it’s a living #1

 

People who drift into gas stations either have a lot on their minds or nothing at all. They wander through the isles like a wasteland, one lethargic hand reaching out for a bag of chips, one pair of feet stopping in front of the candies, hesitance coloring the Sour Patch Kids Decision. Sometimes I imagine what they must be thinking, what their problems are and how they’re trying to fix them, and if they think beef jerky will help. It might, for all I know.

Once, a dude bought a pack of cigarettes from me, mumbling the brand and tossing his credit card in my direction with a sigh of absolute resignation. When I held out the pack of Camels, he just stared at it, then looked up at me.

“I haven’t smoked in fifteen years.”

He left with the cigarettes in hand.

That’s the fugue state of gas stations. Time doesn’t mean anything, and the rules of smiles and thank-yous and fifteen years are muddled by a fog of exhaustion.

I don’t exactly like working here—I’m getting paid minimum wage and the air smells like piss and asphalt—but it numbs me, and I do like that. My head, a constant anxious whir of an overheated laptop, powers down, and any job that helps me to not think about my disaster of a life is good enough for me.

The second I walk out those doors, though, it all floods back on me, and by the time I’m wedging the door open to my tiny, dark apartment, I’m biting my lips and the tremor in my hands has started.

My roommate is sitting on the couch, or perhaps more in the couch, given the way the cushions fold around her. She’s tying her shoes, looking zoned enough to be in her own private fugue.

“We should get maintenance to look at the door,” I say.

“Mm.”

“Got warped in the humidity, I think. They probably just need to sand down the doorframe so it doesn’t get stuck, but good luck getting them to do even that, huh?”

“Hm.”

I flop down next to her. The seat of the sofa is broken, so I hit the bottom of it hard and the cushions envelop me too. “Going to work?”

She finishes tying her second shoelace and leans back. “Yeah.”

“I made you dinner to take with you.”

She closes her eyes.

“Deanna?”

“Yeah, Kip.”

“I made you dinner.”

I watch her take one, two seconds to pull herself from wherever she’s retreated, and then she opens her eyes and takes two more to find a smile. “I saw that, kid. Thanks a bunch.”

“No problem.” I burrow myself further into the couch and pull out my phone.

We sit there for a couple minutes. “You’re gonna be late,” I say. It sounds nagging, and Deanna’s a goddamn adult, but my second-hand anxiety over the thought of consequences doesn’t allow me to be silent.

She says, “People can wait a few more minutes to get drunk,” but she pulls herself up, swipes her purse off the counter, and grabs her Tupperware dinner from the fridge. “Later, dude.”

I give her a finger gun and a wink and watch her struggle with the water-warped door.

“We should call maintenance about that,” she says.

“Yeah.” The repetition isn’t worth mentioning.  

The door slams shut. The reverb echoes through my shaky hands.  

Belittling Children 101

If you follow the world of kid lit, you may have seen this recent Time article authored by Newbery medal recipient Matt de la Peña regarding honesty in writing for children. (The response from our ever-prolific Kate DiCamillo is worth every second of your time as well.)

Today, I am channeling those titans of kids lit so that I may crash on down into today’s topic like a self-immolating, gasoline-fueled comet.

I take reading and writing for kids’ books seriously, and on this path, I’ve tripped over something time and time again that I would like to address so that people might quit plopping this obstacle down on the road: kids aren’t idiots. Okay, maybe some kids are idiots⸺and we love those kids just as much⸺but what I’m getting at is that children are emotionally intelligent and don’t deserve to be sloppily spoon-fed lessons when they read.

Before you jump down my throat about how I sound like I attended a Waldorf institution, hear me out. You were a kid once, right? (You might still be one, in which case, get off of this blog, it’s not suitable for children, you little asshole.) Think back to something that happened when you were young⸺some great injustice that stuck with you through the years. Maybe a teacher didn’t believe you when you were being honest. Maybe a friend didn’t invite you to their birthday party. Just in case you are absolutely void of any human memories, then welcome, Mr. Zuckerberg, allow me to lend you one of mine:

I was at an arcade with two girls from Hong Kong that my family was hosting. I offered them the tickets I had won from the games only once at the beginning, to which they politely declined, stating that they wanted to see how many they could win alone. Later, I saw one of them drop a sizable bundle of their own tickets, and when I tried to return it to her, she got angry and accused me of being dishonest.

