June 28, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Date Started: June 25, 2010
Date Finished: June 27, 2010

Summary: Aibileen has been a caretaker for seventeen white children, but found that something inside her changed after her son, Treelore, died only a few years ago. Minny is a sassy Black maid who is known for her cooking, but also for her smart mouth. Because of her reputation, it is hard for her to find a job. She does find a job with an eccentric woman who is hiding a secret. Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan has just graduated from college instead of getting married like her friends, Hilly and Elizabeth. Her mother is pushing her to get married, but Skeeter wants something more. When she gets a job writing for a house keeping column, she finds herself seeking the advice of Aibileen. Skeeter wants to change things and she and Aibileen decide to tell their stories. Skeeter is looking for her old maid Constantine and Aibileen tells her story of working for white families. Minny makes the ultimate sacrifice by telling a Terrible Awful story to keep the identities of the women secret.

Likes: Every section ended on a cliff hanger. The tension was successfully carried during the whole novel and there wasn't not a moment that went by where I wasn't thinking "What's going to happen to them? What are the consequences of their actions?" I loved the interaction between Aibileen and Mae Mobley, I felt it was very authentic and believable. I liked that Skeeter was an independent free thinker and was an honest good person. Minny was awesome and the things she did was disgusting, but bold. I liked all of the characters, even the ones we weren't supposed to like. They were written so vividly that when you disliked someone, you really disliked them and when you loved them, you really rooted for them to  succeed, in whatever measure of success one could have in 1960's in Mississippi. (you'll know what I mean when you read the ending). The author admits that the story is a lot complex than she could address, but I enjoyed her take on it. I also liked her own personal experience at the end with her Black maid. Her story seems to parallel that of Skeeter's story.

Dislikes: There wasn't much that I didn't like. I had to get used to the diction in Minny and Aibileen's sections, but after a while it seems more natural. I hated Hilly, but it's unfortunate that there are actually people as ridiculous as she is (I've met a few of them in my lifetime). 

Overall: I was a little skeptical about this story. Before I was more aware of racial aspects in stories, it probably wouldn't have made a difference. This is a case of someone getting it right without relying on stereotypes and making the characters multi-dimensional. Now that I'm more aware, I wonder if this novel were written by an African American author would it receive as much buzz as this novel has gotten. Not to say that the buzz is unwarranted, this was an amazingly compelling novel. I had trouble putting it down, but I had to eat and sleep, even if I fought it just to read the novel. It's rare to read a novel so compelling. It's just an interesting question that has no answer.

Recommended by: I'm not sure where I heard about this, but this has been on my waiting list since last year. The book was just now available for checking out and it's overdue by a few days, so my library fines are probably about 15 dollars at this point. 

Acquired: Riverside Public Library

June 26, 2010

Renewed Interests: What week are we on?

Well this block of the Creativity Workshop has been sucking even worse than the one before. I haven't gotten much writing done, but I've had a lot of fun generating ideas for different things. I think to get this creativity workshop to be more productive, I need to brain storm for the first two weeks of the block and perhaps write the last two weeks. I don't know. This flying by the seat of my pants thing (aka a Pantser in the literary world) isn't working as well as I had hoped. It works when it comes to writing the first draft, but I need time to mull the idea over and refine it. A bit like polishing stones. These ideas are rough, but with some serious thought and tweaking, I can have a descent plot already figured out before I start writing instead of plowing my way through it and hoping that I'll have something salvageable by the end of the first draft.

At any rate, you may be wondering why this post is called Renewed Interests.

June 25, 2010

The Scientific Method: It's Not About Love, It's About Friendship

This next post in this series of "The Scientific Method" better known "Why Najela Can't Get a Man(and perhaps why that's not a bad thing)".

While I was driving home today, I was thinking about my lack of ability to find a guy. I had to analyze why I haven't put myself out there. I finally came to two conclusions:

1) I'm terrible at reading whether a guy likes me or not.
Case in point: At my job, a coworker and I were talking about all the heavy lifting that we have to do. For those who don't know, one of my (many) odd jobs is working as a Mad Scientist. I teach children science through hands on learning. Normally our kits aren't too heavy, but one school asked for a system I had never taught before and all the kits were extremely heavy. The coworker and I were talking about how buff we had gotten over the course of a few months. Another coworker who was listening to our conversation decides to join in.

