Thursday, August 25, 2016

Thursentary: That One Character Who Didn't Get Enough Backstory

I don’t know about you, but I am in it for the character-driven plotline. I love those things! I love getting to pore over a character’s history and heart and find out why they’re doing what they’re doing and whether they should stop. Of course, I can’t always do this.

It’s all because of That One Character Who Didn’t Get Enough Backstory.

That One Character can come from anywhere. They could be a main character, a minor player, a villain, an extra. No matter their role in the story, that character sticks out to you. She’s special. He did something that caught your eye and you remembered it forever. You wanted to see what they would do next… but never got the whole story. For whatever reason, the author stayed quiet when you wanted to know more.

And now here we are with a beloved character and an ignorance of what drives them.

For me, That One Character is Emmett Cullen from the Twilight Saga. It’s very easy to forget that Emmett is a complete and total bro.

We can forget because Bella spends more time with the other vampires, so one could assume that Emmett doesn’t like her very much. Especially considering his wife doesn’t. But this is not so.

Emmett greets Bella like a friend. His competitive and protective sides make him the most vocal when James, Victoria, and Laurent threaten Bella’s life. He doesn’t hesitate to defend any one member of his family, whether they be vampire, human, or dhampir. One of my favorite scenes in the movies is when he joins Bella to present Nessie to Aro.

Emmett Cullen does not suck as a person. And we know practically nothing about his former life.

I don’t think it’s fair. Almost every other Cullen reveals important, emotionally-charged tidbits that help us understand who they are and why in their second life. We get Carlisle’s compassion, Esme’s love, Rosalie’s bitterness, Alice’s mystery, Jasper’s combativeness, Edward’s loneliness…

Apparently the fact that Emmett got mauled by a bear and almost lived speaks for itself. Except, it doesn’t.

And I’ve felt that way about maybe other characters. Emmett isn’t That One Character alone. Tell me more about Captain Mal from Firefly. Give me a little more into who Chief Karen Vick is on Psych. Where did Sophie Devereaux come from before Leverage? What happened to Minerva after she met Artemis Fowl?

I’m not asking for new novels, new movies, new TV series. That would be a bit much. But still, looking back on what is and what could have been, I have to ask myself—what don’t we know about that character? What about their beginning made this the most compelling ending?

I wish I knew.

Do you have a favorite character you wish received more backstory? 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

REVIEW: Saga, Volume 6

A book review? Really? I know, I never do them, but today is an exception. I have finished Saga V.6 by Brian K. Vaughan and I have no one for to talk at. This is my bid at spoiler-free feelings.

Wish me luck.
Summary (via Goodreads)

After a dramatic time jump, the three-time Eisner Award winner for Best Continuing Series continues to evolve, as Hazel begins the most exciting adventure of her life: kindergarten. Meanwhile, her starcrossed family learns hard lessons of their own.

Top 9 Thoughts

Alana and Marko :: their commitment to family and themselves and their individuality and healing after past rifts is still adorable. Together and free is the dream. And they have pretty faces.

Hazel :: this kid. She can talk and she has almost no filter. This makes her more than a little adorable, and relatable as well. Of course, it’s also a little painful. Hazel must be sheltered from the very communities she is a part of lest she get hurt, so she can’t always relate to those around her. And with her family… let’s just say she is a chubby bowl of bittersweet.

Klara :: I never anticipated this woman becoming one of my favorite characters, but here we are. I love Klara. I love the space Klara has to be Klara. Is she flawed? Yes. Hardened? Yes. Hateful, even? That, too. And yet so much of Klara is about the fierce kinship she shares with those she loves. Her son and his wife. Her granddaughter. The community of women she is proud to be a part of. Family makes her hard and soft, and they are all her family.

The Will :: so I realize he remains a part of this series because sooner or later he’s going to attack Alana and Marko’s family and kill them, but still. HE IS A POOR BABY. His loss hurts, too. I sympathize with him greatly. WHY CAN’T HE BE OKAY?

Prince Robot :: while still a major a-hole, he also has this stupid nobility and honor that makes him… decent. Especially around children. I wish I could hate him more. But I can't so I shan't.

teachers :: there are people who believe in kids and who pass on the most important values because they actually believe in them. There are teachers who foster hope. Noreen is one of them.

diversity :: much like in our own world, controversy abounds among gender roles and identities, sexual orientations, interracial/inter-species romance, and so on. The diverse range of characters is great, of course, but the real thought-provoking part is how members of these oppressed groups still turn on one another and doing so. Self-preservation, perhaps. I don’t have a conclusion to this thought, but I’d like to follow it in the rest of the series.

media :: on that note, we reunite with our amphibious journalists who hope to expose Alana and Marko, on account of it would be very profitable. I struggle to sympathize with their motivations but in our world of social media and instant news, I think they present questions worth asking. Is what I say mine to share? Is it right? Do people need the sensational?

ending :: *bursts into tears and is very sad and happy and melancholy and concerned and anxious and MOAR*

TL;DR :: I am in this for the character development and due to the emotional manipulation my heart is having problems with keeping it together. I loved it. I want more of it. I need it. That is all.

5/5 Stars

Have you read Saga? (If so, can we be friends?) If you haven't, what are you reading today?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Blogging Community Tag (Again)

I’m bringing sexy back.

Also, I am bringing back a tag created by Jo at The Bearable Blog: the Blogging Community Tag. Hey, wait. Didn’t you do that last year? Yes, yes I did. And I’ve decided to do it again! As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, the blogging community is what makes this experience so great, and I wanted to recognize a few amazing bloggers for that reason.