We climbed back onto the bus to go home, they sat far away from me, and I cried.

It was an instance when I had heard someone loud and clear on their initial rejection, yet when I tried to do the right thing later, they assumed I was being deliberately deceitful. As you can imagine, that hurt.

baby child close up crying
I JUST WANTED TO BE A GOOD PERSON.

But here’s the thing: I knew instinctively that it hurt, and more importantly, I knew why: I had suffered an injustice of character. What had happened didn’t represent who I truly was, and it riled something in me that never settled back down (obviously).

Now, let’s replay that situation, and this time, when we’re settling down into the sweaty leather bus seats, I’m going to ask you to imagine that there was a chaperone at my arm saying, “They didn’t believe you. Do you know how much that should hurt your feelings? That hurts your feelings, right? Cause it should. That’s bad. What just happened was really awkward. Do you understand why that was awkward, sweetheart?”

No, you’re not allowed to punch the hypothetical adult in the nose.

Even though they have fresh minds compared to yours, children don’t need anyone to hold their hand through everything, especially when they don’t come to you for it. Children understand guilt. They understand betrayal, and right-and-wrong, and that soggy lump you get in your throat right after you receive a life-changing level of bad news. They might not have a lot of experience with it, but they don’t need a guide on how to feel any more than the rest of us. Their feelings, the way they interact with the world and experience it are just as valid as a person in their 30’s, or 50’s, or 80’s.

bare feet boy child couch

This is why, when I crack open a children’s book that tries so desperately to tackle a subject like, say, drug abuse, or death, and they dance around the subject so much that you can see sugar crystallizing on the soles of their feet, it drives me nuts. You cannot shield children. They know. They know right from wrong, they know people get addicted to drugs, and people die, and bad things happen. They see the same headlines, hopefully they study the same history at school that you did, the same genocides. More than ever, they live in a world where schools aren’t even safe. They know people fall out of love⸺hell, half of my friends’ parents growing up were divorced⸺and the more you try to shield these truths from them, the harder these topics will be to deal with once they’re past their formative years.

You are not doing a child any favors by censoring what they read.

You are not doing a child any favors by censoring how you write tough topics.

The 7 Habits of Mildly Effective English Majors

or, the war between my academic and creative side rages on

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a recent college graduate. Majored in English, minored in convincing people that my major was a good idea. As an English major, I did a lot of writing. Like, a lot of writing. You’d be correct in assuming that this would be useful for a writer, but there are downfalls too.

*Cue academic tone*

In this essay, I will be discussing seven tools used in both creative and academic writing, the habits I have acquired as an English major regarding these tools, and how said habits have both helped and hindered my creative work.  

1. Research

If you happen to write works that require citations, you’re probably familiar with the way one conducts academic research. Combing library databases with keywords that never bring you quite the results you’re looking for, cursing JSTOR for not giving you access to literally anything, and, if you’re a sixty-year-old trapped in a twenty-year-old’s body, getting hyped when the library has a physical copy you can check out (they’re easier to browse, I swear). When I first realized I was unlocking the skill of research, I thought, “Score–this’ll help me with my creative work.” To some extent, that has proven true. I’m better at quick fact checks while writing, instead of shrugging my shoulders and making shit up. I’m better at note-taking, at tracking my sources, at streamlining to find exactly what I’m looking for. I’m grateful for these skills, but there are times when the academic style just isn’t going to cut it.

Example: I’m currently working on a creative project that has me looking into ideas concerning the intersection of psychological trauma and the supernatural. When I first started the research, I naturally went straight to my university’s database, began searching keywords, and downloaded a couple books and dissertations. It didn’t even occur to me that there are other ways to gain information besides wading through a grad student’s (genuinely interesting) work on ghosts in Irish literature. I spent a solid hour reading an article about the history of witchcraft before remembering that I’m not even writing about witchcraft, and another forty-five minutes looking up synopses for horror movies I haven’t seen so that I could better read a piece about childhood trauma and the paranormal. The lessons learned here are:

a) Emily is a giant nerd who likes to learn.

