First off, the Chapter One Young Writers Conference‘s 2014 keynote speaker Amy Zhang’s YA contemporary debut FALLING INTO PLACE came out yesterday!! (That was such a mouthful, wow.) It’s SO GOOD, and I’m not just saying that because I know Amy. You need to read this book. I couldn’t put it down all day and was basically walking around in a fog whenever classes forced me to.
Also, make sure to stop by Amy’s website, because she’s giving away some cool FALLING INTO PLACE swag on her blog right now!
Second off, Ch1Con‘s about to kick it into high gear with about a thousand announcements in the next few weeks, so BE PREPARED for the onslaught.
Third off, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. [Trigger warning: I'm talking about triggers today.]
I woke up this morning to an email from the police that there was a man with a gun in the chemistry building and the campus was going into lockdown. This didn’t affect me much since I was, you know, still in bed and live off campus. And almost instantaneous to me seeing the original Emergency Alert email, they sent out the All Clear, anyway. So everything was fine. Just a fun little disruption to our day. (That’s sarcasm on the “fun” front, my friend.)
It turns out the “gunman” was just a Navy ROTC member with non-weaponized equipment (aka: a gun filled with concrete so it isn’t dangerous), returning said equipment to the ROTC office. In the comment section of an article about the incident, someone groused about everyone needlessly freaking out because someone carried a gun through a class building without their knowing whether it was a working gun or the man had an intention of shooting anyone with it.
I’m not going to go into my stance on whether or not people should be allowed to own guns right now, but this comment really bothered me, because after everything that’s been happening on campuses across the United States, I think the general assumption (and the one that helps keep students safer) is that if someone has a gun with them in a place guns are not meant to be fired, there’s a good chance it’s not good.
After all, the purpose of a gun is not to humbly sit there, bullets within it, not touching the world around it. The purpose of a gun is to shoot things.
And if it’s not shooting something, it’s not fulfilling its purpose.
Thus, by this definition: an unconcealed weapon in the chem building is something we should react to first and ask the carrier questions about second. (Seriously. Who’s going to walk up to a guy with a gun outside a college classroom and be like, “Yo. What’cha got there? You planning on shooting anyone with that today?” NOT ME.)
This inherent (and what I believe to be intelligent) response to seeing someone with a gun (you know–reacting by assuming s/he’s going to shoot it) is also really important in stories.
If someone carries a weapon of some sort into a scene–be it a gun, or a knife, or some really juicy gossip–it can’t just Be There. It has to be there for a purpose. A gun in a scene is a promise that someone is going to shoot it. And if someone doesn’t, that becomes a broken promise to the reader. And when you break promises to the reader, bad things happen. (I’m not going to go into the bad things. The first rule of Reader Club is you do not talk about Reader Club.)
This rule about weapons applies to more in fiction than only things characters can use to hurt each other. It applies to everything. Did your protagonist just comment on a pretty picture? That’s great for the moment, but for it to be great for the story, you need the fact that you’ve drawn attention to the picture to mean something in the long run. Maybe there’s a clue to the mystery hidden in the picture. Or the picture has some sort of symbolic resonance that you come back to during the climax.
What matters is that it matters.
I was thinking about this today, not just because of our non-weaponized “gunman” (poor, poor Navy ROTC member), but because yesterday I had this opposite-of-an-epiphany moment in which, for no apparent reason in the middle of one of my film classes, I realized I have this paragraph in the middle of the climax of the novel I’m revising that makes no sense within the scene.
It’s information I need to share, and it comes out in a realistic way, but it isn’t important to the scene it’s in.
So while that scene is important to that information, that information is not important to that scene. And it can’t work,that way.
It’s a reciprocal relationship. Everything needs to make context in a scene (your reason for bringing a gun) and everything in a scene must be important to the scene (shooting the gun). And all of this, ultimately, needs to be important to the overall story (the results of shooting the gun).
