Friday, January 29, 2016

On Pen Names

Now Playing: David Bowie - Little Wonder

I keep mentioning Jenny Trout because I always find her blog posts thought provoking, entertaining, informative. All kinds of positives.

But something she wrote about a little while ago has been troubling me. And it's troubling me for a completely asinine reason. Seriously! Her post on why she changed her name is really emotional and thoughtful and an intricate look at her mental illness and issues of identity.

Mine is going to be utterly shallow in comparison. You've been warned.

The real reason I'm writing this is because I had a brief conversation with Ren and Silvia about it and they both kinda gave me quizzical stares and, "uh, no," answers.

We went to a karaoke bar a few weeks ago, which is where the conversation happened. (Note: and I'm thinking we need to track down more Miami karaoke bars. At least until we find one populated by young people. And just to make it Our Thing. Like finding good burger restaurants or watching really bad film adaptations of books we've read--those are all part of The Lesbian Triad™ agenda.)

While we were waiting for a waitress to notice us, I asked them. "Do you think having the same name as a Brazilian gymnast will bring me problems down the line if I publish something?"

And they were like, "????" and "No. . . ."

The "no" was actually decisive. The question-marks-and-frowning seemed to stem from a Why The Hell Would You Even Worry About That angle.

But you know me. I worry. I panic. I am not made up of organs and tissue and bones, I am made up of panicked thoughts, weird social anxiety worries, and occasional doomsday scenario plans.

I feel, I don't know, that even though me and Other!R.A. are not remotely in the same career universe, we could cross worlds. What if she publishes an autobiography or something? What if people who browse for books and like gymnastics come across my book and do a double take and think, "huh. She does gymnastics and writes urban fantasy?"

Plus, she's only like four years younger than me and already has her own Wikipedia page. She might end up going all the way to the Olympics. I am so slow at making a name for myself.

Yes. I realize this sounds overtly paranoid and envious.

And that's only because I am overtly paranoid and partially envious. (I'm envious of anyone below the age of nineteen who's got their life figured out. Like you, Lorde. Ahhh).

I quite like my name. I even figured out what my author signature would be if I ever get to a point where I can sign books, since it's recommended you don't use your legal signature for such things. I like my name so much I've been, since childhood, against the idea of changing it for any reason. Marriage, legal troubles, anything of the sort.

If it became a problem (big if), I could just go initials. R.V. Andrade. Or, quite simply, Rebeca V. Andrade. Doesn't sound too bad.

But I was thinking. . .if I did have to use a pen name, what would it be? I have a hard enough time picking names for my fictional characters, renaming myself could have been an eternal struggle. And I thought I'd be completely against the idea until I realized there is a name out there that triggers this weird sense of nostalgia and fondness within me, unrivaled by anything else.

I hadn't realized how important it was to me until a few months ago, when I heard it in passing and had this strange, joyous reaction to it. It was the name of a friend's niece, but it was also a name I picked out, long ago, for the most important character I've ever created. The character who ages with me and will never exist in any printed work.

Now technically, it's a name she rejected. Her birthname. She didn't reject it out of principle or anything; she picked "Dream" as her new name long before she knew what her parents had called her at birth, and no one refers to her by her original name. But I picked her first and last names for a very specific reason, both as namesakes of two different people. It's perfect because it's not particularly unique or strange. I think only two or three people would recognize why it was so significant to me, and that's on the off-chance they'd even read my books. (Maybe Cecilia would. Like, if I tweet about it. If Twitter still exists prominently in a few years and/or she still follows me).

It also wouldn't be a secret. I figured since it'd probably be a touch easy to trace it back to me, I wouldn't go above and beyond to hide it. But now I'm excited for it.

I can't help but think it'd be strange, though. Since it was Dream's birthname, it doesn't feel like it truly belongs to me. It doesn't even belong to her anymore. It wouldn't be a "persona" of me or a representation of a version of me or anything. Yet I can't imagine using anything else.

I kind of hope I never have to use it. But I can't say I wouldn't be slightly excited if it ever became necessary.

I wonder how other writers choose pen names?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Diplomatic (?)

Now Playing: Hozier - Arsonist's Lullabye

Panic mode time.

The other day, I got really mad at Red Rising.
This one. With the pretty cover.

The review I wrote actually went down better than I thought--in that I had some friend support, a friend request, a few likes. Basically no one lynched me for giving it a one-star rating, which I found surprising. It had so many high or at least passable ratings that I was wondering if people would just rage at me for not giving it endless praise.

But I was angry from, like, the first page,

all the way towards the end,

(Objectively speaking, I sure am fond of profanity).

So I couldn't have realistically given it any more than a 1.5 star. And I was too angry to give it any more than a 1 star.

In case you couldn't tell by my super subtle updates, I was really angry at how the book handled its female characters. It's basically a reigning example of the Women in Fridges trope, but I also had a few other problems with it. Basically, it seemed weirdly like a book that would ooze toxic masculinity at times. Like the overall arc of it and Darrow's development and even some of the treatment of the side-characters made it feel like a hypermasculine sci-fi/fantasy space opera.

I used to give the Shatter Me and Throne of Glass series shit for being the living embodiment of Girl Power/pandering fiction for the YA crowd. But I've started to shift from that. Like, after watching the amazing-ness of Fury Road and then seeing Game of Thrones fuck over its female characters all in one weekend, I realized I could be more forgiving toward certain narratives.

Reading Red Rising put me back on that road and made me take another step forward. It was, "Hey, Shatter Me? Throne of Glass? I'm glad you exist."