Let us return to the rules:
  • answer the seven eight questions [topic added in the spirit of more love and even numbers]
  • tag some folks (no particular number required)
  • link back to Jo, because even though she said it was optional that is just good manners
  • include the globe picture

In which I acknowledge DEDICATED BLOGGERS

ENGIE at MUSINGS FROM NEVILLE’S NAVEL—she maintains this blog while still in college; also, she posted, like, every day during Pride Month

JAMESON at LOVELY WHATSOEVERS—Jameson is very good about updating us with her writing and snippets, especially considering she blogs elsewhere, too

IMOGEN at GOSSIPING WITH DRAGONS—she offers helpful writing advice while working on her own novels, and also makes videos sometimes



ALEXA at SUMMER SNOWFLAKES—this girl makes time to post about her passions AND shares her favorite posts in the community every week, without fail (to which I say, “wow”)

GRACE at SOMEWHAT RESERVED—I admire how she’s jumped into the blogging community wholeheartedly and shares her thoughts (ironically) without reserve

LENE at NEVER GONNA MAKE YOU CRY—a new find of mine, but still, she is both enchanting and touching with her willingness to reach out to other bloggers of all backgrounds


In which I acknowledge BEAUTIFUL BLOG DESIGNS

ALYSSA at THE DEVIL ORDERS TAKEOUT—though Alyssa operates mostly through her emails now, I still love this design

AMY at LITTLE MOON ELEPHANT—there are leetle elephants and they are so cute and on top of that Amy shares her adventures traveling on a budget and it is great

RM at THE BOOK HOUND—for a blog about adventure, she achieves the Indiana-Jones-esque look and it works for her



SHAR and SHANTI at VIRTUALLY READ—these two are always a delight to read, and provide both great recommendations and excellent talking points when it comes to themes in books

CAIT at PAPER FURY—aside from dazzling us all with radiant reviews and book discussions, she also has dragons, and possibly an army

EMILY at LOONY LITERATE—Emily comes up with great book-related discussions, my personal favorite being YA books if they changed genres (parts one and two)



LIZ at OUT OF COFFEE, OUT OF MIND—man, Liz has been through some shit (really, there is no other word) and she converts it into perceptive reflections and meaningful book talks

ASHANA LIAN at ASHANA LIAN’S FANTASY LAB—Ashana has had some difficult times which she’s written frankly about, but now that she’s returning I look forward to seeing what she shares

OPAL at OPAL SWIRLS—getting through school and navigating friendships leads to profound reflections, and Opal makes her message stick



LUCY at LUCY’S COLOURED PENCILS—she shares fanart for some of my favorite books, including H.I.V.E. and Percy Jackson, and I’m always delighted by the scenes she brings to life

ALEX at THIRD STAR TO THE RIGHT—on her blog she’s honest about being a writer, which includes the part where she’s gotten a few short stories published (and they are great!)

SUNNY at A SPLASH OF INK—you may know her as an intelligent purveyor of books, but she also shares her photography at A Splash of Photography, which is also cool



VICTORIA at THE ENDLESS OCEANS OF MY MIND—she often shares stories of her misadventures that are smile-worthy, but she also sneaks jokes into her more serious discussions, too

AIMEE at TO THE BARRICADE—Aimee remains the unchallenged master of gifs and also has a cutting wit that presents itself on her blog and on Twitter

SUNSET at THE SUNSET SKY—Sunset combines the sincere with the snarky, and makes writing fun while remembering it’s also miserable


In which I acknowledge INSPIRATIONAL BLOGS

EMILY at EMILY RACHELLE WRITES—over the last few months Emily provided a space for LGBTQ+ Christians to share their stories, and it was so important

TOPAZ at SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS—Topaz has been brutally honest and transparent about her mental health but still exists as a conduit for beautiful and silken things

STEPHANIE at FIREFLIES IN A JAR—though I still find all her words hard to swallow, they are often beautiful and make me grateful and curious and good

BOOM. Do I not have an excellent community? I do, I do. And, for that reason, I’m tagging everyone on this list to highlight the best bloggers in their neighborhoods. (Please, do not feel obligated to come up with 24 bloggers. One must be prolific when one is getting the word out.)


What is one of your favorite blogs? Link me up so I can visit!

Friday, August 19, 2016

WBI Avengers Roundup

We’re trying this again.

Every third Friday I talk about a villain in my WBI series, which is fun, but limited. One villain does not a pattern make. That’s why I also like to talk about similarities and differences within groups.

Today we’re talking about AVENGERS, villains who seek to bring about justice, however twisted that definition may be. Our players are Zira (The Lion King II), Victoria (Twilight), Sophie Devereaux (Leverage), Inspector Javert (Les Mis), Judge Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), and Maleficent (Maleficent). Don’t worry if you aren’t familiar with the characters—this analysis is very general.

Shall we?

Women outnumber men two to one. Of the 34 villains I’ve analyzed thus far, only six have been women. Four belong here. This speaks most about my own preferences, but still. Interesting.

Four of these characters exist in more than one form of media. Javert and Frollo exist in books, movies, and musicals. Victoria and Sophie appear on screen and in books.

There isn’t a set “occupation” for Avengers, but they fall into distinct groups.

Javert and Frollo (both Victor Hugo villains) seek to uphold the laws of both France and God. Since they are a policeman and judge (in the movie) it’s no surprise justice motivate them. However, the extent to which their personal prejudices inform their senses of justice makes them corrupt.

All four women seek to challenge or bring down the ruling authority in their story. Both Zira and Maleficent feel wronged by the kings in power and hope to end, if not destroy, their rule. Victoria opposes the Cullen family, members of the vampire upper class who killed her mate. Her grudge with their behavior is also with their power. These women are leaders seeking vengeance.

Sophie resists the corporate and sometimes legal giants who wrong ordinary people with their power. Since she does this with a team, I separated her out by her specialty: grifting.

All of these villains are motivated by personal gain. You’d think this means they just want revenge, but it’s usually deeper than that. This gain is how justice benefits the villain. If justice happens, they may get equality, a natural food source, or emotional satisfaction. Justice fills a gap in their lives—and frequently the point is to close the gap, not to right the wrong.

These villains are also motivated by idealism because they feel they deserve to fill that gap. They have a standard for good living. And since Avengers respond to people who do not meet the standard, evil is a motivation that allows for “just” punishment.

Justice needs help. Note that every villain has either minions or family ties that makes the plan work. Frollo, Javert, Victoria, Zira, and Maleficent employ people to cover all their bases—every one but Maleficent dies when they try to strike out alone. Likewise, Sophie needs the rest of her team to combat corruption, but Leverage operates with more group equality.