Every word you write is a promise to the reader. Like a real gun, the purpose of your fictional (or metaphorical) gun is to shoot it.
Sorry this is coming to you technically on Thursday! I completely spaced. (First week of fall semester and all that.)
So far, my classes are awesome. My film classes are kind of freaking me out, because it’s the first time I’ve formally studied film stuff and I don’t know if I’ll be any good at it yet, but also I love movies and I’m really excited to learn more about their history and how they’re made. So fingers crossed this goes well.
Choir is as lovely as ever. Creative writing starts next week and I am READY to dive back into the weekly short stories (who would have ever thought I’d say that). Whoever decided U of M should offer a YA lit class is my hero. MY HERO.
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a chapter from my 2013 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.
Chapter Thirteen I’m not sure who I expect to find standing on our stoop, but it is certainly not Dr. O’Brien and his partner from the Recruitment Assembly.
“Hello, Miss Dylan.” The woman dips her head. Her ears appear even more prominent this close up. Her features are youthful and pixieish, from her wide eyes to her small, pointed chin. “My name is Doctor Lindsey Reede. You’ve already met my associate, Doctor O’Brien. Your family reported you missing when you did not return home yesterday after school.”
I squint against the sunlight behind them. “How did you know I was back?” I raise my left hand to shield my eyes.
“Your Identiband.” Dr. Reede trains her eyes on it. I glance up at it and a jolt of fear runs through me. It’s flipped colors again.
“What?” I try to make it sound like I don’t know what she’s talking about.
Dr. Reede frowns. “We knew you were back because we were monitoring your Identiband. It showed that you had entered your residence.”
“Right.” I lower my arm. Of course she didn’t see the other color, not when what’s causing the problem is obviously my eyes. “Sorry.” I look at her and Dr. O’Brien, the way they stand stoic but uneasy outside my house. I close my eyes for one, long second. “Hold on. You knew I was home because my Identiband told you so. Right. So that means you know where I’ve been for the past twenty four hours as well, correct? What happened to me?”
“We unfortunately don’t know,” Doctor O’Brien says.
“How is that possible?”
Dr. Reede bristles like I’ve accused the Clinic of something. “Someone hacked your Identiband. They looped the information from what we assume was Monday—the last day you walked home normally from school—and the loop didn’t end until you entered your house. We wouldn’t have had any way of knowing that anything was wrong if it weren’t for your family messaging the police.”
I run a hand over my eyes. “I didn’t even know that was possible.”
“Only the very skilled and very well-connected are able to perform such crimes.” Dr. Reede glances around me into the house. “Is your father home?”
For some reason I look behind myself too, although I know he isn’t there. Calvin has barely had enough time to contact him as it is. “No, but my brother is.”
Dr. Reede stares. “How old is your brother?”
“Why does that matter?”
Dr. O’Brien steps around Dr. Reede. “We need to bring you in for questioning. Everything that has happened over the course of the past several days dealing with you is too much of a coincidence. We must know why these events are occurring. In order to legally escort you to the Clinic, we need permission from a family member over the age of eighteen.”
“My brother is twenty one.” I turn towards the kitchen. “Calvin?”
“Yes?” His dark head pops around the doorway. Dr. Reede raises her eyebrows at his bushy, curly hair. My brother smirks.
“Hello, Mr. Dylan,” Dr. O’Brien says. “We are from the Clinic.”
Calvin’s smirk widens as he takes in their uniforms. “I can see that.” He shifts his gaze to me. “They want you to go with them, I’m guessing?”
I nod. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back in no time.”
“Fine, go ahead. I’ll let Dad know.” He disappears back into the kitchen.
Dr. Reede nods. The movement is robotic, perfected. “After us, Miss Dylan.”
They do not take me to office suite 4581 as I expect. Instead they lead me from the lobby to a long, narrow hallway that ends in a flight of stairs leading down.
