Friday, January 27, 2012

Award News: Figment, Flamingos, and Skeletons

Third time's the charm, right? I entered another Figment contest. There's a pattern here, I believe. I can't help but be drawn into the natural challenge of the prompts; for this contest, I simply couldn't ignore it. Why? Well, the theme was magical realism - it was a call to writing that I couldn't ignore. Like a hunting horn, or something, haha. 

Officially called "The Probability of Miracles" contest, the rules were simple:
Inspired by the magical realism in The Probability of Miracles, write a story in which something magical happens in an otherwise realistic world. (Bonus points for throwing in a plastic flamingo). Stories should be fewer than 1,200 words.
The idea for my contest entry didn't come so easily though. I spent some time racking my brain for ideas, trying to find some story that still managed to delicately handle the tricky rules of magical realism. It was a fun challenge, despite the headache, and eventually my fascination with skeletons (of the tap-dancing kind) bloomed into a story about a lonely, fireball of a girl and a science room skeleton. 

Wendy Wunder, the author of The Probability of Miracles, judged the contest. I'm happy that my story, "Skeleton Friend," met her rubric :)

The Story

"Skeleton Friend" is a short story about a girl named Cordelia who moved to a frigid, unfriendly town; her sunny demeanor doesn't attract the equally chilly student body at the local high school. She forms an odd friendship with a discarded skeleton... you can read the whole story here

A quick excerpt, of course, just because, haha:

On a cold, February day, Cordelia found a science room abandoned. She wiped her damp, citrus-stained hands on her sweater and snuck inside. The room smelled like sawdust and rainforest. Test tubes dried on the pegs, burners were unplugged, and the eyewash center looked thankfully unused. There was also a tank of muddy toads by the teacher’s desk, but Cordelia was drawn to a pile of cardboard boxes.
The top box was large enough to house a decent-sized television. When she peeked inside, she found an old, dusty skeleton. It caved in on itself, knees to chin, plastic hands twisted. She poked around, finding his flexible vertebral column, numbered bones, and muscle maps. On the back of his neck, the words “Mr. Thrifty” were printed.
“Mr. Thrifty,” she said, tasting the name. “What’s your first name?”
“Sam,” the skeleton said. 

While the voting was going on, two wonderful Figgies made covers for my story. I've never had anyone make me covers before, so I was honestly bashful and so happy to see them. So I'd like to show you all on here:

This lovely cover was made by Jasmine Everdeen. What's amazing about this is that the photo she found matches up with a scene from the story, as well as showing the skeleton's real size (unlike the photo I found, which is of the mini skeleton. That caused some confusion, haha). Thank you, Jasmine! *claps*

And Anna Browne made two different covers; I like the humor in the first one, this kind of dark fusion of some elements of the story, along with the friendship aspect. I also think the font on the second one is really cool - I liked the image so much that I didn't want to type onto it, but Anna really made it work. *Claps*

Thank you both so much!

The Prize

I anxiously awaited The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder, my prize for winning the contest. It was pretty exciting to open the package and see the hot pink cover screaming, "read me now!"

Isn't that cover something? And here's a good, quick summary from Amazon, explaining the basics of this book:
Dry, sarcastic, sixteen-year-old Cam Cooper has spent the last seven years in and out hospitals. The last thing she wants to do in the short life she has left is move 1,500 miles away to Promise, Maine - a place known for the miraculous events that occur there. But it's undeniable that strange things happen in Promise: everlasting sunsets; purple dandelions; flamingoes in the frigid Atlantic; an elusive boy named Asher; and finally, a mysterious envelope containing a list of things for Cam to do before she dies. As Cam checks each item off the list, she finally learns to believe - in love, in herself, and even in miracles.
When I cracked open the book and began to read, I grinned when I found out that Cam grew up in Disney World; her parents worked at the Polynesian Hotel. Cam is a very sarcastic character (which makes sense, considering her condition), but I had a tough time getting used to her pokes at Disney. It's kind of ironic that I happen to be a huge Disney fan and somehow found my way to this book - after all, the descriptions say nothing about Disney, haha. I enjoyed the elements of magical realism like Cam's car, Vapor, which took on some of its namesake's characteristics, and the path beyond Dunkin' Donuts had led to the hidden town of Promise, Maine.  

The quirky characters were endearing, though I mostly connected to Cam's mother and sister. Cam herself was a bit too sarcastic for me, even though I tried to like her throughout the book. I felt for Asher, though I wish I could have connected with him more, and, when I reached the end of the book, it was honestly him who I could have cried for. His gloomy, death-wracked past left me concerned for his future, even after I shut the book. I wasn't quite convinced that he would be fine with another loss. 

Also, as an avid Disney fan, I found some of the facts to be a bit... skewed, even for fiction. The one that stuck out to me the most what the part where Cam and her friends stay in Cinderella's Castle for the night, via the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Maybe I'm the only one who can say this... but I did, in fact, stay in that room (That's another story, for sure). We were informed by cast members that the room in the castle can't be booked in any way, but could only be won - so that the room technically remained a gift. I don't know if the rules have been changed since then, but I was there for the Year of a Million Dreams when my cousin happened to sit in the lucky seat on Soarin' - and I was lucky enough to go along for the ride. 

