Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: The End of the World

Hello, lovely blog readers! I'm not dead, I promise! I have, as usual when my blog posts trickle to a halt, been incredibly busy this semester - the kind of busy that when I stop to take a break for a few hours (or sometimes an evening) because I can't think straight anymore, I feel guilty about neglecting my mountain of work. Sigh. 

Anyway, enough about my overabundance of homework - it's time for a teaser!!

This is the opening chapter (it's a short chapter) of the short novel I'm working on for my class. Long time blog readers might recognize it, as the idea came from a short story I wrote about a year ago, although there are quite a few differences in the new version - namely that the protagonist is about two years older, and that it's now a novel instead of a short story.

In any case, I hope you enjoy it!


November, 1940

            The air raid siren did not scare Sophie Miller any longer. 

            Never mind that it was cold and the middle of the night; the siren went off, whooping across the darkness like some sort of alien bird, and Sophie obeyed its call. She and her mother got out of bed, pulled on socks and slippers and dressing gowns at coats, bundling up against the possibility of a long night in the tin-and-concrete Anderson shelter. The air outside was bitingly cold, and it did not yet smell of dust and smoke and burnt things the way Sophie knew it would sooner or later. So far, there was no sound aside from the siren and neighbors clattering towards their own backyard shelters.

            Sophie and her mother crossed the yard in silence – there was nothing that needed to be said – and clambered inside their little vegetable-covered Anderson shelter. She switched on the torch then, hoping that the batteries would last till the end of the raid this time, and reached for the overstuffed suitcase that was settled beneath the little wooden cot inside the bomb shelter. The suitcase held anything she and her mother had, in a fit of fancy, deemed important – a layer of legal documents settled at the bottom, covered by pictures of her father, favorite earrings, a carefully wrapped tea set that had belonged to Sophie’s grandmother, and books. Sophie took out one of the books and clambered onto the cot beside her mother, letting half the blanket be wrapped around her as they snuggled together while Sophie balanced the torch between her cheek and her shoulder and the book on her bony knees and began to read. In a voice that was at first heavy with sleep, then louder as the sound of the siren was replaced by the eerie soft roar of plane engines and the distant soul-shattering crashes of bombs, she read from the evening’s chosen book – this time it was Twelfth Night – relishing in the feel of the familiar syllables falling from her lips and the warm weight of her mother’s shoulder pressing in to hers. 

            The explosions that battered the world outside their tin can shelter grew closer, and Sophie had to raise her voice again and again to make herself heard above the noise and above the panic that threatened to overtake her as each explosion sounded more and more near. 

            And then the earth itself seemed to shake. 

            The force of the explosion knocked the pair off the cot and onto the hard, cold floor, which was where they stayed, gasping and clinging and frightened, for a good long while. There were more explosions outside, although none so close, but Twelfth Night lay forgotten on the floor, and the glass of the torch was cracked, keeping them in darkness. 

            When at last the all-clear signal sounded and Sophie creaked open the door of the Anderson shelter, she had expected to see what she had always seen: the back door of her little house in Brixton, where she had spent all her life, with its grey painted siding and blue painted windows. She expected to see the fence along her yard and the shadow of the neighbor’s houses. But all of that was gone. 

            Her mother put her hand on Sophie’s shoulder in what was probably meant to be a comforting gesture but was in reality a vice grip as the two of them stepped into a wholly alien landscape. There was a great, gaping black hole where her house had been, stretching across the street, leaving the back wall of the house to stand precariously on its own. The windows had shattered, and the curtains that her mother had made were beginning to catch fire. 

            It was as though Sophie had closed the door on the world she’d known and opened it on an utterly new one. Had she been able to speak, she might have echoed Viola and said “what country, friends, is this?” because it was not Brixton. 

            It was not home, and it would never be home again.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thoughts from Places: Lost in Central Park

I'm sitting on my couch in my living room at home right now, drinking a cup of tea that my dad made me and hoping my cat will appear from somewhere in the near future. And I am incredibly glad to be home. This semester, so far, has been kind of a rough one for me - I've taken on far too many things to do, and I am getting them all done, hopefully in a satisfactory manner, but it's exhausting. I'm getting tired of being tired, of staring at the mountain of work in front of me and wanting to give up before I start because there's just so much of it, of feeling like no matter how hard I'm trying it's never enough. It's been sort of an emotional rollercoaster as well - some really awesome things have happened that have made me an incredibly happy camper, but some terrible things have happened to people I care about as well. It's like I can never catch up, really.

So what did I do last weekend, when I was feeling so completely overwhelmed that I could hardly stand it, when I had midterms this week and a show to direct?

I asked my made-of-awesome roommate Lisa to drive me and my other made-of-awesome roommate Sarah to Binghamton, and then Sarah and I took a bus to New York City so that we could meet Stefan Bachmann at his book signing.

After a long bus ride in which I was reminded of all my fantastic adventures in Europe and countered the wildly depressing reading I was doing for my history class by listening to this song, quite literally, on repeat for four hours, Sarah and I arrived at the Port Authority and met up with her friend Ryan. It was ComicCon last weekend, so Sarah and I were quite amused by all the costumed people wandering about the city. The three of us got some one dollar NYC pizza for dinner and then headed up to Ryan's office to eat it, because there was nobody else there, so why not? Ryan told us all about ComicCon, since he'd been there for work (lucky) and then after a little while of swapping stories we went and got some seriously amazing cupcakes from a place called Crumbs and stood at a table in Times Square, eating the cupcakes and watching people cosplay as the Ghostbusters. I think that is the one thing I like more about Manhattan than London; London shuts down surprisingly early for a big city, and it settles into a sleepy, shadowy sort of quiet that is really quite comforting. But New York comes alive at night, when all the lights are blaring almost as bright as daylight and there are still hundreds of people wandering the streets in search of something to do. It's invigorating, to be in that mass of milling people buzzing through the city under the glow of artificial light. It means you have places to go, people to see - or you can just stand in Times Square and eat a cupcake.