b) Stay focused. When I’m researching for an essay, I know what I’m looking for; I scan an article, and if it doesn’t seem to be relevant, I move on. When researching for a creative piece, I kept thinking, “you never know what’s going to be useful later!” thus allowing myself to delve into a research hole that, while interesting, is ultimately a form of procrastination. Which leads us to…

c)  Know when to quit. If I told you I spent a couple hours reading stuff that wasn’t relevant to my story, you can imagine how long I spent with the material that was. Did I need to spend a full week looking into one aspect of a story instead of actually writing the story? No, but it sure was a great way to put off doing the actual writing. And, thanks to my academically-oriented brain, a week seemed like a reasonable amount of time to spend on research. It’s worth mentioning that, for some creative projects, a week or a month or a year might indeed be a perfectly apt amount of time to spend doing research. If you need to know all there is to know about Santa Claus’s origin story, then it might take a while (he’s a complicated guy). But if you’re just doing a quick dip into why we call different groups of birds different names, don’t spend hours learning about English hunting traditions. In an essay, you need to gather as much information on the subject as your schedule permits before you even begin to write it, so that you can make an informed argument from there, but in creative writing, you can only do so much research before you have to… you know, write. 

books on shelf in library

2. Making an Argument

When writing an essay, I continually ask myself questions like, “What is your point?” “What is the argument?” “Why does it matter?” These are valid and important questions; they help me cut out unnecessary information. And actually, they can be very important questions to ask with your creative writing too, but there’s a different way to go about it. In academic writing, I ask myself these questions while I’m prepping, outlining, writing. But in creative writing, I have to save these kind of questions until after the first draft. If I’m screaming at my characters “WHAT IS THE POINT OF YOU?” all throughout a rough draft, I’m probably going to give up, because that’s just depressing.  

Regarding the question of argument: a lot, if not most, of literature does not have a distinct argument to speak of. If you suffer from Academia Syndrome like me, it’s such an ingrained thing to want in your writing that sometimes your creative stuff can get… preachy. Preachy is not the same as political–you can have a piece that has a very clear political message that doesn’t involve the characters breaking down the fourth wall and handing you the moral of the story in a neatly wrapped conclusion with citations. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. A Christmas Carol is a hundred and fifty pages of Charles Dickens putting the upper class English into a chokehold and saying, “but really, REALLY, can you stop using your money as toilet paper?  In general, though, the idea of argument is one that should be left to the essay formatting.

3. Outlining

Speaking of the essay format, let’s talk prep work. One of the best things that my academic career has taught me is how to plan what I’m going to write. I used to dive head first into stories without any idea as to where I was headed, and while I understand that this is a technique that some people use successfully, I am not one of them. I’m so governed by structure that if I start something without at least a vague idea of where I’m going, there is a 98 percent chance that I will give it up. So thanks to academia for forcing me to do thorough outlining. The one thing to be wary of is being so busy following at outline that you don’t let yourself think outside of what you’ve already planned. When I’m writing an essay, especially if I’m on a time crunch of “If I finish this I can finally go to bed” then I’m going to be following that outline without detour. I’ve done the research, I know my argument, now all I have to do is write. But with a story, it’s much more likely that I’ll realize a massive plot hole, or find a much more interesting way to get from point A to point B, or get deeper into a character’s psyche and realize they would never make that decision, etc., so I’ve learned to leave room for improvement.

idea bulb paper sketch

4. Sentence Structure

Please compare these two scenarios and spot the differences:

a) A compliment from a professor: “You write such long, beautiful sentences. Look at this one: half a paragraph. Amazing.”

b) Comments that Verb leaves on my stories: “Is there a way to make this more succinct?” “This is a little rambling” and “Good lord Emily this sentence is so convoluted you might as well stick a minotaur in it and call yourself Daedalus.”

For reasons that probably have to do with the fact that the longer the sentence, the harder it is to read, and therefore by some skewed logic the smarter you have to be to parse it, scholarly writing is chock full of unnecessarily long sentences. It’s great, for the sole reason that it means I can get away with sentences that find their purpose 3/4 of the way through like a protagonist in a coming of age novel. It’s also not great because the habit has transferred over to my creative writing, and Verb isn’t going to put up with that bullshit. Of course, the thing you want to be wary of is not long sentences in general, but rather, long sentences that could easily be shorter without losing an ounce of meaning.