“Why aren’t we going to your office, Doctor O’Brien?” I grip the handrail as I descend the steep stairs behind the two recruiting officers. Dr. Reede walks with even steps that are so rigid they seem almost painful, while Dr. O’Brien follows behind her a little bit looser, with his arms swinging at his sides.
“My office?” He looks back. “Oh, the room I met you in yesterday was not my office, Miss Dylan. It was just one of the many multi-use spaces available throughout the building for employees to use in meetings and such. I was only assigned to it for yesterday.”
We exit the stairwell for another hallway, this one lined with unmarked doors. They walk side by side now, leaving little space for me to get near them.
I walk a good several feet back—it’s evident they don’t want to talk to me right now—but the question itches against my tongue anyway. “Why weren’t you there yesterday, Doctor Reede?”
She throws the answer over her shoulder: “My job during your meeting with Doctor O’Brien was to monitor everything behind the scenes, to ensure that safety procedures were maintained at all times and that we obtained the information needed to properly analyze the situation at hand.”
“You were behind the cameras the entire time I was in the building yesterday?”
She doesn’t break stride as she speaks—just keeps moving as if my questions are not distracting in the least. “Yes.”
“So you were the one watching my conversation with Ramsey, not Doctor O’Brien?”
At this, she glances back and nods.
I fold my arms. “Why didn’t you let me out?”
She faces forward again. “We still needed more information.”
I scowl. “And did you get what you needed?”
Her tone is plainspoken, emotionless. “Yes.”
While it would have been nice to have some assistance with Ramsey, they were just doing their job.
I force a smile into my voice. “Good.”
Dr. O’Brien stops at a door that looks absolutely identical to all the others and holds his Identiband to the scanner, then pricks his thumb. The scanner beeps, followed by a click from the door as its lock disengages.
The room they’ve brought me to is long and low, with a mahogany conference table centered beneath a sparkling glass chandelier and wood paneling along the walls.
Amelia would love this place. It’s even nicer than the formal dining room in which her mother holds biyearly dinner parties for the intercontinental representatives of the different branches of the Clinic. For all the times I have visited Amelia’s house since May, we have never once been allowed to set foot in that room.
My dirty school uniform and the braid I have not redone since yesterday morning make me feel like I should not be allowed to breathe the air in this conference room, let alone touch the table or sit in one of the plush leather-upholstered chairs. The recruiting officers do not notice my discomfort as they stride straight to the nearest chairs and sit down on the same side of the table. I swallow and take the chair opposite.
“Tell us exactly what happened yesterday after you left the Clinic.”
I tuck my feet under the chair and fold my hands in my lap. I still feel like I should not be allowed in this room. I explain about staying at New Capital High for an hour after school let out, and making small-talk with the stranger in the subway station who knew my name. My cheeks warm as I tell them about getting off the train one stop early, and they cool when I describe running, only for the man to catch me.
The entire time, the recruiting officers don’t take their eyes off me. They don’t blink, don’t write anything down, and I know they must have cameras in this room to record everything I say, but it is still disconcerting to be able to watch them try to figure it out right before me, rather than on tablets, where they wouldn’t feel the need to look so closely at my face.
When I finish, Dr. O’Brien leans back in his chair. “You weren’t aware at all that time had passed between the man drugging you and you waking up?”
I shake my head. “No. To be honest, I thought it was all a dream until Calvin told me I had been gone for so long. My only injury was from when I fell on the sidewalk.” I hold up my elbow to demonstrate. The blood has dried my sleeve to my skin, and I grit my teeth as I lower my arm. “They didn’t touch me.”
Dr. Reede turns to Dr. O’Brien like she thinks she is speaking only to him, although I can still clearly hear her. “If they did not want something from Miss Dylan’s body, then it must have been something in her mind.”
Dr. O’Brien shakes his head. “The girl does not know any vital information. She knows nothing the terrorist cell would go to that much trouble to learn.”
“Perhaps they were curious why we recruited her a year early?”
“No, they already know why. It had to have been for some other reason.”
