Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Road Trip Wednesday: A Real Road Trip!

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered.

This Week's Topic is: In celebration of the release of Kristin Halbrook's NOBODY BUT US (hooray!!) we're asking: Zoe and Will set off on the road to seek a better life and encounter loads of drama on the way. What's the most dramatic road trip you've ever been on?

We love road trips!
Well, right now I live in a college town that is just that, and as such has nothing but a couple of universities, so I've been on my fair share of road trips. The most dramatic one that comes to mind is when my roommate got married about two years ago, in Colorado. The other four of us roommates decided we would make the eight hour drive to Colorado to see her seal the deal. What can go wrong, right? The trip up was average enough (lots of snacks- none of them healthy- singing loudly as only twenty year old girls can, and just general tom-foolery). We were so excited! We got a hotel room and stocked up on dinner foods and watched cheesy wedding shows all night long.

The wedding was beautiful, we got to hold really pretty flowers and talk to lots of old people and- of course- eat lots of good food that we didn't have to pay for.


The person who made our map fell asleep as soon as we got in the car. So we followed it to the best of our ability, only to realize two hours into the trip that we had been following it the wrong way. We have now gone two hours in the wrong direction, making our 8 hour trip a 10 hour one. Not only that, but it was a Sunday, and some of the girls were a bit more religious, and so they only wanted to listen to instrumental or church music... I was DYING by hour 4. My fingernails were going raw from trying to claw my way out of the car.

Then came the storm. I don't know about you, but storms tend to bring out the crazy in me. I get so excited when a real storm comes through because it reminds me of home in Florida. Suddenly our instrumental music was the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack, and suddenly we were dancing and singing again, but less out of joy and more out of hysteria. By the time we arrived home, I would be lying if I said to you I hadn't lost my mind a little. Was it worth it? I'm still deciding, but I think the answer is YES.

The Zode in theRoad

By: Dr. Seuss
(I saw this today and just had to share it)

Did I ever tell you about the young Zode,
Who came to two signs at the fork in the road?
One said to Place One, and the other, Place Two.
So the Zode had to make up his mind what to do.
Well the Zode scratched his head, and his chin and his pants.
And he said to himself, “I’ll be taking a chance
If I go to Place One. Now, that place may be hot!
And so, how do I know if I’ll like it or not?
On the other hand though, I’ll be sort of a fool
If I go to Place Two and find it too cool.
In that case I may catch a chill and turn blue!
So, maybe Place One is the best, not Place Two,
But then again, what if Place One is too high?
I may catch a terrible earache and die!
So Place Two may be best! On the other hand though…
What might happen to me if Place Two is too low?
I might get some very strange pain in my toe!
So Place One may be best,” and he started to go.
Then he stopped, and he said, “On the other hand though….
On the other hand…other hand…other hand though…”
And for 36 hours and a half that poor Zode
Made starts and made stops at the fork in the road.
Saying, “Don’t take a chance. No! You may not be right.”
Then he got an idea that was wonderfully bright!
“Play safe!” cried the Zode. “I’ll play safe. I’m no dunce!
I’ll simply start out for both places at once!”
And that’s how the Zode who would not take a chance
Got no place at all with a split in his pants.

((Life Writing Lesson from Dr. Seuss: It doesn't matter where your story goes, as long as you write it.))

Friday, January 25, 2013

Text Boundedness

I study Teaching English as a Second Language, which means that I get to take endless amounts of classes about how second languages are acquired, how to create good ESL (English as a Second Language) tests/assessments, how to teach ESL in academia and in less formal settings, and I just love it. I was especially excited this semester to be taking a class on Teaching Literacy in ESL. In our last lesson we discussed an idea called text boundedness (get pumped for a brief lesson in teaching ESL!). When someone who is already literate in a certain language tries to read, they  don't have to focus on specific sounds. Our brains are already wired to know that a d makes a 'duh' sound, so we don't have to pause to sound out every little thing. When someone is just beginning to learn how to read a new language, they have to take the time to sound out those little things. When I learned French, I could spend an hour reading a book and then look back and realize that I had been so focused on the sounds that I had no idea what I had just read. That is text boundedness: when you're so focused on the sound that you miss the meaning.

This is so much like writing that I wanted to jump up from my desk and do a little jig. That probably wouldn't have gone too well though, so I restrained myself.

Sometimes as writers we get caught up in how beautiful something sounds. We just love the adjectives and the colors and how these words make pretty loops that become pretty little flowers in our heads! We love it so much that we oftentimes want to emulate it. I feel this way when I read Rae Carson's Crown of Embers series, or (lest we forget) the Harry Potter series. I just wish that I could sound as talented as these people, but I just can't ever seem to get it to work.

But here's the key: every author has his or her own voice. I will never sound just like J.K. Rowling, and people wouldn't want to read my work if I did! she already exists. She is published; we don't need another Jo (no matter how badly I may want her to just write new books every six months). What we dont have, is you.

