Category Archives: Inspiration

“Summer is Coming”

(You’re right, Mr. Martin: summer is not so intimidating.)

There is still a month left of the school year, but finally, FINALLY, summer is in sight again.

And with summer comes my writing. I’ve devoted some brainstorming time to a few of my crappy novel drafts, but otherwise, have struggled to sit down and actually begin revising.

But I have made time for reading! Did you know Mark Twain wrote a book about Joan of Arc??? (Side note: I love Joan of Arc.)

In his autobiography, Twain confessed the difficulty he encountered in writing this book–“Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc”–saying

“There are some books that refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. It isn’t because the book is not there and worth being written–it is only because the right form for the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself. You may try a dozen wrong forms but in each case you will not get very far before you discover that you have not found the right one–then that story will always stop and decline to go any further… When at last I found the right form I recognized at once that it was the right one…”

That quote struck home to me, because one of the projects I’ve been working on is transforming “Copper” from a third-person story into a first-person perspective. It helps with the pacing, but I’m still not 100% sold that this is the format her story needs. Maybe I keep trying to start and end it in the wrong spot, or maybe I’m focusing on the wrong themes and plot threads.

I don’t know. This post had very little purpose aside from sharing that great Twain quote that I read yesterday. As my students say, “conclusions are hard.”

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beautiful books

I have started off 2015 by reading some of the BEST books I’ve come across in a long time. Pretty sure that bodes well for this year!

The first set of books were Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy: “Shadow and Bone,” “Siege and Storm,” and “Ruin and Rising.” I already ruminated over them a little bit in a previous blog post, and I’m still reeling from all the emotions I poured into them, so I don’t have much to say here. They were the kind of books that are so good and so powerful that once you close that last page–well, figuratively, since I read them on my Kindle–you don’t know what to read next, because it’s all going to seem weak and meaningless in comparison.

They’re fantasy books along the lines of “Throne of Glass” or even Tamora Pierce’s Tortall-set books: a likable, flawed heroine learning to use her magic and struggling under the new burden to save the world. They’re influenced by Russian mythology–well-balanced, in my opinion, but little enough that I’ve seen reviews where people were angry that she left out this and that piece of actual Russian mythology or made this or that mistake compared to “real” Russia, WHILE ALSO enough that I’ve seen reviews where people were confused and angered by the language. Eh, you can’t win ’em all. Each beginning and ending chapter is told in third person, beautiful prose, but the majority of the book is told in first person. The switch is a little jarring and part of me wishes she had kept the third person perspective all throughout.

Anyway, the heroine is joined by a hodgepodge, Firefly-esque ensemble cast with plenty of characters to love. The stakes are high, the love story is believable, and the magic system is awesome. There are definitely tropes used: Orphan! Beautiful jerk rival! Chosen one! And the one that bugs me the most in YA fiction, Love Triangle(s)! (Like teenage girls can deeply connect with MULTIPLE HOT DUDES all wanting her). But I thought the plot development over the course of the trilogy was unique enough to overcome any weaknesses that tropes introduced.

I highly, highly recommend this trilogy. I can’t wait to see what this author comes up with next. (Also, I want her to be my friend. Since I taught “Catcher in the Rye” last October, this particular quote from Holden is fresh in my mind: “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” Can I get your number, Leigh? haha).

After that, I took a 24-hour break from reading as I dealt with my FEELINGS. I opened up a few different books before settling on one I thought I could get engrossed in again. I settled on Kate Danley’s “The Woodcutter” (which I just finished reading about twenty minutes ago).

I bought it randomly a few weeks ago because it happened to be $1.99 on Amazon under “Science Fiction/Fantasy,” and I love Kindle deals. I started reading it without reading the description carefully, so I thought it was going to be a “Little Red Riding Hood” retelling that focused on the woodcutter character. It started out that way… but quickly evolved into something much better. Danley connects a whole fleet of fairy tales, including some more obscure ones like the Girl in the Iron Shoes, with many creative twists that lead into an emotional finale (a.k.a. I totally cried). Her writing style takes a few chapters to get used to–and since all of the chapters are short, including one that was 3 sentences long, this adjustment only takes a moment–but it ends up capturing that Grimm/Anderson fairy-tale narrative well. It was beautiful and, not to over-do it, but another “highly recommend” from me.

