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

What is Your Greatest Weakness?/Percy Jackson Series/Gods and Goddesses

percy jacksonI am officially only five books away from my goal of 40 books in 2018 and I can taste victory!  I wonder if I should give myself a laurel wreath crown when I’m done? lol

I absolutely adore this series.  I read the first book back in grad school for a mental break.  I was so surprised how quickly I read through it.  For a young adult series, a genre I hadn’t read in a while, it was pretty dope.

If you don’t have any idea who or what I’m talking about, I’ll give you the lay of the land.  First, our main character is Percy Jackson, a 12-year-old with dyslexia and behavioral issues.  He befriends outcasts like his best friend, Grover Underwood, a weird kid who wears a baseball cap over his ears and walks with a limp.  Percy, in a fascinating turn of events, learns he is a half-blood (half god, half human).  It comes as quite a shock when he learns his best friend is a satyr (half goat, half human) with hooves and everything!  In addition, his mother has known everything all along and has been protecting him from monsters that would very much like to kill him.

While processing all of this, Percy goes to Camp Half-Blood to be safe while he learns useful skills (like how to stay alive!), learns where he came from, why he exists, and who his father really is.  He meets a pretty blonde girl with gray eyes named Annabeth, the camp is run by Cheiron the Centaur (half human, half horse) and he receives a special gift.  It’s a pen that turns into a magical sword named Riptide!  How freakin cool for a 12-year-old boy!  He’s a hero, like Hercules!  Only he’s twelve, living in modern times, and he does not have superhuman strength, but the pen is REALLY cool! lol

I really love that Percy is dyslexic.  The idea of a dyslexic hero is just too perfect to me since my sister has dyslexia and I swear sometimes it seems like a superpower!  In the books, it’s used to explain Percy’s overactive brain and some of his other unique qualities.  In a way, the series turns a handicap (though I don’t even like using that word) into an inner strength.  The writing style is like a journal, where Percy talks right to you and he’s got an adorable sense of humor which again makes for a quick read.  As much as I adore this series as an adult, I can only imagine what I would have thought as a kid.

I love the lessons, or hidden messages if you will, that come within the storyline.  At one point in the series, Percy Jackson learns his greatest weakness, and it’s not what he expected.  Some might think of pride or fear as a weakness, but Percy’s greatest weakness is his unwavering loyalty to his friends.  Now you might think, “That doesn’t sound like a flaw to me!”  However, if an enemy can count on you to do something, it’s a pretty dangerous tool he can use against you.

Countless times, Percy put himself in danger when he had no idea what he was doing or how things would turn out, simply because a friend was in trouble.  When it is first brought to his attention, Percy doesn’t want to admit this fatal flaw, but there’s no denying it.  Time and time again he has rushed, without forethought in harm’s way for the sake of his friends.  Sometimes he even does more harm than good.  Does this mean loyalty is a bad character trait?  No!  What it means (or what it means to me) is that knowing yourself, the good the bad and the ugly, can help you win in life.  We are predictable creatures as humans.  We all have gifts, talents, strengths and yes, we all have flaws.  Yet, when we really know ourselves, when can use this to our advantage.   There’s no use in fighting who we are.  Embrace it and go kick some monster-butt!  lol  Or your Thursday work meeting, whatever! lol  You get the idea.

I am currently on book four of five in the series, and I can definitely see myself finishing it in record time!

If you’re up for an adventure, full of tears, triumphs, magic swords, gods and goddesses this is the series for you.  Don’t be like me.  I thought, “Eh, that’s for kids.  I’m too grown to be reading this young adult cr…..ooooooh he fights Medusa? Coooooool!”  Yeah, go ahead.  Let your bad teenager side out with this one.  Your inner child will thank you. 😉

May the gods go with you.

-Sarah

 

Stephen King/What does the King of Horror have to Teach Me?

 

stephen

I admit it.

