Category Archives: Personal

Another Squandered Summer…Sort Of

Oh, horror of horrors, school starts for me this week. I could have sworn that it was June just a little while ago, but isn’t that always how it goes? It’s easy to lose track of time when you spend most of your time indoors avoiding face-to-face interaction, and frankly, I shouldn’t be surprised that this summer was just a blur of blogging, reading, and writing. It’s all I do with my spare time, and summer is nothing but two and a half months of exactly that.

I’m really not that cut up about returning to school this week. Funnily enough, the less writing time I have, the more writing I actually do, so I’m at my most productive all around during the school year. Maybe it’s because I’m aware of how little time I have, and with that time pressure on the brain, I’m motivated to actually write rather than scroll aimlessly down Twitter and Tumblr. Also, being around other people all the time and learning new things fuels the creative side of the brain–no amount of solitary rumination could replace being out in the world for getting ideas. The ramifications for my writing aside, I’ve always liked school (feel free to throw fruit) so I’m happy to be getting back.

Still, this summer wasn’t my most productive. I can look back at it with a good measure of regret. I would never call it a wasted summer, though: I’ve accepted that I’m officially through my sword-and-sorcery phase and that multiple rewrites of my novel of that ilk wrung my enthusiasm for it dry. Writing had turned into a chore. I’ve decided to put that novel aside for the moment and concentrate on some fresh, new works, all of which I’m very excited about and will be working on throughout the school year.

Overall, I’m poised and ready to take on the rest of 2012 and beyond. For those of you who are still students, how does school interfere with your writing? For everyone, what are your end-of-summer reflections?

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An Adventure of a Spookier Kind

I love old cemeteries–anyone who’s followed me here or on Twitter for a decent amount of time should know that. They’re steeped with history and hundreds of human lives; they’re places that make me think. I have one local cemetery that I tend to frequent, and, while I’m quite fond of it, I decided it was time to move on from the same headstones, paths, and trees. The second nearest cemetery to my house is about a half hour’s walk, but it’s well worth it, even in this accursed summer heat.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of this trip, but for visualization purposes, imagine a much larger, more secluded version of this cemetery, plus an actual mausoleum and multiple crypts. I arrived at the cemetery somewhat unsure of what I was looking for–and therefore automatically getting a lot more than I bargained for. I was fairly certain that the mausoleum would be locked or rusted shut from age, but I still had a glimmer of hope buried deep down that said, Maybe you’ll be able to go inside. Truth be told, I don’t really know what to expect from such a place and had hoped to learn something. The idea of pushing boundaries for the greater benefit of my writing was still weighing heavily on my mind.

I did rush straight to the mausoleum and found that the door, while movable, was most definitely locked. It was a small letdown, but I tried not to let it dampen my overall attitude for a chipper day spent reading about dead people on location. I attempted to peek through the mausoleum’s windows but was too short (and still am too short, unless I’ve grown several feet in the past few days, which is highly improbable and something I would have noticed).

After admiring the impregnable mausoleum for a few minutes more, I moved on the general burial areas. I took some field notes that will likely be of little interest to the reader, but I’ll include them just in case. Pardon the grammar of these selections.

Tempe is a beautiful name.

Oliver and Bennie, no surname or dates provided. Likely died young.

Crypt with door rusted thoroughly shut, name above door questionable. Carving weathered.

Keep getting the “watched” feeling. Shudder. This is fun.

Will definitely be returning later–Halloween?

Poor Willber (sic). What a terrible time to have your name misspelled.

Definitely feeling watched. All I can see are crows.

Just saw a white shape out of the corner of my eye. Disappeared when looked at directly. Must be getting paranoid?

What is that sound. Sounds like the TARDIS crossed with horror flick ghost noises.

K. I’m getting freaked out now.

I think I was indeed getting paranoid and misinterpreting perfectly normal local cemetery occurrences as events with a somewhat supernatural bent to them. I probably should have just left at that point, but my incessant taphophilia pushed me onward to continue my exploration. I was taking notes on the varied headstone iconography when the strange noise described above persisted. I decided that the spooky atmosphere was either messing with my mind or something really was going on, so I exited the cemetery with all due haste and and briskly walked home.

