Literary Merit

NEW WEBSITE

I’VE MOVED!

You can now find all writing and my continued blogging efforts at http://ghosttownstories.com

Please add it to your bookmarks and feed reader, and be sure to comment and share!

Thanks, everyone :)

Things That Happened

I have a (bad?) habit of writing about a billion things at once. This, combined with work, class, and homework, not to mention procrastination, means that while I generally am working on things, they take so long that they only rarely get completed. During the semester, I barely touched anything other than homework. I think I spent the past few months in my car or the library more often than in my own home.

One bright side of my ridiculous writing habits is that a few things are shaping up to finish all at once. And all of those things are related! You may remember me talking about a “Ghost Town” collection of short fiction. This is a ‘shared universe’ for a set of related short stories, all with magic realism influenced supernatural themes and the same overall cast of characters, in the same setting. I finally finished one of the drafts, and another one follows close behind, with a number of others in various stages of progress to come later.

I created a secondary blog to house these stories, since they all go together. If you are interested, you can follow Ghost Town. I have not posted any fiction yet, but you can find a project description as well as a character guide that may be of interest. I would like to add portraits to the character guide, but I have to learn to draw first, which, considering I have enough trouble finishing the stories, may not be the most productive idea.

If you don’t want to follow that blog, I will probably link the stories on here when I post them. A small part of me has been toying with the idea of submitting one of them to Snake Oil Cure, since they seem to have reached a point of desperation and shameless begging for fiction, but the rest of me knows that I have no business seeking that kind of validation when I should be focusing on my own satisfaction first. That, and since the stories are interconnected, I don’t know how well they would read out of context. Which actually is also a concern for the blog, since at least for the first few stories the “context” is my own head, but I’m telling myself that it’s my blog so that doesn’t count.

ANYHOOT. This and summer courses will be consuming most of my attention for the foreseeable future, but I will try to document and share any other events or thoughts of reasonable note, rather than dropping off the face of the earth.

ETA: What’s with that new (or new to me) posting format that’s integrated with the rest of the blog (like at the top of the screen) and why does it not allow me to categorize?

Tam Lin, and other project ideas.

I really want to turn this song into a story. I have for ages, really, but especially since Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer came out with “Child Ballads.” Their rendition is especially beautiful. I think it is something about their delicate harmonies, fingerstyle, and the unconventionally tragic love story.

I almost want to say that I can’t decide between making it urban fantasy and traditional, but that’s not quite true. Rather, I think I want a sort of balance. I am picturing a copse of trees along a highway, litter and weeds giving way to something brighter and more wicked.

I have been thinking of doing a collection of stories based on the Child Ballads (not just the ones on the album) and I think it could be really interesting. But I also wonder how many times one can write tragic love stories before they become redundant. Though I suppose that it’s an enduring trope for a reason. Not to mention, it’s probably all in the adaptation.

I keep promising fiction and not posting it. But it’s the busiest time of the semester and rather hard to spend consistent focus. The death girl story will likely still be first, or else the one with Caedon and the ghost bar, both of which I have talked about. Also, I promised Katie one about a zombie-friendly post-apocalyptic coffee shop.

I don’t know if I’ll post my “Icarus” poem here or not. I may be compelled to submit it to the university literary magazine, but some of the feedback I received made me wonder if it doesn’t have potential to be submitted elsewhere.

I may or may not have new friends reading. If so, hello! If not, well, hello anyway?

I don’t know where I’m going with this. It’s difficult to concentrate when your family has police standoffs blaring on the television at about a thousand decibels.

I don’t know what to call this.

I have not been posting lately. I always say life is busy, and life always is, but that is hardly an excuse. Rather, I’ve been wrapped up in it, or wrapped up in avoiding it. One or the other.

I have three more semesters of school, plus two summer courses, if all goes as planned. If not, well. This semester is nearly over, and I feel like I am craning my neck to keep my chin above water. It’s not as bad as all that, but not as good as last semester either. I’m nearly finished my English degree, thankfully. Only two more courses (one media course and my 400 level seminar), neither of which are being offered next semester. Well, that’s a lie. One is, but at too unforgiving a time to be worth it. So in the fall I overload on Education courses, which is all I have really wanted to do anyway.

