Monthly Archives: January 2014

in which I say goodbye to January

THIS MONTH.

This stupid, schoolyard bully of a month keeps kicking me while I’m down.

And I am SICK OF IT.

I’m not frustrated anymore. I’m not sad anymore. I’m just ANGRY.

So this is me being a RAGE MONSTER and leading the villagers with torches and pitchforks and pails full of rocks in an angry mob against January.

Because January SUCKED. It really, really SUCKED.

In January’s defense, I sort of deserved it. December was essentially a perfect month. Even the things that went wrong didn’t go all that wrong. I had a perfect week in Boston with my sister1. Then I had two more perfect weeks with my family home in Salt Lake City. I had a good month at work with everyone being cheerful and Christmasy and lots of hand selling books I love to customers who were willing to take my word on everything. And I know you can’t have that many good days in a row without something inevitably falling apart at some point.

But then when things fell apart, they didn’t just fall. They collapsed. They imploded. January came in, as the poet hath wrote, like a wrecking ball.

And I am SICK OF IT. I am sick of getting up at six and getting home at eleven. I am sick of scheduling my days down to the minute and still running out of time. I am sick of my computer being broken, my cabinets falling off the walls, and the child in the upstairs apartment running laps at two in the morning. I am sick of falling behind and not being able to sleep and eating terribly and just being so generally unhappy all the time.

I am done with January.

Tomorrow is February. Tomorrow I’m starting over. I’m putting January at my back and kicking out the bad. I made it through January2, and things can only get better from here.

 

  1. I cannot emphasize how perfect this week was. Perhaps this picture of the MT blissfully devouring a canoli will give you some idea: Image
  2. Which I frankly deserve some sort of medal for.
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in which I learn storytelling lessons from iFrankenstein

I am, by principle, two things:

  1. Extremely selective about the movies I go see.
  2. Extremely obsessed with Frankenstein.

These two principles were in direct opposition last night when Marx and I headed to the Fenway cinema for the Friday night showing of iFrankenstein. Oh, you haven’t heard of iFrankenstein? That might be because it’s actually called, “I, Frankenstein” but come on.

So iFrankenstein. If you aren’t familiar with it, please take a second to acquaint yourself with the trailer.

So that’s iFrankenstein. You can probably get a good idea of its quality just based on those winning two minutes and thirty-one seconds. If that didn’t convince you, know that the film has, as the MT gleefully pointed out to me, a 3% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Even the new Smurfs movie had a higher rating than that.

Watching that trailer, every instinct in me screamed to stay away.

But the smaller, yet louder part of my brain screamed “BUT FRANKENSTEIN!”

So my patient and long-suffering friend Marx let me drag her to iFrankenstein last night.

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And friends, it was bad. Horrifically bad. Monstrous1. As gloriously appalling as I hoped it would be.

At first, Marx and I did a lot of giggling and being generally and unapologetically disruptive. But just before the climax, Marx and I both got bad movie fatigue, a common condition where a disaster of a film suddenly stops being so bad it’s funny and instead you start to feel like your brain is liquefying and sliding out through your ears. In order to distract myself from my steadily dropping IQ, I tried to think about what I, as an aspiring writer and storyteller, could learn from this Hindenburg-sized disaster that was iFrankenstein.

So here are a few storytelling lessons from iFrankenstein.

Taglines do not make good dialogue. I’m pretty sure this entire movie consisted of lines that were made to be said in a deep, low voice while in close up with an intense look on the actor’s2 face. Dialogue was not a high priority in this film. In fact, I think 90% of the script is in the trailer.

Follow your own rules. So for a reason never explained, Frankenstein’s monster, who this movie christens Adam Frankenstein3, is immortal4. Not just immortal. Indestructible. He falls off buildings. He gets thrown off bridges. He crashes through a square and onto a moving subway train. And he’s fine. Except then, every time the movie needed him to be weak or incapacitated, somebody would lightly shove him and he would collapse into a shaking, useless heap of a reanimated man. If you’re gonna make these nonsensical world building rules, you gots to follow them all the time, not just when it’s convenient.

Setting! It is important! Setting is probably my favorite aspect of any novel or movie. I’m a setting junkie. So iFrankenstein’s first setting issue was that I was totally uncertain what city this was set in. What city is this that has both a big-ass cathedral for the gargoyles to live in and a big-ass castle for the demons to live in, yet is huge enough that neither of those groups seem to be aware that the other’s big-ass structure exists. Then, there were these huge jumps in location. Such as at the end, when the Demons’s big-ass castle starts imploding for no apparent reason. Adam and Yvonne Strahovki’s characters are inside and both mostly passed out on the floor! Oh no! Then we get one shot of demon v. gargoyle fighting action. Then suddenly Adam and Yvonne are falling off the roof! No, not running up to the roof. Not running across the roof. Falling off the roof. Weren’t they just passed out on the laboratory floor? Yes6. Yes they were.