I have NEVER read a book by Stephen King.  Until now.  Unfortunately, it was not The Shining, or It, or Carrie.  I’m not too keen for horror, blood, or guts.  Instead, I decided to read, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

Over a year ago, this book caught my eye in Barnes and Noble.  I saw a contemplative character on the cover, feet propped up on a junky desk with an out of date computer in the backdrop.  I didn’t even notice the smiling dog at his feet.  He held a pen and paper in hand.  I had no idea who he was but I wanted to find out.

My eyes scanned to the name of the author and I almost kept walking.  For some strange reason, I didn’t.  I picked up the 10th-anniversary edition paperback and scanned the description on the back.  I placed it back on the 10% off table and walked away.  However, I did get my phone out, opened the Goodreads app and added the title to my “To Read” list.

As some of you may or may not know, I’m writing a novel based on some work I did for my thesis in history.  I have been researching, reading, and working to find out the best ways to start writing, the best tricks to get you off on the right foot, should you plot ahead of time, character development, story arcs etc. etc. etc.  With my head spinning and feeling a little lost, I picked up this book last week with the hope I could find some clarity.  As chance would have it, King waited for me in my Kindle with so much wisdom and tough love to offer that I will make this an annual read.  Though I will probably never read his best selling thrillers, I will count him as a helpful mentor as I learn about the writer in me.

He starts off with a brief synopsis of his childhood that is both endearing and disturbing.  I myself had a wonderful childhood but it does make you wonder about why certain memories stick out and others don’t.  He wrote about how he used to recreate comics and then he began to write his own.  I used to create magazines like the ones in my favorite movies or I would pretend to be a journalist in a newspaper office with Kermit the Frog.  I’ve never thought of myself as a writer until recently and moments, where I can relate to a writer like this, make me feel like I’m on the right track to figuring out what I want to do with my voice.

I was surprised to find out that Stephen King was, at one point, ashamed of what he wrote.  I’ve felt that I didn’t really have anything new to say, so I’ve never taken the chance to submit articles, or stories until recently.  To hear someone like Stephen King say, “I have spent a good many years…being ashamed about what I wrote.” makes me think I really shouldn’t be afraid of the backlash.  Every writer experiences it, and I will be no exception.  So, why should I let my fear of rejection stop me?

One of my favorite lessons from this book is the process King uses to write.  He describes it this way, “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.  Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out.  Once you know what the story is and get it right–as right as you can, anyway–it belongs to anyone who wants to read it.  Or criticize it.  If you’re very lucky…more with want to do the former than the latter.”  I have always feared the pain and soul-crushing feeling of criticism.  Yet, I know it’s necessary if I want my stuff to be any good (and I really want it to be good!).  This idea makes me think I could handle it.  If it’s only mine for that short time when I write the first draft, I can cherish that and appreciate it, in that moment.  However, once I hand it to my IR (Ideal Reader, a term by Stephen King) it now belongs to them.  I have to appreciate that moment too, without holding on to the way each chapter felt with the door closed.  In other words, the second draft needs a good game face!

The number one lesson I will carry with me as I write my first draft will be the lesson of making time for writing.  I know you think you know where this is going but just wait for it.  When I read this in King’s book, I grabbed my phone, added a note to the Kindle and stared out the window muttering it over and over again, “Holy freakin’ crap!”

Here’s the quote that gave me such an eloquent revelation:

“It [writing] starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room.  Life isn’t a support-system for art.  It’s the other way around.”

I know right!  For a while now I thought, “If I only had a studio, a special desk, a room for creation alone, I would be able to create amazing things.”  I really thought the atmosphere makes the difference.  In a way, it does.  You should turn the tv and the phone off if you plan on concentrating on writing (at least a one-track mind like me), but the atmosphere does not make or break a creative process.  If I’m going to wait for life to give me this huge chunk of an uninterrupted, perfect, big desk in the middle of the room moment, I’m never going to write anything.  I reiterate.  “Holy freakin’ crap!”

There is one quote by Stephen King that I have always loved.  It’s on a lot of bookmarks and cute Pinterest and bookstagramers posts, so it should be familiar.  However, I’ve never known the context of the quote.  I did not know it came from this book…until now.

