(While searching for the picture above on DSW’s site, I learned that the term “hipster shoes” is, indeed, not proper. They’re “Oxfords.” Which, looking back on it, I should have known.)
This one’s been common for a while now, but I don’t think I’ve ever professed my love for blazers. While I don’t wear them often (I can’t seem to find a good, not-super-formal one that actually fits me), they’re definitely good for dressing up an outfit that would otherwise be casual. T-shirt and jeans? Throw a blazer over them, and suddenly you’re classy and smart.
I’m a big proponent of dresses and skirts. They’re comfy and fun and a great way of looking like you actually made an effort with your appearance when in actually you, you know, just rolled out of bed and threw a dress on. This spring’s seen a lot of flowier, flouncier skirts. The kind that are soft to the touch and swish as you walk. Lots of skater skirts, made out of thinner, more breathable materials than usual for the warmer weather.
What are some of your favorite trends this spring?
“Do you know what we don’t understand?” the woman asks as she checks me over for new injuries and dabs numbing cream against my swollen cheek.
The other side of my mouth lifts in a smirk. “How someone like Ramsey Carp and I used to be such close friends?”
She allows the smile I’d hoped for, but that’s it. “No, not that.”
She pauses with her fingertip right beside my cheek, so close the heat radiates off her skin through the plastic sanitary gloves she wears.
“The words Miss Carp said as her fist connected with your jaw. We couldn’t figure out what they were at first, but when we looked at the sound-byte stored in Eric Flynn’s Identiband, we were able to work it out.”
I frown. “Not Amelia Anderson’s?” The nurse shakes her head. “That’s strange. She was the one sitting beside me.”
“Perhaps Eric Flynn knows her better, so he was better able to understand her.” She returns to dabbing my jaw. “The point is, Miss Carp didn’t shout something about hating you or giving you what she thought you deserved, like we originally assumed.”
She steps away and screws the cap back on the tube of numbing cream as she informs me, “She said, ‘I’m sorry.’”
I arrive at school in the middle of Español class—unfortunately also my last class of the day.
The profesora is in the middle of discussing the book reviews we turned in last Friday, but she stops midsentence as I slip past the door. My classmates stare.
New Capital High tries to keep English and foreign language classroom sizes smaller than our other classes, where we’re likely to have sixty or seventy students packed into a room. I’m not a school person, so I have never appreciated this logic—it just means the teachers actually try to give equal attention to both the nerds and the slackers like me, rather than ignoring us as I prefer.
However, I have never disliked the smaller size as much as I do today. It is impossible to disappear as I slink to the back of the room and drop into the seat beside Eric’s. Even Profesora Ramirez has trouble continuing her rant about our inability to properly analyze La muerte de Artemio Cruz. I am the girl who was recruited a year early by the Clinic, then knocked out by her old best friend right in the middle of the Recruitment Assembly.
In Español Eric whispers, “Please tell me you took a nap in the park while you were gone, rather than being at the Clinic this entire time.”
“I wish I could.” I drop my backpack on the carpet and unzip it. The noise is too loud in the quiet room, and Profesora Ramirez’s glare zeroes in on me. “I’m sorry.” I hold up my hands in the Quantum-wide gesture for I-come-in-peace. She returns to her rant.
As I lift my Español notebook onto my desk, Eric asks, “What did they do to you?”
I don’t want to let onto how shaken my conversation with Ramsey left me, so I shrug. “Nothing major. They just needed me to answer a few questions.” I open to a clean page and write down what I can catch of Profesora Ramirez’s tirade. Idiotos. No tienen un futuro. ¿Cómo puedo tener confianza en ellos cuando se gradúan si no pueden comprenden un texto tan simple como La muerte de Artemio Cruz?
“Are you officially recruited, then?”
I look at him. I frown. “Actually, I’m not positive. I guess?”
I hold back my laugh. “Interesting? Why is that interesting?”
“Just the fact that you were there so long—the entire school day—yet you still don’t know whether or not you work for them now.”
He’s right. “I guess it is kind of strange.” How do I still not know?
How did Ramsey figure out they would recruit me early before they even did, yet I spent several hours at the Clinic today and I still don’t know whether or not my agreement to help them continues past the problem of her?
The bell rings and the class switches effortlessly to speaking in English. I slide my notebook back into my backpack and stand.
“Some of us are putting stamps together to get a couple of pizzas at Joe’s. Are you interested in coming? Amelia would be glad to see they didn’t use you for experiments. We’ve been placing bets on why you weren’t back in time for lunch, all afternoon.”
“As fun as that sounds,” I roll my eyes, “I need to speak with my teachers about the homework I missed.”
“What are you talking about?” Eric grins. “That sounds like a much better time than goofing around with your friends. Go have fun, you wild thing. See if you can snap a shot of Principal Scully with his toupee off.”
I smack his arm. “Go away.”
“With pleasure.” He winks and leads the way out of the classroom.