And I do. I'm glad they're books for girls ages 13 to 18. (Not that adults don't read them, but they've definitely got a demographic). I'm glad they're there to tell young girls, guess what, you can be powerful, you can be amazing, and you might suffer and be terrified and be lost for a while, but you can also be kickass, and wear pretty outfits, and kiss as many boys as you want, and trigger revolutions, and crawl and fight your way to a position of power. Because it's your story. Your tragedies and accomplishments belong to you and only you. You're not just here to be raped, kidnapped, and killed to cause men pain.

And even better, in narratives where boys are the lead, we won't have to drag the women through the mud. I am eternally thankful I gave my brother Steelheart and not Red Rising as a Christmas present. Boys deserve their own heroes too, but never at the expense of women.

So I stand by those opinions. I always will.



Maybe this kind of talk is going to get me in trouble one day.

See, the other day, Chuck Wendig wrote a post called 25 More Hard Truths About Writing And Publishing. 

A lot of it was worth discussing, but it's #19 that made me go all deer-in-headlights:
Publishing is tiny. The audience is small. Bestsellers hang around the list for a long time because most readers just read one or two books a year and the same books circulate in that audience — it’s a self-replicating machine that way. Most people in publishing know each other. Many writers know one another — especially in their particular genres. It’s all very niche. This is important to know because to many, it’s quite a surprise. It’s also a good reminder not to shit where you eat, because a whole lot of people are watching you pop that squat.

Oh sweet Batman.

Here's the problem. I ranted about John Green books in one of my posts. My formative years of feminist analysis and creative writing education happened on anti-Twilight forums. On casual conversation, I call beloved fantasy dragon writer Christopher Paolini a "total hack." Even authors I like, like Marie Lu, get occasional rant-ish comments from me. (I'm just so freaking fraking conflicted about the entire The Young Elites trilogy).


I don't even have to think for long to know of authors that have gotten problems for being outspoken. Jenny Trout eventually came to a point in her career where she stopped giving a fuck. Screw being quiet and polite. She'll call out the misogynistic, terrible writing in Fifty Shades of Grey. She'll speak of the fucked up nature of publishing a historical erotic romance of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, his underage slave. She'll call you out--even if she liked your previous books--for defending your convicted-pedophile-audiobook-narrator. 

But she's never done this without consequence. E.L. James's fans haven't exactly taken her criticisms lightly. And a collaborative anthology of hers faced problems after the Thomas-Jefferson-and-Sally-Hemings-book controversy.

Thankfully Jenny Trout has a good supportive audience that she's built over the years. But with that in mind, think about smaller authors who speak up and end up offending people.

With the latest case, Navessa Allen spoke up about Karen Marie Moning victim-blaming/supporting a sex-offender. And then, after she wrote about the issue, she received a ton of one-star reviews on her books from angry Moning fans.

I think Jenny Trout herself has said that these type of responses don't deter her. Just because she's in the industry doesn't mean she's not allowed to have an opinion. We can't just shut up when we see something troubling on the off-chance that it might hurt our careers. We need to be able to speak-up about these things.

But at the same time, I know plenty of authors that might review books and discuss books, but never, ever give anything less than three-star ratings so not to stir up controversy.

Say I don't like a book. I one-star it, rant about it, talk about it with Goodreads buddies. Three years later, I query the author's agent or pitch their editor. However implausible it might seem now, will that review come back to bite me in the ass? Is it really worth getting so riled up about it?

I get stupidly passionate about storytelling--good and bad--rather than just, "eh. It wasn't for me."

That might be a detriment in the future. But should I stop? Granted, this is all a long-shot. I may never write anything worth publishing. I will most likely never, ever receive enough attention because of my writing or reviews. I could be perfectly safe in my own accidental anonymity.

But maybe it's still something to think about.

It's just that part of me really agrees with Jenny Trout. I'm not going to stop having an opinion just because I'll get lucky enough to be part of the industry. My lackluster talent is also not going to mean my opinions regarding more successful, more critically acclaimed writers will be invalid. (After all, just because I can't create something great doesn't mean I don't recognize greatness or. . .the opposite of greatness >_>).

It's just so worrying. Panic panic panic forever.

Then again, maybe I am overthinking this.

After all, Julie aka Swankivy wrote four gigantic essays on The Inheritance Cycle and she didn't have any troubles acquiring an agent for her fantasy trilogy. I doubt most publishing people even know about it--it's just something us fantasy readers might find and discuss.

But if she gets super famous (and she just might), will Paolini fans dig up those essays and then shit'll hit the fan?

I'm hoping not. But in publishing, anything can happen.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Monday Excerpt: What He Had Become

Now Playing: Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori - Exodus (Halo: Reach OST)


I have mixed feelings about the following book--purely because it's so good for the first 80% of the content and then it does something that makes me rage. Bad endings can sometimes really kill the love someone has for a book, but whilst reviewing and thinking back on, I had to remember I generally had a good time with it. For the most part, this is the novel that was practically written for me and only me--from the characters, to the action, to the way it speaks of man and techonology. It's never overtly pretentious, but it doesn't ignore the issues either.

It's not a perfect book, but it has some near-perfect moments.

Some spoilers ahead.