Coworker: I'm single.
Me: Oh yeah, me too.
Coworker: We should exchange numbers.
Me: Okay... (incredulously) wait... seriously?

Needless to say, I think I blew it. Not to say that I was interested, he's a nice guy. Smart, descent looking (He was wearing sunglasses so I didn't get to see his eyes. Beautiful eyes are a major turn on for me.), and has a degree in bioengineering(cha-ching). We had a few conversations about majors school related things, and work related things, but I never got the sense that he was interested in me until that point. That whole conversation had me intrigued. This isn't the first time that it's happened either.  I'm either giving off the wrong impression or not picking up signals from other people.

2) I am actually content with my life without a boyfriend. 
In my life, I've always had a male companion. He wasn't a romantic partner, but he was my wingman, my right hand guy. I had more guy friends in elementary school. In 9th grade, it was my friend Micah. In 10th grade, it was my ex-boyfriend (the first time I realized that some guy friends are better left undated), in 11th and 12th grade it was my friend Andrew. In my first year of college, I think it was a friend I went to high school with (but he lied about some serious things) for just a little bit. In 2nd year, it was my friends Andy and Danny. The end of 2nd year, all of 3rd year, and part of 4th it was one of my friends who I met through RHA. Then my wingman graduates from college and I'm wingmanless. No more semi-dates and goofing without any intention of a romantic relationship. 

At the time the first post in this series was written, I was guy friendless. I thought I liked a guy, but then I talked myself out of it. Then I realized I didn't want a romantic relationship. I needed a wingman. I needed someone who didn't expect me to be a girlfriend, but just a friend who happened to be a girl. I don't really know what goes into being a girlfriend. I'm not the type of person who is going to call every night and needs to keep tabs on what you're doing and where you're going. I would trust you enough to not worry. I used to be the jealous type, but I have been working on that as well. I try not to let my jealousy show, because it tends to ruin relationships. When you're a girlfriend, ugh, there seems too be so much stress into playing that role. Playing that role is kind of limiting.

So it's not really about love or even being in a romantic relationship. That's not what I really want or need at this point (though I'd welcome it, if it came along). I just need to focus on nurturing the friendships I already have and welcome more friendships in.

For the friends who are worried about me and my relationship woes, you don't need to worry. I think I got it all figured out. It's not that I don't deserve love or even that I can't get love or whatever. I'm not desperate enough to just throw myself out there for any old person to catch. It's not even the fact that I may or may not be ready for a relationship. The fact of the matter is that I think I've grown up enough to approach things cautiously. The last relationship was an intense high school thing where I had to be with this person now and if I didn't hurry up and act, I might lose out. That's not the right way to approach a relationship with anyone. It's not a race. There's no rush to get a ring on a finger or put a bun in the oven (at least not until you're 35), so why not slow things down and get to know someone. I watch too much damn daytime television to know what happens when you move things too fast. That's just a recipe for disaster.

So sexy blog readers: Do you have your right hand man(or woman)? Who are they (you don't need to say names) and what do you guys do together?

June 24, 2010

2010 Movies

Movies 2010
  1. Shutter Island
  2. Why Did I Get Married Too? 
  3. How to Train Your Dragon 
  4. Iron Man 2 
  5. Toy Story 3

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Summary: Offred, once known as June, had a free life a religious sect overtook America, which is now known as Gilead. Now women have no rights and no power. They have been segregated into different ranks; Wives, Daughters, Aunts, Marthas, Econowives, and Offred's position as a Handmaid, a woman who bears children for their Commander after the Wife is infertile. Offred is looking to find out what happened to her friends and family, but she's at the liberty of the Commander and is held back by the oppressive society.