Amelia waits in the hall. Her eyes widen when she spots me and she throws her arms around me in a pressing hug more passionate than the situation calls for.
“I was so worried!”
“Oh, shut it.” I slough her off. “Both of you.”
I can’t help the grin that crosses my face, though, at the fact that my two best friends care so much for me. Even when Eric glances at my Identiband, auburn eyebrows drawn, and it switches to the other color almost in response.
I take my last final exam of sophomore year in two and a half weeks.
Between now and then, I have to attend fifteen classes (if you include my choir concert and non-”final” finals), do two astronomy projects, take two medieval lit quizzes, write a psych paper, and keep up with internship work. And attend orientation for Oxford. And finalize a lot of things for Ch1Con. And register for fall semester classes. And other stuff.
Basically, I keep being like, “Oh, look! Summer begins in two and a half weeks! IT’S SO CLOSE AND BEAUTIFUL!”
Then I remember everything I have to do before then, and I go into Panic Mode.
Meanwhile, in what little free time I haven’t spent watching Netflix keeping my brain from imploding this semester, I’ve been busy with novel revisions. One of the things I need to work on in this draft is keeping the characters other than my narrator/protagonist:
a) realistic, and
A character not being realistic and a character not being interesting are two different symptoms that ultimately boil down to the same problem: Right now, a lot of my supporting cast is there simply for the sake of advancing plot.
While it’s good, obviously, for your supporting cast to act in ways that move your story forward, it’s also important to remember they’re not plot devices–they’re characters.
So, some of the things I’m going to be doing in these revisions in an effort to strengthen my supporting cast.
Write Out Back Story
One of my characters right now is very well-developed in my mind. Unfortunately, since I know so much about him in my head, I didn’t realize how little of him is actually on the page. (That is, you know, until someone pointed it out THANK GOD).
This character’s in a lot of scenes, but I don’t reveal much about him within those. So, step one to fixing this problem: Open a new document, and actually write out the character’s back story. Talk about history, family, friends, enemies, quirks, goals, motivations, etc., etc. Then add some of this to the novel itself. Not enough to bog down the text, mind you. But enough to make the character three-dimensional.
I’ve found that writing things out rather than just letting them ruminate in my head helps me solidify and keep track of details, and this in turn makes it easier to figure out how to flesh out the character on the page.
Chart the Character Arc
I mentioned writing out a supporting character’s goals and motivations. It’s also helped me, with this particular character, to chart his arc for the novel.
A character arc follows the same basic model as a plot arc, with inciting incident, catalyst, rising action, climax, and falling action. Each character should have a primarily goal he’s going after in the novel, along with some smaller ones–just like the novel overall has both a central plot and subplots. When charting, focus the arc on the character’s primary goal and how he changes throughout the story in order to finally either reach it or fail to.
(On this topic, remember that a good supporting character isn’t static. He needs to develop and change due to the events of the novel. It isn’t necessary to outright state how the character has changed, but he does need to change.)
Read from the Supporting Character’s POV
This is a really good way of shifting from a supporting character acting simply as a plot device. Find all the scenes she’s in and read them back to back. What’s her motivation in each scene? What does she mean by each line and movement? How does her arc play out across the lot of them? Everything should be justifiable in the character’s mind. If she snaps at your narrator, it had better be because it affects not just your narrator’s arc, but hers as well.
It’s also important to know what each character’s doing when s/he’s not in a scene. Remember that each character’s life continues beyond the page.
Write from the Supporting Character’s POV
This is a great exercise for getting in a character’s head, if you don’t already know what her feelings and aspirations are really well. I’ve previously both rewritten scenes from other characters’ perspectives and written new scenes that take place off the official page of the novel, and am planning to do more of both as I work on this revision. Rewriting an already existing scene is better for in-the-moment stuff, and writing new scenes is better for learning bigger things about characters.
I’ve gotta go write that psych essay now, but if you want more writing-related posts, vote for the “writing process” option in the poll below.
This picture is not weird in the least.
What are some of your tips for bringing your supporting cast to life? Do you ever struggle with making your secondary characters realistic, too?
Winter semester 2014: In which a girl who’s afraid of space thought it would be a good idea to take astronomy. (Basically, this semester cannot end soon enough.)
Obama visited today. The entire campus went insane. You know. The usual.
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post about a photo. Specifically, the cover photo of my Facebook page right now:
The picture’s from last July. I was in the middle of completing a revision on a novel that involved a lot of refining for flow and structure, and I was having trouble working things out solely in my head/onscreen.
So I printed out my scene list. And chopped it up. And spread it all across my kitchen table. (Obviously my parents were thrilled.)
Being able to physically move around scenes was really effective and I’m about to do this whole process over again, so this seemed like a good time share it. (Thank you, Joan, for suggesting this topic!)
I give you: Restructuring Your Novel by Scene
Step 1: Make a list of all your scenes.