When Kate heard the next rocket, she barely had time to turn toward the sound.
Danny and Hawkins ran along the little hotel's roof, weapons out, intent on killing the Bot Killers in the TSVs. When the rocket took out Randall, Danny stopped and turned to see Kate standing in the road, shouting something at Zuzu. . .and a second rocket streaking toward her.
He roared her name, took two strides, and hurled himself off the hotel's roof. As he plummeted four stories he saw Kate spin toward the rocket and try to dart out of its path. The rocket struck her left shoulder and exploded. Her body pinwheeled through the air.
Danny hit the ground in a crouch, the impact buckling the sidewalk beneath him. Something cracked in his right leg. Kate's bot lay in a scorched, blackened sprawl. He screamed and ran toward her, hobbled slightly by a new limp.
"Kate!" he shouted, but she wasn't moving.
He stood over her, staring. He had joined the army hoping that he had finally found the purpose he'd sought, that a guy who'd always felt alone might be able to help protect those who were lucky enough to have someone else to live for. His girlfriends--even Nora, who had lasted the longest--had never been able to make him feel necessary. Desires, yes, but not alive
Danny felt as if the rocket had struck him instead of Kate. He stared down at the blackened carapace and the thin cables jutting from the shoulder socket, the jagged metal where the arm had been blown off, and he hated the robot--hated what he had become--and yet he hated the human part of himself as well, for giving a damn.
- Tin Men by Christopher Golden

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Failing Writers, Silly Girls

Now Playing: Kirstyn Hippe ft. Mary Kate Wiles and Joey Richter - Horcruxes and Honeydukes (I Ship It soundtrack)

I got tricked into watching The Spectacular Now about two months ago. It was after the weird, documented string of events that led to rage and annoyance. Someone kept suggesting the movie to me because I would relate to it so well and I would get some kind of epiphany out of it and it's "not like typical teenage films" and "I know you don't like Shailene Woodley but you HAVE TO TRY."

So I gave in. I was like, okay, this movie's got good critical feedback, people I admire like it, and you know what, I need this kind of introspective teen movie about the struggles of incoming adulthood.

No. Fuck that. The Spectacular Now sucks. It bored me to tears, its attempts at discussing the nature of time and adolescence and belonging were soulless and forgettable, and I couldn't find a single character that I found likable or interesting.

Plus, I'm getting really sick and tired of that whole Writing-The-College-Admissions-Essay in media res framing device so many fucking movies try to pull. NOBODY GIVES A SHIT ABOUT THE ESSAYS. Believe me, that's not what gets you accepted to university so it's utterly pointless. Even the better made, better filmed, better acted Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has that framing and it's still a touch annoying. Although it works better with the unreliable narrator and, again, that's a much better movie. It's still not needed, per say.

But anyways.

It's always easier to hate a movie or book everyone seems to love than it is to like a movie or book everyone seems to dislike. Mostly because as soon as I start hearing criticisms, a part of me just goes "shit, bro. You're so right."

It happened that way with Man of Steel. I still love and will defend that movie to the ends of the Earth, but I'm not gonna pretend it's a flawless masterpiece either.

Anyways, I bring this up because I think the reaction I was supposed to have with The Spectacular Now happened instead with this other movie. One that was met with a resounding critical "meh, it largely sucks" response.

But that same film had me cringing and awkwardly giggling and rolling around Wednesday night. I don't even like painful, cringe-worthy, sympathy-pain comedies, but I was relating to this so impossibly hard that it punched me into an endless laughing fit. It's like being mercilessly tickled and it's painful and awkward and horrible and yet you can't stop laughing. But see, that sounds horrible. Yet it's not an It's-So-Bad-It's-Good situation. It's a genuine This-Spoke-To-Me situation!

Throughout the afternoon I was sprawled on the floor, half-reading Grace of Kings, half-revising my book, when I decided to put a movie to play in the background. And yes, I know, mega-multitasker. I can't speak of the quality of my work begat by said multitasking, but it's about the only way I work proficiently.

Anyways, I guess because of my sporadic marathoning of American Horror Story, Netflix decided to recommend me an Emma Roberts/Evan Peters (with John Cusack!) movie.

About a poet.

A young, 22-year old, down on her luck, unpublished debt-ridden poet.

It's called Adult World.

Here's something odd about me: I cannot read books about writers. I have a ton of Goodreads!friends who love or at least mildly like Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, but two things have effectively put me off from reading it: a) Silvia kinda hated it and b) it's about a college-aged/awkward/anxious writer in a workshop class.

It's a bit of a shame since I really liked Eleanor and Park. Either way, I just can't.

Similarly, much as I love Stephen King, I feel this odd sense of discomfort whenever he writes about writers. And that's like, one of his main things. He does it a lot. It's completely inexplicable (lolno it isn't), but it stresses me out.

That said, I really like watching movies about writers. And maybe that's because, as a visual medium, the actual work produced by the characters is largely kept away from the audience. You're never given complete examples of the work, or, if you are, it's done sparingly, so the focus remains on the creators and the way others respond to their work.

I try and watch as many of these type of movies as possible. Some of them are pretty solid, all the way from original stories like Finding Forrester or Stranger than Fiction, to adaptations like Wonder Boys, to those based-off real life events like Kill Your Darlings and Saving Mr. Banks. Others are just horrendous, like that piece of shit, utterly simplistic, misogynistic, creepy as hell drivel called Stuck in Love.

Even though I'm not a poet, I was immediately interested in Adult World. Whether it was good or bad, I needed to watch it.

I really like Emma Roberts and Evan Peters as actors. I sat through The Art of Getting By because of Roberts and I'm seriously considering watching Scream Queens too. I don't know what it is, but I really like her acting. It's endearing and/or captivating, even when she's going around calling people sluts and whores and just generally being all girl-hatey in an amusing way.

(You know what it is? She kinda reminds me of Ren in some of her roles. Just realized it right now.)

Oh, and, yeah, Evan Peters is a great actor and he's really cute. Especially when movies make him look slightly disheveled. And he's got mega dark eyes so that's a good bonus. Adorable!