What does an Avenger look like?

SO FAR: Avengers want to bring about justice, which means they are all about authority. Some Avengers belong to a legal authority and enact justice through an abuse of power. Other Avengers are put in a place of need by the ruling authority. These villains respond by becoming self-appointed authorities to thereby meet that need. This need makes Avengers feel as though they deserve what they want and justifies any hurt they may cause to other parties.

Avengers function by working in groups, either as leaders or as team members. This prevents an Avengers’ opponents from overpowering them. Maybe the group dynamic contributes to the high concentration of female villains under this label.

Ultimately, Avengers are looking for change where they see a lack, making a personal battle very public.


How can this help us write an Avenger?

one—find what the Avenger needs. An Avenger fights because s/he has been wronged and still suffers the consequences. What are the consequences?

two—identify the party that wronged them. Some person in authority (who?) (I don’t know who) stands in the way of fixing an Avenger’s problems. Who is that party? Why do they oppose the Avenger?

three—establish the Avenger’s support system. Avengers need a family or minions or an army to overpower the authority. Who stands behind the Avenger? Why?

four—figure out the plan. Arbitrary attack rarely satisfies a physical or mental need. How will the Avenger organize their efforts to eliminate the problems?

five—decide what evil looks like. Avengers aren’t villains because they want to feed their children or punish murderers. They’re villains because they hurt people in the process of getting those things. What is the worst that your Avenger is willing to do to fix their problem? Why can’t we support that?

Avengers intrigue me because they’re sympathetic and among the most likely to retire from villainy. It’s hard to condemn a villain with a legitimate grievance. Some villains, like Sophie and Maleficent, relinquish their selfish abuse of power as soon as they find their needs met. Javert and Zira also had the option to change at the end of their stories. Jean Valjean and Kiara were willing to respond to their needs instead of their behaviors, and that mattered. It didn’t save anyone, but it mattered, because these principles aren’t fictional. There are needs to be met in the world and when you have a need, the question “what does evil look like?” can have a very different answer. It doesn’t take an evil genius to figure that out.

Do you like reading about characters motivated by justice?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Do You Like to Read Plays?

Winedale Shakespeare Festival
Flickr Credit: AJ LEON
As I’m sure you’ve heard, the Harry Potter fandom is aflurry with emotion after the release of The Cursed Child. I haven’t read the play yet (although I’ve read all the spoilers and am not impressed), but listening to the way people talk about it makes me curious.

Do you often read plays? What’s more, do you like reading them?

I’ve always thought plays are normal things to read. I had to read some in high school, I’ve read and will read some in college, and I’m interested in finding them on my own. I made a point of picking up a couple of plays by women during my summer reading challenge, and I’d do the same again. I like plays. They’re great to read and even better to see in person.

Is this an unusual opinion to have?

I don’t really know what it is that’s nagging at me. I’m well aware of how people favor novels. Especially among my peers, there aren’t many who would curl up on a rainy day with Shakespeare. They probably don’t search among the recipients of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama when they can’t find anything to read. And, to be fair, I don’t either.

Perhaps my concern is that people are making a big deal out of it. This is a piece of the Harry Potter “canon” (yeah… I’m personally not accepting it, but, you know, whatever), a part of a series that spoke to an entire generation worldwide. And it’s a children’s series. Why is that? Is this the only performance literature to be found that speaks to children and young adults? Is this the only performance literature that’s supposed to speak to children and young adults?

To be fair, I haven’t researched this. I have no statistics. If there is a kidlit movement among the performance literature crowd, I’m not trying to join them. I’m just responding to the things I see and hear on the internet and in my life. And what I’m seeing and hearing is that Cursed Child is something unusual to a lot of people. Maybe that’s not a good thing.

I’m here to ask whether or not you read plays, not to write a dissertation on what plays look like in our decade. Still, I think it’s worth wondering how we define literature. What volumes do we encourage our youth to read so it might make a difference? Who are our diverse playwrights? How do we support them? And do we recognize the connection between diverse playwrights and diverse casting?

It’s fantastic that Hermione and Rose are being portrayed by black actresses in London. I love that, I support that. But also, this is a text written by two white guys, as planned by a white woman. And in the words of Leslie Odom, Jr. (Aaron Burr in Hamilton), “you know what's better than color-blind casting? Roles that are actually written about you. Roles that are actually written about your experience.” Stuff that is written by and for a diverse population.

If we aren’t experiencing plays in the first place, though, it seems like plays about experience might have a harder time of it.

All that to say, do you like to read or go see plays?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Good Villains Make Hard Writing

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Flickr Credit: Roddy Keetch
Let’s start by saying that none of us are perfect writers. It is a truth universally acknowledged, right after wealthy single dudes seeking wives and putting dark text on light backgrounds.

As imperfect writers, we all have our struggles. A few of mine: I’ve never been good about keeping a writing schedule, I’m a slow writer, and I put off finding CPs longer than I should. They’re places to grow and someday I will, but they aren’t what nags at me most.

Believe it or not, the place where I need to grow most is writing villains.

This may sound odd since I devote every third Friday (including this upcoming one, in fact) to discussing villains. I also place a copious amount of admiration upon their morally gray behaviors and traits. Considering how much time I spend thinking about them, you’d probably think, “Oh, she must have no problem writing those.”

Nope. Not really.

I tend to dehumanize my villains. Take the WIP I recently retired—the villain was a government authority who intended to kill magical creatures, which was justified because she would save human lives. A noble goal, no? Maybe, except her plans made so much sense that I only characterized her as a cruel person, so no one would like what she did. It didn’t work.

(For the record, I believe I could have fixed that villain. I stopped because I had more problems with the protagonists. It was enough to stop.)

My current (but inactive) WIP has more confusing villains. I mean, they are indeed dehumanized, partially because they aren’t human and partially because they are not good people. But in both antagonistic journeys, I’m trying to be surprising, and it is not working so well. They should be developed before they are surprising.