Yep, one of the beds. It was hard to get one shot of the room, haha.
I don't usually tend to pick up books that deal with such a sad topic as cancer, let alone anything that's labeled with the word "tragic" (synonyms count!); even though Cam's story played out in such an amazing way, the very natural, expected ending still left me feeling unsettled. However, I think this is a personal thing, you know? I don't do weepy endings. It's an Achilles heel of mine. Still, this book has a lot to offer and it's worth reading if you like a good journey where characters grow and hope is found.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

My Favorite Font

Ever since I can remember, I've wished to be one of those eccentric writers - a ritualistic master. Yep, you know 'em. The writers who has to have exactly five pencils, sharpened to a point, lined up beside the paper. A meatball sub for lunch every day. A playlist a mile long, always effective if listened to while taking the dog for a walk in the afternoon. 

But try as I might, I couldn't commit to any oddity. It was like my brain refused to go along with me. If my brain and I sat across the table from each other, drinking orange soda, my brain would say, "None of that stuff works for you, Kim. You don't need it to write." 

Yes, brain. You're so right. 

But after spending about a year and a half in grad school, I've gotten into the rhythm of writing a lot.  I usually sit on couches, with my laptop in my lap, and dread working at a desk since I spent so much time behind one when I'm in the office at school. I write cross-legged, pillows piled behind my back, usually with the added background noise of the television set. Actually, as I'm writing this post, Toddlers & Tiaras is jammin' out on the screen. When I look up and see those doll-like little girls in cotton candy dresses, I laugh a little and write another sentence. This is not a ritual, though a common occurrence. I like to write all over the house (not literally), taking the couches by storm. 

When it comes to the actual word document, though, I think I've finally found something that I have to do to write: use a particular font. 

Once upon a time, I was a plain old Times New Roman girl. And when I got to college, I had a brief fling with charming Garamond. But now, in grad school, I feel as if it's very final. 

I'm addicted to Bell MT.

- From Birdcage Girl

Surprisingly enough, Wikipedia is the best hub in which to learn all about typeface history (of which I linked to above). I think that the idea of fonts are so much more meaningful when you remember that people actually made each letter. That's really something. When I read the history, about all these supervisors and how certain fonts were popular, fell out of fashion, and were revived again, I can't help but think of fashion or celebrities that filter through the gossip magazines. Fonts go through the same thing. Remarkable. 

- From "The Princess & Her Shadow"

I digress, haha. I don't recall how I found Bell MT, but it was love at first type. I guess I feel that the style of the letters fits the kinds of stories I write; I haven't switched fonts, like I used to do, when writing different stories. Except for Flour House, I've written all of my Figment stories in Bell MT.  

If I try to write in a different font, the story just won't flow. It's an interesting predicament. If anyone sat behind me, watching me filter through other fonts with growing frustration, I'd explain that, "none of these fonts match the story. It just doesn't fit." And this is coming from someone who has an undying love for third-person stories. Even without an in-your-face narrator, my stories do have a certain voice and personality. They seem to slip right into Bell MT. 
I wonder... do my writers out there have their own rituals or preferences when they write? Do you have a favorite font or one you can't stand to write in? How about line spacing, boarders, background colors? I'm curious to know :)

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Sea in Winter

For some inexplicable reason, I miss the sea. I didn't know I did. This evening, as a I wind down from a long day of school, I'm thinking of nothing beyond the normal mundane worries of catching some sleep and wondering how much planning I'll be saving for Procrastination's capable hands.

And then, like magic, the television shows this surprisingly endearing commercial.

Suddenly I find myself looking around the living room, wondering if I have a shell that's waiting patiently for me to pick up. It's unlikely since I've developed a love for very tiny, broken shells. I have a small plastic bag with a handful of them inside, all specks of swirling colors that I pried out of the sand before the tide came in. But that was years ago - I'm not a beach person and I don't go very often. My idea of a fun beach trip is spending the evening there, when the sun is setting and the air is cool. I'd take off my shoes and walk into the ocean up to my knees, letting the waves soak my rolled up jeans. I wither in the unrelenting Florida heat (hence, the almost vampirelike preference in beach time), turning grouchy within minutes of sitting out under a cloudless sky.

When I was little, I used to jump fearlessly into the water and bob about, ducking under waves. My father would carry me out further and we'd laugh as the larger waves knocked us over. But then... I was a tidy kid. After getting seaweed stuck up my swimsuit and finally tired of sand caked into every curve, I stopped going in the water and switched seashell-hunting strolls instead. I didn't regret it (after all, I love pools, haha).

Anyone who has been following this blog knows how much I love commercials. When they are done well, I think that they can be pieces of art. So it was with this one - a cruise commercial, of all things! But as soon as it aired, I looked up from my laptop with an open mouth. The sea has a lovely, coaxing voice. So unlike the haughty, fickle oceans I've been writing about in a particular project of mine. Not that I don't see the beauty in the sea (who can forget), but the touching nature of the sea in this commercial made me think of those calm evenings on the shore.