For each scene in my novel I:
Assign a number (so I know where in the manuscript it fits as is, in case I move it somewhere else)
Give a title (basically a brief description of what happens in it)
Note which chapter it’s in (a bigger picture version of assigning a number)
Color code it (a scene that shares a chapter with one other scene gets one color; one that shares with multiple scenes gets another; if it has its own chapter it gets another; and if it has multiple chapters to itself it gets another–this helps me keep track of the structures of chapters in relation with one another, so I don’t have too many of one type in a row or anything)
I also keep track of any scenes that happen to have unique characteristics, like if it’s a flashback, pure exposition, etc. (On this note: the novel I did this for last summer had two types of flashbacks–some were in past tense; others were in present–so I categorized the two types separately. You want to be as specific as possible.)
Step 2: Print the list, cut apart the scenes, and lay them in order on a flat surface.
This step’s pretty self-explanatory. If you have access to a table that you know no one will mess with while you’re working, you’re gold. If you don’t, find a patch of floor somewhere that you can barricade other organisms from touching. (I don’t suggest taping your scenes to a wall. Although that would ultimately work too, I also feel like it would be a lot less functional.)
Last time I did this, it took me about a week of thinking and staring and rearranging for twelve hours a day in order to settle everything. You don’t want your dog to knock a bunch of scenes off the table or someone to leave a sweaty glass on one.
(Protip: Print another copy of your scene list, but don’t cut this one apart. It’ll be useful to refer to while you’re rearranging things, so you can remember where everything was to begin with.)
Step 3: Gather your supplies.
You’re going to want to have:
Post It notes
at least one paperclip
several shades of highlighters
a couple shades of pens (I use black and red)
lots and lots of love for your novel (because when your patience and sanity run out, love is all you’ve got left)
I’ll talk about why you need everything else later, but first: the purpose of the Post It notes. As you go through the following steps, keep your Post Its at the ready.
Take notes if you’re considering doing something but haven’t quite made your decision yet, or don’t think it falls under one of the steps below. Write ideas for scenes you need to add. Stick a Post It to a scene if what you need to write exceeds the space on the slip of paper. Anything, really. Your Post Its are basically your thoughts on paper.
Now, let’s move onto the fun part: actually working on your novel.
Step 4: Mark which scenes are absolutely vital to the plot.
I star my vital scenes with my red pen, off to the left of all the typed information from Step 1. (I put all of my markings off to the left, and all my made-of-words notes above/below/to the right of the typed information, so it’s easy and fast to find things. Make sure to consistently centralize information; making unnecessary work for yourself is never fun.)
Signs that a scene is vital:
At least one major plot point occurs
The rest of the manuscript would fall apart if you pulled it
(Unfortunately, simply really loving a certain fight sequence, or cute interaction between your protagonists, or cool line does not a vital scene make. Be careful not to mark something only because you’re attached to it.)
If you have more than one scene that is vital in a row, stack those scenes. You’ll come back to them later, but for now, save some space for the next few steps.
Step 5: Look at the non-vital scenes.
I’m serious. Stare those suckers down.
Consider everything that happens in each scene:
What does the plot gain from it? (use your pencil to write this, probably above or below the typed info)
Is it super necessary for a subplot or character development? (mark this with one of your highlighters)
Does it have a cool sequence/interaction/line that you adore and don’t want to get rid of? (note this in pen, again above or below your typed info)
Chances are, if you didn’t mark it as vital to the plot in Step 4, that’s because the plot doesn’t gain anything from it–so you shouldn’t have anything written in pencil on these scenes. (If you have written something, reconsider whether or not you should mark that scene as vital. If what you’ve written is still too insignificant to the overall plot or too small a part of the scene as a whole to qualify the scene as vital, leave it as non-vital for now.)
You can still move the story forward with a non-vital scene if it influences a subplot or the development of a character (so while it might not be vital to the plot, it could be vital to the novel). However, a non-vital scene can’t just do one of these things. It can’t just explain why Bobby is afraid of marshmallows or be the space for two of your supporting characters to get in a fight.
Each scene has to progress the story in multiple ways. It has to explain the fear of marshmallows, and describe the big fight, and reveal something important to the plot–even if it’s something miniscule.
Think of each important thing that happens like a meal: if you miss out on one (losing a scene in which one important thing happens), it sucks but it’s not a huge deal. Miss eating for a whole day (losing a scene with several important things), and it becomes one. Miss eating for multiple days (a scene in which A LOT OF FREAKING STUFF HAPPENS), and you’re in deep trouble.
Thus, a non-vital scene becomes vital.
So, if you’ve got a non-vital scene that does have multiple important things happening in it, mark it as vital. If it’s near another vital scene, stack ‘em. If the non-vital scene only has one or two important things in it (or *gasp* none), prepare yourself for Step 6.
Step 6: Cut scenes.
If a scene does absolutely nothing important for the story, cut it. If it’s repetitious in content of another scene (your protags having a cute back-and-forth; your antagonist being annoying; etc.), chances are you only need one of them–cut the one(s) you like less.