My relationship with my English degree is peculiar. I love the subject, as always, but I’m rather over the courses. As much as I needed to take the break that led me from leaving King’s, I feel like the department fit me better. Here, everyone is lovely but I’m wrong for it. Their values too cloistered, too unrealistic, well-intended but stifling, and the undergrads take their cues there. I remember how I shaped my opinions and worldview at their age under more liberal professors, so I can’t throw stones, but I’ll be glad to be finished.

Of course, I’m also rather jaded. I’ve taken the theory, had the debates, written the papers. It’s all done before and I’m not learning much.

Not that I don’t still grow into my own skin. But I find that more in Education now than anywhere else. Or in myself, as I have been.

I still write, though I don’t post about it or post anything. The longer projects are mostly on hold and the shorter ones slow going, balanced precariously between research projects and studying. I may or may not have a poem to post soon. It’s in draft stages, but I may be compelled to submit it to the school literary magazine, depending on circumstances. I’d rather send it somewhere more legitimate, but there you have it.

Anyway, I’m still alive. More on twitter than anywhere else. Perhaps when the semester ends I’ll have a bit more to say. Until then, have a song. I have recently developed a passion for songs about things like kindness and taking responsibility, and this is one of a growing list of songs on repeat.

How To Be Alone

Considering how little a social life I actually have, I am remarkably terrible at being alone.

I should amend that. I’m great at being alone at home, in the confines of a safe and familiar location. I’m not so good at being alone around other people. You’d think I’d have developed this skill when I had an apartment of my own, and I did, to a degree, but I was still a homebody. I went to the store, cooked for myself, read books. But I didn’t take myself out for coffee or a movie, or go out to dinner or to the Jazz Cafe that I loved and barely ever got to attend.

I only resolved to go to one show alone. That was Company of Thieves, shortly after their first album came out. They were playing a small bar in West Chester, and my friend had turned me down. I got as far as the will call line, and he came running down the street, having changed his mind at the last second, and begged a spare ticket off some bystanders. But other than that? When I moved, I had thought I would have to steel myself, take myself to Barnes and Noble for solitary coffee and reading, eat alone, go to movies alone. But Chad lived nearby too, and despite our differing schedules and living in different towns we somehow managed to cook dinner nearly every night. I think now that I clung to the few familiar people I had rather than deal with actually being alone.

Somehow, going out by myself seems shameful, even though I know it’s not. But it’s intimidating, and I’m not very good at inspiring spontaneous conversation. I tried it for a little while once, when my friend had to leave early from small folk music benefit concert at a local farm. And it was nice to lie in the grass and stare at the deepening sky, listening to music and people watching, but everyone else had arrived in groups and had picnic blankets and social obligation. I don’t know if it’s that, or if I have a kind of presence that is unwelcoming, but it would be nice to strike up spontaneous conversation that does not involve creepy nerds staring at my boobs.

I think this is something I need to work on, but I don’t really know when or how. I’m so busy this semester, and I kind of went to pieces over it. I didn’t have a meltdown or anything, but my bedroom until this morning was such a wreck, all tangled blankets and half folded and half soiled laundry strewn on the floor and my bed, and a bathroom in desperate need of attention. My bedroom and bathroom are a good barometer for my general state of being, and declines according to my stress level. It’s difficult to sleep in a messy room, though, which probably increases my stress level and the whole thing casts off into a self-perpetuating downward spiral.

Anyway, I would really like to work on the whole “entertain yourself alone and without the aid of pretend texting” thing, but I spend all of my time either at work or at school, and the interim days I spend catching up on the homework I don’t get to do on any of the other days. Work all day followed by night class means my study time is severely limited this semester. I have Fridays off to catch up, but these will soon be occupied by observation at a local school. Which means Friday evenings and the rest of the weekend. I can’t remember the last time I went to a library just to sit there and read for pleasure, but god how I want to. Melissa recently recommended using the library to get back into comics and graphic novels, which is a brilliant idea, and one that I wish I could do.