At the end, Kindle automatically shows “more from this author” lists and I saw “Queen Mab” is also hers. I read a review of that when it first came out and was interested, but not enough to go get it (fatigued-teacher syndrome). Now that I’m familiar with her style, this might be what I read next!

… After I grade the obnoxious stack of papers next to me. I need more coffee.

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Sunshine Award

Guess what?

Rachel over at Spilled Ink has nominated me for a Sunshine award. Thank you! This is exciting!!

sunshineaward13

The rules are:

  • Include the award’s logo in a post or on your blog.
  • Link to the person who nominated you.
  • Answer 10 questions about yourself.
  • Nominate 10 bloggers.
  • Link your nominees to the post and comment on their blogs, letting them know they have been nominated.

And now for the 10 questions:

  1. Favorite color – Bright sapphire blue, as in my wedding colors.
  2. Favorite animal – Wolves! They are beautiful, intelligent, loyal, and know the value of both teamwork and alone time… I love them.
  3. Favorite number – 3, it’s a minor OCD thing; I really like it when my bag of chips or number of ice cubes or whatever are 3 or a multiple of 3. One of my sister-in-laws is the same way. Weird!
  4. Favorite non-alcoholic drink – Hmmm. Probably water or root beer.
  5. Favorite alcoholic drink – A good ol’ rum and Coke, though I also love Beringer White Zinfandel.
  6. Facebook or Twitter? – Facebook. I like to keep in touch with my family and good friends through it, plus, I’m pretty hilarious over there. ;)
  7. Passions – Writing, reading, teaching, long walks, traveling.
  8. Prefer getting or giving presents? – I guess it depends. I like getting presents when they’re things that I can tell the giver put time into planning (like, the gift is actually something they knew I’d appreciate), and I like giving presents when I can do the same for someone. I find it very stressful to buy presents for people when I don’t know what they want.
  9. Favorite City – Oxford! I miss you, Port Meadow, the Bod, our crappy old flat on Walton Crescent, and the kabob truck on St. Giles street…
  10. Favorite TV Shows – Doctor Who, The Office, Once Upon a Time, Parks & Rec, 30 Rock, Community, Lost in Space, The Monkees

And here they are the blogs I want to give my award to:

1. What She Would Have Worn – my friend Brittan is a joyful, fashionable ray of sunshine, so it only makes sense to nominate her!

2. Wannabe Writer Life – I don’t personally know most of the other bloggers I follow on WordPress. Allison is one of those random people whose blogs I found and decided to follow just because she’s very interesting, and I like to feel inspired by other people who are on the same aspiring-author path that I’m on. Plus she’s Canadian and they’re just nicer than a lot of people. ;)

3. French Words That I Can’t Pronounce – She lives in Oxford and therefore has a wonderful life!

4. Shannon A. Thompson – Shannon is a published author, and very cheerful and approachable about it all. She gives me hope!

5. The Sloans – Rebecca and her husband Andy are just the cutest stinking couple. I tried to convince Rebecca not to move away when she came and worked with me at APU for a semester, because “moving to England just for a boy was a bad idea.” False! Her life is amazing. hahaha.

6. The Happsters – The Happsters’ goal is to spread happiness, which, face it, we all need. :)

7. Zehira Blog – A fellow teacher who is proud of her students. This blog makes me happy.

8. Joanne Eddy’s Blog – Joanne had very sweet words for me when I wrote about Frisco’s passing, which definitely counted as a ray of sunshine when I needed it.

9. Writers Two – fellow NaNoWriMer and very good-natured.

10. Fictioners – This is another guy that I don’t know in real life, but everything is so interesting that I really enjoy following his thoughts.

Well, there it is. I tried to avoid re-giving the award to bloggers who already had a Sunshine Award showing on their page. This is my first blog award, so hopefully I did it correctly. Fun stuff!

I’m working on another post for later this week based on a bunch of awesome projects that my students have been turning in. It isn’t related to writing, but I love creativity in all regards, so hopefully it’s still interesting.