This is the time for that Kill Your Darlings thing. If a scene does nothing to progress your plot, subplots, or character development: Cut. It.
Stack your cut scenes off to the side where you can find them later if need be, but they aren’t in the way as you continue with the scenes you’re still working on.
Step 7: Consolidate scenes.
If you have more than one non-vital scene in a row, consider consolidating them into one. Take the best parts of each scene (favorite actions/interactions, lines, and of course all the important bits) and see if you can stick them into one.
Be aware, though, that you can’t save everything. Again: avoid repetition. Just because you say something in several different ways doesn’t mean you’re saying something new.
Also, don’t be afraid to consolidate scenes that maybe aren’t currently next to each other in the manuscript. Reordering is okay.
When you consolidate scenes, either tape them together (not stacked) and use a pen to draw a line connecting them, or use that pen to write what you’re moving from the scene(s) you’re getting rid of to the scene you’re consolidating into, off towards the right side of your slips. (I suggest highlighting these written notes in a certain color, for a reason I’ll talk about in a second.)
The goal of the cutting and consolidating is to eliminate non-vital scenes from your novel. You do this by either cutting the non-vital scene or combining enough important things from non-vital scenes to create a vital one.
Once all you have left are vital scenes…
Step 8: Make structuring decisions.
Spread out the scenes you have left and look at the order they’re in. Would something work better in another place? Are you absolutely certain you need that water balloon fight in the middle of the scene that’s vital for entirely different reasons? Rearrange scenes as necessary and write down things you’re cutting/adding/changing-in-some-other-fun-way in each scene.
Anything you write on a scene that you’ll need to address while you’re working on the manuscript itself, highlight in a certain color. This will really help separate those things from everything else you’ve got written on the slips of paper.
Look over your list while thinking about the flow and progression of the plot, subplots, and development of your entire cast of characters (not just your core protagonists). If something is missing or not quite flowing right, this is the time to figure out how to fix it.
(Protip: Don’t be afraid to actually add scenes. This process is a good way of figuring out if you’re missing something. Use those Post It notes of yours to add scenes when necessary.)
Step 9: Step back.
You don’t want to rush into changing things without really thinking them through first. Take a couple days (or at least a couple hours) to not think at all about the plans you’ve made.
If you have an epiphany about something during this time, feel free to return to your scenes and add the new changes. But don’t touch the actual manuscript until you’ve had a chance to get away from it for a bit and you’re absolutely positive you want to try a change. (“Try” is the operative word here–if something that seems good on paper doesn’t actually work in the manuscript, don’t force yourself into keeping it. Find another solution. If you want your novel to be the best it can be, you’ve gotta do what’s best for it, even if that sometimes means “wasting” time on things that don’t work. The time’s not wasted if it ultimately lead to a better manuscript.)
Once you are confident in all your decisions, stack your final list of scenes, use a paperclip to hold them together, and get to work.
(Optional) Step 9.5: Make a To Do list of the planned changes.
I say this is optional because it’s something I don’t do, but I’m sure other, more organized people would like to. Either write or type a list of all the changes you’re going to make. This would be useful for keeping track of what you’ve done and still need to do–but definitely isn’t necessary if you don’t care about organization (the notes on your slips of cut out scenes should be enough to remember all the changes you want to make.)
Step 10: Implement changes.
Everyone likes to revise their manuscripts differently. Personally, if I’m doing big changes to scene(s) or adding a scene, I’ll create a separate Word doc to work on those before touching anything in the manuscript itself. If I’m just adding a line or moving a scene to a different part of the novel, I do that right in the manuscript document.
(Protip: Save your manuscript in a new file before implementing any changes. That way you can look back at the old version if you need to review how something used to be, bring back a scene you deleted, etc.)
Once I’ve implemented my changes, I make sure the changes flow with the surrounding writing. Then, it’s time to read the full manuscript to make sure everything’s working–and, once I’ve gotten the MS as good as I can on my own, I send it to a couple critique partners.
A critique partner is the best way to figure out if something’s working or not. A lot of the time as the writer, you subconsciously become so numb to what you’re working on that you don’t notice problems anymore. Therefore, a new set of eyes basically equals a miracle.
And there you have it: my process for refining a novel by scene. (I’ll pretend this is patent pending, since it took me forever and a day to type.)
Do you have any specific processes for revising? Care to share with the class?
PS. The happiest of birthdays to my CP Kira, who becomes a Twenty Something today! :D
I’ve been promising another Big News post for a couple weeks now, and I FINALLY CAN SHARE THINGS WITH YOU!
Drum roll please…
This is a Book Too is back!
Yup, after our unplanned hiatus (school has this annoying habit of getting in the way of projects like this, yes?), Mel and I are finally back in action with This is a Book Too. Check out new chapters on the official This is a Book Trilogy blog at: www.thisisabookthebook.wordpress.com.
I’m attending BookCon (AKA “Power Reader Day” of Book Expo America)!
