Tag Archives: literature

Courting Casualties: The Oval Portrait, by Edgar Allan Poe

In which I read a story of art and madness.

Intro/Outro music is Ghost Story by Kevin McLeod, used under the Creative Commons License.

Counting Casualties is also available through iTunes! If you enjoy the show, please consider subscribing. Have a suggestion for a future episode? Tweet me @ExquisitelyOdd.

Thanks for listening and, as always,
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Bookstores: Lost in the Pit of Everything I’ve Ever Wanted

It’s a well-known, or at least well-acknowledged fact–by me–that I should never, ever be allowed into a bookstore and left to my own devices. It’s like being lost in the most wonderful place in the world with no hope of leaving of my own free will. It’s not the finding process, it’s the selection.

So naturally, I sent out a call to Twitter and Facebook, and spent an hour texting Laura and Cat for suggestions. I really should keep a physical list of books to read. Or I need a bigger bank account so choosing is no longer such a challenge.

I walked through the fiction/sci-fi/mystery section and the young adult section, saw several books I’d made a mental note to read, saw others with gorgeous cover art and fun titles, lamented the lack of John Green books, lamented the “Teen Paranormal Romance” display, and then….a breath of fresh air.

Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Pride and Prejudice were lovingly displayed amongst newer titles in the Teen Fiction section. Encouraging youth to read the classics makes me happy.

And then I looked at the cover art.

They’ve been “Twilight”ed. Honestly, it’s a trend I really hate. The new DVD release of Buffy is the same way. Ok. I’ll let the photos slide. They’re pretty, and if companies use the marketing trickery to get kids to read more, fine.

It’s the tag lines.

Cellphone quality being what it is, I’ll tell you.

Pride and Prejudice: The Love That Started It All
Jane Eyre: Love Conquers All
Wuthering Heights: Love Never Dies

Cheesy. As. Fuck.

Also, how do you boil down brilliant novels to trite one-liners?

Faith in Humanity: steadily declining.

I left the youth section with Anna Dressed in Blood, cause homicidal ghosts! and the latest Kim Harrison book, my guilty pleasure read. I love me some Algaliarept. Victorian demons in everything.

What I find most interesting about my bookstore experiences is that while I want everything, I have this overwhelming sense dread when it comes to selecting books. Do I go with a book I safe in selecting, like the next one in the series? Do I risk picking up something based on looks? I do judge books by their covers, and believe me, the pretty ones are ridiculously tempting.

I think the major problem is my bank account. I usually go for the used bookstore: lower prices means more books, and if I don’t like them, no harm done. I guess it’s the sorrow of broke post-college students.

I’m going to watch Trick ‘r Treat (which I finally bought, and lo, now it’s on television!), speculate on Season Seven of Dexter and join darling Catherine for #writeclub.

With only 32 days left until Halloween, maybe I’ll pull something out of my sleeve to celebrate my favorite of holidays.

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Grammatical Addictions and Editing: A 12-Step Program

Step One: Admitting you have a problem

Recognizing your addiction and admitting that you’re overuse of fragments/semi-colons/ellipses have become unmanageable in your writing.

Step Two: Recognizing that a higher power can give you strength

The Dictionary and Thesaurus are your guides. Put your faith in them and you will find ways of restructuring your writing.

Step Three: Make the choice to turn your draft to an Editor

Seek constructive criticism–the editing oracles are there for you to strengthen your writing and help you polish your skill.

Step Four: Make a searching and fearless inventory of your plot.

Is your timeline askew? Do your characters speak in colloquial phrasing or anachronistic dialect? Does anything make sense outside your head? Consider which elements are providing obstacles to completing your work.

Step Five: Admit to yourself, your beta-readers, your editor, the nature of your wrongs.

Bringing your addiction to your friends and partner’s attentions will help you identify what needs to change and create a support system to prevent you falling back into old habits.

Step Six: Be entirely ready to have your Editor pinpoint these defects.

Because he/she will. Usually in red.

Step Seven: Humbly ask advice on how to remove or restructure your sentences.

Write by writing. Learn to avoid using the same punctuation by changing up your structure and asking for advice.

Step Eight: Make a list of things that need correcting.

Note where there is an overabundance of the punctuation in question, time gaps, misused words, or whatever else needs to be adjusted.

Step Nine: Forgive yourself those mistakes.

You are human, you make mistakes. Spell-check is likewise not always reliable.