I don’t exactly know why this is hard for me. Perhaps it’s because I admire many villains because of the good I can see in them. I also try to recognize that from someone else’s perspective, my protagonists are villains with evil in them, too. Still, I automatically try to write “evil” villains—and therefore, my villains are hard to admire and I end up not paying attention to them.

I want to get better, though. I plan on editing, and writing about villains does help. Part of writing developed characters is seeing both the good in the bad. I just need to keep looking for that in my own characters.

Where would you like to grow in your writing?

Friday, August 12, 2016

Reading for Fun in College

Rest in Peace
Flickr Credit: Randy Robertson
As suggested, I’m trying something different today. Quite a few people were interested in hearing about my college experiences, so I’ll be responding to a question asked of me on Twitter.

Today’s question comes from Shanti at Virtually Read:

The short answer: kind of.

When it comes to leisure reading, college can influence three main things. Namely, the time I spend reading for fun, the types of books I read for fun, and how I read those texts.

The first marks the biggest change. Surprise! Being a full-time college student is very time-consuming, so I can’t read for fun as much. I still read, of course. I’m an English major, that’s what we do. We read. In fact, reading accounts for probably 70% of my homework load. Still, it can get tedious, so I do my best to keep reading for fun. That’s why I listen to audiobooks in my car, carry around a book to read before class starts, and sneak in one more chapter before I go to bed.

The types of books I read for fun hasn’t changed much. I still tend towards YA speculative fiction for my free reads, with the occasional graphic novel. Though my English classes tend toward “literary fiction,” it in no way makes me think less of my go-to fun reads. That said, we do read some amazing stuff in college, so I am more willing to pick up and enjoy texts by authors I’ve enjoyed in my classes (case in point: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath <3).

Finally, there’s the matter of how I read my fun books. To me, this means whether I read my fun books from an academic standpoint. Do I? No. Whenever I read for school or even as a personal challenge, I do one thing: annotate, annotate, annotate. I am an annotating machine. It takes longer to read things that way, but it makes me better at learning from and understanding the text. Useful… but work-intensive. That’s why I don’t do it when I’m reading for fun. I can’t kick back and relax with a pen in my hand, so I don’t and won’t.

Please note also that just because I decide not to annotate my fun books doesn’t mean they’re absent of the craft and language I’m learning to appreciate as an English major. Whether it’s The Scarlet Letter or The Twilight Saga, our books belong to our literary culture. I think you’d be silly to suggest that the books I read for fun aren’t part of that—they are. That’s part of the reason why I love them so much.

Our creativity functions because we can borrow from and bounce off of one another. Everything connects somewhere. And so while studying English influences me and thus how I read, it can’t replace the love of reading I’ve already established for myself. Give me The Great Gatsby or The Grisha Trilogy—they belong to me, regardless.

Thanks for your question, Shanti!

Do you ever read books you learned about in school for fun? (Also, did you enjoy this feature? Would you like me to answer another question like this next time?)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag

Both Ishita from Bookmyopia and Jameson from Lovely Whatsoevers were kind enough to tag me for the Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag. Thank you both!

This tag feels a little overdue—we’re getting to be three-fourths of the way into the year already. Can you believe it? What’s more, I’ve read 115 books so far this year, and I sincerely doubt that this represents any less than 60% of my reading grand total this year. Such is life.

via Goodreads
best book you’ve read so far in 2016 | It isn’t the one I most enjoyed, but The Color Purple by Alice Walker probably steals this spot. I should really see about listening to the musical.

best sequel you’ve read so far in 2016 | Life and Death by Stephenie Meyer was a really cool re-imagining of the Twilight Saga… It just delighted me.

new release you haven’t read but want to | I still haven’t gotten my hands on Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, which I should probably do.

via Goodreads
most anticipated release during the second half of the year | The only releases I anticipate are for my favorite series, and that’s going to be another year’s wait.

biggest disappointment | Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor. Due to what I felt was a poorly-constructed Deus-ex-machina-esque plotline, the first book ended up being my favorite. Never a good thing in a series.

biggest surprise | I didn’t expect On the Edge of Gone by Corrine Duyvis to be anything extraordinary, but it totally was. Props to this book.

via Goodreads
favorite new author | I know she isn’t new-new, but I think Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda makes her a good fit for this spot.

newest fictional crush or ship | Nobody’s been able to beat Ignifex from Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge. However, if you find a prettier, funnier murderer with magical powers and a tortured past, you just let me know.

newest favorite character | I may or may not have fallen in love with everybody in The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton again since I didn’t love them nearly enough in middle school. *squishes all the boys*

via Goodreads
book that made you cry | Books don’t make me cry. Nobody writes that well.

book that made you happy | Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones. I read it and maybe I adore everything about that book but I will neither confirm nor deny that fact.

favorite book-to-film adaption you saw this year | I recently watched The Host, based on the book by Stephenie Meyer. It wasn’t amazing in terms of a movie, but it honored the story, and I liked that.

via Goodreads
favorite post from 2016 | I liked writing CarRecs, because I will be the first to enjoy my sense of humor. But, after that, I also really liked talking about Jareth from Labyrinth and also whether male voices dominate in school reading.

most beautiful book you’ve bought in 2016 | By default, I think this has to go to Vicious by V.E. Schwab because it’s the only one that I bought where someone put some actual thought into the cover design and isn’t falling apart.

books you need to read by the end of the year | I’d love to get through Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayesha Malik, and Demon Road by Derek Landy.

That’s a wrap! It doesn’t feel like I said anything particularly new or revealing but it was all true, so you have that going for you.

I tag Victoria, Sophia, Jade, and Christina. Have at it, mortals!

Pick two of the questions above and tell me what your responses would be!

Monday, August 8, 2016

A (Virtual) Blogger Care Kit for You

First Aid Kit and Key
Flickr Credit: Felix E. Guerrero
Being a blogger is no party. Well, sometimes it’s a party, like when we host parties or attend parties. Blogging can involve literal digital parties if we want. Let me rephrase.