For now… I’m just glad that I got through Monday. :)

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oh boy

Not once, but twice in the past week, random people have accessed my blog by searching for Mr. Bean.

Which means they reached the Van Gogh post with a picture of a naked lady who looks exactly like Mr. Bean.

Woops! :)

Writing is going well now that I’ve continued “Post-Camp-NaNoWriMo” at only 500 words a day. It’s easy enough that I’m still making progress on finishing Copper Book 2 while not being distracted from lesson planning for the-job-that-actually-makes-money-right-now. Speaking of which, we have a whole unit coming up based on short stories, so I’ve been elbow-deep in short stories–by women writers, no less. I think I’ll write a short story of my own and throw it in there… the students should be excited to have a teacher who writes, right? ;) Just kidding. But I am inspired to work on a short story, and may craft a creative writing assignment for my students, in which case I would offer up a short story of my own as a modeling example for them. And I’ll post it here, too.

Hurray for plans! I feel much better about life when I have a to-do list and am actively crossing things off of it. AND there are only 38 more days of teaching until my first real summer in years!!! I’m going to get so much writing (and reading) done. Hold me to it. It’s on a to-do list.

(Also… the 13th and final Sookie Stackhouse book comes out tomorrow. So that’s what I’ll be reading next. I do love my guilty pleasures)…

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lessons from Van Gogh

I think all artists can learn something from other artists, even if their medium isn’t the same. For example, though I’m on a writing quest in my own life, a painter like Van Gogh still holds a lot of education and inspiration for me.

[Full confession first, of course: I spent some time last week re-watching some of my favorite Doctor Who episodes, one of which is “Vincent and the Doctor.” So I got kicked into an “awww, I love Vincey” mood and got curious about what his lesser-known paintings looked like, and that’s how this post got started…]

At this marvelous website, a huge list of Van Gogh paintings can be viewed in chronological order of creation. Remember, Van Gogh* was an artist who never got to experience fame in his lifetime; in fact, he only sold one of his hundreds of paintings. He had no idea how famous and influential his work would later become. Yet he persevered through such discouragement, and we are all grateful for it.

Guess what? He’s actually a great example of the importance of practice and persistence. I say that because I spent time clicking through every single picture at that website, in chronological order, and…

I kind of thought his early stuff stunk.

Not all of it… here are a few that I enjoyed:

"Edge of a Wood," 1882

“Edge of a Wood,” 1882

"Bulb Fields," 1883

“Bulb Fields,” 1883

"Autumn Landscape," 1885

“Autumn Landscape,” 1885

However, many of his paintings are strangely dark–not like “morbid” or “scary” but like “dude, won’t you light your candlleees“–as seen in this one:

"Footbridge Across a Ditch," 1883

“Footbridge Across a Ditch,” 1883

And then he wasted a lot of time painting various “peasant women.” I’ll save you the struggle of clicking through all the links; anything that has “peasant woman” in the title is basically a sliiiiight variation of this:

"Head of an Old Peasant Woman with White Cap," 1884

“Head of an Old Peasant Woman with White Cap,” 1884

But many of his landscapes are beautiful. You can start to see him playing here with the swirling motions that would end up in Starry Night, which I believe is considered the most famous of his paintings:

"Landscape at Sunset," 1885

“Landscape at Sunset,” 1885

He also drew a skull smoking, which, come on… kind of awesome before his time, eh? You can’t go anywhere without seeing skull motifs anymore:

"Skull with Burning Cigarette," 1885

“Skull with Burning Cigarette,” 1885

As the years went on, Van Gogh kept experimenting, developing, and improving:

"Bridge Across the Seine at Asnieres," 1887

“Bridge Across the Seine at Asnieres,” 1887

"Fritillaries in a Copper Vase," 1887

“Fritillaries in a Copper Vase,” 1887

"Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes Maries," 1888

“Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes Maries,” 1888

"Wheat Field with Cypresses," 1889

“Wheat Field with Cypresses,” 1889

I think one of the reasons I like him so much is his frequent use of bright blues and yellows (my wedding colors) and, of course, his interest in sunflowers (my wedding flowers)… good taste, Vincent ;)