5. Tone

Every single scholarly article I’ve ever read has the air of someone who’s sitting in a leather armchair in a study that smells like fancy bathrobes and outdated source materials while sipping on scotch and saying, “Listen darling, it’s none of my business, but logically speaking, if you’re looking at Homer’s Odyssey through the proper historical lens, the sirens clearly represent his lust for sex rather than knowledge, and furthermore, if you’ll just turn your attention to page 407 of Fitzgerald’s translation–because what are we, animals?–you’ll see that blah blah blah…” I’m going to be honest, I (un?)ironically love that tone. It’s interesting, hilarious on occasion, and meant to keep you somewhat objective, though admittedly that fails more often than not. I’ve spent a lot of time replicating this tone, figuring out its trigger vocab words and structure. However, I totally get why a lot of people find it unspeakably boring, and therefore I’ve prepared a three-step process to avoid having it leak into my fictional writing. At this point the blog just becomes me talking to myself.

Project No Fancy Robes Step 1: destroy objectivity. It doesn’t exist anyways, and there’s no reason why your narrator would keep a neutral tone unless, for example, they’re a scholar, sitting in their study, sipping on some scotch while calmly and dispassionately telling you about their battle to the death with a fellow scholar who had the gall to use Fagle’s translation of the Odyssey. I’ve found myself falling into a weird pattern in which I have my narrator justifying or rationalizing other character’s actions simply because I, as the author, know their motives and therefore feel the need to be objective. Impartial narrators can work, but if you’re not using one, don’t go out of your way to make them try and be fair.

Project No Fancy Robes Step 2: don’t point out themes. For the love of god, Emily, don’t point out themes. If you’re using the concept of themes properly, subtly, with a level of finesse that would make Kurt Vonnegut proud, then the reader will be able to figure it out without you putting a big neon sign up that says, “we’re talking about sexism.”

Project No Fancy Robes Step 3: spare the details. That cool fact? That interesting piece of information that you are sure is relevant to your story? It’s not. Cut it. It doesn’t add validity to your argument because you don’t have an argument.

pile of covered books
Just fuckin’ cut the deadwood, y’know? (This is Verb, by the way. Sometimes I crash Herb’s posts.)

7. Reading as a writer vs. reading as a scholar

This has less to do with the struggle of writing, but since reading is an integral part of writing, I figured I’d mention it anyways. The way I read books as an English major is antithetical to the way I read them as a writer. When I’m reading a book for school, I’m looking at social and historical context, finding symbolism, scouring for an aspect I find interesting enough to write an entire essay on. When I’m reading as a writer, I’m thinking, “wow, I care a lot about this character. Why is that? What did the author do?” “Hm, this section is losing my attention, what went wrong? What can I learn from that?” Both are valid and fun ways of reading, but I have not found a way to do both at once successfully. Sometimes when I’m reading for pleasure I hear the little English professor demon on my shoulder, tempting me to really concentrate on that fire imagery instead of just reading. This isn’t so much a problem as a minor side effect of my academic choices, but it’s worth noting, since it falls under the category of “habits I picked up whilst majoring in English.”

7. Oh my god you just wrote a 2000 word BLOG POST with numbered sections and academic jargon are you even listening to your own advice?

No, I’m not.

In conclusion, some of the habits you picked up while writing for university are bad if overused, or bad for creative writing in general. But if you are by some miracle still reading this, hopefully you got that and this tell-them-what-you-told-them outro is useless, as most essay outros are.

Please, Don’t Stop Writing

When I was in middle school, I spent a lot of time on the computer talking to online friends. Note that I didn’t say “friends online,” because to be frank, I was very awkward at 11 years old, and although I did have a close handful of friends at school, the majority of my socialization was done on the internet. On one pubescent afternoon, I had just finished an MS Paint doodle of what was likely a Neopet. (Side bar: I was embarrassed to love Neopets as a kid. The standards we bully ourselves are ridiculous sometimes; I was 11.) Desperate for a reaction, I opened AOL Messenger, sent a chatroom invite to two of my closest friends, and shared the file.

For brevity’s sake, I’ll just say that one of them also happened to be an artist, and the other one was not. The artist friend was very supportive; she pointed out what she liked about my rudimentary, pixelated efforts, and gave me gentle pointers about what I could improve on, if I were so inclined. The other friend, however, didn’t acknowledge the drawing. Instead, as I was afraid she might, she took the opportunity to turn the conversation onto herself: “I wish I could draw. You guys have no idea how lucky you are.”