I’m so excited to finally get to check out this event! (By which I mean “fangirl all over my favorite authors, likely scaring them so badly they’ll never come near me ever again.”) Plus, I’m attending with my super talented writing friends Ariel and Joan, and a couple of our parents, so that automatically makes it 110% awesomer. (Also: I love New York. Like a lot.) (Also, also: BROADWAY.)
I won the Arthur Miller Award!!!
The Arthur Miller Award is a prize here at U of M for writers. The winner receives a scholarship, an autographed copy of DEATH OF A SALESMAN (because Arthur Miller), and, you know, the right to stare in disbelief at the email and jump around a lot and maybe even cry, just a little bit. (Not that I did any of those things.)
I’m so incredibly honored to have been selected to be this year’s recipient. U of M’s got a kind of crazy number of talented writers, so the fact that they chose my entry blows my mind. A lot.
… Aaand, last but not-at-all least:
I’m studying abroad at Oxford this summer!!!!!
THAT’S RIGHT. I GOT IN TO MY DREAM STUDY ABROAD PROGRAM. AND I’M GOING. OH MY GOSH, OH MY GOSH, OH MY GOSH.
I’m studying British literature in the place it was written, and some of my friends are going to be there at the same time, and it’s basically going to be beautiful.
On top of that: While in the UK, Hannah (who’s in the same program as me!) and I are attending–wait for it–JK Rowling’s session at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival! (If you happen to feel a flutter in your chest at this news, that’s probably the heart attack I had while scrambling to purchase the tickets rubbing off on you. I apologize.)
The plan is to keep the blog up and running while I’m over there, so prepare yourself for a deluge of posts about how wonderful Europe is.
I’m off to daydream about summer (so close, yet so far away). Love you!
I’m writing this post a couple days early, because I know I’m going to be swamped/half-dead by the time Wednesday rolls around. Right now it’s Monday for me, and I’ve got a midterm tomorrow, plus two projects due Wednesday and a ton of other stuff going on.
If I looked in the Mirror of Erised right now, I would literally just see myself taking a nap.
The winning option for this week’s Wordy Wednesday is poetry/song lyrics, so I figured I’d share another poem from the beginning of college. My family had two cats all while I was growing up–Jesse (mine) and Willy (my brother’s)–and Jesse was basically my constant companion. Jesse and I were rarely apart when I was home from when we first got the cats when I was a year and a half old, until he died suddenly in November, 2011. I wrote this poem for him.
It’s the one glance back,
the realization: this is it,
this is the end, I am not
coming back. Not any time soon.
And I will miss you
I will miss you so much it
burns, and it will tear me
apart, and I will
But do you even know
I am leaving? I am gone?
Did you feel the cold, my
tears when I said
goodbye? When I let go?
Or does the ground
silence you, muffle you,
hold you away from me
so deep, deep down that I could
never find you again?
Can you hear my
goodbye, or am I speaking
to a memory?
… And on that pleasant note, I need to get back to studying. Hurrayyy.
I hope your Wednesday’s going well!
PS. Has anyone else noticed how weird the new WordPress smileys look? Like they’re so cute, but weeeird. Like misshapen pancakes with the expressions drawn on them in chocolate sauce: :):(:/:P;):D
If you’ve been following me for a while, then you know I was very excited, but also very nervous for the Divergentfilm adaption. I wasn’t a fan of a lot of the promotional stuff, and quite a few of the casting decisions had me nervous (particularly Shailene Woodley as Tris, Theo James as Four, and Ben Lloyd-Hughes as Will; so, you know, no one important).
However, I have now seen the movie twice (first at the Detroit pre-screening a few weeks ago, then again on opening night this weekend), and I LOVE it. It exceeded my low expectations by a long shot, and although it’s definitely not perfect, I also definitely recommend seeing it. The fact that so many people haven’t liked it took me by surprise, so: give it a chance.
Of the seven friends I’ve seen it with, only one didn’t like it (which has to be some sort of record, getting that many people I know to agree about a single movie). Two of those friends knew absolutely nothing about the books, and they both understood and enjoyed the movie just fine, so if you haven’t had a chance to read the trilogy yet: Rest assured. You probably will be okay.
For opening night, my group all went as Dauntless. Check out that rad Tris tattoo Hannah Sharpied on me.
Moving on to more specific thoughts (so if you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want spoilers, you should probably stop reading now): While, like I said, Divergent isn’t perfect, more of it works than doesn’t work. They made quite a few changes to the events of the story, but these generally don’t affect the overall plot or character arcs, and they work better on screen, I think, than staying one hundred percent true to the book would have.
The one change I do have a problem with is how Natalie (Tris’s mom) dies. In the book, she full-out, very obviously sacrifices herself in order to let Tris get away to safety. In the movie, however, she’s simply caught by a stray bullet as BOTH she and Tris run for it. Since it’s less obvious of a sacrifice, I’m a bit worried about how they’ll handle Tris’s character development from here, since she’s basically supposed to become obsessed with her parents’ deaths and figuring out what the definition of sacrifice is to her and all that.
