Writing and Stuff

I’ve been writing a lot lately, which is really great except that pretty much all my creative juices are going into my story and I have nothing left over for this blog. That makes me feel guilty, because this blog is a commitment to myself as much as it is entertainment for my readers, so I’m sorry for being a little more absent lately. It’s for a good cause.

I recently read Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis and it was really freaking good. So many of the chapters resonated with me, but the part that stuck with me the most was about how easily we tend to flake on ourselves. I really hate the idea of being seen as flaky — I used to have a problem saying no, then feeling really bad when I had to cancel last minute. Now, I’ve learned to only agree to things I’m confident I can see through, and to be honest with myself and my friends if I can’t manage something, whether physically or mentally. Still, when it comes to making commitments to myself, I flake all the time. It’s as if I don’t matter to myself as much as literally anyone else — and that’s something else I’m becoming more aware of. I need to value myself and my time.

Another thing she said — which I’ve written out and taped to the ceiling over my bed — is that no one else has power over your dreams. Only you can decide to give up. And, in case her readers still need to hear it from someone else, Rachel says “You do not have permission to give up on your dreams!”

Writing is hard and exhausting and exhilarating. This time, when I sat down, I looked at why I keep giving up sporadically. I am 100% an editor-writer. I struggle with getting a first full draft written because I constantly reread what I’ve already written and tweak and change and start again. This time, I refused to do that.

This time, I start writing around where I left off the day before. If I don’t remember for sure where that is, I’ll jot a brief summary of what I think that last scene was before jumping in. If I can’t think of a name or term, I write (X) and keep moving. If I can’t think of anything amazing, I will write what literally needs to happen.

He says something else that makes me laugh, and I feel a little better.

When I *finally* get to turn my editor brain on (draft 2, and not before), I will have so much fun re-imagining the scene over and over until I know exactly what he says that makes the character laugh, and I’ll be able to show her feeling better about their situation. For now, I’m writing a first draft full of placeholders.

It’s the only way I know how to get to the end of a fully formed book. In the past, I’ve left bullet points or synopses before moving on, but to me, that doesn’t count as finished. This way, the story may be full of shoddy writing, but it will be a fully formed story nonetheless.

So that’s what I’m up to. I’ll try to get a few more posts in here and there, but for the most part, I’m committing to the characters I’ve been following around for almost five years now. I owe it to them — to me — to get a full version of their story on paper.

Advertisements

Rambling Review: Dread Nation

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland is a book about zombies interrupting the Civil War. Don’t let the idea of zombies scare you off, though (Mom), because this story is so much more than the next zombie apocalypse novel.

Our main character, Jane, was born during the Civil War, right around the time the dead came back and put a stop to the battling. Everyone became focused instead on solving the issue of zombies — or “shamblers” as they’re known in the book. Old beliefs linger despite the physical war ending, and the view of post-war America where neither side won is fascinating.

Black and Native American children are sent to boarding schools where they learn combat skills to fight the shamblers. The ultimate goal is to attain a position as bodyguards for the wealthy. Jane is enrolled in one of the best of these schools, and while she is an excellent fighter, she struggles with following the rules. Her antics lead her from a frustrating situation to one that is downright deadly. She has to fight –and not only against shamblers — to keep those she loves safe.

Dread Nation is very well-written with believable and relatable characters. The America Justina Ireland paints is vivid and sometimes heart-wrenching in its authenticity. It isn’t hard to imagine some of the reactions, beliefs, and social norms created in this alternate society. This book is both entertaining and deep, evoking fun conversations about zombies as well as more serious social commentary that could be applicable even today.

Also worth noting, I really love the chapter titles. It’s a small touch, but in my opinion, they are very well done and made me look forward to each new story-within-the-story.

The Best St. Louis Burger – Guest Post

My husband is something of a burger fanatic. He has given me so many unsolicited burger reviews since moving to St. Louis, I convinced him to sit down, order his thoughts, and let me share them with the world (or at least, this blog). So sorry there are no photos of the winning burger (devoured too quickly) or the Chase Club burger…you will just have to Yelp them I suppose!

I’m calling it: gotta give Mac his props, but my favorite St. Louis burger is Brasserie’s. It’s so good, I’m happy just to eat the meat. But the accoutrements are great, too.
~Mr. Burger-Lover

Which burgers are in consideration?
Mac’s Local Eats (Double Pimento Burger)
Brasserie
Dressel’s
Chase Club (Chase Club Burger)
Hi-Pointe (Single with White Cheddar Cheese)

Dressel’s burger

Tell me about Dressel’s; I thought that was the best burger you’d had in at least five years?
Dressel’s burger is very unique. It has an oniony-spice and almost meatloaf consistency — but in a good way. It’s a burger I could have three days a week, because I forget how good it is. It’s light and not greasy, but on the smaller side. The patty itself is pretty thick, so it’s typically very juicy.