Perfect, right? Thinking about the sea in the winter. But it's hot again here and the air conditioning was severely lacking in the school building today. If only a seashell with a ringer had been hidden under a mound of last semester's papers or tucked behind the coffee mix. But I guess that's what commercials like this are for :)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tidbits: January Edition

Picture / Photo Find

Something I Did

Took a vacation. Or, in other words, enjoyed winter break. As a Christmas present to everyone in the family, my brother got us Netflix. To be honest, I was pretty disgruntled about this at first. I'm used to the simple joy of physically owning the movies and shows I love - as evident by the numerous times I hugged my stack of Buster Keaton DVDs. Because graduate school is very demanding, I figured that getting Netflix would be a waste of money. I'd end up paying every month for something I couldn't use. I had this dreamy plan of finally getting it after graduation (a good year and a half away), in which I imagined I earned the privilege to watch an episode of something without being engulfed by the flames of guilt or panic (as most grad students suffer from, due to the monstrous workload that waits just around the corner). 

But nooo. My brother had to spoil my self-sacrifice. In the end, though, it's a good thing he did.

I can't tell you how wonderful it was to be reunited with shows like No Reservations and Man vs. Food. In our particular area of Florida, the Travel Channel is no longer available as a regular cable channel. This happened almost a year ago and we haven't gotten over the loss. Armchair traveling is my thing... at least until I save up enough to actually go on trips, haha. To make due with our beloved channel, my 'rents and I survived on the Food Network (as usual), Bravo (ugh), HGTV (no more houses!), and TLC (Oh, gosh). It's been grueling, haha. But now we've got 'em back. Netflix has filled the gaping travel hole in our hearts. Things are looking up.

Also - and this is a side note - the amount of stuff Netflix doesn't have is startling. My brother got me hooked on Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, but the only version available is the UK version. Which turned out to be awesome, once you got used to how strange the filming is and how strangely docile Gordon Ramsey is - though still full of curse words. I think I've been influenced, actually. I ended up using a few choice words myself when I tried to get a friend to try a delicious piece of apple pie pizza (Boy, that was surprising, haha).

If I haven't ruined my mysterious, ethereal writer's persona by now, then I'm sorry. I try my best :)

Besides huddling around ye old Netflix, I read a lot of books that have been clawing for attention on my shelves. I also went to Disney a few times, stunned at how crowded it was at night when party music blasted through all the speakers (Pre-New Years Eve Special). I ate ice cream while watching the fireworks at Magic Kingdom and did not get a sore throat... because it wasn't cold out at all. Funny story. 

Now January is here and finally Florida is cold. I'm happily wearing sweaters, shivering with a huge grin on my face when walking to the mail box. Inside, it's warm, but my nose is cold to the touch. I wonder why that is. Packets of hot chocolate - the ones with extra marshmallows - are dwindling now that we have a reason to use them. It's just a cold front. A passing fancy. With only a few days left before the new semester begins, I'm frantically trying to pull everything together. Plan new lessons. Write more chapters. Obtain more sleep. Avoid the cold that is plaguing the family.  

We'll see.  

A Writer Thing

My writing spark is back! Thank you so much for the well wishes from my last post. You all made me smile. I've been writing at least 500 words a day, though some days I churn out more than that - and, thus, neglect the beeping dryer or cooking dinner. If that sounds like a lot, please don't be fooled, haha. I have a lot of projects I'm working on at once, a bad habit of mine that often happens when I can't say no to new ideas. But the projects that are most important are still getting done, so I suppose everything else will plateau soon enough. 

Seeing my friend over break did help me out immensely. We sat on her front porch and watched the leaves roll down the sidewalk. I drank so much tea and ate tasty Vegan food; I went home after a few days with a very full stomach, haha. There's something peaceful about returning to a place of old memories - in this case, my college stomping grounds. Not much time has passed since graduating college, so when my friend and I wandered around campus, it felt like we never left. December grads were lined up under the esplanades in their caps and gowns (Did I mention it was terribly hot out?). We walked past old classrooms and made heady predictions about where our fellow classmates ended up after leaving. 

I came back with a settled mind; it wasn't long before I was chipping away at a story again. I can't say that I'm completely cured of my lethargic writing mood, but it's certainly on the upswing. 

Song I Can't Stop Repeating 

"Moon to Dust" by Georgia Fields

I've had a song by Georgia Fields sitting on my computer for a while, one that I listened to a lot when I was writing Birdcage Girl - and now, with the next book, A Horse to the Moon. There's something dreamy about the melody she's created - sounds like a music box, you know?

Sadly, there aren't any official lyrics for this particular song - I don't like the mess them up myself by straining to figure out the words - whether they seem obvious or not. I'll leave the listening up to you this time.

Video I Watched Too Many Times

Let me point out that I've been looking for this commercial for a while. I had forgotten that it was for a perfume... so that's why I couldn't find it before, haha. I love the whimsical nature of this commercial, from the costumes to the magic with the boats and ocean. It's just an amazing little thing to watch.

Photos from We Heart It