*ahem* Being a blogger is a trying experience sometimes. This is a fun job, it’s social, and it gives you a lot of freedom. At the same time, it can be exhausting, especially when the hard work you do doesn’t seem to offer a big payoff. I’m intimately familiar with these feelings, and that’s why I have a solution: a Blogger Care Kit!

Some magical being out there would make an actual box with actual things to make this work. I am not that magical being. I am not even a remotely crafty being. But I do have good ideas. See?

1. The Take-a-Break Card—if you need to pause your blog for school, mental health, or literally anything, then do it. Stop. You never have to justify the fact that you need to take a break. Certainly, I think it is an A+ move to say, “Hey, I’m not posting this week/month/year” if you decide to take an extended leave. But you never have to say why. Like going to the bathroom in college, if you need to go, just go.

2. The Worship and Admiration Trove—some days, you may hate your blog. Fortunately, there are always people who like your blog. To remind myself of this, I have a list saved of nice things people have said about my blog or blogging abilities over the last couple years. I can take that encouragement and work knowing that someone cares.

3. The Cool Blogging Neighbors—look up! You have a great blogging community around you. Sometimes, the best way to stop getting hung up on your own blog is to spend time on someone else’s. Let them make you laugh. Comment back. Encourage them, or respond to one of their posts in your own. Hit them up on Twitter for a chat. There are great people (including me) who you can reach out to should you ever need help or encouragement. That, I promise.

4. The Blog-Free Zone—of course, sometimes you might need to separate yourself from blogging entirely. I’d recommend keeping some form of social media where you don’t need to use your blogging persona, or perhaps logging off the internet entirely. Watch a movie or read a book with no intent to blog about it. Take a walk in the park. Catch some Pok√©mon. I believe in you.

5. The Bid at Something New—and, if it feels like your blog is stuck in a rut, exhausting and impossible, remember that this is YOUR blog. You can make changes as needed, even when they’re hard. Give up a blogging day, change your theme, update your bio, talk about something new… do SOMETHING to recharacterize yourself as a blogger.

You are important. You are important as a blogger, and you are more important than your blog. Be sure to take care of yourself, okay? Okay.

What do you do when blogging gets to be emotionally draining?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Thursentary: In Praise of Joan Watson

I never considered Watson’s character extraordinary until I watched Elementary with Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. Watson was a bumbling doctor, intelligent enough, but ordinary. The writing doctor, little more.

Joan Watson is my favorite character on Elementary. It’s fair to say that she’s the main character, and she deserves that station. She matters. I can’t wait to see more of her when I finally reach season four. And this is why.

She is extraordinary | Joan and Sherlock’s relationship is a joy to watch, not least of all because Sherlock considers Joan his equal. In other renditions, Watson appears as an overbearingly normal person—a sidekick. While Joan began as a student, Sherlock eventually makes her his partner because he finds her extraordinary and goes to fitting lengths to accommodate her presence in his life. He wants the best for her because she’s worth it to him. That makes for a precious friendship.

She is on equal footing | As stated, Sherlock finds Joan special. This does not just mean that he likes her as a friend, but that her voice holds a great weight in their cases and their friendship. Neither Sherlock nor the NYPD can brush her aside because her opinion is worth respecting—so people listen when she speaks.

She is intelligent | Joan weighs things with both logic and emotion; she makes decisions with both head and heart in mind. Just because her heart has a say doesn’t mean she makes unwise decisions. She often negotiates a compromise, which allows her to make good decisions without putting human beings at risk.

She is kind | Joan’s kindness extends beyond being nice. Sometimes Joan doesn’t seem nice—but that’s the point. She can make tough decisions and do something someone might not like at first (especially with Sherlock and his history of drug use). No matter what she does, however, she does it because she cares about the whole person she’s trying to help.

She has friends | Joan lives her own life. She meets up with people from her old work and college buddies and gal pals that women are wont to collect. She goes out to eat with her mom, she phones her brother, she dates people. Joan makes a point of cultivating a life beyond Sherlock and mysteries, and it is good for her.

She restarted | Joan, true to the Watson character, was a doctor before joining with Sherlock. Then she became a sobriety companion, and after that, a private detective. This gives Joan a level of expertise pertinent during cases, but it matters more than that. Joan has faced a lot of change in the last few years, so her ability to change, and what she changes for, always has significance.

She has a past | Smart people mess up sometimes. For Sherlock, that means getting sucked into drugs and losing himself. For Joan, that means causing a death as a surgeon. Since she’s someone who values people and helping others so much, she has a lot to work through. But she also has someone to work with.

She will help | When Joan saw that a teen girl was hurting after her mom’s death, she gave the girl her phone number. They were strangers, it was a “just in case” scenario, but the girl called. Joan sits with people out in hallways and has a heart for the homeless—she makes herself available to others because she understands that people are resources. She offers herself as one to make sure we don’t lose them in others.

And, she’s a good detective | Watson isn’t a sidekick because when Sherlock up and left, she started her own private detective business and she was great at it. Joan does more than simply exist to record Sherlock’s stories. She writes her own. And she writes them on her own terms.

I just can’t help but admire Joan Watson. She’s a person, I guess, which is what makes her so easy to relate to. She’s normal, but she’s not less for it. In fact, it makes her partnership with Sherlock perfect.


What is your favorite Sherlock Holmes retelling?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Things I Learned Reading Women for Three Months

Rocklea Queensland
Flickr Credit: darkday

For those just tuning in to my blog, I just finished a reading challenge. May, June, and July, I read books only by women (with one exception). I sought graphic novels, audiobooks, and eBooks that put a huge dent in my TBR. It was a great experience—these are some of the best things about it.

1. I Didn’t Miss Out on Anything

If you fear I limited myself by reading “genres that women write,” don’t worry. Women write everything. Whether I wanted paranormal or dieselpunk, romance or speculative, autobiography or essays, I had plenty of options. Even if I looked for misogynistic judgery, I could (and did) find works that met the bill.

2. Women Know How to Write Women

Not all women write female characters well, but in general? They’ve got it down. I felt dissatisfied with the female characters when I experienced a higher intake of male voices—women were boring or perfect or nonexistent. I got a lot less of that this summer.