Acting-wise, I thought the majority of the cast did great. Shailene Woodley absolutely blew me away. She’s definitely grown as an actress since I last saw her in something. Theo James also did fantastic (I barely even noticed his accent, which was a nice surprise since it was so noticeable in the trailer cuts). The two of them have fantastic chemistry–looks like that lengthy casting search for Four paid off.
A couple friends and I stalked the Divergent set last May. This is outside the central school all children attend until they’re sixteen in Tris Prior’s dystopian Chicago. Off to the right, here, are a certain two actors you may recognize.
The supporting cast are generally good (Ben Lloyd-Hughes, it turns out, is a perfect Will). I’ve heard lots of complaints about how a lot of the actors don’t look like how the characters are described in the books, but I’ve always preferred someone who can play the personality properly to someone who looks spot on like the descriptions, so I didn’t mind.
Kate Winslet is appropriately icy and semi-robotic as Jeannine, I’m excited for Ansel Elgort‘s Caleb to get some more screen time in the next two (hopefully not three) installments, and although they get far less screen time than they deserve, Tris’s fellow initiates do well with what they have.
Which brings me to a problem I had with this adaption: the lack of time spent on the initiates. I get that the movie’s already two and a half hours long, but couldn’t we have spent just a few more of those minutes on developing Tris’s friends? Honestly, so little time was spent on Al that what time they did spend on him felt random and awkward. When he commits suicide, it barely even seems to matter, and that sucks. It’s an important issue they glossed right over.
Meanwhile, they cut all the scenes in which Peter (played by the ever charming Miles Teller) is truly awful (stabbing Edward, groping Tris, etc.). Without those, all we had was him taunting Tris in ways that honestly registered as funny–to the point that during the premiere screening, a friend and I kept whispering things to each other like, “Is it bad that I like Peter now?” followed by a, “No, I’m totally Team Peter now, too.” Which, you know, is not good. (Like at the end when they’re all running for the train and Peter is WAY ahead of the rest of them? This should be despicable, not lovable and funny.)
Christina (Zoë Kravitz) felt really underutilized. In the book she’s a fully-fleshed out, very important character with a life beyond the time she spends with Tris. In the movie, she is merely the easily forgettable sidekick. However, I was okay with the changes to the capture the flag scene, because I don’t think they would’ve had time to follow that whole subplot of the tension between Christina and Tris. If we could have gotten a bit more of her in other places to draw out her depth and unique characteristics, though, that would’ve been great. (And I just loved the changes to the capture the flag scene overall. So much more intense.)
Me showing off how brave I am on the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel. (Shailene Woodley and Theo James ACTUALLY climbed this thing for the movie. Truly Dauntless.)
Back to Caleb: I would have loved to have gotten a bit more of him at the beginning in order to give us a better hint that he wanted to defect to Erudite. This came completely out of left field in the movie, and although it’s a surprise in the book too, afterward we DO get Tris’s internal commentary about how she should have seen it coming. Obviously we can’t get that in the movie, so what we SHOULD have gotten were more foreshadowing-type hints leading up to it.
I thought Ray Stevenson‘s Marcus could have been better. He did well as far as tone and emotion and all that goes, but his American accent was terrible. Completely took me out of the scene whenever he spoke. Can we get the guy a vocal coach for Insurgent? Because otherwise he really is good. It’s just that accent.
(By the way, an apology for how much I’m improperly switching tenses in this. Back and forth and back and forth I go between past and present.)
The film does get a little campy sometimes, but I don’t think that’s necessarily bad. It keeps it from getting too dark.
A few of the lines I would’ve loved to have seen make it from the book weren’t there, like when Christina is afraid of moths and Will’s all, “That’s my girl. Tough as cotton balls.” And how the Dauntless are basically obsessed with chocolate cake. And, you know, the fact that Uriah exists (I’m excited for him to finally show up in the second one). The movie works fine without those elements, so it is fine. Just a bit of a personal disappointment for me.
Raised train platform set that Tris and her fellow initiates climb after the Choosing Ceremony.
On the other hand, the filmmakers also created some of their own lines that I didn’t like, like, at all. And based on the reactions of the other people in my theatre both times, it seems like nobody else liked them either. An especially unfortunate occurrence of this is in the scene when Fourtris kiss for the first time, because in the midst of them doing nothing more than kissing with their arms wrapped around each other while standing (so it’s not like they’re in bed or something), Tris breaks it off to say that she doesn’t want to move too fast. Which is okay–it is okay that she doesn’t want to do more than that when it’s her first time kissing not just Four, but any guy ever. But it’s also not like he’d suddenly reached under her shirt or shifted towards the bed or something. They were just kissing–just like they had been for a while at that point. So it didn’t make sense, and it was awkward, and it made everyone awkwardly laugh, which is not what a line like that should do.