Let me pause here to inject some empathy: I am fully aware of how discouraging it is to see the work of someone you feel is more talented than you, and then to base your self worth on that assessment. It’s basically half of what artists do. But middle school me, who had heard from this specific friend this same self-pitying rhetoric before, and whose words of encouragement (“Start practicing! Anyone can!”) had fallen on willfully deaf ears repeatedly, was fed up. I was trying to figure out how to convey frustration through a keyboard when the other artist friend beat me to it.

The gist of what was said in that chat 15 years ago was that complacency gets you nowhere. There gets to be a point of heartache you can reach, where you desperately want to stretch yourself into an area of temporary discomfort. I’m familiar with this pivotal liminal space, because it still haunts me in my other interests: needle-felting, painting, clarinet. The point though, is that each time you feel the heartache, you end up making a decision, whether you know it or not. You can continue to sit in stasis and let time swallow the desire down into your stomach again. Or, and this is the one that seems so unattainable that it nighs impossibility, you act.

Full admission: are there people out there who are born into this world and create masterpieces like they were designed for it? Uh, yes, Bernini sculpted The Rape of Proserpina when he was 23, and that’s totally unfair, yes. But it’s easy to see those things and say, “Guess I don’t have the predisposition to be great at this,” and drop it altogether. To anyone who feels that way a lot, think about it like this: do you stop social learning just because your aunt Claire is an amazing storyteller? Of course not. She’s not you. You’re you.

So, act. Don’t just buy materials to “prepare,” don’t spend weeks “researching” in preparation. This was something I had to brand into my brain in order to move past them: those stages are ghost productivity. They feel good, but when you go to bed, you haven’t done anything.

But taking that gut-dropping leap is different. You turn on a tutorial and follow along, even though you’re scared shitless. You put pen to page. You put a knife to wood. You burn the quiche, but you are one burnt quiche closer to being able to cook a non-burnt quiche. You’re going to be terrible at it at first.

“Why are you writing this blog post like a vindictive motivational poster?” I hear you asking. This is a reminder, to myself as much as anyone else who should need it. Don’t discredit your failures. And there are going to be a plethora of burnt quiches in your writing. Like, scads. I constantly think my own writing is terrible, but I’m doing it, ignoring the thought that some of you are reading this and thinking, “Who let this person have a blog, what the fuck?” Writing is a craft, a craft as valid as tattooing or leatherworking or the loom. You will improve if you push yourself and put the time in.

When you feel discouraged, please don’t stop writing. When you read an amazing book and it belittles your passion because the prose was so enrapturing, please don’t stop writing. You will get better. Please don’t stop. And it might not get easier if you continue to stretch, but the places you’ve tread before won’t prick your feet quite as harsh. Please, don’t stop writing.

Adverbs and Mood Ring Robots

I recently re-watched Dead Poets Society. As always, it was tragic yet uplifting, unique yet cliche. I watched the credits roll by, thinking about the dangers of oppressive systems and the devaluation of art, mulling over the impact of literature and those who teach it.

I also found myself thinking about adverbs. There’s a line in the film, spoken by the English teacher John Keating, “A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. And don’t use very sad. Use… morose!” He’s right, of course. Saying someone is exhausted is far more evocative than saying they’re very tired. Not only that, but it’s a syntactically tighter description. So why are adverbs so frequently banned when they can save you loads of lengthy description? I remember learning to avoid them in my creative writing classes—professors told me that they’re lazy—but what about them is lazier than describing someone as exhausted?

man in white shirt using macbook pro

Let’s say you’re trying to describe a student during finals week. You could tell me they’re exhausted. That’s succinct, accurate, and yet it’s not as immersive as saying they are, for example, drowning in the waters of a deep and endless night where sleep evades their every move and a single moment stretches on and on towards an endless horizon of rusty minute hands. Is one worse than the other?

The truth is, adverbs aren’t an unequivocal poison to good writing. The trouble arises from—and here’s the plot twist that you wanted to be interesting but instead is a poor usage of deus ex machina—showing versus telling.

One thing you can do is replace the adverb with specific actions or movements. If you want your reader to know that Jemima was walking slowly, you could just as easily say that Jemima dragged her feet. If Joaquin giggles nervously, he might as well giggle and try to take a sip from his drink, but end up spilling it down his shirt. Like “very tired” versus “exhausted,” the second brings vibrancy to the scene.

