Hey there, USA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I will go back.

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

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~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: On Playlists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So: on playlists.

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

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

I chose the music based on a few factors:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sampling:

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

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

Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

*AT. ALL.

England Trip Recap (Part 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harry Potter Studio Tour 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_5454Mirror of Erised.

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_5525Rockin’ that subtle Ravenclaw pride.

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

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

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But also, of course, Diagon Alley.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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~Julia

England Trip Recap (Part I)

Now that I’ve been home for two weeks, I feel like I’m finally rested enough to tackle writing this series of monster-posts. (I’m basically just going until WordPress yells at me for having too many pictures, so this SHOULD only take a few posts, but we’ll see.)

SO. ENGLAND. We (and by “we” I mean my mom, brother, me, and some members of my high school theatre company) were in England for a week, towards the end of June–mostly in London, but also Oxford, Statford-upon-Avon, Warwick, the Cotswolds, and Cambridge. It was my first time in Europe (I’ve previously been to Canada and Costa Rica–and let’s face it, only one of those truly counts), so this trip was super exciting for me.

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Day 1

IMG_0310Excuse the blurriness. I took this while walking, and I’m barely coordinated enough to do that even when NOT attempting to snap a photo.

We flew overnight from the ‘States to England, arriving at London Heathrow Airport far too early in the morning. We spent the day touring the city, both by walking and bus, and we saw some cool sights.

IMG_0312Five minutes out of the airport, and we were already getting bombarded with Chicago advertisements. At least it wasn’t Pure Michigan, but seriously. You can’t go anywhere without America’s obnoxiousness repeatedly smacking you in the face. (Who am I kidding. I secretly love our obnoxiousness.)

IMG_0325My first purchase in the UK was a bag of Turkish Delight. Because Narnia.

IMG_0366Trafalgar Square

IMG_0357First glimpse of Big Ben, from Trafalgar Square.

IMG_0409This is the view from the doorway of our London hotel room. We fit three people in here for three days. It was kind of more than a little bit crazy.

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Day 2

We continued with our general touring of the city the second day, with another bus tour. Then we got some free time, and in the evening we went to see a West End show.

IMG_0439This is apparently one of the biggest book stores in the world. I didn’t get a chance to go inside (bus tour, y’know), but LOOK HOW MANY FLOORS THERE ARE!

IMG_0441This year’s a big anniversary for the Queen, and they had these little banners hanging up all over the place.

IMG_0443I took this picture during the bus tour, but The 39 Steps is the West End show we saw. We sat front row for it, and it was absolutely AMAZING. I highly recommend it if you’re in London and looking for a play to see.

IMG_0445The cars, in general, are a lot more compact over there than they are here in the US. Look how cute this taxi is!

IMG_0538Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

IMG_0456A lot of London was cleaned up after the Blitz, but they left other parts damaged to remind everyone of what happened. This was a church that had been hit by shells.

IMG_0464We visited a lot of churches on our trip. This was probably the coolest–St. Paul’s Cathedral.

IMG_0540Big Ben! (Fun fact: “Big Ben” is actually just the bell in the clock tower. The tower itself has been named the “Elizabeth Tower” since 2012, after simply being known as the “Clock Tour” for the 150+ years since its completion.)

IMG_0541During our free time, we rode the London Eye.

I’m terrified of Ferris wheels, but this one was really cool (and not scary in the least), because you’re actually completely enclosed in a “pod” where you can sit or walk around during the ride.

[During our free time on Day 2, my mom and I also went to Kings Cross Station to take a picture at Platform Nine and Three Quarters, but I unfortunately don’t have access to any of those pictures right now. Sorry! I’ll try to add a picture when I get the chance.]

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Day 3

Our last day in London for this stint of the trip, we spent the day touring the Globe Theatre (and seeing The Taming of the Shrew there in the evening, as groundlings), making fun of the art at the Tate Modern, and dodging rain storms at the Tower of London.

IMG_0587Why hello there, Place-Shakespeare-Was-First-Performed. It’s nice to meet you, too!

IMG_0606During our tour, they were working on the set for the next production to go through the Globe. Hint: You’re not supposed to say its name in a theatre.

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… Aaaand that’s where it’s cutting me off today! I was hoping I’d at least get through the end of Day 3, since that would cover our London stuff, but nope. Come back in a couple days for the rest of Day 3, along with (hopefully) a couple other days’ recaps!

~Julia

This Is a Book: Chapter Ten

Yesss, it’s finally here! I managed to escape the horrid revisions long enough to write the next chapter!

Don’t know what This Is a Book is? Follow this link.

Want to read a previous chapter (or more)? Follow this link.

And now, without further ado…

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Chapter Ten: Anna and the French Kiss

“Well that was unexpected,” says Rose.