Step Ten: Continue to take personal inventory, and when wrong, admit it.

You will slip a hyphen or colon somewhere it isn’t needed. Acknowledge that the structure can be changed and do so.

Step Eleven: Seek meditation with your world to improve contact with your characters.

Always be open to new possibilities for your work. Spend a little time each day thinking about the story itself, not the revision process.

Step Twelve: Literary awakening as the result of the program.

Edits are not the all-shattering hammer. They build up and strengthen your writing foundation. Carry this message to fellow writers and practice these principles in all your affairs.

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#Weirdwins, Even When You Scare Your Friends

I am beyond excited about Paranorman. Not only is it stop-motion (be still my heart!), it’s about a weird kid who sees ghosts, is outcast by his classmates, and basically has to save the town. Awesome.

Laika and Focus Features have done an AMAZING job promoting Paranorman, from posting videos of the cast and crew talking about the making of and their own experiences being weird, to sending out 49 or so Blithe Hollow Cemetery boxes were the recipient can DIG UP their very own zombie. You can check out the trailer here.

The #weirdwins campaign has encouraged me to share some of my early childhood weirdness. I guess it’s no surprise that I was a strange kid. I was always a bookworm, I kept to myself, but it was middle school where the weirdness came in full force.

I was such a weird kid, at one point I managed to accidentally convince my friends I was schizophrenic.

I was 13 when I started reading Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and getting into the dark side of literature. I loved ghost stories, monsters, crime; all the things most kids my age avoided like the plague. I had the added curse of being born a writer and the middle school years brought the creative torrent down faster than I could handle. I had stories floating around in my head, characters popping in for chats, and I had no idea how to deal with it other than writing. When I couldn’t write, I talked.

And I talked in “voices.”

Kiss me twice, I’m Schizophrenic!

Unable to talk about the characters, I let them talk for me. In the cafeteria, they’d comment on the poor fare, or the latest class assignment. They were not strictly female characters either. I didn’t see anything wrong with talking about it. I was excited about the worlds in my mind and the stories I could write or had read and cherished.

I’m honestly surprised no one sent me to counselling.

It wasn’t until years later, when I could say, “Oh, I’m writer” and knew what it meant to create lives in my head and my friends understood that I was not–in fact–mentally ill that they told me they thought I had a serious mental disorder. Even at 23, this is a bit embarrassing.

Now the characters largely stay in my head, and I have other writer friends who understand and accept that sometimes, I just have to be someone else. We laugh. Like attracts like, weird attracts weird. I own my weirdness now, proudly and with reckless abandon. Growing up weird doesn’t make you an outcast; being afraid to be who your are does.

“You don’t become a hero by being normal.”

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Victorian Prostitutes and Stirring Tea with Not-spoons

After what feels like a marathon stretch, I have finally finished the 895-page beast that is Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White.

And I loved it.

The story focuses on Sugar, a 19-year-old prostitute seeking betterment from her position. Enter William Rackham, unwilling heir to a perfume business. Other members of the cast include Agnes, William’s crazy wife; Henry, his pious brother; Emmeline Fox, determined to restore fallen women; and a ragtag bunch of other characters from Sugar’s fellow whores to the more esteemed of English Society. Oh, and Bodley and Ashwell, but they can speak for themselves.

Ok, it was daunting. I’m not sure why I thought a nearly 900-page book would be a breeze. The writing style is definitely very different, with an outspoken narrator who likes to remind you you’re reading a novel, multiple points of view, complex and extremely detailed storylines, locations and characters, all mingled with the dirt and depravity of Victorian England.

I started this book in March. After climbing the first 400 pages, I had to rest. The narrative is almost overwhelming with how painstakingly Faber has crafted these scenarios. They are intimately described, and unravelled at such a pace it’s like watching a film. A long film. I had to take a break. I read a few other novels: Timeless by Gail Carriger (because I simply couldn’t wait once I’d purchased it), and the Gretchen Lowell series by Chelsea Cain (Heartsick, Sweetheart and Evil at Heart).

Half way through, I wasn’t endeared to this book. I wanted to push to finish it to say I’d done it. Then I got back into it, and this time, everything clicked. Having now completed the marathon (because once I picked it up, it was impossible for me to put it down), I can’t praise it highly enough. I even adore its abrupt ending, which completely leaves the fate of these characters hanging. The story the narrator told is over and now it’s time to move on. Whatever happens next is up in the air.