When it gets warmer, it will be better. Then I can go sit outside at the book shop and go on walks. Is it weird that I am most looking forward to using the neighborhood swingset? When Chad came to visit he demanded this detour on our walk. I hadn’t used swings in more than a decade, and I still can’t explain the thrill of it. It was simultaneously energizing and zen, like if buddhist meditation were an adventure rather than an exercise in stillness. But we only get warm days when I am stuck inside, and when I have off I am busy with everything else, or it snows. I need to get in shape, though, because I signed up for the Color Me Rad 5k this summer, and I need to start training.

Is it spring yet? I miss wearing sundresses to work and going on hikes. God I want it to be spring.

Cataclysm

There are some hours in which the world seems utterly empty, silence echoing, and there is not even the whisper of distant tires against asphalt to suggest a population larger than myself. It’s times like this when I can really imagine a cataclysm. Like it’s right there, tangible if only I could squirm past some threshold of reality.

I can see the shades of a former civilization. My whole neighborhood, pristine McMansions, long plundered and left to wild and decay, some still half-finished, abandoned by builders, not a soul in my house or any of the others. The foxes and birds from the woods across the street would have become bold, and all the dogs and cats gone half-feral, hanging around houses, yet neither trained nor tolerant. They would still approach me, beg for scraps, but they’d also fight one another and wander, half starved and mean. And I could explore any of the other houses any time I wanted, but I wouldn’t, because what’s the point, when everything useful is gone, and there’s no one inside anyway?

It wouldn’t just be my neighborhood, either. It would be everywhere. So few people anywhere that you could walk for miles in the bright afternoon on paved roads, and never encounter anyone. Only the pavement would be cracked and ill-maintained with dandelions poking up in the spaces, the same way roofs of houses would be caving in and cars would be rusting in desolate garages. And if you did encounter someone, it would be such a rare occasion that you would do it cautiously, wary of strangers, watchful and slow with a healthy distance and long periods of silence before anyone dared speak.

I suppose this is the charm I see in post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s not the zombies or the haphazard totalitarian regimes or the gun-hoarding or the aliens. Just the emptiness. Growing used to the quiet, to being so very alone, and being okay. It’s the vines creeping up vinyl siding, new houses half broken, empty shells of former lives. It’s remembering all of it, but so distantly that the history hardly matters. There’s not a disaster or radiation or hordes of undead. The world is just very empty.

I’m not writing anything post-apocalyptic. I’m not trying to advertise a new project or talk up yet another novel I’m unlikely to finish. This is just something that occurs to me. It happened today, when I left my house in the evening to drive to night class. I also feel it in the hazy summer, and even more with the onset of spring, in the dewy late morning when everyone is busy but me. I’m not sure what it says about me that I imagine quiet apocalypses, and that when I do I am always solitary but never lonely, but I think if there were a cataclysm I would survive it and be more or less okay with sweeping up the broken pieces and setting them aside.

I’m alive or something.

This little guy lives at the Penn Museum of Archeology and Anthropology.

This little guy lives at the Penn Museum of Archeology and Anthropology.

Remember when I said, “I’ll post every Monday! I’ll be a DISCIPLINED WRITER.”

Yeah. About that.

So as you all know, I went back to school. I attend Immaculata University, and am completing my English degree (focus in literature) and am earning a Secondary Ed certification at the same time. It’s not as if I have not had anything to write about–I have actually had quite a few interesting things to share–but that I just didn’t have the time.