But maybe you are correctly thinking that you can’t do that every single time. That’s okay, because there are plenty of other options. Similes can be great for specific description: Jemima walked like she had boulders glued to her feet. Joaquin giggled like he had just told a bad joke in front of his crush. Similes are useful if you want to evoke a niche emotion that the reader is familiar with, but perhaps has not thought of in those terms before.

You can also use dialogue to convey these sentiments:

“Jemima, keep up!” Jimothy shouted from the opposite side of the intersection.  

“Joaquin, man, relax. You’re going to ace this interview.”

Now, I’m going to go ahead and put a warning tag on this method, because while you shouldn’t be afraid to use your surrounding characters to tell the audience what’s going on, you also don’t want to go crazy with it. There’s nothing more annoying than a character who is there for the sole purpose of telling the reader information that the author wants you to know but can’t figure out how to tell you, often because the main character doesn’t know or wouldn’t express the sentiment out loud.

Joaquin being told that he looks nervous works well once or twice, but imagine he’s being followed around by someone who’s constantly shouting, “Joaquin, you look tired!” “You seem upset!” “You are elated due to the fact that you just conquered your mental block stemming from a hinted-at childhood trauma that was keeping you from using your pottery-making super powers!” Unless Joaquin has a trusty little robot friend whose main function is to act as a high-tech mood ring—which, now that I’m writing it, sounds dope—then that dialogue would be ridiculous.

Anyways, there are two important things I’m trying to say here: 1) Joaquin the pottery superhero and his mood ring robot are the most interesting duo I’ve ever come up with and I’d appreciate it if you would refrain from stealing them. And 2) Most of the time adverbs are bad, but sometimes their simplicity is just the thing you need. As John Keating said, “Sometimes the most beautiful poetry can be about simple things… just don’t let your poems be ordinary.” Writing is all about knowing every tool you have at your disposal and learning to choose the one that will help bring the most clarity to your work.

“Do You Hear What I Smell?”

I was staring at one of the parts of one of the sentences in one of the drafts of one of the books I’m working on. If you write, you’re familiar with the situation; that one part has your arm bent backward and your bone is groaning, and you’re sweating acridly as your work hisses, “Screw youuu.” But you can’t back down, because you gave birth to this, and unless you’re some kind of Oedipal loser you can’t admit that you’re weaker than it.

There are only so many ways to describe a thing, right? And I don’t mean in the equally-frustrating “if I say the word ‘box’ again I will sound like a broken robot, but if I find other ways to describe it I will sound like a literal alien with a thesaurus.” I mean that some descriptive tropes have been around for so long that they don’t even register anymore when we read them.

Let me give an example for clarity: how would you describe the smell of an old book? Musky, earthy, perhaps even woody. But it’s a cloying scent, almost dusty.

And there it is. If you’re a reader, even a casual one, you’re probably familiar with all of the adjectives I just used. Ones like earthy. Cloying.

But I want to be striking. I want to stand out. Surprise!—this is the exact scenario with which I was struggling. I was trying to describe the smell of old books and failing fantastically. There’s something to be said about trying to tango around the trite so desperately, that you plant your foot into a big pile of ‘what drug was the author on,’ and not in the good Shel Silverstein kind of way. In a ‘this is disconcerting and my fear compounds’ kind of way, which is not necessarily what you’re aiming for when you write for young kids, as I do.

Fearing for my hair follicles, I huffed a deep sigh and tried to calm myself, casually voicing my problem to my boyfriend. Without missing a beat, he shrugged and said, “Why don’t you just cross senses?”

Aside from the fact that the flippant response said through a mouthful of PB & banana sandwich made me scowl, I also had no idea what that meant.

“It means like…using a sight to describe a smell, but directly. It can be either a metaphor or a simile. The idea you want to convey will still land. The old book smelled yellow. You instinctively know what I mean by that, right?”

The death-grip on me seemed to relax. I could breathe again.

The notion of crossing senses to renew descriptions resonates with me, and it’s not because I suspect I have the least powerful synesthesia ever. It’s because it adds another layer to what’s possible when you’re stumped creatively in a world full of tropes. To turn a noise into a mental image that evokes the same visceral response is kind of amazing, y’all. When used sparingly, it can resuscitate sentiments and become a point of pride where exhaustion reigned prior.