“Perhaps they simply wanted to learn how much Miss Dylan knows of the situation at hand. After all, we now possess Miss Carp.”
“We’ve allowed them to retain access to Miss Carp’s Identiband as it is. They already know all that transpired yesterday. They—”
They speak in such a rapid fire it is difficult to keep up, but one part does stick out: “The terrorist cell.” Not a terrorist cell. The. “You know who attacked me.”
They keep speaking, words nearly overlapping in their ferventness to be heard.
“Perhaps what they wanted was not from her mind at all, but her Identiband.”
“What would they gain by kidnapping her, then? They had already hacked the Identiband. They already had all the information stored in it at their fingertips. It’s—”
I raise my voice. “You. Know. Who attacked me.”
Dr. Reede turns so quickly her neck cracks. She does not even flinch. She levels her eyes at me. “Of course we do. Very few people exist not just in the Fifth Reality, but in the entirety of the Quantum, who could have committed such an act. Even fewer would have wanted to.”
“Then what are you doing in this room right now?” I throw a thumb at the door. “Why aren’t you out there tracking them down?”
“It’s… complicated.” Dr. O’Brien shifts in his seat. He pulls at his collar. “I’m afraid we have not been entirely frank with you until this point, Miss Dylan.”
His voice is so constricted, my mouth goes dry and my palms grow damp. My muscles clench. What little confidence I had before dissipates. “Meaning?”
He leans towards me and says the words gently. “We did indeed recruit you because of the actions of Miss Carp, but they weren’t the actions we led you to assume. We already were monitoring your old friend before the Recruitment Assembly. That is because, since May, she has been assisting an inter-reality terrorist cell known as the Second Origin.”
My Identiband changes color at the name. I glance at it and it flickers back to green.
Dr. O’Brien glances at Dr. Reede, who nods him onward. He swallows and takes a breath. “We have heard reports of the atrocities committed by the Second Origin for nearly a year now—first as rumors passing between realities, then as actual warnings. Brutal murders, citizens disappearing, break-ins at important buildings. The final warning came on May fourteenth, from the Clinic of the Fourth Reality, and you must understand, Miss Dylan: what they told us is confidential. No one outside a select few members of the Clinic of the Fifth Reality knows what we are about to say.”
He turns to Dr. Reede, who does not lose her nearly inhuman posture or tone as she says, “The final warning about the Second Origin came in the form of a message. A single word. One we thought to be impossible until the events of recent.” Despite Dr. Reede’s stoic demeanor, when she opens her mouth, not a sound comes out.
It is Dr. O’Brien who, tears in his eyes, manages to choke out, “Collapse.” **********
If you’re a student (or a teacher or someone else involved in the school shenanigans), how’s the fall term going so far? Any fun stories or cool classes? Do tell.
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.
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
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
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.
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!
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 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.)
The Hunger Games
Favorite board game?
Favorite language (other than your native one)?
Latin (I took 3 years in high school and really respect it)
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)
Bass Guitar, because I used to play it in a girl band
Thanks for letting me interview you, Rachel! And thanks for reading!
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!
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.
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!
PS. Currently listening to this song on repeat, because I am a masochist.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?)
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.]
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.
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.)
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).
Blurry 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.
Mirror of Erised.
Harry, Hermione, and Ron costumes from Half-Blood Prince. Check out that cool green screen magic going on with the Invisibility Cloak.
Wall 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.
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.
The 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.)
Rockin’ that subtle Ravenclaw pride.
We took a break at the courtyard that is the halfway point for Butterbeer and general fangirling.
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.
But also, of course, Diagon Alley.
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.)
It’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.
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.
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.)
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.
Please pardon my inability to properly take panos.
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.
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.)
Yes. Those are cows on the beach. (Also: the land on the horizon is Cardiff.)
(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.)
Our 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.
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.
I give you: Snowdonia. AKA The Most Beautiful Place This Side of Heaven.
We hiked up some hills and around a lake.
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.
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).
In 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.)