After that, Sarah and I hopped on another bus, this one about a forty-five minute ride to my house in New Jersey. I've been feeling a little lost, as I said, and so stepping off this bus gave me an almost overwhelming rush of being home. Walking up my driveway to hug my mom (and later, my dad and sister - they were at a marching band competition, of course), tackling my cat with affection he probably wasn't terribly interested in - this was exactly what I needed.

We weren't home for very long, of course - just long enough to have a lazy breakfast of home-made cinnamon buns the next morning before getting back on the bus to NYC to head to Books of Wonder and Stefan's book signing.

Since I've been telling people that I was going to go see my friend whose book had just come out, everyone has been asking me how I know Stefan. People from school ask if he's a friend of mine from home; people from home ask if I know him from school (he lives in Switzerland, so...). I feel like I get funny looks whenever I answer, "well... the internet?" But that is the case. My intern buddy Ari was lucky enough to go to BEA this summer, where she snagged an ARC of Stefan's wonderful book The Peculiar. She then lent it to me, and we started chatting with Stefan on Twitter. He's a really nice guy, and I was so glad that I got to meet him in person - since I doubt he'll be in the States again for quite a while.

Our bus got stuck in traffic on the way in, so Sarah and I managed to sprint into Books of Wonder (which is, by the way, the world's most amazing bookstore EVER) exactly as Stefan started reading. We snuck into the back of the reading and I waved at him, and when he'd finished and passed the microphone over to the next author on the panel, he waved back at me. It was quite a good panel - lots of interesting books were presented (I'm probably biased, but I liked Stefan's best) and the authors were all pretty cool guys (Gordon Korman was there - I still have the copy of No More Dead Dogs he signed for me back when I was in middle school, and I told him so later, even though I didn't buy his new book). After the signing, I creeped a bit on a really cool agent I follow on Twitter and who is a former writing major at Ithaca College... I don't think I weirded her out too much by saying hello. And then Sarah and I went up to see Stefan, and we got our books signed and got t-shirts and buttons and Swiss chocolate (oh my!), to which I responded "I brought you some cookies! My dad made them. They're awesome."

Stefan signed stock for the store for a while, and Sarah and I wandered around looking at all the books, wishing we could take them all home (I think bookstores and animal shelters are the two most dangerous places to put me. Give me books or kittens and I will want to adopt them all), and then Stefan and his brother asked if we wanted to go on an adventure to the Met.

This is where the story gets a bit funny, because you have two people who are originally from Colorado and now live in Switzerland and so don't know New York at all, one person who is in the city fairly regularly to visit friends and family, and one person who mostly knows how to navigate the city... but not quite. Sounds like the start of a bad joke, right? We got off the subway at Columbus Circle and started walking, chatting pleasantly about writing the whole way (writer friends are just so great to talk to; they really just get all the idiosyncrasies of a writer's brain, because theirs works similarly), but of course we were walking up the wrong side of Central Park. We arrived at the Museum of Natural History, groaned a bit, and turned into the park to get to the other side. We meandered through the park for a while, and it really was very pretty - quite rocky and adventurous for a park in the middle of a huge city. Sarah and I both had all of our stuff with us, however - stuff that, for me, included a backpack full of my 17-inch laptop, my pajamas, three books for my history paper, a binder, my Italian folder that was stuffed full of things to study for my midterm the next day, various chargers, etc etc etc. This was also the part of the day in which my estimation of how much said backpack weighed started to go up in my mind.

The backpacks also played a strange role when we finally did reach the Met. Sarah and I were declared over-baggaged, and so we had to check some of our things. But the guys at security had told us that we needed to keep our laptops with us the whole time. The eventual result of this was that Sarah kept her netbook in her purse, we both checked our backpacks and coats, and I took my purse as well and carried my aforementioned 17-inch laptop in my arms the entire time we were in the museum. I must have looked ridiculous, but hey, I had a little yellow security slip saying I was just following the rules.

We checked out some Vermeer and some musical instruments (that was fun, because Stefan plays All of the Things, and we saw some really cool carved details on various harps and pianos and discussed how this is the sort of thing that is great to include in books), and then went downstairs to look at the armory (because jousting is awesome). And then the museum was closing, so we wandered off, Stefan and his brother to their hotel, and Sarah and I to the Argo Tea across the street from where I worked this summer. There, we sat down very happily for two hours and had some tea that was very good but sadly lacking in milk, and I pounded out my history paper and Sarah worked on her presentation before we trekked back to the Port Authority and got on yet another bus.

After another long bus ride in which I studied for Italian and sent out a rehearsal schedule via text message, our truly made-of-awesome roommates came and picked us up, and when we opened the car door Other Caitlin squealed "WE MISSED YOU GUYS SO MUCH WE BROUGHT YOU CUPCAKES." On the hour-long drive back to Ithaca, we told them of our adventures, and then we turned up the music on Lisa's iPod, singing along loudly to N'Sync and Panic! at the Disco and the Fratellis and I don't even know who else.