Never employ reoccurring phrases that can’t be said with a straight face. Props to Miranda Otto for repeatedly uttering the phrases “Gargoyle Queen” and “High Order of the Gargoyle” without cracking. Oh Miranda Otto. How far you’ve fallen since ripping off your helmet and crying “I am no man!” on the fields of Gondor.

Apply morals with a light hand. Was there a theme? No. Any sort of over-arching character arc5 or internal struggle for anyone? No. Even really a reason for Adam, the main character, to be in the movie? Nope. The whole movie was just a vehicle for exploding things7 and poor special effects in which men transformed into creatures that seemed a cross between the Skeksis in Dark Crystal and the cactus people in Doctor Who. And then every once in a while, you’d be hit with a speeding train of a moral. I think there was actually an audible thunk a few times. Adam can’t be destroyed by the demons because he has a soul after all!? Wow, blink and you’ll miss that life lesson!

Good adaptations walk a fine line. iFrankenstein begins with a summary of Frankenstein in its entirety. It lasts approximately thirty-eight seconds. And then the movie abandons its reported source material entirely. I’m convinced the writers have not actually read the book. Rather, they skimmed the SparkNotes. Friends, you gots to read more than the SparkNotes to write an adaptation. I’m a big fan of adaptations of classics or retellings, but there’s a fine line to walk. You can’t stick too close to the source material—there has to be something new to set your version apart. But you also can’t stray so far away that you lose your ties to what you’re adapting. If you could take the classic you’re retelling out of the story and have it remain virtually unaffected, you’re doing something wrong. So when your movie about Frankenstein’s monster is actually a movie about a war between Demons and Gargoyles…you’re doing something wrong.

Friends, this was such a horrifically terrible movie. So much cringe-worthy dialogue. So many random explosions. So much Aaron Eckhart doing his best Christian Bale Batman impression. It’s the sort of bad movie that gives bad movies a bad name.

And friends, I loved every second of it.

 

  1. See what I did there?
  2. Yes, Actor, because there were literally three women in this film, and they were all basically vehicles for tokenism. So glad Yvonne Strahovski (whose character name I can’t remember for the life of me) was there to be totally useless the whole movie except to ogle handsome monster with his shirt off and then be carried to safety by him. Goooood.
  3. ADAM. Adam Frankenstein. While I appreciated the fact that they were trying to do a Paradise Lost/Bible reference by calling him Adam, there is not a name in this world besides Victor that you can pair with Frankenstein and not have it sound moronic. Adam Frankenstein. Say it out loud a few times. Adam Frankenstein. Good grief. Why didn’t they just call him Dave Frankenstein?
  4. This is a terrible idea for so many reasons, the first of which is that it destroys almost all stakes for this character. Every time he’s in any danger, I thought, “No big deal. He’s immortal, so he’ll be fine.” I think the writers realized this halfway through, but instead of going back and rewriting things, they just decided to ignore it and keep trucking.
  5. So one of my favorite scenes in the movie was when Adam Frankenstein was walking through what I believe the cool kids are calling a disco tech. It’s full of loud music and dramatic lighting and skinny white people in metallic shirts sitting around drinking neon drinks. As Adam Frankenstein walks by, everyone looks up from their conversations and neon drinks to stare at him. Then, in one of his many nonsensical voice overs, Adam tells us something about how “People all stare at me and hate me because I am weird looking.” …uh, wrong. Friend, they are staring at you because you are super hot. I promise, those scars are only doing you favors.  You are literally the most attractive person in this film so the whole “people hate me because I’m ugly” thing really doesn’t hold up.
  6. There were also a few points where the characters ended up in locations with no explanation as to what that place was or why there were there. Such as when Yvonne and Adam have a scene in this impossibly dingy apartment that happens to have a fully-stocked medicine cabinet so that Yvonne can stitch up Adam’s wounds. So whose apartment is this? If it’s Yvonne’s, she needs to talk to her boss about what he’s paying her as one of the top electrophysicists in the country. If it’s Adam’s, why does he go back there looking for her later? Where are we!?
  7.  Pretty sure no one ever used a door in this movie. They all had to jump through windows or smash through walls. Or, in one nonsensical case, have a conversation through a waterfall in a train station. Also, Frankenstein’s weapon of choice is Frankensticks. You can’t make this stuff up.
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in which a kitchen cabinet takes its own life

Last night, one of our kitchen cabinets decided it was not long for this world and threw itself to its death.