“I’ve found that in this line of work, you come to expect the unexpected,” I say. I tap my finger against the newspaper picture of the man who is not Javier. “Now the question becomes: why is there a man posing as our dearly deceased weirdo?”

“Hang on a moment,” Randy says. “I’m trying to get my bearings. Are you talking to me or to Casper?”

“Who’s Casper?” asks Rose.

“As in of The Friendly Ghost variety,” I tell her, and then turn back to Randy. “Both of you. I’m talking to both of you.”

“Gee whiz,” he says, “I’m so excited to be sharing your attention with someone I can’t even see.”

“You should be happy. You hate my attention. At least now you only have to deal with half of it.”

Rose’s eyes are turned down at the corners, her lips set in a straight line. She stares at Randy.

“What is it now, Rose?”

“Is your friend always this rude?”

“First off,” I say, counting with my fingers, “Princess Randilyn here and I are not friends. We just put up with each other because the PWNBEIBER organization doesn’t pay well enough for us to get our own apartments in this lovely, lovely city of huge expenses. Second off, yes he is. Third off—” Before I can go on, a glower from Randy shuts me up. “Gosh, what is up with you now?”

“I don’t like this, Mary,” he says. He leans forward so that his elbows are on his knees, hunched uncomfortably on the edge of the couch. “I feel weird about there being somebody in the room who I can’t even know for sure exists. How do we know we can trust her? How do I know I’m not going to sit on her? How do you know you’re not just insane?”

“If I was insane, Randy,” I say drily, “Rose would not be the only ghost in the room by now.”

I let that one settle with the two of them, and then turn back to the newspaper. “Now. For real, guys. We need to figure out what’s up with the clone we’ve got here.”

“Do you think he’s doing the same thing I did with the mob boss’s son?” Randy asks. “Pretending to be someone in order to get something for himself?”

“I doubt he’d purposely let himself show up on the cover of a newspaper if he was trying to pull a con,” I say. “Rose, thoughts?”

The ghost is still watching Randy like she thinks he might throw a knife at her at any moment, or at least steal her treasure chest the first time she blinks.

“Rose?”

“Oh. Yes.” She seems to be coming out of a daze. Can ghosts get Alzheimer’s? She asks, “What was the question?”

“Focus, Rose. Gosh. We are getting absolutely nothing done right now. This is such a waste of time. I’d so rather be watching Glee than dealing with you.”

I take a breath, but before I can continue Randy says, “Rose… um… wherever you are…” He glances wildly around the room—at the other couch, over by the doorway, up near the ceiling. “Um. Well. The question was something to do with if you think the fake Javier got himself in the newspaper on purpose. Right, Mary?” He doesn’t even glance at me, he’s still too busy trying to locate Mary.

“She’s right beside me, dude.” I say. I throw a thumb in Rose’s direction. “You can stop playing Dora the Explorer now.” In a perfect intimidation of everyone’s favorite bilingual child I say, “¿Dónde está the ghosty? Can you find the ghosty?!” Randy’s expression could melt all the ice cream in our freezer. “And yes. That’s exactly what the question was.”

“In that case,” says Rose, “I don’t know. However, if the fraud man did try to get himself in the newspaper on purpose, that still doesn’t explain what happened in your apartment. Or how your newspapers were for a week from now.”

I nod. “Makes sense. Good job, Rose.” I relay her message to Randy and he leans back, crossing his arms.

“How is it that a girl who technically shouldn’t be able to exist is smarter than you, Mary?”

“How is it that you didn’t think of that either, Randy?”

“How do either of you ever get anything done?” Rose asks. She smirks.

“Generally we have a lot of fun arguing like this, and then sudden bursts of brilliance just sort of happen every once in a while. Most of the time while eating something unhealthy. I think it’s because when my body’s freaking out over how much I’m poisoning it, it decides to work extra hard to come up with something smart. It’s my arteries’ attempt to convince me to eat a salad for dinner tomorrow instead of pigging out on Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

“That seems like an utterly horrible process,” Rose states.

“Hence why I don’t generally use it with you.” I shrug. “Now, anyway—anyone figure out what’s going on while I’ve been monologue-ing over here?”

“Of course,” says Randy. I look at him in surprise. “What, did you think I was actually listening to you all this time?”

“No, I just didn’t believe you were thinking either.”

He ignores the taunt to say, “Obviously the men in the two newspaper pictures are different. But did you think to look at who wrote the articles?”

“What?”

“That’s brilliant,” says Rose. I grab the two newspapers and look at them side by side. He’s right.

My eyes widen. “No way. They’re both by someone named Booker Smith.”

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Thanks for reading, and make sure to check Mel’s blog for Chapter Eleven, coming this weekend!

(Now I’m going to go stare at my Spanish homework some more and pretend it makes sense.)

 

~Julia