It was supposed to be a background movie. That got shot to shit about five minutes in.

I. Couldn't. Look. Away.

About halfway through the movie, I had to text Silvia because I just kept cringing back into myself and then laughing endlessly. Other reviewers say that this movie isn't very funny, it's just childishly over the top, but. . .I don't know. I'm not someone who's entertained easily and I don't find a great deal of things funny. But I found this funny.

Even while trying to describe it to Silvia, she just kept commenting how awkwardly painful it sounded. And it was. It really was!

Emma Roberts's character, Amy, is so delusional. She's every former-wunderkind, willful, oblivious writer we all make fun of but we so secretly are. Or were!  Worse is, she's not even entering university, she already graduated. She's an adult! And she's in debt, broke, and had to take up employment in a sex shop of all places to stay afloat. She even sucks at reading work out loud. (I do too. I am terrible and I HATE IT).

Plus, she's so creepy. I feel really bad for John Cusack's character, Rat Billings--dude could have placed a restraining order on her and I would have supported him every step of the way.

Amy is a complete and utter child and doesn't even realize it. There's a scene where her roommate/friend gets stoned and starts philosophizing about the in-between nature of being 22, and both her and Rubia and even Alex are like, "shoot me for fuck's sake, this is so pretentious."

But she doesn't realize she's pretentious too and that her writing is shallow and cliche and amateurish. She doesn't realize it until she gets a cold, hard reality check and then it's really, really painful.

She's also super jealous when her friend gets published on her first try and it's just so cute to watch her constantly stare in awe at Rat Billings, going, "wow. You are so deep and amazing," at anything he spiels out.

Much as I hated The Spectacular Now, I didn't hate it for being cliche and predictable. Adult World is also pretty cliche and predictable--and has some weird handling of certain characters--but I still really enjoyed it.

I think it's because it's not about a misunderstood genius who stays true to her craft and is eventually recognized for her talent. Amy isn't a skillful poet waiting to be discovered, she's horrible at it. She's not even a likable person.

It doesn't have anything particularly insightful to say about art, talent, poetry, or being a millennial adult. At least, nothing we haven't heard already. But it still feels genuine. It's not above having Amy fail in every way imaginable. Also, even though I've been angrily avoiding anything with romantic undertones as of late, this has a really charming romance subplot. So much cuteness.

Admittedly, it does a have a bit of a pandering-ish ending. Not to give too much away, but I kind of dislike how easily things come together and get wrapped up in the last few minutes. The way her relationships are finalized is done well, I have no complains about that, but I do think the change given to her in terms of her writing career is a bit predictable and unrealistic. Especially since she writes the piece on a whim and doesn't revise much yet gets a surprisingly high monetary offer for it.

It definitely bothered me in hindsight, but still not enough to make me hate the movie.

If anything, still in the high of giggling awkward joy, I was more than happy to see Amy's character be given that ending. The rest of the movie spends an awful lot of time shitting on her--as a person, as a writer, as a fangirl, as a retail girl. It's nice to see her succeed at something without it being some over the top fairy tale ending. It admits she's still got a long way to go and that's the most hopeful message you could put in this kind of movie.

I'm back to revising after I post this. My dad bought me two David Bowie albums--a Greatest Hits album and the latest Blackstar--so I'll put it on in the background and write and revise and feel a little better now than I have in weeks.

Thank you, Adult World. You weird, weird movie.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Now Playing: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross - Just Like You and Still Gone (Gone Girl OST)

A few years ago, I accidentally pirated Michael Newton's Encyclopedia of Serial Killers.

Accidentally, I swear! I think I was looking up general PDF articles about serial killers and then found the entire book on a sketchy website.

Up until that point, I hadn't had an organized collection of infamous serial killers to reference back to, just random tidbits I found off of Wikipedia pages. (The closest starting point I've ever gotten was this Wiki entry, which was a favorite page of mine).

Back in high school, I carried my laptops around to take notes during all high school and college classes, but because I typed so fast, I usually got information down at a faster rate than my pen-and-paper peers. I would then do the incredibly idiotic thing of ignoring about 50% of the lecture to either write my own stuff or read whatever I had in my computer. During periods of utter boredom, the Encyclopedia came to my rescue.

I do feel terrible for pirating it--especially knowing the state of the publishing industry now--but, uh, I bought it a few years later and have it here. Hopefully that earns me some forgiveness D:

Anyways, back then, I only read chunks and pieces of it. This time, I'm putting forth genuine effort to read the whole thing start to finish. It's actually not that massive. Since I'm planning to read King's The Stand (unabridged) and Sanderson's The Way of Kings, Newton's Encyclopedia has been positively dwarfed in comparison.

That said, I'm not rushing, so it might take a while. I want to try and remember as much information as possible.

For years now I've thought about the opening sentence for Luis Garavito's entry. As soon as I got the printed book, I double checked it. It was just as I remembered:
"Colombia is one of the world's most violent nations, renowned for its drug wars and narco-terrorism, political upheavals, public assassinations, and random acts of mayhem." (page 89)

Garavito and Pedro Alonso López (both from Colombia) have fascinated me for years, especially when I was younger and was just starting to become fixated on the subject. When I was very, very young, my father told me about, "el Monstruo de los Andes." (I can't remember the context of the conversation, sadly). The Monster of the Andes--a nickname given to López because he operated primarily throughout Peru and Ecuador.

My father told me that, despite the fact that López was caught and then proven to be the killer of hundreds of young girls, there was no way to sufficiently make him pay for his crimes; there is neither a life sentence nor a death penalty in Ecuador. Though he was put through a trail and imprisoned, he was, eventually, freed, and may still be alive.