I’m proud that I made it. This will certainly be a book I revisit in the future after I’ve overcome the book hangover.

Right now, I’m enjoying a cup of tea, stirred with a bone folder because I was too engrossed to head back into the kitchen, and trying to figure out what to read next. I’m thinking Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

It also begs the question, dear reader, which book has dragged you through the wringer? Did you ever pick up something that was difficult to finish, but powered through to a satisfying end? Given you book hangover lately? Discuss.

Bonus points for including what a bone folder is and it’s use. 😉

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Fifty Shades Further: How “Mommy Porn” is Screwing with Literature

My friend and top-Beta, Laura, posted this link on her Facebook tonight:

Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and Sherlock Holmes to be Republished with ‘Explosive Sex Scenes’

Part of me, a large part, really hopes this is some horrible, horrible prank. The article itself induces feelings from extreme rage, the desire to cry in a corner and rage-quitting life. I am undecided, so I blog.

I know why this happening: Fifty Shades was such an unprecedented success that the pub world wants in on the cash cow, and what better means than to take public domain Classics and add ‘missing’ scenes.

Here’s the real kicker for me:

Some original fans of Jane Eyre might be unhappy to discover that the female protagonist has “explosive sex with Mr Rochester” in the publisher’s erotic edition.

In Wuthering Heights, heroine Catherine Earnshaw “enjoys bondage sessions” with Heathcliff while sleuth Sherlock Holmes has a sexual relationship with his sidekick Dr Watson in the new e-book.

I’m angry about a number of points regarding all statements:

1) These books don’t NEED sex; it’s already there.

If you read them, really read them, you’ll see that Jane Austen using the dancing as metaphors for sex. Where else do you see characters interacting, touching, conversing freely? How about Wuthering Heights, where there’s practically necrophilia in addition to an emotionally and physically abusive relationship? How’s that to satisfy your twisted desires?

In Jane Eyre‘s case, THE ENTIRE POINT is that she wants Rochester, but STILL SAYS NO because she’s unwilling to take part in an immoral union. He offers her mere companionship and she still says no. Honestly, I can’t believe there would be any raunchy sex after what happens to him at the novel’s end.

2) “Erotic” sex scenes are historically inaccurate.

Theses scenes aren’t “missing” because there were never originally there. In Regency England, that sort of thing wasn’t discussed. Why do you think there were two endings to the Kyra Knightly version of Pride and Prejudice?  Even in England, in 2005, the film ended with Darcy asking for Elizabeth’s hand. They added the ending where they kiss on the roof of Pemberly in America to appeal to this demographic. Sex happens. It’s just not widely publicized. See point #1. Also, there wouldn’t be bondage on the moors. Though depicted in paintings as early as the 1630s, bondage didn’t become a widely-known sexual thing until 1930, at least as far as research has shown me. If wrong, please enlighten.

3) It’s basically bastardizing these novels, especially for the Brontes.

The Sisters B originally had their manuscripts published under the names Currer Bell, Ellis Bell and Acton Bell. Why? Because the books they wrote were too “dark, erotic and unseemly” for women to have penned. They then had a hell of time proving three women, in fact, wrote those books.

Bronte Sisters Power Dolls, anyone?

Sure, if the Brontes were alive today, I’m sure they’d be all over the erotic fiction. For the 19th century, they were. They were some truly badass bitches.

4) It’s a cheap way to promote Classics people already read.

It’s basically fan fiction. Again. And it’s not even the whole story. They claim they won’t alter the author’s voice or the text, but that’s exactly what they’re doing! The original author never wrote these scenes. Adding them in changes the text. You honestly expect me to belive you can write 19th century bondage? Does that mean you’ll be painstakingly researching the lexicon of that era? Guess what, words you think are 19th century probably aren’t. I’d be interested to see exactly how one describes auto-erotic asphyxiation like a proper lady.

“But I’d like to see some naked Mr. Darcy!” Wouldn’t we all? You know that’s why there’s that Colin-Firth-swimming-in-lake-and-emerging-soaking-wet scene in the BBC film.

 And guess what. You can! Darcy Takes a Wife, by Linda Berdoll, is  basically nonstop Darcy/Liz sexcapades. There are plenty of “erotic” novels. How about The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber? It’s a daunting 900-page read, but the story centers around a 19-year-old prostitute named Sugar, and let me tell you, it’s not shy.

If there’s anything that should be fic’ed and reproduced, I’m going Jane Austen’s Fight Club.