The next night, Lisa and I were up late doing homework and watching movies and talking. We were saying that it would be nice to fall in love, and Lisa explained that she thinks you matter in life because of the people you matter to. And I think she's right, but not just about boyfriends. Last Sunday, I saw very clearly that I mattered to a lot of different people. I saw my family and got to curl up in the warmth of my couch and revel in that homey comfort. I met an awesome writer-friend and went on an adventure in a big, exciting city. And I came back to Ithaca to find roommates who'd missed us so much after just one night that they brought along cupcakes for the car ride back. As we drove, with the music blasting and the mountains rolling past us in dark black smudges against a charcoal-grey sky and the glare from Lisa's highbeams turning the leafless trees on the side of the road into white skeleton sketches, I couldn't help but feel happier than I have in quite a while. I mattered to these people, to all of the people I'd seen that day, and they all matter to me - more than words can truly express. It is, I think, the best way to end an adventure - to feel that in whatever place you stop, the people there will care about you. If that's the case, then wherever you stop is going to feel like home.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: Oh Those Crazy Writers

Hello, all! I am quite swamped, and must be getting back to my small mountain of homework - so you know what that means? You get a Teaser Tuesday today!

This is another snippet from Smoke and Mirrors, which I wish I had more time to work on, but, ah well, such is life. In it, Theo and Josephine go to visit a scholar whose essay has gotten Theo all confused. He's hoping to find out that his suspicions have been only that, but, well... we don't always get what we wish for.



“Forgive me for intruding, Mr. Atwood-Berkley-”

“Nonsense. Reynolds never lets anyone in to see me, it’s getting rather ridiculous.”

His wide, fixed grin was beginning to make Theo uncomfortable, and he felt Josephine shift uncomfortably beside him. He repeated his faltering introduction of himself, this time including Josephine. She dipped a short, brief curtsey. 

“Ah, excellent, excellent. Do sit down. Reynolds! Bring us some tea, that’s a good chap.” 

The butler bowed, a gesture that made him look as though he was two fixed pieces on a hinge, his torso remaining quite straight throughout the quick bob. Theo and Josephine seated themselves on a sofa near Atwood-Berkley, the feather cushions very much deflated. Theo settled his bowler hat on his knee, Reynolds having apparently forgotten to take it when they entered the house. Perhaps he was not quite as good a butler as his demeanour suggested, or perhaps he was not expecting their visit to be of long duration. True, the entire thing was making him uncomfortable – the fact that he was still sinking into the sofa as though it wanted to trap him did not help – but nothing so far suggested that there was anything wrong. He struggled to match the writer’s unnerving grin, hoping very much to find his suspicions proven wrong. 

“I’ve been working on a thesis about practical applications of magic,” he began. “My professor gave me one of your articles-”

“Ah, yes, he would at that. He is quite fond of my theories. It’s odd that no one else is, I haven’t been able to publish for months. What do you make of that, then?” 

“I – I find it all very strange. You seem to suggest in the article I was given that illusory magic could be made corporeal-”

“Oh, well, yes, of course it can. Rothfeldt and I came to that conclusion years ago.”

For a moment, all Theo could do was stare at him. He could not be serious. He could not smile brightly at him and calmly deliver such a statement. It simply was not possible. 

“But – surely that is impossible-”

 “Nothing is impossible. Difficult, maybe, but not impossible. Reynolds, there you are. Won’t you show them?” 

The butler had returned with a tray of tea things. The man paused, but then set down the tray and moved closer to where Theo and Josephine sat. He rubbed at something with his foot, something on the floor that Theo could not see. And then Josephine yelped. Before he knew what had happened, he had fallen to the ground, with his sister sprawled there beside him, and the sofa they had been sitting on was gone. It had vanished, leaving nothing in its wake, not even a solitary goose feather. 

“There, you see? Not at all impossible.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How to Do All the Things

Yesterday in Italian class, my professor handed around a sign-in sheet for a weekly Italian conversation hour. While this would, in truth, probably help my floundering Italian skills a lot, I passed it along immediately without adding my  name. She gave me a look, of course, and jokingly asked why I hadn't signed up.

I answered with "Non ho il tempo! Necessito fare tutte le cose. TUTTE LE COSE, MARELLA."

So basically I made a meme joke in a foreign language because I am just that cool. (One other kid in class laughed...)

But seriously. I have to do ALL THE THINGS this semester. Allow me to illustrate:

1. Writing Children's Literature class
2. Writing the Short Novel class
3. Italian class
4. French Revolution history seminar
5. voice lessons (and the practicing that goes along with those)
6. Ballroom class (this is more stress relief than anything else, and fortunately doesn't come with homework)
7. Direct a Broadway Revue showcase that goes up six weeks from Saturday
8. Internship with a literary agency (aka read all the queries and manuscripts) 
9. Work on inviting a YA author to campus to give a reading
10. Write MY novel
11. Clean my apartment
12. Cook sometimes. Because, you know, food is good.
13. Go to work.

So yeah. All the things. And do you know how I manage to do all the things?

I don't.

Doing this many things is a crazy kind of balancing act. I'm a full time student, and so homework is currently my first priority. I may only be taking four academic classes, but all four of them really pack a punch. They involve a lot of reading and writing, which might not necessarily be hard, but they take TIME. So much time that I spent all weekend holed up in my room working, rather than, you know, seeing my friends like people SHOULD do on the weekends.

And I do need to sleep at some point, even if I'm notoriously bad at it.

But at the same time as I'm a full time student, I am also a writer. And I WANT to have the time to work on my novels. I need to. I am serious about this. I want to be a published novelist so badly it hurts sometimes. I lie awake at night wondering what more I could possibly do to get my foot in the door, to have someone give me a chance, to prove that I love this and I am willing to work so hard to achieve it.

But when all my time is spent staring at textbooks, the free time I have I usually NEED to devote to relaxing, to hanging out with friends and letting my brain unwind for a change, because otherwise I might just explode.

And I do write every day. My project for short novel? That's a novel I want to write for myself as much as I now need to write it for the deadlines imposed for class. I'm at the level of my major that I can write what I want to write, rather than bending everything to the prompts given in lower level writing classes (and that's not to say I didn't learn anything in those lower level classes, just that I now have the freedom to do what I want).