What other country doesn't have life imprisonment or the death penalty? Colombia, of course.

There are a lot of reasons for this, I'm sure, and though I've never personally investigated it, I've figured it comes down to cost. I know in the United States life imprisonment costs money. The death penalty even more so. Colombia and Ecuador don't have the money for such "luxuries." Combine that with the fact that children--particularly indigenous or street children--so often run away or go missing for an array of circumstances, there's little chance the police will investigate vanished children and link them to a particular murderer. Street children and children of low social class were an easy target for López and Garavito, allowing them to accumulate such high death counts before they were caught.

The other reason why López fascinated me was because of the timeline of his killings. My parents were in their infancy and early childhood during the days that López was targeting indigenous Ecuadorian girls.

The reason why the opening line to Garavito's entry stuck with me is because of how unneeded it felt the first time I read it, like a silly part of my brain had gone "well, of course it is". When I think of Ecuador, of Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Mexico, most of Latin America really, I think of violence and danger. Maybe it's part of the reason I've always had such a weird relationship with my culture. As a child, I grew up with warnings about the dangers of the streets, warnings that might feel downright paranoid to a good chunk of American parents, but warnings that felt instrumental to my and my brother's well-being as children of Ecuador.

In a weird way, we were all privileged. My brother and I grew up in the capital and had relatively comfortable childhoods, safely nuzzled among the upper class. In America, I think we're sufficiently "brown" enough to be recognized as Hispanic. (Or something. I've been asked if I'm Middle Eastern a number of times before). In Ecuador, however, the relative "lightness" of our skin tone marks us in direct opposition to indigenous people. Divisions of class and colorism are problems that plight the country to this day, and though my parents struggled with poverty growing up, their skin color and lineage kept them in a slightly higher class status than indigenous people.

As mentioned, López targeted children of a low social class. Indigenous girls. I often wonder how many children--in Ecuador, South America, around the world--are harmed and exploited without anyone ever knowing the details. And despite my parents' "privileged" status, they've told me of times where danger came close to them, particularly when they were younger and when they were alone. Times when robberies almost went too far. When older men spotted them walking to a bus stop and tried to lure them close.

Growing up, the sentence I've heard the most from my mother has been, "be aware of your surroundings." Since I was old enough to step out of the house without her, even just to cross the street and buy milk from a local store, she's reminded me time and time again that I need to be aware of where I am, who's around me, and any possible dangers. Sometimes I've thought it overtly paranoid of an approach. Other times, I've found it admirable.

I do think it's dangerous to pretend you can "avoid" being a victim. People often try and say that if So-and-So hadn't done X, Y, and Z then this terrible thing wouldn't have happened to them. Which is not just unfair to the victim(s), it's also a thinly veiled attempt to pretend you will never come to harm because you are smarter/faster/stronger.

But I also don't think it's right to pretend you're utterly powerless either. This doesn't mean that you should judge victims in any way. However,I've noticed that--especially in feminist circles--in an attempt to support victims, we sometimes go the other extreme and make it seem like certain tragedies are inevitable.

I see where this comes from--when a heinous crime happens, what do you really gain by torturing those who were hurt? What do you gain by saying, "why didn't you do this differently?"

But I also don't wholly agree with believing terrible things are inevitable.

Back to my mom on this: a few years ago, we were in the car together, driving home, moving slowly through the late afternoon Miami traffic. When we were passing by the train tracks, I felt a sudden wave of discomfort. This weird, chilling feeling that something was wrong and that the source was to my left. I didn't realize it then, but I think I caught movement with the corner of my eye, like the rustling of leaves on a bush.

Before I could even turn, my mom said, "lock the door." She was already looking my way, her eyes narrowed, completely focused. I did as she said and traffic started moving again. As the car crawled forward, I finally saw a disheveled, strange man limping alongside the tracks, slightly obscured by the greenery around him. He was staring out into the street, moving closer.

We drove away and nothing happened. I don't know who the man was or even if he was any danger at all. But in the time I'd picked up a possible threat unconsciously, my mother had registered it consciously.

It's not the only time something like that has happened. And I thought back on it a few months ago because of a Reddit comment. (I know, I know. Not the most insightful site in the world, but hear me out).

On AskReddit, there was a question posed to people who had gone camping or hiking, asking them what might have been the creepiest or strangest occurrence to happen to them whilst out in the woods. A lot of people wrote about terrifying, unexplainable events--too many and too varied to be summarized here.

But I remember one guy wrote about being out in the forest, with a friend, and feeling "off" all of a sudden. Something was terribly wrong and they just needed to go. They didn't see anything, they didn't hear anything, but they just started running, back to safety. Someone else replied that it was very possible their senses had picked up signs of a threat, and though they hadn't had time to really process and identify them, their instinct was already shouting at them to get out of danger.

Whenever I think back to people who escaped a serial killer's trap, they were people who trusted their instincts. Something seemed off--someone was acting strange, something was missing, something wasn't adding up. So it's probable the root of my obsession with serial killers and vanished individuals has a lot to do with reinforcing the idea that, though we can't always prevent tragedy, we can try and be as prepared as possible. And just awareness and instinct can save us.

On the other hand, maybe that's an illusion of power and we can never truly avoid terrible people and their terrible deeds.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Monday Excerpt: Like a God

Now Playing: Hiroyuki Sawano - Titan♀~9chiku (Attack on Titan OST)


So I've talked about this before, but I'll say again: Brandon Sanderson's work got a lot of build-up for me. I used to obsessively watch his lectures on YouTube, always lamenting the fact that FSU never got a good speculative fiction author to teach a creative writing class for us sci-fi/fantasy newbies. (Also that not a single FSU professor I ever had encouraged us to write long narratives. Sanderson has his pupils write novellas. You learn a lot from short stories, but it's definitely a different beast than longer narratives).