“We were no longer good society.”

EDIT: Oh god, it gets worse. The Sun released this article, naming other books to be fucked up fuckedwith… ruined.

Northanger Abbey and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea have also been given a racy rewrite with Dracula, Treasure Island, Wuthering Heights, The Three Musketeers and the Phantom Of The Opera set to be released too.

I’m going to die now. Don’t even get me started on Phantom of the Opera and the endless burning of buildings that will ensue if there is Erik/Christine. There sure as hell better not be Erik/Raoul. A disaster beyond your imagination will, undoubtedly, occur.

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Fifty Shades of Do You Even Know What a Plotline Is

I’m doing something different. I’m going to attempt to update twice a week: one day about everyday things, one day about writerly, novel-shaped things. Today is the Writerly, Novel-Shaped Day. And if you haven’t guessed, I’m going to discuss a very popular novel.

If this is the novel that made your year, good for you. You read all three books? Well, awesome. Glad to see you engaging with a book. Please consider reading more books in the future. If this book did it for you, stop reading this blog post.

If, like me, you find this novel to be a thorn in the side of actual literature, by all means, continue reading. Many people already know Fifty Shades of Gray started out as fan fiction. I’m in no way bagging on fan fiction; in fact, not only do I read fan fiction, I’ve even written a couple. Not ashamed. Fan fiction is a good outlet. However, in the case of Fifty Shades, it was Twilight fan fiction. And bad fan fiction is BAD. We’re talking My Immortal standards here.

I’m no fan of Twilight. I found the plotline, when there was a ghost of one, simplistic at best, the characters were not developed, cliché, and Bella is probably the worst role model for every girl ever. She may be a teenager, but she’s utterly devoid of personality, common sense, and intellect. Fifty Shades may actually be WORSE. Unless you read it as a comedy. Then it’s hilarious.

Do you really expect me to believe that Ana, a 21-year old college girl, has never held anyone’s hand? And that she doesn’t have a computer despite being an English major? That she miraculously made it into college despite her apparent mental condition? “Her inner goddess” should know something is massively wrong. Aside from basically making every character a Mary-Sue, there is actually one thing that makes this “book” far worse. Let’s talk about descriptions.

“His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something.”

Or something? With an ellipses? Seriously? Clearly, though the break allows the reader to fully grasp the emotional connection between subjects. The “something” implies that he is mysterious, something she can’t quite identify.

Oh wait, it’s just poorly written fan fiction.

There’s also a part where he mentions all the “vanilla sex” they’ve been apparently having in the Red Room of Pain (yes, it’s capped like a proper location). She says something like,

“I thought it was chocolate fudge brownie sex. With a cherry on top.”

Surely, I can’t be the only one with the “Are you kidding me?” face on. How the hell did this get published? E.L. James landed a book deal because it was a popular story based on Twilight. Her 21-year-old heroine acts like she’s 16, her 27-year-old protagonist is just a creepy stalker who likes tying people up. Sounds like a cross between Twilight‘s Edward and Jack the Ripper.

I could understand if the book was just poorly written, but the fact that it has no original merit whatsoever is a stab in the chest. Has all of literature seriously become some gimmick? Sure, editing accidents happen. I’ve seem some pretty funny typos.

But when the ENTIRE BOOK is one glaring error? How do you overlook that?

Those of you who’ve read my blog over the years know my writerly ambitions. For me, books like Fifty Shades of Gray mean only one of two options:

Either my work will be a godsend to the literary world, or I am absolutely fucked for knowing how to properly format a sentence and use a thesaurus.

I’m not saying don’t read it. I’m saying don’t read it seriously. As a comedy, Fifty Shades has some merit. It may be difficult to read through the blinding tears of laughter. I wouldn’t drop the money on the series either. Rent it from the library. Borrow it from a friend. Or just read another fan fiction. One with a plot line and actual formatting. They exist. I’ve read them.

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Dying Isn’t Pretty

It’s sticky, messy, you turn odd colors, there’s no easy clean-up kit.

And the foam color makes my head feel strange, not to mention I get it EVERYWHERE.

Oh.

Sorry. Dying my hair isn’t pretty.

But it’s happening. RIGHT NOW. Here’s hoping Deep Cherry Brown works out for me. And thanks to John Frieda, who provides the dying kit with REAL gloves, not those odd, cartoony thin ones.