Yes that’s right. Our kitchen cabinet five feet off the ground filled with all the plates, bowls, and Tupperware three poverty-stricken young people had in the world, spontaneously decided to detach itself from the wall. Fortunately, its fall was broken by my roommate’s boyfriend1.

The plates, bowls, and a sizable Tupperware full of flour cascaded to the floor in a slow-motion waterfall of glass and ceramic. So many casualties, strewn across the kitchen floor. It looked like the after picture of a natural disaster area.

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I was not home at the time the collapse occurred. I got a confusing text from my roommate that started, “Everything’s fine.” Which usually means something is very wrong.

“Everything’s fine,” she texted me. “Except one of the cabinets fell out of the wall and into my boyfriend.”

It was the icing on the cake of an already stressful evening.

A repairman2 came by today and fixed it, so the cabinet is once again suspended where it should be. I still have a lot of lingering anxiety that it’s going to pitch forward again3, especially since I’m the only one at the apartment all weekend and this time it might be me the cabinet breaks its fall on.

I’m not sure what it is exactly that makes kitchen cabinets decide to throw themselves to their death at seven pm on a Wednesday night. But take this as a public service announcement, and a warning.

It happens.

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  1. Oh, don’t worry, he’s fine.
  2. Named Emerson, which feels very Boston appropriate.
  3. And take our surviving dishes with it.
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in which I start the next novel

Kids, this week was a doozy.

Coming back from a vacation is always rough, and I recognize that the first week of a new schedule is always jarring. But this particular first week raised a particular variety of hell that I was not prepared for.

First of all, I started a new job in addition to my current one. Which is awesome, but also far more work far faster than I expected. Then things at the first job were a bit mad. I also started in on the most demanding class of my academic career. I also took on some freelance jobs unexpectedly. Throw on top of that an MFA reading, two theatrical excursions, and an unexpected financial hiccup.

And then, on top of all that, I was supposed to start a novel1.

The project that has been lovingly named my post-modern revisionist steampunk Frankenstein novel is going on the shelf for a while until I’m far enough away from it that I can be objective about it and make it better. The project that has been lovingly named ANXIETY has been sent by my agent to editors around the country. And now I have a looming January 31 deadline for the first submission of my next novel.

I haven’t started.

I did, however, spend last night watching documentaries on tulips. Another hour or so putting books on hold at the library for research. And most of the afternoon making up names of fake Dutch towns. Basically, I was doing absolutely everything to avoid starting this novel.

So tonight I took a critical look at myself. Self, I said. Why are you so dutifully and emphatically avoiding starting this novel?

Starting anything is hard. Stories can exist in this sort of transitory, changeable state in your head, but putting them down on paper feels very finite, even though they’re still changeable. It’s another step towards becoming “real.”

The idea for this project began as a Wikipedia entry. Now, as a story is taking shape in my brain, it’s a story with a lot of tough questions I don’t feel qualified to answer. I love the YA community deeply, but I feel like sometimes they are just waiting to jump on anyone who doesn’t answer big questions in a way they like, and I’m stressed about being wrong. Even if I never publish this novel. Even if no one ever sees it besides me.

But then, as usual, the internet provided me with words of wisdom from Lemony Snicket:

“If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting the rest of our lives.”

So I’m starting my novel. I’m publishing this post, and then I’m starting writing.

Ready. Go.

 

  1. Yeah, supposed to. We’ll get to that.
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in which I make November Cakes

So I really like books. In case you’re new here.

There are many things I love about books, and many reasons I read as much as I do. I like stories. I like magic. I like imagined things. I like the feeling of being in many places at the same time, simultaneously on the train or in my bedroom but also far away in another state or country or world. I like living many lives through books.

But the real reason I read is because every once in a while, I find a book. A book that does more than just provide a few good hours of being somewhere else. Even more than just a book that makes me hold my breath or turn pages faster. It is the sort of book that takes me over. That makes me feel deeply and profoundly for people and places and things that do not exist. A book that makes me look at the world differently.

When I read books like this, the first thing I do is take several deep breaths and just bask. Then the second thing that usually happens is I feel inspired to create. Great things make me want to create something, and usually that something wants to exist in the same world as whatever book just moved me. I love people who create things based on things they love. This is why I love things like fan art. Fan fiction. Cosplay1.

And, in a new subgenre of fan culture I invented on Friday night, fan cooking.