I finally plunged into his writing with his YA series, The Reckoners. And I love the hell out of these books. The third, Calamity, comes out this year and I've been waiting for it eagerly. It's a great science fantasy story and you don't see a lot of that genre in recent books.

I've mentioned before I struggle with writing action. In these books, it's all very clear without being slow or tediously detailed. It's just endless fun.

A sleek black copter rose out of the gulley in front of us, and the rotary guns on its sides began to spin up. 
Not a chance, I thought, raising the gauss gun with both hands, sighting. Megan ducked lower and the cycle hit the edge of the gulley. The copter started firing. I could see the pilot's helmet through the glass of the cockpit. 
I took the shot. 
I'd often dreamed of doing incredible things. I'd imagined what it would be like to work with the Reckoners, to fight the Epics, to actually do things instead of sitting around thinking about them. With that shot, I finally got my chance. 
I hung in the air, staring down a hundred-ton death machine, and squeeze the trigger. I popped the copter's canopy dead on, vaporizing it and the pilot inside. For a moment I felt like the Epics must. Like a god. 
And then I fell out of the seat. 
I should have expected it--going into free fall in a twenty-foot ravine with both hands on my gun and none on my ride made it kind of inevitable. I won't say I was happy to find myself plummeting toward broken legs and probably worse. 
But that shot. . .That shot had been worth it. 
I didn't feel much of the fall. It happened so fast. I hit mere moments before realizing I'd lost my seat, and I heard a crunch. That was followed by a boom that deafened me, and that was followed by a wave of heat. 
I lay there, stunned, as my vision swam. I found myself facing the wreckage of the copter, which burned nearby.
- Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Film and Me

Now Playing:  John Williams - The Scavenger (Star Wars: The Force Awakens OST)

I was writing something else here--about the movies I saw and loved in 2015--then I heard the news: Alan Rickman passed away. This week officially sucks. . . .

I actually don't have all that much to say. I've seen a good chunk of his movies (including Christmas classic Die Hard), but for the most part, he's just been my Professor Snape, as he was for a million other people. It's always strange to hear such news about people who've influenced us and entertained us so much. I guess you never expect it. But he lived a good life and, by all accounts, he was a good man too. I hope he died peacefully.

It's kind of a weird movie morning. I got hit by the Alan Rickman news first, and then immediately I heard about the Oscar nominations. (And how predominantly white they are. Wtf, Academy. Get your shit together).

When I heard the nominations, it dawned on me that I didn't go to the theater all that often last year. Or the year before that. Why is that, I wonder? Am I distancing myself from the film industry? Am I just really cheap and lazy and don't feel like trekking to a movie theater?

Probably the latter. I think I'm a lot more careful about the movies I pick to see in theaters now. I go for the visual spectacle, and/or to support filmmakers and stories that deserve all the attention and admiration.

Last year, out of the movies I saw in theaters, my favorites ended up being predominantly sci-fi with somewhat feminist undertones. (I know! What a shock. I'm just so unpredictable like that).

Those being:

Mad Max: Fury Road 
My current favorite film of all time.
Also, I just love this poster.


and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

And weirdly...all three got Oscar nominations.

Granted, most are categories people would have expected. Of course Force Awakens got it for visual effects, for best score, that kind of thing. I do fully expect all three to duke it out in the technical achievements, and I am honestly not sure who I hope wins.

However, Fury Road actually got a nomination for best picture and best director. And Ex-Machina got it for best original screenplay.

I hope, I dream, but I doubt they'll win. They absolutely deserve to win, but just like I have my quirks, so does the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. They almost never give genre fiction the recognition it deserves. (They also, as evidenced by the nominations, seldom believe in recognizing actors of color. Just. . .wow.)

Although a part of me does hope Fury Road wins for best film editing.

Being a film editor had been my dream for a long time. I loved editing so much I learned and read about it all I could when I was in my pre-teen and early adolescent years. I don't know if I was ever great at it, but I did enjoy it a lot. Eventually I decided I wasn't fully capable of diving my attention between two artistic mediums and coming out triumphant in both. Therefore, I focused on writing, letting my film editing skills resurface every now and then for school projects and not much else.

But I still have a deep love and appreciation for film editing, and the one in Fury Road is just spectacular.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

We Can Be Heroes

Now Playing: David Bowie - Lazarus and When the World Falls Down

About two months ago, someone on Reddit linked to a website called What did Bowie do at your age? 

It's Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Basically, you put your age in, the website tells you what Bowie was doing at said age, and you wait for the feelings of admiration and inadequacy and love to hit you.

Mine, right now.
 Some others:

When I got linked, I spent a good couple of minutes on the website, wishing to one day accomplish half as much as Bowie had accomplished in a single year of his life. I can say with confidence it isn't rooted in jealousy, but admiration. It's always that way with great artists.

The site was acting wonky yesterday, and for good reason. So many must have been visiting it after hearing the news of David Bowie's passing on January 9th.

My dad told me in the car early Monday morning.

I had to ask him to repeat himself about five times because I couldn't quite believe it. Maybe it's always silly to get upset over hearing a celebrity's passing, but however "illogical" it might be, it's no less painful. I wrote to a great deal of his songs. Some of my favorite movies use his music to some extent (The Perks of Being A Wallflower and The Inglourious Basterds), or have him as an actor (The Prestige), or both (Labyrinth, of course).