(My) Mac’s burger

What about Mac’s; you’ve been going on and on about that one?
That’s my number one quick bite burger. It’s amazing times two. Because it’s a smash burger, it has crisp burnt edges, and you can taste the quality of the meat. You taste the extra time and care that you don’t get at Hi-Pointe (Careful, buddy; I will fight you!). There’s constant turnover there, so they’re already cooking the burgers!. At Mac’s that burger was designed for you from start to finish.

(My) Hi-Pointe’s burger

BUT Hi-Pointe is still the bomb dot com. Go on…
Hi-Pointe has a mean veggie burger. You can see the veggies in it and it comes on that delicious, buttery bun. The regular burger is an extra juicy smash burger, which most people would enjoy but it weirds me out. But most people like that so you don’t need to include that.

TOO LATE! What happened to the Chase Club Burger?
The bacon jam and boursin accoutrement are so good, but I’m over it at this point. I loved the Chase, but now that they’ve raised the price, Brasserie all day erryday

So, Brasserie is the winner?
Brasserie’s key to success is the burger is so thin. It’s almost a French take on Diner food. It’s a super buttery burger, juicy, flavorful, with amazing, melty American cheese. The meat is such good quality, I could enjoy it without everything that comes with it — I don’t even need ketchup.

~

So there you have it: according to my loving husband (his name choice), Brasserie has the best burger in St. Louis. Personally, I freaking love Hi-Pointe (but Mac’s is a really close second place for me).

Do you have a favorite burger? What makes (or breaks) it for you?

Rambling Review: The Selection Series

I know I said An Ember in the Ashes is my all-time favorite YA book. I stand by that. BUT. The Selection Series by Kierra Cass is one of my all-time favorite of the YA series (okay, so I have a lot of favorites…there’s a reason my husband promised in his wedding vows to move all my books wherever we go).

The Heir, which is the fourth book in the series, is what I read almost cover to cover the morning of my wedding day. As much as I loved America, I adore Eadlyn. And like a boy-crazy teenager, I really liked how different all the boys were.

The Selection through The One is basically The Bachelor meets Cinderella. Girls are selected from around the kingdom to compete for the affection of the crown prince. They represent different caste levels and each bring something appealing to the table, be it alliance potential, charisma for the paparazzi, or a desire to make life better for the lower castes. The camaraderie (and sometimes, the fighting) between the girls is beautifully written and wholly believable. It’s a trilogy about friendship as much as it is about love and politics.

The Heir and The Crown follow the next generation: a princess determined to prove she is the strongest person in the kingdom. She don’t need no man, and she tells her parents constantly. But the kingdom is still showing signs of unrest, and the king and queen hope a return to the traditional Selection will boost morale. Eadlyn is determined to torment the boys into leaving of their own volition, but as time passes, she grows to enjoy their company. Love blossoms in the least likely of places, and she has to decide if accepting a husband — even one she truly loves — will hold her back from being the queen she’s always dreamt of.

The writing is fast-paced and engaging, and the characters come to life with each page. I shared their heartbreaks and rejoiced over their triumphs, and actually believed the possibility of a less-than-happy ending. I’ve also read through this series at least twice. It’s a keeper on my shelves for sure!

Rough Draft

I am a rough draft of an unfinished story.

More scribbles and scratch-outs than fully formed pages.

Rearranged and torn in two,

Rewritten and crossed-out and written anew.

I am wrinkled nights and broken mornings,

Blackened fingers and crumpled words.

Half-thoughts and almost-ideas left for tomorrow.

I am a page, bleeding ink,

Splotched with tears and tea-stains.

Spiral bound with bent wires and torn covers.

Loved and hated, fiercely possessed and easily discarded.

I am guarded secrets and hushed truths,

Hidden beneath layers of fiction.

I gather dust on the bottom shelf of an over-stuffed bookcase,

Forgotten indefinitely.

I am a burst of inspiration,

A frenzy of black and white smudged with gray fingerprints.

I am midnight mac-n-cheese and ice cream for breakfast.

I am candle smoke and flickering flame.

I am the cramps in fingers

Squeezed too long around an unforgiving pen.

I am every ache along every vertebra of a bent body.

I am drooping eyelids and lengthening shadows.

I am hope—caffeine-fueled and desperate.

I am defeat—emptiness and melting pillows.

Scalding showers washing sobs and ideas down a drain already clogged with shattered dreams.

I am pride and I am shame.

I am everything that could be and nothing that ever was.

I am a half-formed story, waiting for someday.

Rambling Review: The Chemical Garden Trilogy

Because of my current lack of work, I’ve had a lot more time to read. I’ve devoted a lot of this time to the Outlander series per a good friend’s insistence, but now that I’ve made it through to the fourth book, I’ve taken a break to return to the world of young adult, which I love so much.