(Meanwhile, don’t get me started on how annoyed I am at all the reviewers interpreting that line to mean that she’s “saving herself,” because seriously–all she’s saying is that she doesn’t want to do more than kiss at that time. Is it really so bad that a sixteen year old girl doesn’t want to have sex on essentially the first date? And even if she is waiting until marriage, THAT IS NOT A NEGATIVE THING ANY MORE THAN NOT AND–Anyway. I’m stopping myself before I go into Rant Mode.)
Questions for the class:
Why did the Abnegation women wear makeup and heels? I will never understand the logic behind this decision.
Why did we suddenly forget that Tris has a freaking bullet in her shoulder partway through the climax? I feel like that’s really not something you should forget.
What, exactly, was the purpose of doing the fear landscapes the “Dauntless” way, rather than the “Divergent”? Coming out of the movie the first time, I thought I understood that this meant that Divergent face their fears head-on whereas Dauntless find ways to skirt around their fears (so like Tris wanted to be all Divergent and jump off the little bridge thing to conquer the fear of heights, but Tobias instead crawled across the bridge and into the neighboring building, thus avoiding it). But the second time through, I realized that it’s not as clear as that, so now I’m not sure about what they were trying to say there. I would have loved for that to have been clearer, because that was a really fun twist on the fear landscapes.
What was up with Tris’s Dauntless clothes? Like I know Shailene is a good-looking human being so you want to show that off, but you also need to remember that she’s playing a character who’s grown up in a faction that didn’t allow tight-fitting or low-cut clothes. She shouldn’t have gone straight from her Abnegation grey to a Dauntless outfit that accentuated her cleavage.
My favorite scene is when they’re at the top of the John Hancock Center and Veronica Roth is the first one out the door and then she and Tris stand next to each other at the edge, looking out over Chicago. Absolutely beautiful moment.
My favorite line is when Peter tells Tris that she won’t shoot him and she goes, “Why does everyone keep saying that?” AND THEN SHE DOES. (YOU SHOW ‘EM, TRIS.)
I enjoyed the music throughout, and it was really cool how much of actual, modern day Chicago they used. Tris’s voice overs are a nice touch, and I enjoy how they chose to make it such a first person narrative (we’re never somewhere Tris isn’t, so it keeps everything tight and focused).
Overall, the pacing could have been a little better, as could have been the character development and script and all that. The cinematography was a little funky and the sets could have been cooler. But most of what they did works, and the movie is fun and holds true to the overall vision and feel of the book. I really, truly, did very much enjoy it. And I want everyone to see it. And I can’t wait to see Insurgent.
3.5 out of 5 stars. Purchase tickets to see Divergent here.
I didn’t want to write this post. I have been putting off writing this post for the better part of a year now. But it’s something that I need to address–not just for myself personally, but for people in general.
As a culture, for some reason we seem to have come to the conclusion that it is okay to make sexual comments about people we don’t know, simply because it’s the internet and they cannot see us. And because of this we either seem to think that they also cannot hear us, or that if they can hear us they obviously must feel the same.
I am here, today, to tell you that the people to whom you’re speaking do not feel the same. Ever. And we can hear you.
I’ll admit, I have made comments online about finding celebrities attractive before. I’m not completely innocent in this. But never is it in such a way that it implies I’d like to partake in certain activities with them. It is simply a statement that I have eyes and therefore, yes, I can see that Random Celebrity Dude happens to have nice hair or whatever. It’s a compliment like you’d give a friend. Nothing more.
The moment you move past this type of comment to one that does imply you’d like to partake in certain activities (or even outright states this intent), your comment stops being a friendly compliment and becomes something else entirely: harassment.
As a Google search reveals:
noun: sexual harassment
harassment (typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.
Harassment is strangely commonplace in our society. I know very few people–women or men–who have never been harassed in one way or another. Which is weird, because I’d like to believe that the majority of us are decent enough human beings not to harass other human beings. Which means that it’s a minority of the population making things suck for the rest of us.
I didn’t even realize I was a victim until recently, because things of the magnitude of what have happened online thankfully have yet to happen to me in person and I don’t directly think about them often. But the other day I was debating between wearing a skirt or pair of jeans to class, and I chose the jeans because they felt safer, just in case. And it occurred to me that I didn’t make decisions that way this time last year. Which means that, even if I don’t directly linger on the things men have said to me in comments I’ve deleted on my blog, Facebook page, Youtube channels, etc.–that does not change the fact that their actions have negatively impacted my own, leaving me insecure and nervous and scared.
I live in a first world country in the twenty first century. I should not have to choose what I wear out of fear that the comments men make about my body online will spread into more than comments, in real life, as well.
And yes, you can argue that harassment is not nearly as bad a problem as assault or abuse are, and from many standpoints, that’s true. I don’t want to even imagine the sorts of things those victims go through. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that harassment also leaves its own carnage behind, and a lot of the time harassment is actually just the beginning–it, itself, leads to assault and abuse.
