More Writing – Building Nixola’s Life from the Ground Up

Hey guys,

So, the novel I’m writing based on my thesis is turning out to be super rewarding and a learning experience like no other.  I have got myself a couple of writing buddies that keep me accountable and I’m hitting my Camp NaNoWriMo goals like a pro!!

Recently, I hit 20,000 words (out of about 80,000) and I’m coming up on the 30,000 mark quickly!

The people and places in Nixola’s life are becoming so real to me. I’m slowly building a life, piece by piece and it’s fascinating.

I’m finding out what her family is like, what her friends are like, what her work is like, how she reacts to stress, her goals, her dreams, her fears. There’s so much to one life.  A lot more than you think. It takes a lot of searching to find all the little pieces that make up this person.

The most wonderful thing about writing a historical fiction novel is how I’m learning about real people.  I’m learning a lot about Joseph Pulitzer, Nixola’s boss. I’m learning about how he got his start.  I didn’t know he went mostly blind during middle age.  I didn’t know of his crazy rivalry with Hearst (aka the guy who wound up owning every single newspaper in the country and still does.  Look up your local newspaper, odds are it’s owned by the multi-corporation know as, Hearst).  I didn’t know what the New York World building (The paper Nixola worked on for most of her career) looked like.  But I do now!

new york world building.jpg

The New York World is building on the far left!

I’m finding that most places Nixola came in contact with are gone now, including the New York World Building 😞 But I was able to find the last apartment where Nixola lived and it still stands today!

Nixola's apartment

I got this image from Google when I found Nixola’s address in her obituary.  At first, I thought this couldn’t possibly be the same building she lived in, but then I looked up the date it was built.  Needless to say, there was a lot of gleeful squealing.  lol 

The thought of standing where Nixola stood is almost more than I can comprehend.  I know she was just a person but this feeling is the closest anyone will ever come to time travel.  And it starts with connecting with another soul across time.

I don’t know what it is about connecting with another human like this, but it really is cosmic in some sort of way.  My novel will be fictional, of course, but it still feels pretty amazing getting to know this woman. We’ve become pretty good friends ❤️

Bye guys,

-Sarah the Nerd

Book Review: Straight Up, No Ice

Eleanor Oliphant: A book review

  • Five Stars
  • Book from Reese’s Bookclub
  • Quick and Inticing Read!

A truly uncomfortable misfit trying to fix herself.  A terrible incident in Eleanor’s past has her guzzling vodka like a fish and bottling up her guilt tighter than a drum.  She really is a mess!  What will Mummy think when she calls to check in?

Parts that drove it home for me:

#1

For a good portion of the book, Eleanor is focused on “fixing” herself.  She thinks she needs to spruce up a bit for the project she’s working on.  She doesn’t see the logical need for beauty until it becomes a means to an end.  When comparing herself to a beautiful woman, Eleanor calls herself dull and beige where the other woman is “shiny.”  One of the improvements she makes is a new hair-do.  A new friend (a hairstylist) helps with this and the result is beautiful.  When she sees herself for the first time after the trim and color, Eleanor exclaims, “You made me shiny, Laura…”

#2

The smallest acts of kindness aren’t lost on Eleanor.  She doesn’t feel entitled to them and therefore she values them much more than the average person.  “I realized that such small gestures–such small things could mean so much.”

#3

She really has no idea how to act in social settings.  Eleanor constantly tries to figure out the formula for interacting with people in her everyday life.  “Was this how it worked, then, successful social integration?”

 

The most relatable moment was this thought:

“I couldn’t be put right.”

We all have felt like the odd one out at some point in our lives.  Eleanor’s tale might be an extreme one, but in many ways it is familiar.  We all feel like if we could just change this one thing about our face, or our past, or our talents, or our families that our lives would be perfect.  Then and only then do we believe that we’ll be “fixed.”  But Eleanor taught me that being broken isn’t all that bad.  It can be pretty great actually.

We all worry about what people think of us, but what if we didn’t anymore.  What if something awful just flipped that switch.  Now the world is upside down and you feel you’re the only sane person in a world of craziness.  That’s the world of Eleanor Oliphant.

Read this book.  It is well worth your time.