So I cheat a little. I snatch moments when I can. Because I do all the things - and all of those things are things I want to be doing. I love my internship. Rehearsals for Broadway Revue start tomorrow, and I'm super excited. I like my classes, no matter how much I complain about all the homework I have to do.

No piece of writing advice works for every writer, except, I think, this one: don't let it stress you out. As long as you are writing, it doesn't matter. Steal moments when you can, and don't beat yourself up about it when you can't. It's not worth it to turn something you love into a chore.

So have a cup of tea and take a break, my lovely writer friends. I'm going to go finish my Italian homework.


In other news, my friend Stefan Bachmann's book THE PECULIAR releases today! YAY STEFAN!!! It's a really good book, you should read it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

About The Book

Hello All! So, my awesome summer intern friend Ari tagged me in her last blog post. I think this one is especially interesting and useful, so I am going to pounce on it (... a week later... sorry Ari... I might talk about Doing All The Things on Thursday...) I hope you guys are interested too!

1. What is the name of your book?


2. Where did the idea for your book come from?

Heh, this is kind of a long story. When I was a sophomore in high school, I was sitting with my friend Erin on a bus in the dark, on the way back from our annual band/chorus trip, and I said I'd been mulling over a retelling of Beauty and the Beast with a werewolf in. She thought that was awesome, so I wrote it on and off for a while. I finished it and started working on a sequel.

Then I went to college and asked a professor how one goes about publishing a novel. She introduced me to a student in the other section of her Intro to the Essay class - Kody Keplinger - who taught me how to write a query letter and told me that, seriously, I needed to cut my book in half if I wanted to actually pitch it. I managed to get it from about 163k (!!!) to 100k (!), and then I queried it. I got some interest, got some feedback, and then decided it needed to be reworked. I puttered around for quite a while, trying to find a good way to fix all the problems in the ms.

And then I rewrote the entire thing from scratch. The only thing that's stayed the same from the beginning are the central characters, who I love beyond reason, really.

3. In what genre would you classify your book?

YA historical fantasy. This might be a point of contention for some people, since there are werewolves in my manuscript. I do see this in the realm of fantasy rather than paranormal, however. In most paranormal books, I think, the werewolf/vampire/evil rabbit character has to keep that identity a secret, and there's an introduction to that secret world for a normal human character. Whereas in fantasy, elements of magic - in my case, a magical creature - are simply present and accepted in the world. Does that make any sense or am I losing my mind?

4. If you had to pick actors to play your characters in a movie rendition, who would you choose?

Um... well... Ben Barnes as Prince Caspian looks rather like Avar, I think... although that random kid I sat next to on the Tube once was a dead ringer for him. He was also wearing a fez, too; so much the better.

5. Give us a one-sentence synopsis of your book.

Seventeen-year-old Rose must break her family out of the most feared prison in Paris before they face the guillotine, with only the help of the werewolf who got them all into trouble in the first place. 

6. Is your book already published?

*grins hopefully at the Literary Powers that Be* Someday, I should hope!

7. How long did it take you to write your book?

Um... about five years, I think? Although that's from "initial idea" to "manuscript as it is now," not how long it actually took me to physically write anything. That I don't remember.

8. What other books within your genre would you compare it to? Or, readers of which books would enjoy yours?

Well, my query letter compares it to The Scorpio Races and A Great and Terrible Beauty, because that kind of mixture of reality, history, and fantasy is what I'm really gunning for when I write.

9. Which authors inspired you to write this book?

Well, goodness. Libba Bray to an extent. I think I was initially inspired by wanting to write my own version of Beauty and the Beast. After that, my obsession with the French Revolution and my love of the characters carried the project.  

10. Tell us anything that might pique our interest in your book.

It's a kissing book. *grins*

All right, there it is! Some information on A TERROR OF DARKNESS. I tag... anyone who wishes to complete this tag! (I know, I know... but d'you know All of Those Things I mentioned? I ought to go do them now. Until Thursday!)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

It Was Bound to Happen Eventually...

So last Sunday, I moved into my lovely new apartment on campus. We have a great view of Cayuga Lake out the living room window (and also my bedroom window), and there's lots of space and a full-sized fridge and more drawers than I know what to do with, which is unusual but cool.

There is also a spiral staircase leading from the kitchen/living room area to the bedrooms-and-bathroom area.

Said spiral staircase looks like this:

This spiral staircase is made out of black-painted metal, which has those little cross shaped things imprinted into it, supposedly to give some measure of traction, although really it doesn't work particularly well. Why a college would put such a thing into apartments lived in mostly by people who are now old enough to legally purchase alcohol is beyond me. Basically, this thing is the Spiral Staircase of Death.

And yes. That's right. I fell down it.

I live with three other girls: Lisa, Sarah, and Other Caitlin (so called because, well, I'm Caitlin too, although she also answers to Molly Weasley). Lisa, Sarah, and I were sitting downstairs doing homework or puttering about the internet or some such thing, when Other Caitlin came halfway down the stairs and asked where might be the best place to find some new nail clippers at 7 or 8 in the evening. I replied "my desk..." which sparked a conversation about whether or not that was weird, which maybe it should be but really I didn't care very much (it wasn't as though she had just been gardening or making mud pies or something). So Other Caitlin thanked me profusely and went into my room to find the nail clippers. Twelve seconds later, she called down the stairs "where do I find them again?" whereupon I went up the stairs, grabbed my nail kit from my desk, opened it, and handed her my nail clippers. And then I went to go back down the stairs.