He’s talking about the unique form of time travel that books allow us to experience.  In a way, I’m listening to a conversation King is having in the year 1999.  That’s pretty cool when you think about it.  The quote I’m talking about reads, “…books are uniquely portable magic.”  Guys, he’s talking about audiobooks!  *Eeeeeep*  I don’t know why I got such a kick out of learning that Stephen King reads audiobooks but I did.  His philosophy is the more you read the better you write so he always carries a book with him and an unabridged audiobook in the car.  I’ve never liked the idea that “audiobooks don’t count” and I can’t stand when someone belittles someone’s reading experience for silly smug reasons that don’t make sense to me.  It would be wrong to say it’s not reading when you use your hands to read braille.  So, why is it not wrong to say it isn’t really reading when you read with your ears.  One person can’t read with their eyes for reasons beyond their control.  A lot of us don’t have the time to leisurely read a physical book, so we read audiobooks.  I don’t know that’s my two cents [backed by THE Stephen King] but you can think whatever you want to think. lol *giggle*  Books really are magical, because they can take you to far away places, they can carry your words across continents, and they can immortalize a moment forever.  Forget the packaging.  Books are the bomb in whatever form!

If you are a Stephen King fan, you will love this book.  You will love this book if you aren’t a big King/thriller/blood/guts/etc. fan (like me), you’ll still like it.  If you’re a writer, you’ll learn from it, and that is the best a book can give.  Thank you, Mr. King.  From one writer to another.  Thank you.

-Sarah

Update/One Month Left!!!

I know I’m cutting it close guys, but don’t worry.  I have 11 books left!   True I’ve never read that many books in a month but it doesn’t mean I can’t!  I have quite a few I’m halfway through and a couple short ones that should help me along.  I can’t believe I made it this far!  Almost 30 books!  Last year, I only read 25! This, by the way, does not count all the books I had to devour for my thesis earlier this year.  I’m not sure I would count those. lol

So here’s what I’ve been reading as of late:

The Lake House by Kate Morton:  If you haven’t read my review of this title click here.  Needless to say, it is well worth your time.  I am referring to both the book and the review, of course. 😉


Anne of the Island

Anne of the Island: is a beautiful conclusion to a timeless love story that has been dear to my heart since childhood.  I watched the movies over and over with Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie.  I loved how Gilbert just kept giving to Anne even when she gave little in return.  Deep down they both knew she cared more than she liked to admit.  I’m not this kind of girl.  I tend to wear my feelings on my sleeve.  However, I can understand Anne’s fear of change.  It’s scary.  Even when it’s the good kind of change, you can never get back what you had before.

I didn’t care for the third movie since it was one of those “It’s Gonna Suck Until the VERY End” kind of movies.  Which is why I might stop here with the Anne of Green Gables series.  I’m probably kidding myself, but I like the idea of leaving the two of them on the bridge, together, promising forever to each other.  I guess I don’t care for change that much either.  *Commence balling hysterically*  Yeah, you could say I like Anne of the Island.  If you loved the movies, or you’ve always just wanted to try reading the story of this strange little red-haired orphan with a sensitivity to how her name is spelled, you should dive in with both feet.  Favorite quote:  I have a couple 😉

Anne: “I wouldn’t want to marry anybody who was wicked, but I think I’d like it if he could be wicked and wouldn’t.”

Gilbert: “I have a dream,” he said slowly. “I persist in dreaming it, although it has often seemed to me that it could never come true. I dream of a home with a hearth-fire in it, a cat and dog, the footsteps of friends — and you!”

(Here comes the moment!) “But I’ll have to ask you to wait a long time, Anne,” said Gilbert sadly. “It will be three years before I’ll finish my medical course. And even then there will be no diamond sunbursts and marble halls.”

Anne laughed.