-Sarah the Nerd

Book Review: The Tollund Man and His Two Friends

Meet Me at the Museum

Meet Me at the Museum

  • Four and a half stars
  • Debut Novel
  • Letter format
  • Well worth your time if you love the artistic and quaint novel
  • Reminded me of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Basic Synopsis: At 78 pages in, I found the hook factor.  It has the appeal of re-reading text messages.  In the beginning, she was just an ignorant woman looking for answers from an expert curator on the Tollund Man. (The Tollund Man is a naturally mummified corpse of a man who lived during the 4th century BC, during the period characterized in Scandinavia as the Pre-Roman Iron Age. He was found in 1950, preserved as a bog body, on the Jutland peninsula.  Find out more on him here.  WARNING: The pictures of the Tollund Man are interesting but can be disturbing. Proceed with caution.)  Though she reached out looking for one voice she found another.  At first, every letter she wrote, she expected to remain unanswered.  At first, he answered with facts and information thinking this is what she needed.  She shared her desire to visit the museum but she withheld the reason she couldn’t go. 

When he pressed her for more answers, as if she was a project he needed to research, she finally shared her pain with him.  She couldn’t go to the museum because she was supposed to go to the museum with her friend.  Her friend whom she’d lost to a terrible life and an awful disease.  She can’t recapture it because it’s too late.  She shares her wistfulness at the life that has gone by her.  She shares about her simple life she finds quite complicated. He, in turn, shares his pain with her.  He tells the sad tale of his wife’s death.  After her death, he couldn’t carry his briefcase because she used to put some random object in his briefcase.  A poem, a drawing, a recipe, an earring, a glove, a photo, etc. Since her death, the Widower has felt the loss of the extra occupant in his briefcase, until now.  Now a stranger’s, a friend’s letter rests hopefully inside. 

Here are a few of my other favorite moments in the book:

They slowly start addressing each other as “Mr. Anders Larsen, Curator” and “Mrs. Tina Hopgood” to “Dear Anders” and “Dear Tina.”  They are inching their way closer to each other, through nothing, through everything.  

The two share the joy and pain they experience in their families and find comfort in each others’ words.

They use a metaphor of raspberry bushes in their letters.  No matter how Tina tries as she picks the berries, she will always miss so many as she goes about the chore.  She compares this to life and how you will not be able to experience or appreciate everything in life.  You will always miss out on something. 

Within this story, there is another story called the Rag Man.  It is nothing short of pure poetry.

Tina and Anders go from “Regards” to “Best wishes” to “Warm wishes” to “Love, Tina,” and “Love, Anders.” 

Tina is afraid to make a trip to the Museum a reality.  What if it doesn’t live up to her expectations. She prefers the ritual of planning to visit someday.  Will she ever go?  What has to happen for her to take that leap?  WHat will happen to Anders if she doesn’t come?

Now, I think you can anticipate where this goes.  I am a happy-ending kind of girl.  But I knew I wouldn’t exactly get the closure I wanted.  So, instead, I kind of anticipated an ending I envisioned for myself. 

They are writing letters after all.  It would ruin everything if the ending was spoken from the perspective of a narrator showing up out of nowhere and telling us whether or not these characters meet, fall in love, live happily after, etc. etc.  I feel like this kind of ending is one of the most entertaining.  I often change the endings of movies I don’t like, or ones that I feel missed the mark and didn’t do the characters credit.  If you think about it, the title gives it away.  The mystery this writing style creates makes this beautiful book a joy to read.  Read it for yourself and tell me if you don’t picture them there, together, with the Tollund Man.  

A Promise to Myself

Hey guys,

This is a bit of a left turn compared to what I usually write about, and in some ways, it’s not.  Either way, I hope you enjoy these thoughts.

I’ve always been a bit of a flake.  Yeah, super surprising, I know! (NOT!)  Seeing that my posting on here is sparse and sporadic I’m sure you’ve caught on by now.