Likes: I liked that this story weaves in memories of the main characters life before things changed. I liked to see how a dystopia changed over time how the rules became more oppressive. There were certain subtle things about the control of women's sexuality that makes the story seem a bit plausible and I didn't have to suspend my disbelief too much to get engaged in the story of June/Offred. I liked learning along with her as she gathered little bits of information about the world around her. It was kind of interesting to see what happened next. The writing, most of the time, was lyrical and gave a dark dreamy quality to the writing that gives it a surreal quality.

Dislikes: The prose is sometimes overdone. The metaphors were a little excessive. The ending was bizarre. I wanted to know what happened next, but it seems to cut off and sum up what happened to the world instead of what happened to Offred specifically.

Overall: I always thought this was a chick-lit novel because of the name. I'm glad my professor convinced me otherwise. This was an interesting dystopian novel geared towards adults. I liked the strangeness of the new

Recommended by: My CRWT 172 professor.

Acquired: eBook

June 14, 2010

101 in 1001 (Updated and Organized)

Total Goals: 97
Goals Completed: 19
Goals Remaining: 78

Week 5: Progress and Things

Ugh, Week 5 was a bust. After running on full throttle for the past ten weeks trying to keep up with school, my body is actively failing me. I missed parties and events because I couldn't summon enough energy to go out. I don't know what it is and I currently don't have insurance that I know of, so I can't go to the doctor because I have no money. I hope it's nothing too serious. Maybe it's something I can just sleep off. Apparently it was something I could sleep off, because I went to sleep at 7:00 pm on Sunday and woke up at 9:30 am on Monday and I feel fantastic. Anyway, I spent most of Week 5 playing the Sims 3 instead of writing. I swear I was doing some character building with the sims, but that's not true. It's not like I was letting them live their lives, I was controlling them. All that time spent on the Sims, I could have spent writing, I know. It was a fun way to relax and recharge before/while my body went berserk.

At any rate, I need a new set of goals to work on, while keeping in mind the others that I had during the last block of the Creativity Workshop. I think the ones I want to work on are:
Beginnings(in general)- I think writing a non-IAR related beginnings will help me figure out how to write good beginnings that suck readers in and never lets them go. Since I'm retooling the beginning of IAR yet again, it might help to read beginnings of stories in the genre and stories that I love in general and use Merrilee's writing exercise to make stellar beginnings. I hate writing beginnings because it's so hard to determine how much backstory and  info a reader needs before they can jump into the heart of the story. Jump in too soon and readers are confused. Jump in too slow and readers are bored. I need to find the perfect balance so that readers are intrigued. I know this will take some practice and some editing, but I can't skip beginnings anymore because I'll end up with a fully written novel and no beginning.

Writing outside of my comfort zone- there are some uncomfortable subjects I want to tackle in my stories that need to be written with care and sensitivity. I feel that if I can tackle uncomfortable subjects, especially decisions that characters make that aren't in line with my own beliefs, I can write nearly anything that needs to be written and be willing to let the public read it.

Writing outside my genre- Most of my stories are contemporary. I have a disdain for romance of all kinds. I like stories that are well-defined, but also well-rounded. I like stories that have set genres but also have touches of romance or mystery. I'm not even sure I want to write in the genres that I originally set out in the first goals post. I'll probably go with Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance, my least favorite. I figure if I can put my best effort into writing something I don't think I'll enjoy, I'll do much better with writing things that I do enjoy. That's a bit of my twisted logic for you.

So readers and fellow workshoppers, what are your goals for the this second block of the workshop? What are you doing to achieve them?

June 6, 2010

You wanna know how I'm doing?

The first block of Merrilee's workshop is over and she gave us some questions to evaluate our progress. I have a small break from finals, so I'm answering them now before life gets crazy again.