Sorry, folks. I have no real ghostly encounters to describe. A true adventurer would have stayed in the cemetery, but I’m no lion-heart. I’ll still think about going back on Halloween.

On the Nature of Change

“Times change. People change. But no matter what happens in life, no matter how far away you move, I’ve found, there’s always something to remind you of what’s gone and past.”

That’s the opening line of a story I wrote a while ago. I’m not sure how much I agree with it anymore–or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part, hoping that the past really can be dead and gone, put out of our minds forever. It’s not as if there’s anything traumatic in my past, but we all have our personal battles, do we not? If you’ll forgive me for remaining ever-cryptic, that’s as far as I’ll go. In this case, details are superfluous and won’t add anything to what I’m trying to say. I do want to bury the past, or better yet, burn it. I want to be a different person with a different take on life, but I’m just not sure how.

Change can be unsettling. We get used to certain patterns of life, come to expect things to be a particular way, and when that changes, it can be like cold water in the face. It’s jarring, certainly, and rarely welcome–but sometimes it’s necessary refreshment. Falling into stale habits is never good, especially for creative types.  Without new experiences and changes, inspiration runs dry.

I’m not very good at expressing myself emotionally, and I never pretend to be. How I feel at this point in my life is difficult for me to describe. I want to hold on to some aspects of the old me, and yet I want a metamorphosis of sorts. I used to always have my nose in a book or be scribbling away on loose notebook paper. I would eat lunch with my teachers so I wouldn’t have to deal with noisy cafeterias or my peers. I scorned television and movies, and the only music I knew about was the kind my parents listened to. I was almost completely devoted to the written word. I feel like it’s a betrayal to say it, but reading and writing just don’t overshadow everything else in my life anymore. I’ve opened up to different media of self-expression and entertainment, and I’ve opened up to people.

Part of me wants that old life back. I’ve lost a lot of good things I used to have–commitment, a long attention span, reservation, being self-possessed–but I’ve also managed to get rid of bad things: closed-mindedness, severe phobia of social interaction, and a good degree of arrogance. I’ve learned that I’m not the most intelligent person in the room and probably never will be. I’ve realized that I’m not the only one who has problems, and sometimes others need help and sympathy a lot more than I do. Although I’m still getting there, I’m more comfortable with who I am than I used to be and try to spend less time navel-gazing. I know more about myself–most prominently, that there’s a lot more I still need to learn.

Change is bittersweet. Good things come and go with the bad; wonderful experiences fade into the past as new frontiers appear on the horizon. Not every change will please us, and sometimes things will seem downright hopeless. Don’t give up. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my entire life experience, it’s that things always look better in the morning.

I Push Boundaries in the Land of the Killer Flies

I recently read an article in Writer’s Digest about rule-breaking and pushing boundaries in order to unleash one’s true creative potential. The article explained that having more interesting life experiences would inevitably lead to having more interesting writing ideas, giving the adventurous author an edge over the types who sit at home day in and day out. While, to be perfectly fair, I usually classify myself as more of the passive writer, today certainly proved more exciting than usual.

Currently, I’m on vacation in that “secluded lakeside cabin” in Maine I believe I’ve mentioned before. (Although, at the moment, it doesn’t seem quite so secluded, due to an influx of July 4th vacationers.) I took a kayak trip with my parents to the end of the lake and down an adjoining river. Here–I’ll provide an extremely accurate map of our route drawn in MS Paint with a mouse.

I should become a cartographer.

At first, everything was perfectly ordinary. There were minnows in the shallows,  motor boats making lots of waves, young children standing on docks apparently trying to beat the fish into submission with their lures. I acted as the family radio, belting out “I’m at a payphone, trying to call home” and similar miscellaneous lyrics from the Top Forty. Then we entered the river. It’s a lot narrower and shallower than my lovely map suggests–motor boats can’t fit through it. Trees and logs lean over the water and poke out from the bottom. If you go in far enough, you can’t hear any sounds of civilization.

It all changed when the flies attacked.