I’ve always thought…no wait…let me provide some background first.  When I was little, I was obsessed with being right.  I always had to be the “good” one.  The one who smiles, who’s sweet and is a perfect angel…at least when everyone is looking…ESPECIALLY when everyone is looking.  I thought that was how I was going to do life.  I thought that’s what I wanted.  Then I grew up and realized I’m not perfect and I will never be able to convince myself or anyone else that I am perfect.  It made me angry and bitter.  I lashed out.  I’m still lashing out today.  I think that it just isn’t fair that I’m not perfect.  Because perfect is the best, right?…right?  I’m learning it isn’t the best…and it never was, at least not for me.

Being perfect, for me, means being fake.  It means not being sincere or real or authentic with ANYONE.   If you let even one person know that you don’t have it all together than the word spreads and you can’t stop it, you can’t control it.  Being perfect means lying to people you care about.  Being perfect means hurting people who you’ll never truly get to know because there will always be a wall between you.  Being perfect means you will never be satisfied.  Being perfect means a lifetime of company with one entity…your ego.  And believe me when I say, your ego sucks!  Or at least mine does.  He tells me I’m awesome one minute and awful the next.  He tells me that my dad isn’t proud of me when I KNOW FOR A FACT, he is crazy proud of me.  My ego tells me that if it isn’t perfect, or if I can’t be the best, it isn’t worth trying.  Yeah, this guy really, really sucks.

Worst of all, being perfect means you never truly know who you are because you’ve never thought about what drives, fulfills, or excites you outside of what others think.

I don’t want to be perfect anymore.  I want to be me…whoever that is.  I want to be me more than I want to be right.  I want to be me more than I want to be liked.  (That song from Mean Girls Musical is in my head now so I’ll have Spotify play it, just for the fun of it)  I’d rather be me.  I’m not going to believe that all too familiar lie that being liked is everything.  It’s not.  Those who like me, for who I really am, mean more than a sea of fans who don’t know the first thing about me.  (You know who you are. <3)

So what does being me mean, practically speaking?

  1. I do what I say I will do when I say I will do it.
  2. I don’t lie (not to save face, not to seem better than I am, and not to myself)
  3. I don’t need to impress anyone else to feel good about myself
  4. I put others before myself (specifically my family)
  5. I know my strengths and my weaknesses and I continue to improve (for myself)
  6. I am the same person everywhere I go (no matter who is or isn’t there)
  7. I finish the hard stuff first

I want to be a person I would be impressed by.  I want to be a person I admire.  Now I sound like the speeches Matthew McConaughey gives at graduations and award ceremonies! *roll eyes*  But he’s right when he says we should compete with ourselves, the person we will be in five years.  I want to be her.  I can see her.  She’s amazing.

She doesn’t care what other people think (and not in a “I don’t give a f*ck” kind of way), in that it’s irrelevant what other people think.  I know I sound like a poster with a kitten on it saying “Don’t give up!” or something stupid like that but this is just me processing.

Cut back to me in five years.  She’s a leader in her community.  She sets an example.  She takes care of herself.  She looks out for her family.  She keeps a clean home and cooks semi-decent meals (I’m not expecting miracles here lol)  She has written and published her first novel of many.  She has a job she adores to pour her soul into without fear.  She has a guy by her side that she is devoted to because she knows she does not hide anything from him.  I know right!  She’s fricken awesome!

Today, I am not this girl.  I’m not even close.  But that’s the point.  I’m not going to get down on myself and hate myself for not being her.  The truth is, I haven’t even tried.  On the contrary, lately, I’ve given up.  So if you wonder if you’ll ever see your dreams become a reality, know that I understand.  It’s not easy to come up with a plan that can make your goals feel possible even for just a second, but that’s why you can’t quit.

You can’t quit, because I see your potential.  Just like my friends and family see it in me.  You might be thinking, “Sarah, you don’t even know me.  How could you know if I have potential or not? Pssshhhh.”

Ok, first of all, the “psshhh” was unnecessary. Lol.  Secondly, I see your potential because I know we all have potential inside of us.  God made each and every one of us.  (If you don’t share my beliefs, that’s fine, but just keep reading)  You have a purpose.  There’s a reason you are here and you aren’t going to know what it is until you’re 80-something sitting in your rocking chair looking back on your life and you’ll smile.  (Now I sound like Tony Robbins and his rocking chair theory, lol)  You aren’t supposed to know.  If I knew where I was headed it would take out all the fun in getting there.  You’re supposed to give it your all, while not knowing.