It's difficult to pin point what makes an artist great. Music is especially baffling to me. I can analyze and understand, objectively or subjectively, why a particular movie or book can appeal to hundreds of people. But I have no idea with music. I don't comprehend it enough to decipher a song or its singer.

All I know is what made an impact with me. What I care about and what will always stick with me. And I know Bowie's music will be known and celebrated for years to come.

And I know this is one of his most well-known songs, but I love it too much not to link to it.

Heroes, one of my favorite Bowie songs.

The live version is the one I heard first, and I still have a lot of nostalgia and love for it:

I, I will be king 
And you, you will be queen 
Though nothing, will drive them away 
We can beat them, just for one day 
We can be heroes, just for one day. 
And you, you can be mean 
And I, I'll drink all the time 
'Cause we're lovers, and that is a fact 
Yes we're lovers, and that is that  
Though nothing, will keep us together 
We could steal time, just for one day 
We can be heroes, forever and ever 
What'd you say?  
I, I wish you could swim 
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim 
Though nothing, nothing will keep us together 
We can beat them, forever and ever 
Oh we can be heroes, just for one day. 
I, I will be king 
And you, you will be queen 
Though nothing will drive them away 
We can be heroes, just for one day 
We can be us, just for one day. 
I, I can remember (I remember)
Standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns, shot above our heads (over our heads)
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall (nothing could fall)
And the shame, was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, forever and ever
Then we could be heroes, just for one day. 
We can be heroes
We can be heroes
We can be heroes
Just for one day
We can be heroes. 
We're nothing, and nothing will help us
Maybe we're lying, then you better not stay
But we could be safer, just for one day
Oh-oh-oh-ohh, oh-oh-oh-ohh, just for one day

Rest in peace, David Bowie. Ziggy Stardust. The Goblin King. You and all the people you decided to be for us :D

Monday, January 11, 2016

Monday Excerpt: Flutter of Sun-Caught Dust

Now Playing: Thomas Newman - VFD (Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events OST)


Short excerpt today.

I couldn't get into this book all that much. The tone wasn't doing it for me and the plot felt a bit convoluted. Everything seemed to be there for the sake of being overly whimsical. There was also something about the tense choice. It was just weird and it kept distracting me from this timeline that spammed years and years (with dozens of characters and locations).

But this scene works. At first I thought I was fixated on it because there was something off about the prose but, no, in this moment, it's quite nice. Maybe because it's so simple and so contained and mundane that I can appreciate the image presented at me.

She reads the two words on the grey paper several times. 
She cannot tell if the feeling creeping up her spine is excitement or dread. 
Abandoning the remaining condolences, Celia takes the card in hand and leaves the room, ascending a winding stair that leads to the upstairs parlor. She pulls a ring of key from her pocket and impatiently unlocks three separate locks in order to access the room that is drenched in bright afternoon sun. 
"What is this about?" Celia says, holding the card out in front of her as she enters. 
The figure hovering by the window turns. Where the sunlight hits him he is all but invisible. Part of a shoulder appears to be missing, the top of his head vanishes in a flutter of sun-caught dust. The rest of him is transparent, like a reflection in glass. 
What is left of Hector Bowen reads the note and laughs delightedly.
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Aspirations (Tiny Things)

Now Playing: The Pretty Reckless - You

Last time I hung out with Carla, she took me to a new apartment her mom had moved into.

Beforehand--I think through most of Carla's high school and middle school years--she'd lived with her mom, step-mom, and half-brother. Now that she's on her last year of university, married to someone with a stable career, and with a home in Hawaii, she helped her mom move out to a tiny apartment elsewhere in our city. Because she's doing some internship thing here in Miami, she told me she'll be staying there until she can graduate and move back in with her wife.

Anyways, the day we went to lunch, she asked if I wanted to see the new place. She prefaced it by saying it was a mess of boxes and kinda-built furniture and empty space, but I told her not to worry. I was super excited to see it.

I love seeing people's homes. I like kinda marveling at where they live and scanning their walls for photographs and seeing how they set up their individual rooms. Similarly I used to love seeing friends' dorm rooms--whether messy or clean, they were always decorated in unique ways. If someone has a bookshelf, I am all over it. I even used to wish I could work as a maid so one day I could, like, go make the beds at the White House or something and get to walk around the rooms. (Alternatively, since I have no interest in being in politics and I'm only a citizen by choice not birth, I could marry my way to the White House. And be the most radically feminist First Lady ever. Win, win).

When we got to the complex, I realized immediately it had the exact same built and feel as an inn. I've become fairly familiar with those after years of traveling around Florida for university or quick vacations in the Keys. I figured maybe the place had been a hotel inn once and all the suites had been repurposed and remodeled to serve as tiny apartments.

So we climbed the stairs and found the corner apartment. I'd already thought the outside had looked so, so, so pretty and lovely, but the inside was even better.

It had a single room, tiny closet, single bathroom, one small living area, and the smallest kitchen I'd ever seen. The kitchen was rectangular, with just enough space for one person to squeeze in. When I shoved my way in there--Carla standing at the archway, her back to their little dining room table--I saw like four or five coffee mugs set in the shelf above the microwave. One of them was shaped like an owl.

I think I let out a "SQUEEE" at that moment.

In fact, I spent most of that visit running from corner to corner gleefully. Thankfully her mom wasn't home, so she didn't get to see me act like I got to visit Buckingham Palace.

But it was because the apartment was so tiny and cozy that I was so enamored by it, to the point where I legit wondered what it would be like to live there and decorate it and write inside those four walls and make coffee in the world's tiniest kitchen.