1. Creativity

1a. Am I doing my daily creativity exercises? No, I don't have the time right now.
1b. How full is my notebook? I have two pages front in back in a 70 page college ruled notebook.
1c. Do I look around me and collect inspiration as I go about my day? I actually do. I have some ideas based on Bleeding Violet about an Urban Fantasy set in my hometown in California. I also have an idea about an Asian girl adopted by some crazy American family based on this episode of Toddlers and Tiaras that I was watching while writing my paper. This is actually one of the easiest things about the creativity workshop.
1d. Am I looking for inspiration, instead of waiting for it to appear? I'm not looking for inspiration in a sense that I'm actively seeking it out. Instead, I'm gleaning inspiration from the things I do normally like watch TV and read books. I guess this would be a yes, since it's a little bit of both.
Yes: How does this make me feel?  Do I feel more creative?  Do I feel more connected and focused?  Is my creativity becoming a part of my life? I feel indifferent. This isn't really anything that I don't do already, but now I'm more aware of it and I'm keeping track of all the ideas that I've come up with so far. I don't feel connected since I'm sure what I'm supposed to be connecting to, but I don't feel focused on anything either. Creativity is always a part of my life, but it's just a matter of the other things going on around me that push creativity to the back burner.

2. Focus

2a. Am I examining ideas that excite me? I will eventually. I make notes on them, but I can't focus on them right away.
2b. Have I found a particular genre or topic that really means something to me? Not really. Considering my goals, I'm starting to like urban fantasy a little bit more. Strong female protagonists are what I'm really interested in. I usually write from guys perspective
2c. Is my exploration leading me to new outlets for my creativity, or do I feel like I am going in circles? I don't know. I guess it depends on the project.
2d. Am I finding it easier to concentrate on a project on-demand, or do I get distracted easily? I get distracted easily.
What’s stopping me from concentrating on a single project for a short period? Nothing really. I've been working on some writing projects that are actually fun and have been inspirational. Unfortunately, I don't think I can use this for the creativity workshop since it doesn't really follow the rules of what Merrilee wants us to accomplish.
Am I slipping back to old, familiar projects because it’s easier? My old projects are actually harder because I don't have a focus. These projects are much easier because they have a common goal and a common focus. 
Do I feel frightened by new projects? No, I'm excited by all the possibilities. However, it may be a case of knowing which stories have more priority than the others. So far my CRWT 172 revision expansion is most important because I feel that I can finish this story sooner than the others that have plots that take more than one book.
Do I feel that the new project won’t lead anywhere? There a few. I know the ideas I write down are stories that I'll get to eventually, but I have to prioritize which ones are going to be sustainable opposed to the ones that I have to spend a lot of time thinking about.
How can I change so that my new projects will feel meaningful? I'm not sure there's much to change. The stories that are meaningful are the ones that I will work on. I can kind of gauge when I will run out of steam on an idea.
What do I need to modify to improve my focus? I do need to set aside some time for writing instead of trying to multi-task between things. I have this program called Freedom, which shuts off the internet for a designated length of time. So far it's been working a little bit if I don't have the TV on. My netbook doesn't have any music on it, so I need something for background noise.

3. Productivity

3a. How many stories have I started? Ugh, I guess two.
3b. How many stories have I completed? Zero
3c. Am I writing as often as I could be? No. I know I'm making excuses when I talk about school. I make time to read it, but I need to make more time writing as well.
3d. Do I bring the story to mind every day, even when I’m not writing? Yes. I'm constantly writing chapters in my head while I'm driving.
What’s stopping me from writing when I can? Homework, getting sidetracked on the internet, watching TV.
Have I forgiven myself for having other demands on my time that I cannot control (work, children, school)? Sort of. I feel as a creative writing major, I should be writing everyday, but unfortunately, I haven't finished my psychology requirements. I also don't work that much, just enough to give me something to do and a little extra cash, but it's not like working is my livelihood. I need to be disciplined enough to balance between it all because I can think of a time when I'm not going to be in school. I have to get this down now before graduate school and all the various degrees and certificates that I want to get. I need to treat writing like my job and give it the same attention.
Am I taking each day as it comes? I have to. It's the only way I can live without having insomnia over the future. Things have gotten better since I changed my major.
And I making the best use of the time that I have? I could be doing better with writing.
Am I making steady progress towards my writing goals? Slowly, but surely. I have many goals so I want to accomplish.