Our words are beautiful because they convey meaning, and we can get those points across in seven billion different ways. My writing style may not speak to everyone in the world (no matter how much I pretend it will), but I know it's beautiful because it's mine, and it means something.

Take the time to read something that you've written that you are so proud of, and be happy because it is looping across the page to make its own unique flowers in your (and probably someone else's) head.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Book Review: The Evolution of Mara Dyer

So I may be a little behind on the times, but I still have one semester as a student and working a student job, so I'm too poor to just go out and buy a book right when it comes out (no matter how badly I may want to). However, I finally got this book from the library after a hold that felt like a lifetime.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (Book #1 in the Mara Dyer trilogy) managed to paint pictures for me that had me sitting up at night with the light on, no doubt bothering my husband, but I just couldn't stop myself. Her writing was so vivid, and the horror was so unlike most of the horror I had read in the past (which isn't actually that much) that I kept wanting to go back and read it again and see just what she did that made such an impact on me.

However, at first read The Evolution of Mara Dyer (Book #2) just didn't do that to me, and I found myself getting frustrated with it very early on. It was a pretty quick read though, and after the first hundred or two hundred pages, I realized that it was a different kind of horror. It was the kind that made me wonder what in the world is going on? Why won't anyone listen to her? Why is this supposedly dead guy wandering around her house while everyone is sleeping? And why, oh WHY, am I concerned that this guy is secretly watching ME as I'm reading this book???

Once I realized this, I was able to connect with the story a bit more. Hodkin does a great job of making Mara's condition realistic. While I found myself getting frustrated that no one believed her, I think that really was the way most parents would have handled the situation. By the middle of the book though, I felt stagnant, like I was stuck in that asylum doing the same thing over and over and I would never get out and neither would Mara. After awhile I started to not care anymore what happened to Mara, and the only thing worth pondering was why in the world Noah wanted to go hang out on a private island for fifteen minutes before heading back, and why all of these adults seem to play into his hands no matter what he does.

The premise of the book is unique, which was what drew me to it initially. Noah's persistence in trying to keep up with Mara and help her, and Mara's spiral downward until the line between insanity and her gift (or curse) become so blurred that it's impossible to see it, provided character dynamics that I loved. I felt like I knew these people in real life,like they could be real people.

The "cliffhanger" ending seemed very reminiscent of Kelley Armstrong's Summoning trilogy though, which also involved an asylum full of people with unique gifts/curses. However, there were some plot holes that I had a hard time ignoring. At the end, when I stared at the word deceased next to Noah's name, it was all I could notice. But somehow Mara didn't notice it until a page and a half later? And on top of that, an obviously shifty minor character who really doesn't get much face time suddenly pops out of nowhere as the ultimate bad guy. It seemed thrown together in a way that will be difficult for me to remember by the time book 3 comes around.

In the end, I'd give it a 3.5/5 stars because I love the writing style so much. Hodkin proves in this book that she can use various different writing styles to portray different feelings involved in the horror genre. I had to watch an episode of How I Met Your Mother before I went to bed to that I would stop thinking that someone was wandering around my apartment without my knowledge. I am excited for book 3, but hope that the holes from the end of book 2 get filled.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Kanye West is my Muse

One thing that every writer I have ever come across (including myself) has in common is that it is much more difficult to write in complete silence. I usually write to my classics- A little country, a little indie, a little rock and roll... And it always works for me. I feel pumped! I am ready to write the great American novel by the time I pull up Microsoft Word, its bright blue logo like peeks of blue sky between all of the clouds shaped like nasty Linguistics homework.

Throughout the past few weeks, though, it just hasn't been working for me. For some reason, I was getting tired of all of my music, as well as all of the stuff Pandora gave me. I would type a paragraph or two, and then I would listen to the music, and let out a groan. I HATE this song right now. Why can't you read my mind and know exactly what I need, Pandora?! It never answers back... In case you were concerned.

Yesterday though, our internet wasn't working, and my computer is broken, so I pulled up Husband's iTunes, and began playing what he had the most of... And as shocking as this may be to you if you don't know him very well, he has a LOT of Kanye West music. I will wake up some mornings, and he will be having what he calls a "Ghetto Rap Day," where he spends and hour or two kickin' back to some Tupac, or another Husband-favorite (and also a Kanye-favorite, apparently) Jay-Z. I feel like I have become more cultured being married to him.

So yesterday, I hesitantly reached forward to begin playing my favorite Kanye song. I paused, wondering if Husband might come home and catch me jamming to his music, for some reason not wanting to be discovered enjoying his rap. But then I shrugged my shoulders, and let it flow. Amazingly enough, Kanye's dulcet tones lulled me away to a short-story writing heaven. In one hour, I had cranked out 2,000 words that I was actually proud of, and only slightly nervous to have critiqued by my classmates.

To test out my theory, when I felt like the words weren't flowing well for this blog post yesterday, I decided to turn on some more Kanye, and the words flowed right off the edge of my fingertips... So there you have it: [for now, at least] Kanye West is my Muse.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Road Trip Wednesday!