3. Women are Imperfect

On the one hand, duh. But hear me out: a challenge like this can appear to put women and their writing on a pedestal. But I still found problematic portrayals of marginalized people. I still read lackluster prose. I still found books I regretted reading. I don’t want to say that’s all okay—it shouldn’t be—but women are human. Authors screw up regardless of gender.

4. This Exercise Has its Limits

I made use of this summer to fix a problem in my reading habits. I enjoyed it—but just because I fixed one problem doesn’t mean I fixed them all. I’m disappointed that I didn’t dig into books with Muslim, Latina, or Native POVs, when I could and should have. I’ll have to seek those books out in the coming months, instead—I need to make room for their voices, too.

5. Priorities are Everything

I began thinking I would also seek out films to watch with female directors, just for kicks. “For kicks” is a phrase of silliness—since I didn’t make it a goal, I didn’t make a point of meeting it. I preferred to watch Psych and Supernatural. Even if I preferred a book by a male author, I prioritized thirty books that met certain criteria. I met or exceeded my goals on all counts. Priorities made the difference.

6. This is Something I Would Encourage Other People to Do

Sometimes this was a little tough, but mostly? I had a lot of fun. I got to read so many voices from a variety of backgrounds, and I’d do this exercise again. Maybe I’ll pick a marginalized group next time. Even if you don’t want to read women or do it for three months, I’d still encourage you to try focusing your reads on an area where you need to be more educated or compassionate. Reading makes that possible—go for it!

There’s this quote in A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf… “For books continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately. And I must also consider her—this unknown woman—as the descendant of all those other women whose circumstances I have been glancing at and see what she inherits of their characteristics and restrictions.” In other words, women writers pass things on to one another. It creates a literary history and it creates new women writers, all of whom share a history of struggle, some of whom face greater struggles now and for the foreseeable future.

I like belonging to that. And I like knowing that I spent my summer inheriting those lessons.

Did you learn anything interesting while reading this summer? 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Writing in Response

Flickr Credit: Toshiyuki IMAI
Do you remember writing reading responses as a kid?

You would have been in fifth grade, maybe. You read some dull novel at the teacher’s demand and received a buff-colored piece of paper (whatever color that meant). You’d behold the twelve lines she expected you to fill. Whatever her prompts were, the teacher basically wanted to know what you noticed, what it meant, and what you thought about it.

In fifth grade I found that exercise tiresome, but it was good practice. You still do that stuff in college, except you gotta write twelve pages. What did you notice? What did it mean? What do you think?

I actually love writing with that model. It’s easy to fall into summarization—even when I tell myself that I am not going to summarize, I still do. It takes a lot of editing time to pare down that summary to the basics and come up with an actual analysis. It’s worth it though. When I write, I seek to explain myself. This helps me remember that fact.

It isn’t even just essays.

Blog posts. Tweets. Diary entries. Whether it’s in a book or in real life, the things I notice matter to me. Rumor has it that keeping a diary is boring because it’s just recording what they did that day. They’re right. That does sound boring. Writing out my reactions in response to something, rather than the details of what happened, always end up more satisfying.

It provides an immediate prompt. So what if nothing happened to you today? You can just write about how you admire Juliet and Lassiter’s relationship on Psych (on account of it is the best) and still be meaningful.

It provides an immediate audience (even if your thoughts are totally private). In the past, I’ve written response posts to other bloggers (examples here and here), but the idea stands even if you’re using a private notebook. Response implies a talking back, a conversation, so you’re writing as though someone were listening. This helps me because I can think of what I want to say to the entity I’m responding to and what they would say to me. What pushback would they say? How would I defend my ideas in a real conversation? It makes my thoughts stronger in the end.

It’s more interesting than a summary. “Today I woke up. Then I ate breakfast. Then I went to work.” Are you bored? I am bored. Compare that to, “Why do people even eat Lucky Charms? I had them for breakfast today, and maybe kids like these, but they’re kind of gross. The charms make me feel like I’m chewing mice bones. Are they really marshmallows? Note to self: don’t buy Lucky Charms. Buy Cheerios. Cheerios will never fail you. And they won’t make you late to work.”

It generates a description of belief. A summary says what happened. A response details what one believes about the meaning of the event. Sure, maybe your beliefs are centered around Lucky Charms one day, but another day it might be about your school’s dress code, or your faith, or a current relationship. It’s significant because…

You can return to it later. Events vary from day to day, as do events in books and the things said on Twitter. People change, though, and so can your overall opinions. It used to be that I thought Lucky Charms were delicious and Harry Potter was better than Twilight. Now, my opinions are the opposite. That is because my mechanism for understanding those inputs changed. Because I wrote down some of those opinions, I have a better idea of what influenced me during my teen years.

For the record, Lucky Charms have never made me late to work. But they were a good example of writing in response to something. It’s kind of fun.

Do you like to record the events of your life in a diary or journal?

Friday, July 29, 2016

WBI: Richmond Valentine

Kingsman: The Secret Service is the dopest spy movie I’ve seen in a long time. I blame Daniel Craig. Anyway, let’s chat before the sequel comes out next year.

Richmond Valentine put all his money towards protecting the environment only to realize one thing: it wasn’t going to make a damn bit of difference. Earth is sick and humanity is its virus. The solution? Be the one to cull humanity first, before humanity destroys itself and its home.