I have never seen so many biting insects grouped in one location before in my life. We were forced to abandon all but the occasional paddling in order to whack the horseflies and mosquitoes away. It was always a great triumph when their stunned bodies hit the water and floated away, carried by the sluggish current. A few bites were inevitable, however. I think all of us are pretty itchy now–I know I am.

I was highly bothered. I’m a blogger, I thought. I should be sitting indoors with my laptop writing something, not out here in Insect Hell. My fortune and outlook were reversed when my parents decided to beach the kayaks at a spit of sand and take a swim. Aquatic sports in general greatly appeal to me, but I much prefer swimming to kayaking. I helped my dad drag our tandem kayak up into the sand and, still swatting flies, took off my life jacket. (Water safety, kids.) After a brief incident during which I nearly lost a flip flop to the silt, I waded into the river.

The current was up to several miles an hour at this part of the river, and the water was, if not frigid, pretty cold. The area was clear of logs. The only things that disturbed the perfect peace were a) the continued assault of the flies, and b) the smell of a nearby cow farm that called to mind the agricultural division of the county fair. It was at this point that the Writer’s Digest article came to mind; I’m always seeking to improve my writing in any way possible. So, I jumped in.

Yes, it was really chilly. Yes, I had to swim hard against the current, not that I wasn’t up for the challenge. No, being soaked did not make the flies go away. But it was certainly worth it.

Even once we’d made it back to the lake and were clear of the flies’ domain, we had one last little adventure. A loon–a rare sight–surfaced extremely close to our kayaks. We could have touched it with a paddle. The bird was much larger than I’d expected, and had distinctly red eyes. There’s no other word for it–it was cool.

Whether or not this one adventure has a noticeable effect on my flow of writing ideas remains to be seen. Either way, I would never want to un-live it.

The Teenage Writer and the Quest for a Productive Summer

Salvete, my dear friends! I’ve conquered my first ever high school final exams (the results of which have yet to be seen) and I’m ready to jump back into blogging, reading, and writing. It’s been such a long, busy year that it’s altogether quite strange to be sitting here with no commitments, nowhere to be, and nothing pressing to do.  And to think–I have over two months of this boundless freedom ahead of me! But I must caution myself, for having an abundance of free time only makes it that much easier for time to slip away. To that effect, I’ve set some goals for the summer that I can berate myself for not accomplishing if I spend the entirety of June, July, and August in my room on Skype with my friends, drawing on my hands and throwing wads of paper into the trash from across the room.

First and foremost in my list of goals is to “finish” editing my novel. By that I mean getting it to a state at which I’ll be comfortable handing it back to my beta readers and getting further advice on it. I have quite a ways to go, but it’s really a feasible goal if I put in an hour or two every day. To be perfectly honest, I’ve been in a truly horrendous writing slump of late, and I plan to pull myself together and write this summer.

I’ve also put together a self-imposed summer reading list. I have a few books I have to read for school, but aside from that, my reading life is open. This summer, I’m going to tackle a few classic plays: Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. I’d also like to read something–anything–by H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and H.P. Lovecraft, respectively. If you have any recommendations on a good way to start off with any of these authors, by all means, let me know. If possible, I’m also going to finish reading Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series and some other YA books I have around.

I have a few side projects planned, namely, making an archive of the older sections of my local cemetery and teaching myself to play piano and sing at the same time. Mostly, though, I’ll be focusing on my writer-ly and reader-ly endeavors, and I’ll be sure to chronicle this Quest for a Productive Summer.

In Which I Meet Figbash, Among Others

Have you ever been alone in a particularly historic area? It can be a somewhat eerie experience– especially if such artifacts as human skulls and original artwork from The Gashlycrumb Tinies are around.

I spent the majority of my day today at the Edward Gorey House. Thanks to my volunteer job there, I can go almost anywhere in the house, including the off-limits upstairs. (Fandom secret: it’s essentially an office.) Even doing such a mundane task as paperwork becomes interesting when it’s done in the Gorey House. Paraphernalia related to the late writer and artist abounds throughout the museum–everything from his collecting of Beanie Babies to one of his signature raccoon fur coats. I was mildly interested in Gorey before I started working at the House; The Gashlycrumb Tinies is one of my favorite books. I’ve always loved how the more macabre elements of his work walk the line between the playfully ironic and the genuine. According to a newspaper article on display at the museum, Tim Burton and Lemony Snicket, the latter having visited the museum in 2006, are among today’s creative minds heavily influenced by Gorey’s work.