So, instead of being a flake who makes promises and never gets around to them.  I’m making myself a promise.  I’m going to keep this promise.

*raises right hand and crosses heart*

I promise to never be anyone but myself.  Good or bad, pretty or ugly, right or wrong.  I promise to be the best version of myself every day.  I promise to be grateful for the gift of a second chance.  I promise to be myself.  Just me.

I hope you found some value and relatable thoughts in this post.  Let me know what you do to process things like identity, personal responsibility, and growth.

Bye guys,

-Sarah January

Nixola Research

Hey all!

I bet you’re wondering…I wonder if Sarah is ever gonna finish that book she talked about writing.  Have no fear!  Life has been crazy and I’ve been thrown a few curve balls but I’m still here and I will bring Nixola’s story to life if it kills me!  Figuratively speaking of course. *wink*

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, let me tell you a little bit about my current WIP (Work In Progress).  Back in May, I graduated with a Masters in History.  In order to graduate I had to write a thesis.  I was allowed to pick from a vast choice of subjects but I felt drawn to journalism.  Specifically, I wanted to write about female journalists.  Next, I needed to narrow down a time period.  I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the Gilded Age and the Industrial Era, so naturally, I wanted to see what happened next in the story of America.  What comes next is called the Progressive Era.  Note: Don’t think too much of the word Progressive.  It doesn’t mean today what it meant back then.  I started combing the time period for at least three female journalists that spoke to me.  Of the three I chose, Nixola Greeley Smith stood out the most.

Clipping from The Evening World - Newspapers.com

Nixola Greeley Smith is the granddaughter of Horace Greeley, a man who established The New York Tribune.  She worked on The New York World for most of her career as a journalist.  She interviewed well-known figures like Thomas Edison, Helen Taft, members of New York’s high society.   My favorites articles concern much more common issues of the day.  For example, for most of her career, she kept a love advice column.  (Think Sex in the City but just set in 1901, LOL)  She offered an award to “working girls” (prostitutes) to allow her to interview them so she could show the world what it was really like to become a “working girl.”  Nixola covered the Thaw Trial which was the first time a woman took the stand and had to describe her own rape in public.  She wrote about girls wanting to be boys so they wouldn’t have to follow so many rules.  She wrote about women cursing.  She wrote about marriage, about children, war, women’s votes and any other subject that struck her fancy.  This is where I think she shines.  She didn’t care if no one else would say it.  She knew the people wanted to hear the truth.

Recently I have made some tremendous progress in my writing.  I have finally finished 5000 words!  Eeeeeeekkkkk!  The most fascinating part of this process is the list of subjects I’ve researched.  It is an odd list.

  • Turn of phrase during the turn of the century
  • Curse words-native to the time period
  • Clothing for both middle and upper class
  • Vehicles, carts, trolley’s etc
  • Restaurants, vendors on the street etc.
  • Telephones, telegraph, messengers
  • Office environments, cubicles, set-ups
  • Brooklyn Bridge-when was it finished?
  • Common names for the time period
  • New or common food for the time. e.g. Gum

See what I mean.  I never thought about all these little things I would need to know a little bit about in order to recreate an authentic replica of the time period.  And I’m only three chapters in!

I didn’t think about needing to understand basic turn of phrase that fits the time period.  I found this to be the most fun subject I researched.  For example, a talkative woman was sometimes referred to as “a church bell.”  If you wanted to call someone brave, you might use the adjective “bricky.”

What is your research process like?  Do you use any particular sources?  Do you research before/after/during your writing process?  Let me know your tips and tricks!

Til then,

-Sarah the Nerd

My Theatre Shenanigans

Some of you may or may not know, I love to volunteer at my local theatre!  I’ve dreamed of auditioning for a long time and I think I just might later this year.  Currently, my community theatre is running Beauty and the Beast.  Though I miss some the fantasticness that comes with the animated film, I really do love this play.  Belle is by far my favorite princess.