What I was wearing plays a small part in this story: I had on a tank top, a skirt, and socks. The socks were because I was inside and my feet get cold, and when they get cold they get sweaty and gross and so do my hands for some reason, but anyway, I had socks on. The Spiral Staircase of Death, as previously mentioned, has little to no traction, and I was hurrying down the stairs. I think I was even holding on to the railing, actually. I was on the second or third step up from the bottom, when I registered two things in very quick succession.

The first was: Oh snap, I'm slipping!

The second was: OH SNAP GROUND.

I threw my hands out and then I was on the ground, sort of kneeling weirdly in front of the staircase. I sat there a bit stunned for a second.

Then all hell broke loose.

Sarah shouted "oh no!" from across the room. Lisa, who was sitting in the armchair directly next to the stairs, looked up from her reading and frantically asked if I was all right. I said I was fine, shifting carefully so I could look at my knees, which were quite red. Sarah then told me that I'd fallen incredibly gracefully, like a ballerina dying onstage (so, thanks, I think?). The rug burn on my knees was getting redder by the second, which was a bit concerning, and Lisa said something to that effect, and I protested that I was fine. Other Caitlin, however, shouted from upstairs "OH MY GOD IS SHE BLEEDING?!?" and came running downstairs to see. I kept protesting that I was fine, and Lisa and Caitlin began (intentionally) overreacting. I was still sitting at the foot of the staircase, so I said that I'd relocate to the couch five feet away, and Lisa shouted at me to stay put and that I should elevate my legs before they fell off (even stuffing a pillow under my knees). I was given some ice. Other Caitlin and Lisa then hurried up the stairs (over me) to get polysporin and band-aids, which was when I ninja-ed my way over to the couch, where Sarah was sitting, really just being amused by the whole thing.

Lisa and Other Caitlin came back with their medical supplies. I was expecting to get yelled at for getting up and moving to the couch, but I didn't, fortunately. Lisa then proceeded to open her polysporin; when I held out my hand for some she said "I'm not putting it on your hand, I'm putting it on your knee!" whereupon I grabbed it from her and did it myself, thanks very much. I was unable to escape Lisa and Caitlin putting the band-aids on my knees, however, which tickled a LOT. Other Caitlin then handed me a piece of chocolate, because apparently falling down the stairs and coming close to dementors have the same remedy (hey, I wasn't going to say no to that one!).

This entire time, their incredibly comic and extreme overreaction had me laughing hysterically, so much so that when Lisa made a joke about me asphyxiating from falling down I said it'd be more probable that I'd do that from laughing too much. I'm not sure if I've done this episode justice writing about it - it was a complete flurry of running up and down stairs and shouting and general ridiculousness. Kind of like one of those goofy chase scenes where everyone is running frantically in and out of a set number of doors.

I suppose, then, that the moral of this story is twofold: one, be incredibly careful when wearing socks on metal staircases. And two, if you have to fall, do it gracefully, and make sure you've got some awesome friends around to cheer you up after you hit the ground. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ithaca Again

Hello, dear blog readers. I hope you are well on this fine Tuesday evening. I am currently ensconced in my wonderful new apartment with two of my three lovely flatmates, listening to someone else's music and the sound of my keyboard and the wind, and more than a little miffed that the very strong smell of pot coming through the window from somewhere is putting a damper on my sense of calmness.

The rather omnipresent smell of pot is one thing I did not miss about Ithaca, but there are many things I have missed. Mostly those things are people - I missed sitting around at two in the morning with roommates, hanging out and laughing and talking about important things or the meaning of life or nothing in particular really. I missed my friends that I have not seen since December, before I left for London. It's been great to see things click back into place, to pick up conversations as though I've never even left, to hug people I've only known in text or in pixelated videos for months. It's been great to be surrounded by friends again, in my apartment, in the dining hall, sitting at a table in "the pub," having person after person wave and say hello and ask how my summer was. Classes start tomorrow, and I'm excited to be reading new things, learning new things, attempting new things in my writing. It'll be hard, but it'll be fun.

Of course there are things I did not miss. I did not miss the utterly vile smell of marijuana, I did not miss the worry of piling-up homework, I did not miss the cold (although it is not, of course, cold here yet. It certainly will be, though).

It feels a bit surreal to be here again. I was walking through campus to pick up my textbooks in the mail center, looking around at all the familiar buildings, and for a moment I felt a little bit like I was in one of those dreams where you know you are in a specific place even though your surroundings are not that place at all. I couldn't quite grasp what being back meant. How could I be here again after everything that had happened? How could I be in Ithaca, after being blown off a mountain in Edinburgh, after getting hopelessly lost and then found again in Venice, after walking three hours in snow-clogged London? How can I be back in the same place, to do the same thing, when I am not the same?

I do think this semester will be pretty exciting though. I'm looking forward to my classes; I'm looking forward to directing Broadway Revue and joining the Quidditch team. I'm excited to cook delicious things for my roommates and other assorted friends; I'm excited about the shiny new internship I snagged myself (talk about the benefits of Twitter!!); I'm excited for lots of adventures around this neat little town I live in.

I think one of my favorite things to do is just sit and talk with a small group of close friends until all hours of the morning. We talk about serious things - relationships and breakups and friendships and careers and hopes and dreams and fears, all sorts of things. We talk about other things too, like books and tv and movies. We tell jokes, talk about stupid stuff that doesn't matter, as well as the stuff that does. It feels comforting to be surrounded by people you trust, when you know they trust you too. I'm glad to be back in that environment. I'm looking forward to a lot of late nights and tired mornings, smiles and secrets and so many laughs my jaw aches with it.

And hopefully all this will happen without too many unpleasant smells filtering in from outside. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Year Turns Round Again

Yes, that is a War Horse reference. No, I am not completely obsessed. Well... yeah, okay, maybe I am.