They’re ultimately three parts of the same problem. And no matter what you tell yourself–no matter how much I’d like to believe ignoring it will make it go away–it is a problem. And it’s not going away.
Harassers make you feel helpless. Like no matter what you say or do, it is beyond your power to make them stop. They make you feel like they have a greater right to treat you like an object created for their own personal amusement than you do, yourself, to your privacy and dignity. They make you feel less than human.
If posting pictures of myself online means I’m “asking for it” (which, by the way, is victim blaming and also wrong), then honestly–I’ll stop, because although it sucks, I’d rather be safe. But it’s not like I go around handing out photos of myself in a bikini. I am always fully-clothed. I have discussed, on multiple occasions, the fact that I live with very firm moral standards that include waiting until marriage. I’ve previously turned down acting opportunities because they were out of my comfort zone, when by society’s standards they weren’t even “that bad,” and I do not go to frat parties, or clubbing, or anything else of the sort–because although those activities are perfectly fine if you want to participate in them, they aren’t me.
And the people who do partake in those activities do not deserve harassment anymore than anyone else does. Which is to say that they don’t deserve harassment at all. Because no one does.
Probably the saddest thing in all of this is that part of the reason I have been putting off writing this post for so long is because I didn’t want it to reflect poorly on me. I didn’t want possible future employers to look me up online and find some “complain-y” blog post about sexual harassment, and I didn’t want to make people who somehow get off on harassing to look at this as the perfect excuse to go after me, and I didn’t want this to come to define me any more than it already, on an intimate level, does. Because it’s a bad thing that’s out of my control. And I want my feelings of self and self-worth to be defined by good things that I’ve done for myself, like doing well in school and having fun with my friends and writing stories that I can be proud of.
But I shouldn’t have to worry about those things that held me back from writing this post for so long. The fact that I had to worry about those things is part of the problem.
When it all comes down to it, this is what you need to remember: I might not be a minor anymore, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still a kid. And even if I wasn’t, that does not give you the right to come on to someone who has given you no reason to believe she’d want you to.
I’m not some distant celebrity who will never have to see your comments. Not that you should make sexual comments about those people either, but I’m just an aspiring author who has public social media accounts because when you’re in this industry, that’s what you need in order to give yourself the opportunity for success. Which means that I maintain all these accounts personally.
I am the one who reads your comments: Me. A human being.
And yes. I enjoy blogging and sharing pictures and updating everyone on my thoughts and life. But when I get comments about how I should take my clothes off, they don’t make me want to follow through with those requests. They make me want to snuggle up with my mom and never go outside or on the internet ever, ever again. And they make me scared to continue creating content, because the creation of content also leads to the secondhand creation of random people feeling like it is their right to say disgusting things. Which isn’t fair, because this is my job.
In any social exchange, two people are involved: you and the person to whom you’re speaking. And if you’re a middle-aged man telling a nineteen year old girl that she’s sexy, you aren’t just saying something about the girl, but yourself too. Having respect for other people is important, but it’s also important to have respect for yourself. Don’t be that person.
If you want to say I look pretty or something, simply as a compliment between friends (because I really do think of my readers as friends), that’s fine. I’m obviously not going to complain about people not thinking I’m ugly. But it’s a fine line between that and going too far. The highest compliment you can give another human being is respect.
Educate yourself. Respect yourself. And respect others.
We’re all in this thing together. Let’s make it good, okay?
SO MANY MOVIE TRAILERS HAVE RELEASED THIS WEEK. A selection of my favorites:
And, of course, you should see Divergent when it comes out this weekend (the trailer’s not as recent, but obviously still worth a watch):
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem I wrote about a year and a half ago, towards the beginning of college. Like for a lot of people, the beginning of my freshman year was a little bit rough, as I transitioned to being away from home and the people I’d known basically since I was born for the first time. However, I was really lucky to have a nice church just a few blocks up the street from me, and although I’m not really a Go to Church Every Sunday kind of person, I did do that until I had found my place at the university. And it was really helpful.
So, this poem is about that.
Heat seeping from the waxed paper cup into my fingers,
warm, warm, warm like the summer
and a smile on my lips, right at the corners, as I shuffle down
the street with my favorite sweater snuggled tight against my shoulders
and the sun blinding me—so bright—over everything.
I found God, this morning, in the little things,
like alarm clocks and cold showers and a biting wind,
trying to keep me away from church but unable to stop
my progression up the street, and now it’s warm, and it’s sunny,
and it’s beautiful. The way back is beautiful, as I shuffle down
the street towards home.
The way back is beautiful.
Taking a “thanks for reading”picture in public rarely turns out well.
PS. I’ve got another Big News post coming your way sometime in the near future. I can’t specify when, because some things are still up in the air, but SOON.
PPS. I got a 91% on the multiple choice portion of the psych exam. Still waiting to hear back on the short answer portion, but LOOK AT THAT–I DIDN’T FAIL.