Friday, April 27, 2012

Last Day of Classes

There's something wonderful and strange about the last day of classes. The hallways are electric with excitement, of summer plans being whispered in hushed tones. Flip-flops slapping the tile floor. Backpacks emptied of textbooks. The classrooms, dirty and worn-down, breathe sighs of relief that send a ripple of musky air through the building.

I stare at my cubicle and wonder if I've got everything I need.


While I do have summer plans, and final projects to turn in, it's different to be on the other side of things as a graduate student. For one, I'm lucky enough to be teaching while I'm here. This means that today, I had the distinct honor of watching my students fidget as they handed in their last assignments. In this moment, when the summer plans and playful jokes end, that the weight of what they've done weighs heavy on them. Final grades are coming. There's no turning back. I know the feeling. I still go through it myself with my grad classes.

My students turn in their papers and leave. Most of them I'll never see again. A few linger behind and we talk about the benefits of keeping a scrap folder on your computer and how to beat writer's block. They tell me that they've never written so many stories in their lives as they had this past semester. I want to say, well, this is college, and, you should be proud.

As I climb the stairs and walk back to my office, I discover a giant spill, as if someone knocked over a glass full of ocean and didn't bother cleaning it up. The room next to my office is open and the smell of hot pizza and subs drifts out. Students gather around the pizza box while their teacher fumbles with the paper plates. I smile at them and head to my own office, silent save for the vibration of their chatter through the walls.


"That's everything," I say, standing in my cubicle and a stack of final papers in my hands. The papers and portfolios all fit in my tote bag. Barely. I admire the artwork I have tacked up on the pumpkin-colored walls with some sadness, knowing that I won't see them again until fall. I gave a silent salute to my Peeta Mellark poster, the printed out copies of Dorothy Parker's poems, and the fairy tale illustrations I had scanned and printed from various library books.

When I return, I'll be a third-year graduate student. My final year in the creative writing program. This means that, among other things, I'll be coming back with a full manuscript in my hands: my thesis.

So summer for me will be made up of paper cuts, of long nights of writer's block, and indulgent purchases made in the name of "research."  

What I wish I could do with all the paper I've accumulated this semester.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Publication News and Other Odds and Ends

Publication News

I've totally fallen behind on making announcements, but if you've visited my "Publications" tab at the top of the blog, then you're up to speed. In the last three months, I've gotten three short stories accepted to literary journals - and two of them have been published (the other, in Cygnus, will be published by the end of May).

The first is in the literary journal called Hogglepot and the story is called "The Mattress Pea." As you might imagine from the title, my story has something to do with The Princess and the Pea fairy tale. Here's a little snipit:
Preshea used to be a sensitive child. Her parents held her with oven mittens so they didn’t bruise her skin. When she turned five, she cut her feet of daisy petals. When Preshea graduated from junior high, she couldn’t shake the principal’s hand for fear that the simple contact would crush her bones. Now that she was sixteen, Preshea had a better handle on her fragility. Somewhat. She still fell in love.

If you want to read the rest, please check it out here.

Again, on the theme of fairy tales, my second story called "Tick-Tock Beauty" can be found over at Mossyhearth. Unlike other journals I've been published at, you'll need to register with the site to view the whole story. It's nothing to be scared of (no viruses or anything). but I guess the site is set up that way so the  journals seem more exclusive (Maybe. Don't ask me). Here's another sneak peek:
When she had graduated school with an engineering degree, Lydia had been something of a legend. She had made herself famous with her thesis project, a sumptuous clock that stood in the middle of the student center; it made a raindrop-sound, ticking and spewing confetti whenever their football team won a game. Her clock had attracted the attention of an alumnus named Mrs. Kittell. They exchanged contact information at the unveiling party for the clock.

And if you follow this link, you'll find it here (after registering, of course).

Formspring Questions

Who are Oleander's parents? Will there be a sequel to Flour House?

Before I answer the question, let me give a little background information for any new readers who may not know about dear Ollie. Flour House is a novella (or maybe even a novelette) that I wrote in the span of four weeks while competing in a Figment contest centered on writing a serial. For the specific rules, and to read the first chapter, check out my old blog post here. I ended up winning the contest and have had the story up ever since (it needs to editing though, but that's what this summer is for! It's on my list, haha). 

Flour House is basically about a girl named Lettice Morris who entertains guests at the family bakery by telling stories in flour - her drawings wiggling within the confines of the cutting board. After long days full of school and the bakery, there's one tiny secret that keeps her going: a boy named Oleander lives in her mother's dollhouse.

Now, on to the answer!

As revealed in the story, Oleander and Noelle (his sister) know nothing about their parents because they had been abandoned as babies on Agatha's windowsill. My guess is that their real, biological parents were probably stiff-necked, sour people who had no room in their hearts for "malformed" children. I suppose they had hung onto Ollie until Noelle was born, hoping that their next child wouldn't be born as tiny as a doll. But alas, Noelle was just as small as Ollie. And that was the last straw.  