I’m only a prop runner, which is an important but rather trivial role.  So, that means I have a lot of time to watch.  I like to learn from watching.  I watch the dressers turn the characters into completely new ensembles in under 30 seconds.  I watch the director give orders and the music director coordinate the musical numbers.  There are different kinds of actors.  Some actors concentrate very hard on their next lines, while others seem at ease even when they make mistakes.  I enjoy spending time with the actors who really enjoy what they do.  Even though they don’t get paid a dime for their time and effort, they really put everything into each performance.  They have such big hearts and they welcomed me like a second family.  ❤

Some actors are very kind to the dressers and the crew, and some are not.  They complain about being there and I wonder why they came in the first place.  I wonder if I’ve ever lost my passion for something I used to love.  Not ever second of volunteering is going to be fun or eventful.  I realize that, but shouldn’t you be able to find something you love even in those crummy moments?  Maybe I’m just rambling but what I mean is, instead of complaining, or quitting, I’d like to be like one of my favorite volunteers (let’s call her, Barbara) and be happy even when the director is grumpy, even when she gets bad feedback, even when her costume is heavy and hot, even when she can’t get other volunteers to help with a task.  She still wears a smile and genuinely has a blast almost every night!  Yeah, I want to be like her ❤

If you think about it…she’s a little bit like Belle.  She’s a little odd, but it’s her uniqueness that makes her so intriguing.  That’s why we love her.

Below: My personal copy of King Arthur that is currently being used as a prop in the play!

Til next time,

-Sarah

IMG_2991

 

Just Being Honest…

I’m not sure what it is…I’m just going to be honest about it.  I haven’t been blogging since the start of 2019.  I didn’t even really do a proper post when I finished my #40booksin2018 goal!  I want to be honest about my absence and quit making excuses for myself and maybe then I will be able to figure out what’s going on with me.

I’m not always motivated to write.  I love to write, but sometimes I deliberately avoid it.  It doesn’t matter how much time I do or do not have, how many positive quotes I save as my lock screen wallpaper, or how many times I say to myself, “I’ll write later today.”  I still don’t write when I don’t feel like it.

For the first time in my life, I’m actually sick of my feelings running my life.  I don’t “feel” like working out.  I don’t “feel” like getting up early.  I don’t “feel” like writing.  I don’t “feel” like working on that project.  True I don’t HAVE to get up at 5am.  I don’t HAVE to work out.  I don’t HAVE to write a blog.  However, if I want a different kind of life, don’t I HAVE to do the things most people would not do?  Yes.  Getting where you want to be is not easy.  I used to think if I was just making progress, I wouldn’t care how hard it was to get it done.  That’s definitely not true.  I care A LOT.  I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to sticking it out.  When things get tough, I tend to bail.

I rarely look at my shortcomings because it makes me so uncomfortable.  I’m not doing this for anyone to feel sorry for me.  I’m facing this reality because you have to admit when there is a problem or you will never start looking for a solution.  The hardest part of the solution to my problem…is the fact that it is simple.  Easy answers are always the hardest to implement.  I simply have to ignore how I feel and do what needs to be done regardless of whether or not I’m in the mood.  Easier said than done, I know.

So, obviously…I need a plan.  *cue the dramatic music*

So if you don’t already know, I am a journal freak!  I have way too many and I use them for different things.  I have a traditional journal where I write on big days in my life (birthdays, graduations, etc.).  I have a complaining journal where I’m allowed to say whatever I want even if it’s hurtful (it helps me work through my feelings and thought processes). I even have a time-of-the-month journal…go ahead and judge me if you want. Lol.

close up journal

This is a journal by Atticus, an amazing poet (which is no longer available, unfortunately, *sad face*)!  Get his second book, The Dark Between Stars here on Amazon and follow him on Instagram @atticuspoetry

He also has some amazing prints for sale on his website at: www.atticuspoetry.com

I’ve decided this will be where I write down my victories.  I will plan them and I will execute them, one at a time.

My first priority is an illustration project I’ve been working on for over a year now.

My second priority is to read at least 100 pages a day.

My third priority is writing either for my blog or for my novel, every day.  It doesn’t matter the volume.  Simply write every day.  I need to create that habit of writing.  You’ve got to write a lot of crap so you can get to the good stuff.  lol

Let’s see if I can make my New Years’ resolutions last a little longer than February 1st. lol

-Sarah

bookshelves far shot