Recently I have become thoroughly and passionately obsessed with a book called The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. It is a rare and exceptional book2. You should go read it3. It was introduced to me by a colleague at the bookstore, who feels just as passionately about this book. It was her initial enthusiasm that made me pick it up, and I was not disappointed.

Now in the book, the main characters eat a lot of something called November Cakes. Though what exactly November Cakes are is never actually explained, the small details of them appear again and again until you don’t even know what it is but oh my gosh you just need one so bad!

For example:

“Finn finds my left hand, opens my fingers, and puts a November cake in my palm. It oozes honey and butter, rivulets of the creamy frosting joining the honey in the pit of my hand. It begs to be licked.”

See? How could you not want one of those immediately?

Unfortunately you can’t just go to any bakery and say, “One November Cake, please!” This is not the magical island of Thisby. So my bookstore friend and I decided to try and make them ourselves. On Friday night, we tracked down a recipe created by Stiefvater herself and we endeavored to make November cakes worthy of the Scorpio Races.

They turned out…fine.

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Mostly they look like squashed brown cupcakes. Not the sort of food that begs to be licked4.

But we made them. And we ate them. And we had a wonderful time doing so5.

But what struck me most about the evening was that this one little book had inspired the creation of something else. We both feel so passionately about these people and place and food that does not exist that we had to bring this fiction into the realm of our real lives.

And honestly, that’s why I write. With the hope that someday I too will write something that, to quote another book I am obsessed with, “takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words6.”

 

  1. While I don’t really take part in any of these things, I love scouring the internet for them.
  2. OHMYGOSH it is SO GOOD. Not to over hype, but it is SENSATIONAL and will make you FEEL SO MANY THINGS.
  3. WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THIS!? GO FIND AND DEVOUR IT AT ONCE!
  4. Though we certainly did do a lot of licking of frosting off fingers and plates.
  5. We also lit a towel on fire. But that’s a post script to the story, really.
  6. That’s Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Another good book7.
  7. OH MY GOSH why why WHY are you still reading this GO BUY THIS ONE TOO WHILE YOU’RE OUT GETTING SCORPIO RACES. GO GO GO NOW!
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in which December comes and goes

Every day for the past month, I have woken up with the same thought: Today will be the day I update my blog.

But that didn’t happen. December is not a great month for blogging. December’s not a great month for doing anything other than eating yourself sick and pulling your hair out over Christmas gifts.

So here’s a super quick recap of some of the things I did in December that did not involve binge eating or stress shopping:

–The MT and I explored Boston together. And let me tell you, you have not explored Boston until you have explored it with the MT.

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Seriously, friends. It was a time. We committed treason (see above), skated in a cemetery, wrote on museum walls, went to a Speakeasy, ate food in weird places,  wore strange hats, and were transcendental. Among other activities.

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–Flew home and celebrated Christmas with my family in Utah. Which included my mom giving us a knitted sorting hat from Harry Potter. We also got a Darth Vader voice changer mask. Not knitted.

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–Blind taste tested 13 sugar cookies on a quest to find the most delicious sugar cookie in the Salt Lake Valley.

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Seriously, it was a blind taste test. As in we were blind folded.

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The best sugar cookie in Utah, in case you were wondering, can be found at One Smart Cookie.

–Attended a Renaissance-themed murder mystery party dressed as Shakespeare.

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The  MT also came along, dressed as an Irish mercenary/Hamlet/Ronan Lynch.

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–Ate at my favorite Utah restaurant, Cafe Rio, multiple times with 14, fresh from her Norwegian adventure. No picture. Because I don’t believe in taking pictures of your food.

–On that subject, I ate too much good food.

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This is one of many examples. Resisting posting all of them.

–Read some great books out loud with the MT. Then made sweaters based on them, a picture of which was then retweeted by the author of said books. (MY LIFE IS NOT SUPER EXCITING, OKAY!? THESE ARE THE BIG MOMENTS OF MY LIFE!)

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–Saw friends.

–Saw my dog.

–Saw my mom holding a bowl for water so my dog would be more comfortable when she drinks.

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–Was given a Norwegian Christmas troll to protect me. I think he’s actually meant to cause mischief, but he loves me, and so I have trained him to be my guardian.

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His name is Chainsaw.

–Was given some excellent fan art by the MT. Bonus points if you can name either of these characters. 

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And I think that was December. I’m gonna be better about blogging from here on out. I made a pact with myself. I said, “Self, you should be better about blogging.” So that’s gonna happen. I’m even gonna go out of my way to do strange things that will result in good stories for the blog.

It’ll happen. Just wait. You’ll see.

Happy 2014.

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