So, without further ado, here is an unorganized list of things that have been keeping me busy:

  • The Epic of Gilgamesh
  • The Iliad
  • The Odyssey
  • The Aeneid
  • The Penn Museum which is SO COOL you guys I want to live there
  • Listening to archeologists give lectures about Troy and how it was LITERALLY A BRONZE AGE TOURIST TRAP I seriously can’t
  • writing lesson plans
  • spending all of my money on scrapbooking supplies so I can make ridiculous presentation displays
  • drinking all of the keuring pods in Radnor so I can stay awake through the ridiculous amounts of data entry I have to do
  • doing ridiculous amounts of data entry so I can continue affording to live
  • Begging every school in the county (and some outside) to let me come in and observe
  • and then being ignored by all of them
  • inventing silly study games for students I don’t actually have
  • writing pretend lesson plans to deliver to my class of adults studying education (not high schoolers studying English
  • and finding out that I don’t suck at teaching(YAY), but that my class actually DOES suck at English.
  • doing an in-depth structuralist and reader-response analysis to The Fault In Our Stars for my final paper
  • and then finding out that the teacher only wants six to eight pages, instead of the necessary twelve
  • and having weekly meltdowns over my online required basic earth and space science class, which is harder than any of my major classes despite the fact that it is just a core.

PHEW. okay. Maybe over the break I will have time to write in actual paragraph form. Until then, Merry Christmachanukwanzika!

Sometimes, I nerd out about academia.

Painting, "Odysseus Returns Chryseis To Her Father," by Claude Lorrain, 1644

Lorrain, Claude. Odysseus Returns Chryseis To Her Father. 1644. The Louvre, Paris.

One of the courses I attend this semester is “Ancient and Medieval Literature.” Now, I had taken a similar course at my previous school, which due to the professor’s specialization focused primarily on the British Isles and northwestern Europe, and it was okay. It overlapped nicely with my faery tales course, at least in the beginning, and I really appreciated the opportunity to touch on Irish mythology, which I suppose due to the overtly Catholic history of the country tends to be forgotten.

This one is different. The instructor is from a different generation, for one, and seems to have been raised on the classics. Our syllabus focuses nearly entirely on the Mediterranean Basin, and so far, we have covered The Epic of Gilgamesh, and Homer’s Iliad. Now I’m about to start The Odyssey, and can look forward to Aeschylus and Euripides, and then Virgil’s The Aeneid, which I actually have already studied. It occurs to me now that I might have encountered this same syllabus at my previous school, had Ancient & Medieval only been covered by a different professor.

While I am admittedly disappointed that there is no real northern folklore to speak of (Norse mythology is fascinating and I would love to read the eddas in an academic setting, and my school has an Irish language and culture minor, so studying the folklore here would be wonderful), I am forced to admit that this course has infected me. I see it everywhere! My instructor made us purchase Mythology by Edith Hamilton, with the admonition that in order to understand any of these stories–not to mention literature from any period after–basic knowledge of the mythology behind it is essential. As it turns out, she was correct, and not only from a modernist perspective. I am beginning to see it everywhere. Nearly all character archetypes have their roots in classic mythology, or in Homer at least, and oh, the hero’s journey! Never have I appreciated Carl Jung or Joseph Campbell more than I do now.

But more than that, I see it in life. The album Babel by Mumford and Sons just came out, and when I listen to it (over and over again; it is brilliant) I can hear nothing but the classic adventure epic, rife with religious imagery and travel and war motifs, temptations and testing of values. And as a lover and writer of fantasy fiction, I find myself reevaluating my favorite stories in this light, and finding new weaknesses in my own. Have I gotten lost with Molly Worthington? Should I stop focusing so much on politics and get to the sea monsters and gods and the underworld? Because I suppose that if I am going to turn it into a proper adventure epic, it should follow the hero’s journey, whomever that hero ends up being. That is another problem. I want the hero to be Molly, but I have this kid narrating and for the life of me cannot get him to focus on her. I wonder if I shouldn’t try again with her as the narrator. Should I? Please offer your input in the comments.