How can I change my writing habits to meet those writing goals? Write more.

4. Goals

4a. Am I meeting my goals? In some ways.
4b. Do I remember what my goals are? Yes.
4c. Do my goals reflect my desires and where I want to go as a writer? Yes. I want to get three written books this year. I have one almost completely planned out, but I need to write.
How does this make me feel? Okay.

Am I being positive about my achievements, or beating myself up for not doing better? I'm just taking it day by day. If I don't get something done, there's always tomorrow.  
Am I fired up and ready to do more, or content with my steady progress? I'm ready to do more. I'm excited because I'm almost finish with this quarter. My last spring quarter ever!

June 2, 2010

Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves

Date Started:  May 25, 2010
Date Finished:  June 1, 2010

Summary: After beating her aunt in the head with a rolling pin, Hanna runs away to her estranged mother, Rosalee, a local legend in the strange town of Portero, Texas. Rosalee gives Hanna an ultimatum. Make friends and fit in in two weeks, or leave. Hanna takes on huge risks trying to prove to her mother that she is worthy to stay in the weird world of Portero. Little does Hanna know the evil things that have been taking place. Little does Portero know just how crazy Hanna is.

Likes: After I finished reading this novel, the first two words that came to my mind were "Enjoyably Bizarre." I enjoyed this novel. It was strange. The main character is a lovable whack job and I enjoyed reading a character that was interesting to read about. She liked sex, she used sex as a weapon, and she wasn't ashamed to say so. (apparently this runs in the family on her mother's side). Hanna is just insane, but strangely likable in her insanity. I also like that her biracial background wasn't a huge aspect of the book. It's just nice to see some characters not defined by their race in a novel. It's mentioend several time, but it's not dwelled on. It reads like any other YA novel and it make me wonder why more PoC's can't be main characters. (I believe Wyatt was Latino/Hispanic, but I'm just judging by last name). The setting was strange. Portero, Texas? Not exactly where I'd set an urban fantasy, but I loved it. The characters were enjoyably flawed, they seemed like real people for the most part. Hanna is manic-depressive and is prone to hallucinations. She only wears purple because it was her father's favorite color.  I thought this was a unique aspect of the story since we don't see it mentioned in YA a lot, but I'm old and I've seen and been through worse. Still cool to read about, that's why it's in the likes section. 

Dislikes: The plot was strange to me. I felt like I've read it before. That being said, I liked the author's take on it, so it wasn't really a dislike. It feels like a running trope through urban fantasy, but the author did a good job with putting her own spin on it. I'm not a big urban fantasy reader (I know, shocker right?), in a sense that I don't actively seek it out. Some of the plot devices were a little too convenient, even the characters mention it.

Overall: The story was just so bizarre. It was like reading a novelization of a Tarantino film. It was packed with one-liners and clever little quips. It's [a novel] sprinkled with just a little crazy to tie it all together.

Recommended by: Thanks to Reading in Color for the recommendation. (I'm going to start putting where I get these recommendations so people know I don't just get these fantastic books on my own.

Acquired: I got this book at the Riverside Public Library (which I'm absolutely in love with).

Mini Review: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Okay, the purpose of this mini review is discuss a book I had to read, probably for class, that I didn't have time to sit down and enjoy properly because I was analyzing the shit out of it. By the time I had dissected every possible theme, I wasn't inclined to re-re-read it again, but I did read enough to get a general idea of what I liked and disliked.

Class read for: CRWT 57C Creative Non-Fiction
Summary: A journalist and his lawyer wonder the streets of Vegas in a drugged up stupor.

Likes: My favorite part of this book was the writing. It was so raw and honest and unapologetic. I liked the tone of the book as well. The book seems like nothing more than a drug fueled rant of two doped up guys, but there's something more to it. The impression that I got from reading the parts of the book that were assigned was the disillusion of a nation. The people we are lead to believe are good(i.e. the cops in the story), are actually bad and the people we believe to be bad are actually not as bad as we thought(i.e. Thompson).