WBI Profile

Classification :: A023567$#*
Role :: Alpha (plotting and idealistic mastermind)
Motivation :: chaos (exterminating humanity), idealism (Earth must be saved), insanity/psychology (megalomaniac), lifestyle (remaining rich and elite), desperation (humanity’s survival), personal/material gain (Earth and humanity’s survival)
Bonus :: money (and lots of it), minions (Gazelle, personal army), lair (a mountain)


His Significance To…

Harry Hart—as a Kingsman agent it’s Harry’s duty to put a stop to Valentine’s plan; however, Valentine has more information and the power to bend his very will

Eggsy—as a green recruit, Eggsy has little to do with Valentine until he is the one person standing between the villain and a successful world takeover

Gazelle—she is his partner in crime and Valentine trusts her completely to help him (although she enjoys killing folks more than he does)

the world’s elite—Valentine wants humanity to continue after they cull the species; these are the chosen ones who will fulfill that prophecy

ordinary people—since it is the sizable quantity of ordinary folks overwhelming Earth, these ones must die for the world’s salvation


Notable Actions

surveillance—Valentine pays attention to people, because they all have the power to bolster or break his project. In the end, people make all the difference.

planning and testing—as twisted as he is, Valentine knows he wields dangerous power and he puts firm limits on how far he’s willing to go. That’s why he makes careful plans and tests them before making the final launch.

succeeding—his diligence and attention make Valentine’s plan work in the end; the Kingsmen need to stop him after his plan has started working.


Big Idea

he turns around so he can have deniability—Valentine vomits at the sight of blood and the first time he kills a man with his own gun, he doesn’t like it. What’s the problem, when he arranges the deaths of so many others? He didn’t kill them; “they killed each other.” The literal act of keeping his hands clean is what matters to Valentine. He puts murder in motion but places full responsibility on those who commit it. Even if they didn’t have a choice.

charisma, good intentions, and logic work—Valentine is a likable person. He wants to save the world and devises a rational way to do that. As horrible as his plan is, it’s easy for him to convince so many people to join his cause because he’s smart and he’s charming. That makes people trust and believe him.

some lives matter—certain fears surround contemporary movements like #BlackLivesMatter. Many people perceive this means that black lives matter more than others, when they really mean to address injustice that often presents itself as inequality under the law. Valentine shows what a real superiority movement looks like. He handpicks some thousands he thinks worthy of keeping, discriminating by a single factor that puts over 99% of the world to death. And then he lets the chaos ensue. It’s scary.

Because of that last idea, it seems a little insensitive to make Valentine and Gazelle the only notable people of color present in the film. Race isn’t meant to be the point, of course. The point is that Valentine values money as a status symbol, and so the people he saves for his new world belong to a specific group. The rich. The elite. The powerful. Whether they are politicians or philanthropists, musicians or teachers, he wants the people that matter. This really hits a nerve with our protagonist, Eggsy, because he didn’t grow up with status. He grew up poor and abused and struggling and he can’t walk away from it. Even when he’s out saving the world he has a mother and sister he needs to get to safety.

We sympathize with Eggsy because he isn’t the megalomaniac who wants to murder seven billion people. And I don’t blame us for that. Still, when I think about whose lives we value more as a planet, I have to wonder whether Eggsy and Valentine are appropriate representatives. Maybe in some ways. But in others? I have to wonder. Because Valentine isn’t the only one who believes in superiority, and the ones who do might look a lot like Eggsy.

Have you seen
Kingsman? (Despite my criticisms just now, I do seriously love this film. Go see it!)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Are Books With Multiple Authors Funnier?

Flickr Credit: john.fletcher39
I love funny books.

Glancing over my favorites bookshelf, there isn’t a one without a rapier wit or clever turn of phrase. Sometimes this language belongs to a single character, but it’s all the better when it’s weaved into the narration itself. If sarcasm isn’t the quickest way to my heart, then it’s surely the quickest way to my head.

I am on a quest for funny books, so humor me this question: do you think books with multiple authors are funnier?

Okay, that is not exactly what I want to know. Better to ask something along the lines of, “Are fictional books written by multiple authors humorous as a collective—which isn’t to say that they are all funnier than every book written by one person but that when two or more people sit down and write a book together they go for laughs more than other reactions—at least in general?”

That is a stupidly long question to turn into a blog post title, though. I decided to pass.

My question stands. Are we usually meant to laugh when two people team up to write a story? Is there ever a story where we’re only meant to cry? Or get nightmares so bad we wet our pants? Because in my experience, the humor always comes first.

via Goodreads
Tesla’s Attic by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman | When fourteen-year-old Nick finds some of Nikola Tesla’s inventions in his house he ends up visiting the morgue and maybe ends the world. As much as they pack science and thrills into this story, I mostly remember cackling at the jokes because they were so fun. I knew I was supposed to be smiling, and I did.

via Goodreads
Mothership by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal | Pregnant sixteen-year-old Elvie Nara’s life gets turned on its ear when her spaceship school gets invaded by aliens, one of whom is her baby daddy. I love Elvie’s voice. She’s relatable and admirable, but her flippancy, attitude, and the general absurdity of the story is what makes it most endearing to me.

via Goodreads
My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodie Meadows | This is the story of Lady Jane Grey but instead of Protestants they are shapeshifters. This is fine with me because historically I would belong to the shapeshifters and how cool is that. Anyway. From the Greek-Chorus-like narration to the Princess Bride references to calling sex “the very special hug” I was highly amused while reading about one of my favorite historical periods. Why don’t we rewrite history like this more often?

Have I read funnier books? Certainly. Have they been authored by one person? Also true. But I haven’t read many books that have more than one author to their name and yet aren’t funny. If that happens, they are usually:

a) non-fiction (or something close to it)
b) a graphic novel (in which case the other person is actually the artist but they deserve that credit)
c) an adaption (like how Pride and Prejudice and Zombies lists Jane Austen as a writer due to the direct quotes)
d) a compilation (poetry, short stories, etcetera)

To be fair, I make it sound like there’s a lot of room for exceptions. Maybe that’s true, but since my focus is on novels, A, B, and D don’t really apply. And Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is really funny so I’m not really hurting my case on that roll.

I guess I just want to know why. I remember attending a reading of Tesla’s Attic with both Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman. I don’t remember the exact words, but Eric Elfman told us, they had a lot of fun writing together—especially the funny parts. Those bits were only given the okay when both writers would laugh at the section. Then they’d know they were doing it right.

Is everyone like that? Do writers come together because they like laughing, and laughing with others? Is it just easier to produce quality humor together as opposed to quality tragedy or horror? Do people who don’t want to be humorous not work well with others?