Since the move, I’ve been staring at our beautiful bookshelf full of my beloved YA series.

And so, I thought, why search for a new book or series to get involved in, when I have so many I know are great just waiting to be re-experienced?

I know a lot of people might not re-read books. I am not one of those people. Granted, I like to let enough time pass by that I forget the minute details and get to rediscover the little things that make a story great.

This past week, I read the Chemical Garden trilogy by Lauren DeStefano. The first in the series is available on Kindle for $4.99, and you can buy the whole series for $20-23, depending on print/digital.

51VMCRkyPrL.jpg

The trilogy centers around Rhine, a lovely sixteen year old who’s been kidnapped and forced into marriage. Usually, marriage is the best a girl can hope for in her short life — females die at age 20, males at age 25. Rhine, however, just wants to live out her days with her twin brother, and she’s desperate to escape and return to him. The series follows her through escape attempts, adventure, budding romance, and learning all different ways to define the term “love”.

I read DeStefano’s Internment Chronicles series first — also highly recommend — before returning to her debut series. The writing in the first novel is a bit stilted at times, but I can’t say if it’s simply because she was a new author, or if it was because of the character. Sometimes the prose felt a bit distant, but that actually works for the story, since Rhine is clearly trying to distance herself from her current situation. As the story progresses and she falls deeper into the messes she and others have made, the narration is tighter, more internalized, and feels more true to who she may actually be.

As I’m sure I’ve made clear through my previous reviews, I love a good love interest. This series is particularly great at giving little snippet-views of a possible romance, without the love story overtaking the action and adventure of the actual plot. Unlike a lot of YA that has a love triangle, there isn’t an exact shape drawn between two obvious choices. Rather, much like real life, my feelings towards her “options” were fluid, rising and falling with each good and bad experience, inevitability wrapped in “what-if”s and “if only”s.

There are some great twists, and anything that might seem too coincidental I think is explained very well with enough plausibility. The ending is bittersweet, life balanced with death, joy measured through pain, and I think that might be what I like best.

 

Reflections on Virginia, and Life in General

Today my husband and I leave for Missouri (thank goodness for the option to schedule future posts!). As of writing this, I have two full days left in Virginia. Other than the first five or six years of my life, Virginia has always been home. I went to school here. I made lasting friendships with some beautiful, garbage people. I fell in love and found my forever person here. Despite being born in Maryland, Virginia will always be the best part of the D.C. metro area, and Maryland will always suck simply because it isn’t Virginia.

My excitement for the adventure my husband and I are about to embark on has far outweighed any nerves or sadness up until now. Maybe I was tucking all the fear and grief and anxiety into a box as easily as I packed our apartment. Cocooned in bubblewrap and triple-taped so it can’t burst free until I’m ready to unpack it all. Maybe it didn’t feel real, until I found myself surrounded by boxes and drinking water from a solo cup. Regardless, I’ve been able to avoid the harder feelings, but now that the move is here, so are they.

Don’t get me wrong; I am excited. A move like this, to a place that feels random, seems so right. It’s healthy. Adulting. From here, we could go anywhere. And now is the best time, before we are entrenched in careers and surrounded by babies.

But I keep thinking about my college graduation. In a way, this is similar. A huge life change, full of unknowns and fears that friendships will look different when we no longer all live within 5 minutes of each other. At a party just before graduation, one friend — who I met early on freshman year — took my hand and said “we’ve been friends for FOUR YEARS! That’s so long! I’ve known you longer than most of the people here!” It seemed so epic, and at that time in my life, it was. When I said goodbye to that same friend earlier this week, I felt that same teary nostalgia. I’ve known you longer than most of our friends.

It’s hard saying goodbye to that — in some ways, harder even than leaving my family. I know my mom will drop everything to talk to me whenever I call her, because she’s my mom and that’s what moms do. The dynamics of my family relationships won’t change so drastically. Friends have lives that take precedence. They’ll have babies and buy houses and get married, and my part in their immediate lives will diminish. It won’t be as simple as sending out a group text asking who’s around to hang out this weekend. We’ll have to plan time and take off work and buy plane tickets. Still, I know they’ll be there when I need them, just like I’ll be there for them.

I’ll also miss Virginia. I know on the trips I’ve taken to Missouri, I’ve thought it looks fairly similar, but I’ll miss walking along the Potomac River in Old Town Alexandria, or watching the planes take off and land from Gravelly Point, or easy “hikes” along Skyline Drive or Great Falls Park. It’s been nice to go back to JMU for Rocktown Beer and Music Festivals or for Homecoming or just to reminisce. Even though we rarely took advantage, having D.C. so close has always been a tantalizing option for food or sports or fun.

So even though I’m truly looking forward to the adventure of discovering a new place — even though I have dozens of things to do already listed — it’s hard leaving this beautiful state that’s been my home in every sense of the word for nearly my entire life.