I gathered that people had to find their own moral compass in a a world that didn't appear to have any guidance. This book was written during the Vietnam War, which seems to be a period in time when all of America was experiencing cognitive dissonance. Where does Hunter S. Thompson fit into all this chaos? I believe that is what the book was attempting to explore. There's a effing war going on and the news wants him to cover a race and a narcotics convention. What does he do? He says "fuck it, I'm going to write what I want" and followed his own compass by going against the mainstream that says "You write this way and turn it in at this time". My favorite scene in the parts assigned were the moments of clarity that Thompson experienced, those are the parts that gave the story the most depth in my opinion.

Dislikes: Hunter S. Thompson is probably the go to guy if you want to write a story about drugs and "buddy" road trip stories, fiction or non-fiction. That being said, I'm really tired of reading stories about this subject. I liked this particular story, but reading stories inspired by it or using the same trope have watered down the effectiveness. I think this is the quintessential drugged up buddy road trip story, the template in which all road trip stories should be written from. That being said, I don't want to read any more drugged up buddy road trip stories.
Overall: As with most assignments in this class, I'm not sure what the point of it was. What were we supposed to learn from reading this? I'm not exactly sure, but I enjoyed the parts I did read. I'm not sure if I want to read more than what was assigned, because it gets a little monotonous for me (read the dislikes). I loved the style and I loved imitating it, but I don't think this is a style we should automatically go to when writing creative non-fiction. I think it has evolved into contemporary creative non-fiction, where we take on an unapologetic tone and just let the writing speak for itself.

Week 3/Week 4

Unfortunately, I didn't get anything accomplished this week either. I figure school is just slightly more important than writing, but not by much since creative writing is my major. This creativity workshop is definitely helpful in the sense that I need to find out ways to sustain my writing.

So while the Creative Workshop this week was a bust, I was able to get some things done for school. I finished my creative non-fiction essay, even though the teacher wanted it to go in a completely different direction than I did. I wrote what she wanted to see and got a pretty descent essay out of it. I figure that's what I'm going to have to do if/when I get an editor.

After spending a somewhat productive weekend involving a balloon fight in a park at 3:00 in the morning with a bunch of people I never met before and drunken jerkin' (it's a dance, and no I won't show you how to do it) with my friends, I feel refreshed to finish this finals week out. Yes, it's finals week for me. I have a paper due on Thursday, two papers due on Friday(one of which is due on Tuesday, but I want to get it out of the way because I have to work that day), a final on Saturday, and a final on Monday, so I'll be studying hardcore the finals and writing the paper. 

CRWT 172 Revision is complete, but I'm thinking I want to add some scenes and structure the novel differently. I think I want three parts, Now, Past, and another Now section. It actually doesn't have to be a novel, but I liked some of the feedback that wanted to see things extended and I have a lot of scenes planned out to create a novel. I know my professor probably wants to see the Community center scene so I'll probably just have to finish up the first section because that's the scene that I want to write, then show an extended scene of what my professor wants. I probably will talk it over in class tomorrow since we get pizza and stuff.

IAR will probably be put on hold until after finals. I'm going back home in a couple days, then go clubbing with some friends, then watch some graduations, then move out of my apartment, bring my dog down and try to make some money before school starts. So far, my friend and I figured out that starting in a different place would be good, but I think I'm going to write the pivotal scenes and then work my way back.

Said friend and I are going to be hashing out the details for a dystopian future story. I'm excited. It's the first collaboration story I've done since high school (and those don't count because they are fanfiction) and I've always wanted to do something like this. It doesn't hurt that even though she's not a "writer type" in a sense that she maybe doesn't want to pursue a full time career in writing like I do, I like her writing style. It's contemplative, without being tedious to read. I guess my style/voice could be described as quirky dark humor, with a little grotesque and gory aspect to it. Anyway, I'd like to share what we got so far, it's a pretty awesome concept, but I'm afraid that'll just have to wait. Maybe we can post a chapter or two of the first draft or something but for now, my lips are sealed.

How was your memorial day weekend? Get anything done or do anything fun?


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