"Two Cut Sunflowers," 1887

“Two Cut Sunflowers,” 1887

"Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum Arles at Night," 1888

“Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum Arles at Night,” 1888

"Starry Night over the Rhone," 1888

“Starry Night over the Rhone,” 1888

"Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers," 1889

“Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers,” 1889

"Blossoming Almond Tree," 1890

“Blossoming Almond Tree,” 1890

Van Gogh, despite being unloved, unsuccessful, and unsupported overall, kept painting. He followed his passion and practiced it in the hope that he would improve and finally find success. Look how much more advanced he gets from one of his earliest paintings (1882):

"Man Stooping with Stick or Spade," 1882

“Man Stooping with Stick or Spade,” 1882

to his most famous painting, done in 1889:

"Starry Night," 1889

“Starry Night,” 1889

“Try to see what I see. We’re so lucky we’re still alive to see this beautiful world. Look at the sky. It’s not dark and black and without character. The black is in fact deep blue. And over there! Lights are blue. And blue in through the blueness, and the blackness, the winds swirling through the air… and then shining. Burning, bursting through! The stars, can you see how they roll their light? Everywhere we look, complex magic of nature blazes before our eyes.”
~ Vincent Van Gogh as portrayed in the Doctor Who episode, “Vincent and the Doctor.”

Van Gogh’s technique improved over time, within just ten years! He figured out what worked for him and evolved the unique style that we know him for–which, if I had any kind of art background beyond learning to use a color wheel in a 6th grade GATE event, I might be able to accurately describe. He was prolific and painted the messages and beauty that he wanted to paint in the short time that he had. He knew he loved to paint and had to keep painting, even if he wasn’t making money or becoming famous for it.

Hopefully, you see the applicable lessons to writing here.

It’s nice to look at his artistic path of growth because it’s so much more visual than mine. Clearly, he had talent early on, but it needed to be developed–and it was. His later art, 1887-1890, are all far better than his earlier paintings.

I need to remember to look at my old writings when I’m feeling down on myself to see that yes, I’ve made progress too! I no longer closely mimic other writers (seriously, when I was 12 I “created” this great world full of unicorns that 3 kids stumbled into and had adventures, aaaand basically it was Narnia) but have developed my own voice and style, understand characterization much more, and can vary my syntax and vocabulary much more now than in years before. I have many years of writing stretched before me to continue to grow, develop, learn, and improve.

And if nobody ever wants my stuff? Well, that’ll be okay. I write because I have stories inside of me, characters who need to get out and live their lives on the page. It is my passion and I would wither if I tried to ignore it. Quitting is not an option and beauty takes time: those are some things to take away from Van Gogh and his paintings today.

“He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world; no one had ever done it before.”
~ The curator character discussing Van Gogh in the Doctor Who episode

* Also note that Van Gogh’s life was written about by none other than Christopher Moore, in another of his books, “Sacre Bleu.” I wrote about enjoying his fictitious portrayals of historical people in an earlier post (namely Jesus, in Lamb).

Bonus:

These two paintings made me laugh because the first “girl with ruffled hair” looks like David Bowie in Labyrinth and the “nude woman on bed” looks like Mr. Bean:

"Girl with Ruffled Hair," 1888... vs David Bowie in "Labyrinth," 1986

“Girl with Ruffled Hair,” 1888… vs David Bowie in “Labyrinth,” 1986

"Nude Woman on a Bed," 1887, is clearly Mr. Bean

“Nude Woman on a Bed,” 1887, is clearly Mr. Bean. I censored it because nobody needs to see Mr. Bean’s pubic hair today, okay??

hehehe.

Maybe Vincent really did travel in time with the Doctor!!

:) Anyway… be inspired by Vincent

"Self Portrait with Straw Hat," 1887

“Self Portrait with Straw Hat,” 1887

"Self Portrait," 1889

“Self Portrait,” 1889

and his beautiful paintings

"Enclosed Field with Rising Sun," 1889

“Enclosed Field with Rising Sun,” 1889

"Still Life: Vase with Irises," 1890

“Still Life: Vase with Irises,” 1890

to follow your dreams… like creating a pile of books all written by you!