I already took the plunge yesterday and chopped my long, wavy, rockabilly locks into a sassy swing bob, and the coat of paint is the last step in the process. I’m hoping to go back Saturday to get another inch off the back and make the bob a bit edgier.

I always feel great after a new haircut. It’s another chance to reinvent myself, form a new outlook, seek new opportunities.

I’m currently looking for another job. Being a grocery store cashier is marvelous and all, but after four years and the recent rash of drama, it’s time for a change. I applied to work in a bookstore. Still cashiering, but at least I’d be surrounded by the scent of literature and coffee. I just wish there were more independent bookstore/cafes around, but I also live in the middle of nowhere, and am therefore not surprised.

I’m still in limbo career-wise. I answered VLC Productions’ call for a graphic designer, but I don’t know how that’ll go. Honestly, it seems like a dream job to me. VLC does a lot with photography and book trailers, and dear gods do I love books. Making pretty things FOR books would be… the perfect storm of things I love.

Taking a que from Vania, I’ve started challenging myself to write 1,000 words in 1 hour. Last time, I made it to 945. Damn close. I blame pausing for research. But research IS important. I’m plugging away at the novel-thing slowly, but I’m inching past the former writer’s block and getting more into action.

I even have an outline! Well, a solid idea of what happens, more or less sequentially. In the words of Neil Gaiman, “You learn to write by writing.” Oh, did I mention he spoke to me on Twitter? Yeah. It was AWESOME.

If you haven’t seen/heard it yet, go listen to his commencement speech. It’s honest, funny, brilliant, and reassured me that I can make a career making stuff up. I tweeted him to say thanks. He tweeted me to say I was welcome. The internet is a great and wonderous place.

I’m feeling better about life after a month of a LOT of stress.

Oh, by the way, the White Patchwork Beast is FINISHED. Photos pending. Julie gets a break, and then it’s Black Patchwork Beast. And frozen yogurt. And poi lessons. And frozen yogurt.

Now, it’s time to wash the foam out of my hair. Hurrah!

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Better Things

I change careers more often than 18th century ladies changed their dresses.

Well, not a change of career so much as deciding to search for better fields. Though my current opportunity was great while it lasted, it’s just not write (haha, journalism). It’s a long commute for minimal compensation, not to mention I’m doing jobs that were not in my job description for a fraction of what I should be making.

So I’m letting go. It’s been a while in making. I’ve been stressed. I almost broke down at my other job on Friday due to exhaustion. Things had to change, and now they are. It’s a bit stressing in its own way; all jobs I’ve come across demand 3-5 years of prior experience, and here I’m backing out the door. I honestly couldn’t stand another month of my current position, but that’s another long, drawn out story. I’m glad for the opportunity. It was a fun ride. Time to replan my budget.

In the meantime, I’ve got other plans. I’m going to pick up that novel again and stop whining and just write. I need to tell this story so I can move on and tell the others. I’ve also go a super secret plan storming in my head.

I’ve also got an exciting series of performances this month! Well, two.

First, I’m returning to FoxTale Book Shoppe for my *actual* Night Circus performance/discussion, unlike last month’s… um… preview. I’ve also been preparing real talking points so I’m not just babbling on while juggling. Bonus: my poi arrived yesterday.

Pretty new fire heads, soon to be baptised, and in the lovely bag are my LED poi, for when fire is not the best option. It also came with a nifty DVD about fire spinning that will frighten the pants off you with horror stories on fire dancing gone wrong. Don’t mess with fire, kids.

I also bought a fire blanket. I may be a circus girl, but I’m cautious.

The LED poi rainbow through several colors. I think they were blue and yellow in this shot, but my phone may have disagreed with the color scheme.

My second super exciting performance is also at FoxTale at the end of the month. The lovely Delilah Dawson is holding a book launch party and what proper girl can resist not only a circus, but a dark glittery vampire circus? And throwing together a costume– fun all around.

I’ve got bigger and better plans for April, namely involving The Artifice Club, of which I am now member. I have a pin and everything.

I am currently lamenting having finished Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series. This is one series I wish WOULD have 17 books in which I could continually indulge, but my distress is mitigated by her new series and the promise of the continued adventures of Prudence. All I really want in my life is more Biffy. He’s simply awesome.

Now I’m off to contemplate what to read next. I’ll probably finish The Crimson Petal and White, seeing as I abandoned Victorian whores in favor of mummies, werewolves, vampires, and bumblebee interpretive dances.

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