It made me jealous. I've been to friend's houses that are three or four stories tall, have giant backyards, a labyrinth of staircases. And as much as I like them, that cozy apartment made me honestly jealous that I didn't have a place like that to call my own.

I think part of the reason is that tiny apartments make me think of sheds which make me think of the super famous writing sheds that so many modern authors have. My favorite by far is probably Chuck Wendig's. (Although his doesn't have a bathroom. Which I find strange. I drink so much coffee that, if it were me, I'd spent half my writing time running to and from the house's bathroom. Exercise bonus?)

But yeah. That apartment. It was so cute.

If I had an apartment of my own, it'd always be clean because I'm neurotic like that. (I clean everything and keep it spotless. Or I try, since I've always had roommates and family members who come in and wreck up a storm >_>). And with my own place, I'd invite people all the time for coffee and Publix bagels, and and and I'd decorate for all the seasons.

And and and I would sooo have a little writing corner. Like, it would be in shelves, and the top shelf would have my favorite books (or, more wishfully, author copies of my own books), and the middle shelves would have my journals and writing utensils, and the very bottom one would have coffee mugs. Cute, cute coffee mugs.

And I think I'd get a desk top computer. Cuz I actually really like writing in desktops but I've never had the chance to buy one just for me.

Alternatively, the benefit of buying a tiny two-bedroom house would be that I could set up one of the bedrooms as a studio. Then the studio would have my books + writing desk. Downside is that I'd probably never wander in the living room until the day I can afford a TV and gaming console.

It'd be awesome either way.

One day, one day. . .

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


Weekend fun.

First, the sad: said goodbye to my brother on Monday after we dropped him off at university. His spring semester is starting so we won't get to see him again for a little while.

Before that, though, I took a ton of pictures of pretty hotel rooms with workable kitchens. (First one shared with the lil brother, second one was ALL FOR MEEE.)

This was the Pensacola one AKA the One That Had to Be Shared:
Brother offered to sleep on the couch-bed-thingy if he got the desk.
I begrudgingly agreed.

My dad wanted to do something for the holiday break and decided to drive us for almost eleven hours alll the way to Pensacola so we could visit the National Naval Aviation Museum. We were there for hours--my parents went on the tour while my brother and I ran around everywhere, climbed into available pilot seats, marveled at all katanas collected from World War 2, and made about two hours worth of Metal Gear Solid jokes. (Actually, it was, like, the same two jokes repeated ad infinitum).

I took a thousand pictures and about 900 of them were blurry as all hell, and then the remaining are at weird angles or odd lighting attempts.

I've only got a handful useful pictures to show here. It ended up being a weird Brother-Exclusive Photo Shoot, but I kept shoving the camera in his face and then he kept jumping in front of it.
We had so much fun climbing into this. It spun!

We were there for five hours, I think, and nearing the end of the fifth hour, I kept having to drag my dad away from the planes that blocked the exit. He might have stayed for eight hours--admiring the individual machinery from multiple angles, taking thirty to forty minutes on each plane and helicopter--if he didn't have a pesky family that, like, gets bored and wants to visit bookstores and eat dinner at some point. 

But at about the twentieth time he got distracted on the way to the exit, a realization hit me. And I was all, "Dad. . .you don't even like flying!"

(He really doesn't. He's terrified of flying. Yet ironically he's been on more planes than the rest of us combined).

And he just went, "So?"

He just likes machines. Any and all of them.

On Sunday, we drove down to Gainesville and stayed there for the night. I documented my hotel greatness once more:
(it's like the hotel paid me for product placement. If only)

And then the next day I took selfies of my wild morning hair and an outfit that looks like pajamas and was just as comfortable as pajamas:
Not sure why I felt the need to kick the mirror.
I think the door kept trying to open.
We took my brother around to the grocery store and JC Penny so he wouldn't starve/be-perpetually-cold during the winter. We said goodbye around midday and got back to Miami at twilight.

Since 50% of the weekend was spent in a car, I spent a lot of that time contorted about in the backseat, alternating between:
  • Listening to music 
  • Listening to the Blackbirds audiobook
  • Talking to my brother about his book
  • Bothering my brother
  • Reading Grace of Kings 
  • Reading a ton of Wikipedia pages and online articles about people who've disappeared without a trace.

Yeah. About that last point: it's what I like to do on all holiday breaks, apparently.

Whenever I'm in a hotel room, I pull up stories about kidnapped people. This weekend, I read extensively about the infamous Amy Lynn Bradley and Madeleine McCann abductions (although of course I already somewhat knew about them), as well as some interviews involving the Natalee Holloway disappearance.

Mid-trip I realized this isn't really an uncommon thing for me to do. Not sure where this obsession is rooted in or why it awakens when I'm in a hotel or on the road, but it sure is persistent.

My brother read and finished Steelheart in the time it took to get to and from Pensacola, and about the fifth time I interrupted his reading to mention Madeliene McCann's case and showed him a single picture he was like, "Please stop."

Weird thing is it freaks him out almost as much as it freaks me out. I am not immune. I think I gave myself an actual nightmare after reading up on the Bradley sightings.

And just btw, I requested from the library Gavin de Becker's The Gift of Fear about three days ago.

Might be an interesting read.

Human-Trafficking-And-Disappearances-Obsession aside, twas a nice mini-vacation! Got some good pictures out of it.
"Science and science fiction have done a kind of dance over the last century... The scientists make a finding. It inspires science fiction writers to write about it, and a host of young people read the science fiction and are excited, and inspired to become scientists...which they do, which then feeds again into another generation of science fiction and science..."
- Carl Sagan, in his message to future explorers of Mars.