Anyway. It's that time of year again - time to pack up all of the things, put them into my dad's car, and drive back up to the frozen north. Which is not, of course, all that frozen at this time of year, but will hopefully not be blisteringly hot, at any rate.

I'm both really excited and a little reluctant to head back to school, as usual. I'm excited for my flat and my flatmates (well, technically apartment, since I am once again in America, but WHATEVER), and I'm excited to see friends I haven't seen since December. I'm excited for my classes (although not so much for the homework). I'm excited for my theatre group and all sorts of things. It'll be great.

But I'm also, as usual, sad to leave my house and my bed and my cat and my sister and my parents. They're lovely. I'm very lucky to get along with my family as well as I do, so as excited as I am to go see my friends and hang out and be all Independent!Semi-Grown-Up-Person, it's always a bit sad leaving home again.

I'm also a bit worried that I'll get the whole "reverse culture shock" thing all over again. After spending five months in London and all summer working in NYC, going back to Ithaca is going to be a bit... strange. I'll be in an apartment again, cooking my own meals, but there will be no local Sainsbury's around the corner to pop into if I had run out of an ingredient or wanted some dessert. There will be no corner pizza place only open in the middle of the night (which, by London standards, is about 11pm) to run to when I don't feel like cooking or it's late and I'm starving after coming home from seeing a play for class or hanging about in a pub with friends. There will be no pubs, and no pub food. (Gosh I miss pub food.) Halfway through October, it will start getting colder than it ever gets in London, even in January.

And I've changed. I'm a little bolder than I used to be. I'm a little more sure of myself. I hope that I can fit who I am now into the space I left for myself in Ithaca.

I am looking forward to going back, though, even if it means my Italian class might kill me.

I'm going to do my best to keep up the Tuesday-Thursday blog schedule, since those are the days when I have only one class. Dear readers, tell me what you would like me to blog about! More query tips from my internship? Writing things I learn in my classes? Reminiscences of my adventures in Europe? Snippets of my current wip (there will soon be two, one regular one and one for my short novel class)? Let me know!

Are you going back to school soon? Excited about it? Let me know! :D

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: Not as it Seems

Hello, lovely blog readers! It's been rather a while since my last Teaser Tuesday, so I thought I'd share another snippet of my wip, Smoke and Mirrors, with you.

Some background info: Kate is finding India to be rather less adventurous and rather more hot than she had ancitipated; Clara is talking even less than usual, and so Kate is bored. Also, magic exists in this world, but only as illusions.

I hope you like it!


“I don’t suppose you’ve got anything to read lying about, do you?” she asked, turning to face her sister at last. 

Clara shook her head, not taking her eyes off the orderly black lines and dots of her sheet music. A conversation, it seemed, was out of the question. Clara had been awfully tense ever since arriving in India, and it was beginning to frustrate Kate. If Clara was more taciturn than usual, then she really had no one at all to talk to during these long afternoons. 

But she was not quite cross enough yet to bring it up, and so she wandered out of the library and ventured off through the house, not looking for anything in particular. She wandered through the parlour and the dining room, glancing at each end table she passed for the sign of a book that someone might have left unattended, but all she found were elephant statuettes and table linens and a surprisingly large cadre of Indian servants. Most she passed in hallways or outside the half-hidden passages to the servants’ quarters, and they seemed not to be doing anything at all. Perhaps that was how they dealt with the positively oppressive heat. She interrupted one in the breakfast room, polishing glassware. The man, who wore a blue turban and a very impressive white beard, bowed as soon as she entered the room. 

“Forgive me, Kumaari,” he said, making to exit the room. 

“Oh, no, please don’t trouble yourself. I’ll be on my way in a moment,” Kate said, flashing him a smile. The old man paused a moment, but then he returned to his work as Kate circled the room once, in search of something interesting. All she found was a dusty painting of a gentleman she didn’t know and a few discarded newspapers left on her father’s chair. She lingered over these for a moment – the articles left on top detailed increasing tensions with Russia, and a strange magical kerfluffle in London. Neither made any immediate logical sense, and so she left them behind, waving to the old servant as she left. He gave her a tentative smile and she saw that he was missing a tooth or two. She wondered if Rajesh might help him work on his English a bit; his accent had been so thick she’d hardly known what he had said. 

The ground floor of the house had given her nothing near exciting enough, and so she flounced her way up the stairs. The room she shared with Clara was wildly uninteresting, so she passed it by and continued down the hallway. Unexpectedly, the door to her father’s study was ajar. She did not hesitate a moment before slipping inside. 

There were more bookshelves inside the dark room, and she gravitated immediately towards them, but there were fewer books here than downstairs and they were nearly all military histories. She sighed again and turned her attention to her father’s large desk. There were more books and a globe set to one side, and the centre of the desk was strewn with letters – old letters, she realized quickly, from her mother. She scanned the first page for her name or Clara’s, but there was no immediate mention of them and so she turned aside. 

She circled the desk again and saw another statuette that had been mostly hidden by the globe a moment ago. It was, for once, not an elephant, but instead a little gilded lion. She suspected it was meant to be a symbol of English heroism, but she thought its face conveyed more gentleness than fierceness. The carving was very detailed, showing every curl of the lion’s mane. She smiled, wondering how she could ask her father about it without revealing that she’d been in his study without permission. She reached out to stroke it, expecting to feel gilt paint over wood. 

Instead, the little lion disappeared completely.   

Friday, August 17, 2012

Strong Female Characters and Lots of Questions

Something tells me that this blog post might get me into a lot of trouble.

I know that you, kind blog readers, certainly would not just start yelling at me, so I must hope that I am right when it comes to the general population of the internet. I've been mulling over a lot of these questions for the past few days and I would like to discuss them with you. I want your opinions, and I want to try and figure out my own by writing them down. So here goes.