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This Week's Topic is: Imagine you get to open your own bookstore. What would it look like? What kinds of books would you sell?
This is actually something that’s been on my mind a lot lately… Though that probably doesn’t surprise anyone else who reads like crazy instead of doing homework or that Senior Thesis that just doesn’t seem as important as the life or death situation the MC is currently facing.

My book shop would be two stories, but square footage-wise it wouldn’t be huge. Maybe 1500 square feet? It would have rich brown and green walls, designed to feel just like that cozy home you wish you were living in instead of a dingy apartment with too many dirty dishes. The first floor would be full of bookshelves designed to match the genre of the books. If it’s fantasy, it might have turrets at the top, mystery might have jagged edges, etc. etc. I would sell a little bit of everything, with the emphasis being anything fiction.

Upstairs would be the café and reading area, full of squashy armchairs with foot rests- because, really, as a short person it is just a pain to try sitting comfortably without putting your feet up or resting them on something. There would also be a room in one corner of the upstairs with tables and chairs for studying, and in there I would offer reading classes for English language learners.

Assuming J.K. Rowling is my benefactor, so money is no object, the last thing (which I am SO SO excited about) is that my book shop will be teamed up with an NGO created by us and run by the people of Thailand. For every book bought by a patron, my shop will donate a book to a boat library, which will travel up and down the rivers of Thailand bringing books and reading lessons to the people in rural communities. Everyone has the right to read a book, I think.

Now all I want to do is get started on it! 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

True Strength

I have never felt good at anything in particular. Actually, that is a lie. I know there are things that I have been good at, those kinds of things that you just pick up and are pleasantly surprised to find that they resonate with you. The first time this ever happened to me was in the driveway of my childhood home in Florida. It was undoubtedly hot and humid, and the driveway scraped at the bottom of my feet as a nine-year old me rushed out to meet my mother, home from a long morning of garage sale-ing, the only time it's okay to rummage through someone else's belongings in their own driveway, and then take whatever you like.

She held out a thin plastic box, lifting the front latches with a click and putting together the instrument for me. it was long and thin, and felt awkward in my hands, like when you try to pull a piece of elastic off the waistband of your favorite pair of pants (don't act like your pants didn't have elastic waistbands when you were nine) and find that the elastic just keeps sliding out, and then with sinking horror your realize that your pants are getting looser. She placed my fingers over the correct holes, and even though I had to stretch and it hurt a little, it also felt right. I pulled the mouthpiece up to my mouth and, not knowing what sound could possibly follow, I blew, and made a sound on the very first try.

It was hard work from then on. I practiced so long sometimes that my wrists hurt. I moved up the ranks of band geekdom until I felt comfortable sitting with the cool kids, talking about the last marching band competition, and how well we did, and if-only-that-one-girl-would-just-pick-up-her-dang-flute-and-practice-we-could-achieve-world-peace. It seemed that easy. It was that easy.

I read today that Laura Joyce Davis said, "Strengths are not what we’re good at, but what make us feel strong." Some days making music did make me feel strong. The only time that has stood out to me enough to make me reminisce and wish I practiced more was in my Senior year of high school, when I conveyed enough emotion that the judge in my solo competition cried. I knew that that was what art was about.

Back then I thought my future was in music, and maybe part of it is. I changed my major four times before deciding to graduate with a linguistics degree. You'd think that your degree would dictate you life's work, I know for a fact that's not true. Nothing ever seemed to click, until I looked back at what made me feel strong, even if I wasn't the best at it. 

When I was thirteen I wrote fanfiction. It was angst ridden, full of unrequited love, and (unfortunately) looked a little something like this:

“The day was finally upon me. I didn't bother getting up when I felt someone calling me. I didn't even open my eyes. I knew who it was. Harry and Hermione had been trying to get me to come to the dance anyways, saying that I should go because it's my last year. I don't care. I'll be a table ornament if I go.” 

When I took a writing break, I thought it didn't get any better than that. I thought I couldn't get any better than that. At least, the other prepubescents on told be I was the bomb. Coming back into writing, though, I have worked my tail off (Seriously. You can look for yourself; there isn't one). Now my writing looks a bit more like this:

"The rain started. It began slow, like the first few tears when you are trying not to cry, and it quickly escalated into those heaving sobs that cannot be controlled, the booming thunder and lightning happening simultaneously as the shrieks that come with knowing that there is no end to the tears in sight. The howls shook our house, and lit the sky as a brilliant spider web cracked through it. Mom managed to pull Dad and I inside and shut the door, turning for the television, flipping the switch so that she could do her hourly check of the StormWatch crew. The meteorologist stood out in the rain, his perfectly styled hair not even moving in the forty mile per hour wind. I wondered if he slept with his hair so tough. If he rolled over too quickly, would the helmet knock out his wife?" 

My writing isn't perfect- that's for sure- but it keeps getting better, and even though it will never be perfect, I love it. It makes me feel stronger.