So, whether you knew about this already or you’re eager to try it out for the first time soon, that’s great! I just wanted to pass this along, from someone who didn’t go to college for creative writing, but whose partner did, in the hopes that someone else might find it useful.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to use this as my practice sheet.

“Her hair was summery,” turns into “Her hair looked like the tang of citrus.”

“His laugh was high-pitched,” turns into “His laugh like a knife on ceramic.”

“The flavors were very strong,” turns into “A freight train of flavor.”

“The cold was biting,” turns into “The cold was a sharp tinnitus.”

“The ending was abrupt,” turns into “A hiccup of an ending.”

Two Wild Writers Appeared!

Boogah, I’m purple. Welcome to the very first post on this blog. I’m Sam Speaks, and I’m the verb.

I’m Emily Parsley, and I’m the herb.

So we wanted to both address you, dear reader, at the same time, because this is a shared platform. And if you’re already here reading this, then hopefully you have a pretty good idea of what is going to be going on around here on a weekly basis.

I’m going to be writing a lot about the technical applications of writing–grammar and structure and so forth, but for the most part it’s just going to be whatever aspects of storytelling catch our attention from week-to-week.

That’s right! And while I will certainly try to bring some of that academic vigor to my posts, my observations will be largely anecdotal. I haven’t studied writing extensively, but my education as an artist I feel lends something to be shared regardless. Emily and I met as booksellers at a local indie shop. We were coworkers in horrific solidarity for a while, and had a friendship tempered by customer service. Should we tell them about our backgrounds? Briefly, at least?

Yeah, let’s do it! I’m a recently graduated English major from the University of Kentucky. Genre-wise, in my own writing, I tend to… not have a genre? I love realistic, literary fiction, the classics (English major, always), et cetera, but I also have a love for supernatural-esque stories, especially the folklore research that I get to do as a result.

Let’s see. I graduated from the University of Louisville (UK fans, please hold your “boos” until the end) with a degree in Communication Design. It’s a fancier way of saying graphic arts. I love drawing still, but when I realized I had always been a writer on some level, my goals shifted into focus. I now spend most of my free time when I’m not chronically job-jumping on writing young reader books and daydreaming about which illustrator I’d marry to a picture book idea. I try to read a little of everything, but I tend to gravitate towards middle-grade. So good. So underrated. What’s your favorite book, Em?

You should know better than to ask me that. So many to choose from.

Oh. Yeah. Try to pick…Three.

Okay…. Give me like…. A couple decades…. [ten years later]:

Man, who knew Trump would destroy America? He reduced it to a notion. That sucked.

I knew. On the bright side, I now know my three favorite books. In no particular order: Passing by Nella Larsen, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (childhood favorite that inspired me to become a writer), and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz (first book I read with LGBT+ protagonists. Very influential on basically my entire life). I withhold the right to change this list at any given time. What about you? You’ve had ten years to think about it so I hope you know.

Hahaha, joke’s on you, I’m not as well-read so my list of options is miniscule in comparison. Well, I know you know about The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Actually, anything where people who presume they’re in power get destroyed is delicious. I also really love Summerlost by Ally Condie. If anyone out there is looking for a good boy-girl platonic friendship book, GO GET IT NOW. And I have a super soft spot for the Magnus Chase series. Riordan knows how to make a good cast of characters. I actually still haven’t read the third one, and I got the box set for Christmas. Criminal, I know.

Magnus Chase gives me infinite happiness.

*already trying not to cry* I know. Oh, and Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice wins the award for most beautifully-written thing I’ve ever read. Okay, I’m done. See, we gotta get this schmultsy stuff out of the way now. Our blog posts can’t be us rambling about our favorites.

I don’t know what you’re planning on doing, but I have a 5,000 word draft about why I love The Outsiders sooooo….?

…I can probably cut mine about The Color Purple down.

Hypocrite. Is it too late to add The Color Purple to my list?

Of favorites? I didn’t think you’d read it yet.

I read it last semester. I cried.

Oh yeeaaaah. You texted me in pieces. Poor thing. I’ll allow a pass.

I think we’ve gotten off-track.

Right-o. Thanks for reading our introductory post, folks! So, in summation, you can expect from us posts about the craft of writing and observations in the field of books. I would say literature, but that makes us sound…fancy.

I’m going to say literature, cause I’m fancy.  

You have every right to be fancy, you writing graduate, you. Check back next week for our first post, where I smell what color you’re wearing!