Again, this is all in theory. You may have a different opinion on what kind of parents they had been. 

I don't have plans for a sequel. I think the story ends where it should, though I'd be interested to know where you think it could continue (Oh, mysterious formspring person). But, yes, I do think Lettice and Oleander's story is quite finished. 

Birdcage Girl Announcement

While I'm at it... I want to let my blog readers know that I'll be taking down my novel-length manuscript, Birdcage Girl, by May 11th (a self-prescribed deadline). I'm serious about sending it off to agents and publishers this summer, so I'm showing it in this way. However, I can't really do anything about it at the moment with the semester puttering to an end, so that's why the take-down date is some odd weeks away. 

If you haven't already, please feel free to read it while it's still posted and let me know what you think. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Concerning Female Protagonists

Last summer, I joined a casual summer workshopping group. We met at a coffee shop near campus every other week with one goal in mind: be productive. Write. It was last summer that I came up with an idea for my big grad project; a nautical story about a girl who searches for a way to bring the sea back to her decaying town (because, of course, the sea up and left one day). I remember typing up the first chapters like I had a fever. I couldn't wait to have it looked at. My main character was rather passive, unsuspectingly quiet and weird. 

And apparently, that became a problem. Real fast. 

We sat around the table, wiping the sweat off our drinks, and a discussion started about where I failed with my character. Because I was told that she couldn't possibly hold the story together as she was. She needed to be strong, loud, and snarky. She had to kick butt. 

I went home for weeks, revising those chapters, trying to please because I fell under a lethal spell. Thinking too much about what other people want and expect our of books. The trends. Ohhh, the trends. And I lost the simple desire to write the story I wanted to tell. 

I lasted the whole summer with that story, but it broke like glass as soon as school was in session again. I couldn't touch it, for fear I'd slice open my fingers with the boring setting, lackluster love interest, and mediocre lead female. If I tried to piece it back together again, it would splinter further into something unrecognizable. 

This had never happened to me before while working on a project. It scared me and I think I was haunted for a while by the metaphorical ghosts of what to write. 

I bring this up for a few reasons. With the end of the school year on the horizon, my imagination is soaring again. Ideas are attacking me on the daily drives to and from work. I rush home to boot up my computer and type up notes. 

The story above that I thought had been lost forever came back to me, glowing with hope. I've been plotting it out for a rainy day, when I have time to work on it, but I'm loving the revamp so far. A new love interest and new goals. The missing sea is wilier than ever. But one thing hasn't changed. My female lead is still herself. 

And I'm proud of her. 

I recently saw the movie Mirror Mirror and basked in the lovely, wild adventure of seeing Snow White on screen. Snow White has always been one of my least favorite fairy tales, but I've been blue lately and the cheer that oozed off the trailers captured me utterly. I had to see the movie. And it was glorious. 

Movie reviews, when I attempt them, are pretty sloppy. So I'm not even going to pretend to try. But I can honestly say that a part of me will be humming with impatience for the DVD release, so I can immerse myself in Mirror Mirror all over again. It's just what the doctor ordered, haha. 

Tarsem Singh was the director, having filmed other such movies as The Cell and The Fall (both movies displayed proudly on my shelf). I hadn't realized straight away that he was the one working on Mirror Mirror, until, of course, I saw the opening sequence. Ohhh. Woah. I can't even. 

But here's where things get ugly. 

Like anyone who's ever enjoyed a good film, book, or whatever, I went searching for images. And what I found, to my utter horror, was a ton of movie reviews written by bloggers that pretty much flayed the movie alive. I was shocked. Good thing I had been sitting down at the time (though I nursed a nasty stomach ache for some time, just thinking about what those reviews said). 

What disturbed me the most pertained to the character of Snow White and how imperfect she was as a "good" female lead. Which I totally didn't get. Sure, Snow wasn't loud, but she was snarky (just not annoyingly so), strong and kicked butt (did I mention she saved the prince and the dwarfs a few times?). Her quiet intensity in the face of danger was what captured my attention - and made me really like Snow as a character. She wasn't puffed up to be a hyper super heroine that people seem to demand these days. She didn't have to be tough and masculine in order to beat her stepmother. In fact, in the ending scene, her final words to her stepmother are jarring and powerful. Gave me the shivers. 

I also read quite a few times that it was "wrong" that Snow ended up marrying the prince at the end. That she essentially went from "one prison to another."


How bleak is that? 

A few reviewers even suggested that Snow should have gone off to travel the world on her own, leaving everything behind. Hi. Where you not watching the movie? In the very beginning, and all throughout, it's clear what Snow cares about most: the kingdom. She wants to protect the people from harm (especially after the stepmother's tyranny) and rebuild the kingdom to be a place of peace and laughter. It would be irresponsible to run off on hyper super heroine adventures, especially since her heart is with her people. Having met and fallen in love with the prince is just the icing on the cake, haha. 