And that brings me to another point: it’s NaNoWriMo time again! I have very nearly decided that I do not have time this year. I do have quite a bit of homework, not to mention an actual job, and two works in progress that I have not managed to finish. Three if you count fanfiction, and four if you count the fanfiction sequel I will inevitably write after this one. And I’m pretty okay with this. There is now a good chance I may re-outline Molly Worthington and start again from the beginning. Even though it did win me last year’s NaNoWriMo, there has to be a reason I haven’t been able to finish it, and I think maybe this is it. Possibly enforcing such a structure will give it the focus I need. And perhaps I also have the wrong narrator, I don’t know. Unless it should be third-person omniscient like a proper epic from oral tradition and avoid the question altogether?

Once I have thought about this a bit more, it will probably be material for another post. Until then, have “The Broken Crown,” far and away my favorite track from Babel:

music as a manufactured writing space

A lot of people talk about writing environments. They have favorite desks and chairs and levels of light and times of day. “I can’t write unless I’m alone in my room.” “I can only write in the dark.” “I can’t have anything on my desk.” “I create a nest of clutter.” “Utter silence.”

I don’t quite work that way. Certainly I have preferred locations. As we speak, I’m typing this from my favorite armchair, by the windowsill in the middle of my family room. I like it because it’s big, easy to curl up in, the windowsill is convenient for my coffee mug, and the arm is a good height for my laptop. But it’s not essential.

What matters most to me is the feeling. In order to live in a scene I need to feel like I live in it. I need the somber exhaustion of the rain my characters feel, the aching, twisting feeling of their regret in my gut, their pang of fear, their thrill of happiness. And the great thing is that, unlike the specific conditions of a particular room, this feeling can be manufactured anywhere.

Writing Soundtracks are a big thing for me. Any project I work on has a short list of songs I use to get into the proper mindset. Molly Worthington started with Of Monsters and Men, specifically their songs King and Lionheart and Mountain Sound. The Asphalt Messiah is best suited by The XX. Each of these is associated for me with the particular ‘feel’ of a story and the world it lives in. I can drown out the world around me with one of these songs on repeat and fall straight into the right mindset.

So, the following are a few songs I have been using lately to ‘get in the mood':

What are your writing tunes? Share them with me!

I don’t have real problems.

This will be hanging in MOMA next week.

I really need to learn to draw.

I say it all the time, usually to Tess. It isn’t because of any kind of artistic aspiration, as much as I sometimes wish that my hands could squeeze clay into biceps and clavicles and the curve of spines and hips. As much as I want to smudge charcoal and bleed watercolors into leaves and shadow, it’s not about that.

No, it’s because I can’t seem to pressure anyone into drawing my characters for me! Am I petty? I think I am petty. The problem, if it can be classified as such, is that while I do not, cannot, never have been able to ‘celebrity cast’ my characters, I nevertheless have a vivid and distinct picture of each of them in my head. They aren’t friends or musicians or models. Lucas is Lucas and nobody else. He is a vaguely biracial Southeast Asian in a trench coat with crazy hair and a bright grin, and he exists nowhere else. Death is a teenage girl with thick black bangs that hang over her brows, pale olive skin, a gray hoodie and top shelf whiskey. Caedon is a cigarette addicted, sleep deprived guitarist with tangled blonde hair and an alcoholic ghost drinking buddy. And I want to keep their photographs in my wallet to show anyone who will stand still long enough. I want to illustrate my posts, share them on tumblr, cover my walls with their faces.

I suppose I have a deeper problem, in that my favorite people are the ones I invented. I have the kind of obsession friendless widows stereotypically have with their cats, and yet I cannot finish a single one of their stories. They meander, and I daydream and prod and keep trying, and I waste all of my employers’ office supplies attempting to doodle them.

Unfortunately, my skill with a pen is not much an improvement over the above, and until I finish the stories I cannot hope for anyone to fall in love with them as I have. I am trying to write about Death first. I will probably post it here once I have, illustration free. She is such a little rock star. She’s cruel, and friendly like the cool table who lets you sit there and talks to you but never quite warms up.

You’ll like her, I think. Or not, but I do, and I keep telling myself that’s all that matters. I’ll be like the excitable aunt, shoving baby pictures down the throats of her coworkers who don’t care at all, too absorbed in the glee of family to take notice how the photographs are being received.

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