As you know, I am a big fan of strong lady characters. I like nothing more than girls who can hold their own, whether that means in a swordfight or in a conversation.

I also like Disney movies. A lot. Like really a lot.

I was having a conversation with the lovely and talented Leigh Ann Kopans on Twitter the other day. (Seriously guys she's the best. She writes SUCH GOOD BOOKS. *fingers crossed for Leigh Ann and her books*) We were talking about Tangled and what a wonderful movie it is, and I said that it's the best Disney movie since the 90s. And then Leigh Ann said that she didn't like those much because of a lack of strong female characters. I didn't say much about it at the time, because the arguments are my least favorite things ever and usually I prefer to do the "oh, okay, different opinion. Fine. Cool. Good stuff. Moving on" thing. Leigh Ann is really really great and it was morning and I was tired and didn't feel like expanding upon this thought. But I've been mulling it over in the past few days and... I just don't see the problem.

No, the female Disney characters of the 90s are not Katniss. I've heard many an argument from my aunt to my classmates to the General People of the Internet that these movies are inherently bad for feminism... and I feel like I'm missing their point.

Granted, 90s Disney movies are the essence of my media consumption as a child (along with Bill Nye the Science Guy and Kratts Kreatures, but you get the point) so I am very much biased in their favor. But I also just don't see how those girls are huge red flags. Maybe they could be better, but are they as bad as all that, really?

See, I told you this was going to get me in trouble. I am NOT advocating for a lack of strong female characters! Hear me out here, please.

Beauty and the Beast is extremely high on my favorite-movies-of-all-time list. Top three, if not in the number one spot (I'm 21 years old, this may be problematic...). For one thing, the music is gorgeous. I love the animation. And I've always secretly (or not-so-secretly) wanted to be Belle. I don't think that she's actually dumb, or because the Beast saves her that one time it makes her incompetent. Yeah, she runs out of the castle in the middle of the night in the snow. I would be pretty freaked out in her situation too! A giant guy with claws is throwing furniture and screaming! I'd be out of there! But she knows where she's going, since she found the castle in the first place. And when the wolves show up, she doesn't panic or anything - she tries to outride them, then starts hitting them with a stick. She's eventually overwhelmed, yeah, but there are a LOT OF THEM. I always sort of saw this as understandable.

And yes, the Beast saves her, but in the end, doesn't she save him? In a less dramatic fashion, sure, but she does. She brings him back to life, essentially. And she doesn't do that really annoying "I'm going to change the bad boy" thing. She doesn't fall in love with him at the start (she doesn't like Gaston - why would she fall for another jerk?); she falls in love with him later because he turns into a nice person, for her.

I fail to see how needing to be rescued turns a girl into an instantly incapable character. Doesn't everybody need to be rescued sometimes? Girls, guys, everybody. Sometimes there are just too many wolves for you to take out on your own and you need a little help. Isn't that fair?

I'm also uncertain as to how this makes an entire movie unlikable. I LOVE The Princess Bride. It is an amazing movie. I've yet to read the book (I know, I know) but that movie is just so brilliant. And Princess Buttercup? Is the wimpiest female character EVER. She just stands there when Westley is getting attacked by the Rodent of Unusual Size. She nearly kills herself instead of trying to escape Humperdinck. She's completely pathetic. I acknowledge that. I love the movie anyway. Does that make me a bad person somehow? Because I am willing to overlook Buttercup's complete ineptitude to enjoy the jokes and adventuring of all the male characters in that movie, have I somehow failed at Being a Girl?

Another example: The Lion King. There are all of two female characters in that movie (which the musical attempts to rectify by making Rafiki a woman's part. It's awesome): Nala and Sarabi. If we're going off the "Lion King is actually Hamlet" theory, Nala and Sarabi are, I would argue, far stronger characters than Ophelia and Gertrude ever dreamed of being. After all, I'm pretty sure Nala could beat Simba up at any time if she felt like it, especially when they were kids. But, just like their Shakespearean counterparts, they are minor characters. They don't get large chunks of screen time. Nala is The Love Interest; Sarabi is The Mom. This has never made me love that movie any less. In fact, the Lion King soundtrack is my music of choice whenever I am buried in stress and need to not freak out so much. It never bothered me that Simba was the main character, and that most of the characters in that movie are male. I just think it's a good movie.

I am concerned, lovely blog readers. I am concerned for a lot of different and very conflicting reasons. There has been a bit of a media circus lately about how many women write YA and how many female characters there are and how many girls and women read it and how many boys don't. Those articles usually send me in search of something to bang my head against. So it's obvious that we haven't "gotten there" yet, in terms of being on a completely equal playing field. We NEED strong female characters. We NEED more of them.

We need movies like Brave, where Merida is a very skilled archer and wants to make her own way in the world, and her mother, I have to say, is just awesome (I can't tell you why without spoilers. Just trust me). We need movies like Tangled, where Rapunzel threatens people with frying pans and makes her realizations on her own.

But I think sometimes we get to be a bit overzealous. I think sometimes we are so intent on creating female characters who can be good strong role models that we forget to make them human.

Everyone needs to be rescued.

Everyone needs a good cry sometimes.

Everyone sometimes wants other people to make their decisions for them.

Everyone does stupid things sometimes.

Girls are people too. We should allow our characters to reflect that.

There are a lot of issues that get wrapped up in this. There's the issue of boys not reading books about girls whereas girls have little choice but to read about boys. There's the issue of girl characters being Bella Swan types with absolutely no decision making power of their own. There's the issue of marketing and pink covers and frilly titles for books written by women. There's the issue of boy characters being adventurous or smart while girl characters just like sparkly things. All of these things are significant problems in movies, television, literature, society... And none of these things have easy solutions. It's hard to even know where to start.