“I don’t want sunbursts and marble halls. I just want YOU. You see I’m quite as shameless as Phil about it. Sunbursts and marble halls may be all very well, but there is more `scope for imagination’ without them. And as for the waiting, that doesn’t matter. We’ll just be happy, waiting and working for each other — and dreaming. Oh, dreams will be very sweet now.”


discipline

Discipline Equals Freedom by Jocko Willink:  This book was geared more towards men.  It was, after all, written by an ex-navy seal.  However,  I found it very motivating and filled with a basic common sense you don’t often find.  He had a no excuses policy as expected from a military man.  However, he also gave you specific tools to fight the mental battle you have with yourself when you are trying to avoid a task.

He taught how to break everything down to one small task at a time.  I find when I am overwhelmed and feeling inadequate this does help me to simply continue moving forward.  It is counted as progress when you simply do not stop.  This is by far some of the best advice I’ve ever received.  (Thanks, mom!)

Jocko tells you to take control of your life by taking ownership of it.  It’s yours!  See what I mean…common sense.  Instead of being afraid of the challenges before us we should be terrified of sitting on the sidelines.  This is our life, our game, let’s play!  One time I asked my Dad if he would teach me some basic self-defense.  His first lesson surprised me.  How to take a hit.  I was confused.  Um, isn’t the point of defending yourself to avoid getting hurt?  My dad taught me otherwise.  He said success depends on how many times you can get hit, experience a setback and keep getting up.  I feel like I need to watch Rocky now.  lol

Fav quote: “Do not reason with your weakness.  You cannot.”


sourdough

Sourdough: Or Lois and Her Adventures in the Underground Market by Robin Sloan

I finished this book in about two days.  My first experience with the author Robin Sloan was his amazing Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore.  I think I have a short glowing review on Goodreads, here.  Needless to say, I’ve been dying to read something else from this author.  Unlike the main character in MP24HB, this one is female.  Which I didn’t realize for some odd reason until I was about a third into the book.  Don’t ask me why.  *shrug*  I was ecstatic to realize I had been reading the main character’s name Lois as Luis.  LOL

Anyway, this book has the same fascinating feel of MP24HB.  It’s witty and entertaining and I LOVE Sloan’s writing style.  Take a look at some of these quotes:

  • For all the Harry Potter fans: “Here’s a thing I believe about people my age: we are the children of Hogwarts, and more than anything, we just want to be sorted.”

This is just plain witty.  It’s funny cause it’s true 😉

In describing a character (Chaiman) Sloan characterized him like this:

  • “Chaiman, with the sweet face and the earbuds never not leaking dance music, rode the motorcycle and delivered the food.”

He could have just said he’s always listening to music but no.  He makes it sound like he is a music making being that oozes sound wherever he goes!  Robin Sloan really gets my creative yet quirky writing skills up to par!  This one got five stars!

It’s basically the story of this girl named Lois.  She’s a young, successful, yet unhappy software engineer.  Sloan has a fascination for computers and AI, so it tends to show up in his writing in fun and irresistible ways.  As Lois tries to find a way to calm the ulcers forming in her stomach from working crazy, inhumane hours, she happens upon a takeout menu of a soup and sandwich shop with no address.  She falls in love with the spicy soup that burns her throat and surprisingly soothes her stomach.  However, just as she has found the secret to a happy digestive track, her saviors have to close down their establishment.  Yet, before they go, they have a gift for their “number one eater” (that’s what they call her).  They give her a starter to their signature sourdough bread.  Lois is surprised, sad, and confused.  She’s even more confused when the starter she barely knows how to maintain starts to manifest a mind of its own…

Yeah, see if you can put that sh*t down!  LOL


stephen

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King:  I really don’t have the room or time to cover this title appropriately.  This book taught me so much about writing.  I think I’m going to make it an annual read, which is something I’ve never done before!  The funny thing is (confession time) I’ve never read a Stephen King novel.  *gasps*  Truth is, I don’t ever intend to read a King novel.  I’m not a horror person.  It just doesn’t tickle my fancy.  King taught me with reading and writing to not ignore that voice that tells you what’s true.  There’s that little voice that tells you how you really feel about something, good, bad, or ugly.  It’s funny how you can learn so much from a writer that you would never read.  I’ll give you a little more incite to all I learned (and I learned a lot) next time!

-Sarah