"Still Life with French Novels and a Rose," 1887

“Still Life with French Novels and a Rose,” 1887

"Still Life: French Novels," 1888

“Still Life: French Novels,” 1888

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And now for something completely different

And now for another step back from Copper and writing to discuss my current reading and the reflection/inspiration that has been developing from that.

Have you ever heard of Christopher Moore? (Not to be confused with Michael Moore, which did make me momentarily hesitate when I first heard about his writing). Anyway, Christopher Moore is a hilarious writer. He takes his stories and just makes them absurd–lots of larger-than-life characters with fascinating quirks, dirty mouths, and often otherworldly spins (like a stupid angel or a bratty demon). It’s fun stuff. What I’ve read so far has been hit or miss, though. I adored “A Dirty Job” and laughed a lot through “Practical Demonkeeping,” but “Fool” was a mess and “Fluke” got really boring.

What is my favorite of all his books?? By far that title goes to “Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.” It takes the true Gospel and then fills in Jesus’ “missing” teenage years with what he and his best friend Biff experienced on Jesus’ journey to fulfilling his role as the Messiah. It is absolutely creative and hysterical; I highly recommend it to anyone (with a sense of humor, of course, who won’t be offended by the non-Biblical treatment of Christ and will instead appreciate the entertainment value in this story). Actually, in a lot of ways it made me feel closer to Jesus to remember his humanness and how hard it must have been for him to face his calling.

lamb

It’s “historical fiction” in the best sense… based on historical events and people, but taking GREAT liberties to make the story funny and the characters relatable.

Which got me thinking… maybe this is an avenue for me to explore in a future writing project. I love Joan of Arc. I think she is one of the most fascinating historical characters that exist, with a lot of controversy too (was she freaking awesome or kind of crazy?) that I could easily work into a book in the style of “Lamb.” I’d base it off the historical facts, but embellish her thoughts, motivations, struggles…

I think it could be interesting, and I don’t believe it’s been done yet.
So I’m filing that idea away for a future writing project :)

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inspired by a little one

I have a niece now.

little one

She’s just about two weeks old, a bundle of adorable, miniature, stinky baby-ness.

And I want to tell her stories.

I went through a lot of phases in my development as a writer. When I was little, I wanted to write rhymes and children’s books, because that’s what I knew, loved, was taking in. As I grew, my tastes–and therefore my goals–grew and changed. Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books made me want to write YA literature, especially focused on fantasy, but when I read Holly Lisle’s Secret Texts trilogy, I was convinced I’d rather write adult fantasy. In college I started to believe that I wanted to write serious fiction, like Kate Chopin’s Awakening or Ian McEwan’s Atonement. For a period of time I even thought “let’s be practical, I can write textbooks instead.” (Yikes).

But now that I’ve been out here in real grown-up land (pay bills! get married! never sleep! clean the bathroom! buy all the books!),

buy all the books*

I know for certain that I love YA literature. It is approachable for a wide variety of ages (not just teens but precocious young readers and us old folks who need a break from the intense stuff, too), entertaining and yet full of messages, and is directed toward an audience that I love. I’ve seen authors who get to do book tours and speak at middle schools or libraries–I love that! I want to be that kind of author who can inspire young people to create their own stories and follow through on achieving their dreams. I know that inspired me as a youth… I’ve heard Ellen Kushner, James Scott Bell, Jack Prelutsky, and Verlyn Flieger all speak about writing, and the writing/blogging/tweeting fiends Neil Gaiman and Holly Lisle are also a big influence on my writing dreams thanks to their internet presence (despite the fact that I’ve never seen either one in person).

I want to share my stories with as many people as possible… but if all I have is my niece by my side, listening to (and eventually reading) my stories as she grows up, maybe that will be enough too. I want her to laugh and gasp and cry (maybe don’t tell her mom that last one) at what happens to my characters. I especially hope I get to share all of that with my own kids some day.

But for now, it’s nice to have a tiny niece who is going to be part of my story inventions and evolutions.

* Note: this is a misused meme that has expanded all over the internet for various uses, but it’s originally from Allie Brosh over at Hyperbole and a Half. Not everybody knows its origin, and they should. She’s hilarious.

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