I have no clue. But it’s a pattern I’ve glimpsed so I wondered—have you noticed it, too?

Do you think when authors team up they intend to write humorously?

Monday, July 25, 2016

How Do You Interpret Poetry?

Pandora's Box
Flickr Credit: Shawn Tron
Last week we discussed annotating poetry. For me, it’s a process of SOAPSTTone-ing and then picking out important pieces of the poem that I’ll refer back to later. Today we’re returning to “Pandora” by Topaz Winters to ask “What does it all mean?”

And I could’ve kissed you. Right there,
you with that dance and me with the look on my face that says
goddamn. Who knew people could be sunlight.
Add that to the things I’ve learned
while trying and failing to wrestle this year into submission:
one, a body is a prayer, not a temple.
two, is it really so selfish to want to be the one thing you’ll never say out loud?
three, the closet/the humming box/the things that come out of both of them.
four, yes, you idiot, of course I’m in love with you.
How many times do I have to tell you before you pick up the goddamn phone?
So me, I’m over here choking myself to sleep and you, you’re
busy kissing all the tornadoes in Kansas good night.
Like there’s anything more mutual than waiting.
Like there’s anything left, except for maybe everything.
Telephone cord dangling like something burnt to death,
the closet/the humming box/the things that are best left closed.
Me with the look on my face that says
goddamn. It’s been a long year.
Me with the look on my face that says
goddamn. Just look at that,
darling. Just look at you dance.
–Topaz Winters (source)

(Once again, many thanks to Topaz for letting us borrow her poem!)

There are multiple ways to interpret poetry and obviously I can’t go over them all, but I think there are a few things that are important to keep regardless of how you decide to share your thoughts.

1. Purpose and Meaning—purpose can make something creative sound incredibly dry, but the poet wanted you to take something away from their writing. What did they want to pass on? Why?

2. Evidence—no matter who you are, saying “I think this poem is about aliens because I say so” sounds dumb. Point out the pieces of the poem that say something to you.

3. Explanation—evidence alone doesn’t do much; it needs to be interpreted. That interpretation should ultimately lead straight back to the purpose and meaning we already discussed.

They’re a few simple ideas, but they can result in very different outcomes and even different formats. To demonstrate this, I enlisted my best friend to share her thoughts on the poem. She is smart and good with poetry, but she explained her thoughts in a completely different way than I did below. But, you’ll notice, our meanings are bolded, our evidence is italicized, and explanations are underlined.

Pandora's Box/Jar
Flickr Credit: 'No Matter' Project

Elizabeth’s Response:

A body is a prayer, not a temple. A line that strikes with a truth I haven’t considered before.
How many times do I have to tell you before you pick up the goddamn phone? A line in which I hear bitterness that I recognize.
the closet/the humming box/the things that are best left closed. A line that exemplifies the title, a line that connects the mythos with the modern.
What I get most from this poem is emotion. Raw emotion, and experience. It’s amazing to me that a poem can be Pandora and it can but it can also be something else entirely:  a story of truth through a medium of words, reminding me of what Tim O’Brien says about story and truth, that something doesn’t have to be real to be true.
That’s what this sounds like.
When I read poetry, I latch onto the feeling. (Maybe this is why I’m not an English major?) I go straight to the emotion and say why. "Why does it make me feel this way? What do I connect to? What truth has the poet spoken that I can identify?"
What I hear – my answer to the why – is a double edge of love and bitterness. A familiar theme, maybe. She says darling but compares the telephone cord to something burnt to death and I feel the discordancy as a shiver, feel the give and take of the words.
The speaker says, I love.
The speaker says, I hurt.
Sometimes, that’s all I need to know.

My Response:

“Pandora” expresses the frustrations of a queer speaker whose closeted relationship lacks adequate communication. Unless the speaker and her lover begin speaking their relationship will remain at a standstill, but the latter is notoriously silent throughout the poem. Her sexuality is the “one thing you’ll never say out loud, ” so it’s unlikely the speaker is going to get the verbal acknowledgement she craves (7). Let’s not lay all the blame on the lover, though. The speaker used to initiate conversations with her lover, but it’s “the look on her face that” is speaking (17). The voice of this poem is ambiguous—we don’t know how much the speaker says aloud and how much is unspoken longing. The only noise we’re sure is heard is Pandora’s “humming box,” which the speaker equates with the proverbial closet that queer people leave to externally affirm their identity. Where the phone is “like something burnt to death,” the box audibly vibrates (15). The same curiosity that motivated Pandora to open the box plagues our speaker, presumably to open the closet. Like in the myth, though, the consequences for that action will be severe.
What evil could she unleash? It isn’t the queer relationship itself—we’ve no moral qualms on that front. In fact, she tells us “a body is a prayer, not a temple,” justifying her love (6). This verse, 1 Corinthians 6:19, condemns same-sex relationships in a “house of God.” To the speaker, though, bodies are prayers—a spiritual communication platform that can involve a request, supplication, or thanksgiving made to a higher power (OED). In other words, a prayer (and thus, a body) is a kind of spiritual conversation. This is ironic considering the lack of conversation present in the speaker’s love life that initiating conversation will not solve. Ultimately the speaker never names the evil she could release, but she hints as to its identity in line 16 when she suggests her lover’s closet is “best left closed.” It would be wrong to out her crush. Why? It isn’t thoughtful, obviously. Maybe if Pandora opens the box too early, she’ll lose everything she had in the first place. Maybe it’s important that Pandora’s lover takes the initiative. She asks, “How many times do I have to tell you before you pick up the goddamn phone?” (10) Our speaker has waited and waited, but unless her lover picks up the phone they’ll never have the connection she seeks. Until her lover can reciprocate, it’s better that the box stays closed. It doesn’t mean Pandora isn’t curious or in love, but in her closing, she apparently seems content to wait, for now.

Elizabeth’s response described her personal reactions to the poem and mine was more academic. Still, we both took the same poem and came up with a way to describe what the poem meant to the both of us. There’s plenty of room for your opinion, too.

What does “Pandora” mean to you?