But the more time I spend at the House, the more fascinated I become with Gorey as both an artist and a personality. I knew that Gorey had worked on the animated introduction to WGBH’s Masterpiece Mystery series, but I had no idea

Figbash forms an “R”

that he’d won a Tony Award for costume design in the musical “Dracula.” Apparently, Gorey was miffed that he hadn’t won for Set Design, having lost to a musical featuring a working locomotive on stage. I learned that Gorey was an avid collector and enjoyed going to yard sales in his VW Bug, the license plate of which reading “OGDRED.” This was derived from one of Gorey’s preferred pseudonyms, Ogdred Weary.

Figbash is an interesting recurring theme throughout the house. I suppose youcould call Figbash a stuffed animal, but he doesn’t look like any animal you’d recognize. Gorey stitched Figbash and stuffed him with Uncle Ben’s rice while watching television, one of his favorite pass-times. This particular creation was a favorite of Gorey’s because his arms, legs, and head can be arranged to form any letter of the alphabet.

What works of Gorey have you read, if any? Any eerie (or not) tales of authors or their museums you’d be inclined to share?

The Author To Whom I Owe It All

Do you have one favorite author who, in particular, got you into reading, writing, or both? I do. That author is the brilliant Gail Carson Levine.

I was about eight years old when I first read Ella Enchanted, Levine’s Newbery Honor-winning retelling of “Cinderella,” which was, unfortunately, very poorly adapted into a film. I adored that book–I still do. I’ve read it at least four times. Levine had made the story of Cinderella infinitely more appealing by giving the heroine a curse that forces her to obey all direct orders, allowing for Ella to be a proactive character while sticking with the evil-step-family premise. I’m fairly certain that Ella Enchanted was the first book I read that was told in the first person, and the first starring a female exclusively.

Ella Enchanted introduced me to the concept of the fairy tale retelling, which has since become one of my preferred sub-genres. It gives one the ability to take favorite old stories and put a little power into the hands of the girl instead of forcing her to wait for a male to come along and rescue her. Other virtues of the genre include the ability to flesh out characters, explore motivations, and expand on the coming-of-age themes intended by the fairy tales’ original authors, whether they be Hans Christian Anderson, the Grimm Brothers, or some other scribe of old. I tried my own hand at it with a somewhat lengthy short story based on “King Thrushbeard.” It was a somewhat poor retelling, having very few differences from the original, and I’d love to rewrite it someday.

But I digress. Levine’s other works are nearly as good as Ella Enchanted. Her other retellings include Fairest (“Snow White”) and the series of novellas “The Princess Tales” (which are not nearly as imbecilic as they sound). She is also the author of Ever, The Two Princesses of Bamarre (another of my favorites), Dave at Night, and The Wish. I’ve read many of these multiples times, and it was the way I devoured Levine’s novels that originally earned me the title “bookworm.”

By the time I turned thirteen or fourteen, though, I’d stopped reading Levine. Her books retained a treasured place on my shelves, nothing more. She had gotten me into reading, and had been one of my major inspirations to write. It was at this point that she swooped in with a work of non-fiction to save my writing: Writing Magic. 

Don’t let the “Ages 8 and up” label deceive you. Writing Magic is a witty, intelligent, and extremely useful helper for creative writers of all ages. It offers advice on everything from inspiration to publication, and still manages to be an entertaining read. The prompts she provides for writing practices have turned into some of my full-length stories. I can honestly say that reading this book, going through the exercises, and taking its advice seriously improved my writing immensely. Experienced writers might not find it as useful or ground-breaking, but I highly recommend it to creative writers just getting started or in need of a boost.

To me, Gail Carson Levine is one of the patron goddesses of the fairy tale retelling, an ingenious writing teacher, and, all in all, a brilliant author. I owe her nearly everything in the realms of reading and writing both–and beyond. Her heroines were my idols as I grew up; she helped define my essential being. I wouldn’t be who I am without her books.

I would give anything to be an author like that.