Yep. Icing. On the cake.

While I am looking forward to seeing the other remake of Snow White, this is the one I was rooting for. And I'm glad that Tarsem didn't back down from making the version of Snow White he wanted to tell. I think it's brave of him, and very admirable, to stick to his guns, haha. 

It reminds me to keep faith in what I believe in: that the world consists of all kinds of people and they all have stories to tell. Some girls (for the purpose of this post) are role models and others give us lessons to learn. We need to read about Bella Swans and we need to read the Katniss Everdeens. Whether loud or quiet, snarky or taciturn, girls of all kinds have inner strength. They can all be brave. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Robert Southey and the Art of Gathering Everything

April begins with Romanticism. Not because I'm trying to be cute or that I'm testing out some kind of metaphor. It's true. For me. 

It's so secret that I love the Romantic Era. I cried like a baby while watching Bright Star. I wish I could get away with wearing a poet's shirt in public. And, for sure, I open my heavier-than-an-elephant college textbook way too often just to read snipits of closet dramas and love letters (Oh, Keats. You're so charming). 


In fact, while we're on the subject of English Romantic Writers: Second Edition by David Perkins, let me just tell you that this book if hefty enough to kill someone - like, in the way that Clove gets it in The Hunger Games. But the anthology is an excellent collection (even though I stub my toe on it way too often). My graduate textbook can't come anywhere close to being as cool. 

A project in my grad class is finally coming due, and so, with my head high, I'm working very hard to prepare it. It's strange to be in a literature class when my goal in school is to study and produce creative writing; it's fun in some ways, but stressful in others. The gap between college literature classes and graduate literature classes is a big one. And I've always been a tiny person. 

The most important man in my life right now is Robert Southey.

“It is with words as with sunbeams—the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.”
—Robert Southey, Poet Laureate of England, 1813 - 1843.

Robert Southey:
the man who is causing my fingers to cramp from all
of the research I've done.
All of my research, my sleeping hours, and the duration of driving to and from school is dedicated to him. After all, the due date is fast approaching, haha. Southey is one of those underdogs, I think. He's not a part of the big canon of popular poets and writers of the time, like Blake and Wordsworth and Lord Byron. Even though he actually knew them and even though he had written a ton of work and was named Poet Laureate. Well, good for him. Southey should be proud. 

A quick search will tell you that he explored almost every avenue of writing - from epic poetry to travel narratives - and he's written tons of letters in between. Being ambitious but distracted by too many ideas, Southey became a very interesting person the more I read about him. 

The one thing I learned about him that stood out the most is that he was an avid collector of words. He loved obscure texts and strange things, and kept common-place books to store everything he found in his research. He was also very meticulous, giving each scrap of text he squirreled away a proper citation and heading. Wow. When I look at my own chaotic collection of ideas, I can't help but feel like a slob. However did he gain such a habit of keeping everything so organized?  

I am a OneNote addict and I'm sure that if Southey lived today, he would be too. Whether I've found a really striking quote or an idea that keeps me up all night, planning, I put it in my OneNote files. It's such a great program where you can drop and arrange words, images, and links like you would if you were creating a scrapbook - that kind of manageable chaos is appealing to me. Before OneNote, I kept a dozen little notebooks and scribbled stuff in there. Never to be found again. I was always missing my notebook when I needed it. Now I have tabs for each book I'm working on, with subtabs underneath so that each character gets his or her own huge blank page to fill up with inspiration and notes. But I've gotten out of hand. Spring cleaning for me also involves cleaning those tabs up. 

When I write my stories, I usually start by mashing up different images or ideas. It's really fun. But by reading about how Southey tried, and sometimes failed, to patch what he collected into poetry, I felt like I met a kindred spirit across the ages. In one of the articles I'm looking at called "Poetics Of The Commonplace: Composing Robert Southey," author D. Porter said that Southey recognized the weaknesses in his hoarding tendency - that he collects too much because he thinks he'll use it someday, when really he hasn't used half of the quotes and tidbits of information he's gathered already. Ah, word-hoarding. Not quite like the physical television show. His theory, Porter explains, was to read and collect, “the ‘skeleton’ of a work, which he then made into ‘flesh, blood and beauty’ by arranging and digesting the materials he had transcribed in his notebooks” (28). 

I love that image. Because I love skeletons. It makes perfect sense, haha. 

Even though I think I'm getting sick and I've been away from writing anything creative in the last couple days, I'm still glad for the opportunity to have studied Robert Southey. I'm adding his common-place books to my summer reading list, for sure. 

That's right. He's that cool.
BAM! Citation:

Porter, D. "Poetics Of The Commonplace: Composing Robert Southey." Wordsworth Circle 42.1 (n.d.): 27-
33. Arts & Humanities Citation Index. Web. 4 Apr. 2012.