But I think a good place to start is to have a discussion about these issues. I want to know what you think of all this, dear blog readers. Tell me if you think I'm wrong about it, and why.

And I think we need to tell stories with the most human characters we can, both male and female. I want to see a book about a prince getting rescued. I want to see more books and movies about friendships rather than romances. And I want to see more strong female characters of course.

Being a strong character, male or female, shouldn't mean having to go it alone, though. Sometimes the hardest thing a person can do is to ask for help.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Adventure Time Again!

I've been sitting around all day wondering what to blog about (well, when I wasn't reading an amazing MS for a lovely and talented Twitter friend) and I just realized that I have had some adventures these past two weeks that I can tell you about!

Last Saturday, because I had some extra bus tickets I had to use before they expired, and because it sounded like lots of fun, I went into the city to meet up with my lovely intern friend Ari so that we could have a writer meetup and sit in a cafe and put some words onto some (computerized) paper. It was loads of fun. We went to a place called Argo Tea across the street from the Fashion Institute of Technology (coincidentally where my best friend goes to school - why have I not been to this place before?!?) and they have some really delicious tea and really tasty pastries. Actually, I'm glad that I didn't know about this place earlier in the summer, I would have spent entirely too much money eating lunch there. I actually managed to get quite a lot of words written as well, which was great. I've never done the typical set-up-camp-in-a-cafe-and-write thing, and I had sort of expected to be distracted by the public setting, but I wasn't - it's New York, nobody really pays much attention to anybody else. I was glad to have the designated time set out to just WRITE - and occasionally discuss writerly things with Ari - in a place where I had no Olympics to allow me to procrastinate.  (Seriously, the Olympics are murdering my productivity. Or, well, I guess I'm allowing them to murder it.) So, thanks for a grand afternoon, Ari! :)

The weekend before that saw some adventures too. My friend Lisa - who you will all remember as my roommate from London, with whom I had such great adventures - came to stay with me for the weekend and watch the Opening Ceremonies (which were fun, but slightly weird - although Voldemort vs. Mary Poppins? Yes please). We also went into the city that Saturday (more bus tickets that needed to be used) and we saw War Horse at Lincoln Center. This is actually the third time Lisa's seen it and the second time I have (we saw it together in London, and she'd seen it in NYC prior to that) and I would absolutely go again. Lincoln Center has this amazing student rush program called LincTix - go check it out, it's fantastic! Because we got thirty dollar tickets. And - can you believe it?


There are a lot of theatres where sitting in the front row doesn't actually sound like fun - most traditional proscenium style theatres (the ones with the big arch over the stage) have the front row set back from the pit, and you'd consequently be craning your neck the whole show trying to see what's going on. The stage at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center isn't like that - the front of the stage juts out into the audience (I am trying and failing to remember what the theatrical term for that is. Theatre nerds? Enlighten me?) and so even from the very front row, you aren't at a disadvantage. There were a few things we missed out on, because they were on the other side of a prop, but as we'd already seen the show, that was not a problem at all.

Guys. I don't think I have raved to you yet about how much I love War Horse. But. I LOVE War Horse. It is quite possibly the most beautiful piece of theatre I have seen in ever - both visually and emotionally. It helps that the history nerd part of me gets incredibly choked up just thinking about World War I, because it was so very pointless and yet so very devastating.

That scene is from the end of Act I, which is just such a vivid, heartbreaking scene. The whole production is such a beautiful look at the story of the war, and just how much it affected everyone involved - English townsfolk, English and German soldiers, French people trapped in no man's land, and yes, of course, the horses.

The horse puppets are absolutely stunning. Joey (the main horse) walked right past me twice two weeks ago, and I was rather as giddy about it as I was as a horse-obsessed ten year old about real horses. The detail on the puppets is amazing - Joey is a hunter, half Thoroughbred, half draft horse, and his design is really quite different from his friend Topthorn, who is all Thoroughbred, and so is much more angular and lean. It was wonderful to really get to see all that beautiful detail from so close. And the puppets absolutely move like real horses. The actors controlling them are really wonderful - you honestly forget that they are there at all, that you are not watching a real horse. The moment in Act I when Albert, Joey's human, jumps up onto the puppet for the first time is just magical. It all seems so very real.

That's an interview with the actor who played Captain Nicholls in London in 2010, and it's a really good close-up of just how well the horse puppet moves. It's really pretty amazing.

That's the official West End trailer, and it showcases another thing I love about this play: the music. I of course bought the soundtrack when I saw it again two weeks ago, because it is really beautiful music, and it fits so well into the play. It isn't a musical; the songs are more like a film soundtrack, but there is one character called the Songmaker who serves as a sort of narrator or Greek chorus to thread the show together. There's one song, called Only Remembered, that both opens and closes the show. It was initially an English hymn, but the lyrics take on an entirely different meaning when set against the stark backdrop of World War I.

Who'll sing the anthems
And who will tell the story?
Will the line hold, will it scatter and run?
Shall we at last be united in glory,
Only remembered for what we have done?

I'll spare you the English-class style breakdown of poetry, but I think the song really captures the bittersweet ending of the show -  the characters have done heroic things and terrible things, and they have seen so much. It's really a show to bring a packet of tissues to, but it is absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful. I would see it again. I would recommend it to just about anybody (except perhaps small children. It is a bit, well, upsetting. It is war, after all).

I'm so glad Lisa got to come visit for the weekend (if you're reading this, Lisa, I can't wait to see you back at school soon!!!) and that I got to see War Horse again. Huzzah for tea and friends and writing and good theatre! All things that make for a very happy Caitlin. ^_^