The Adventures of Christie in France!

Do you remember that one time, where I tried to blog about my summer in France and said I was going to post several days later and then didn't?  Yeah... Sorry about that.  I genuinely did not have the time to blog for about a week, and then I could argue that I was adjusting to the new semester, and then I run out of excuses.  Frankly, I just didn't have the urge to talk about it.

And then, miraculously, I failed a French quiz!  Not something I would normally celebrate about, but it did lead to being reunited with Ariel and Donovan, two of my best friends from the trip, earlier this evening and now I'm all "inspired" to write again.  Oh, and I brought the journal I used in France back to school with me so I now have an idea of what happened and in what order.

So, without further ado, I continue with "The Adventures of Christie in France!"  Oh boy, I'm never calling it that again....
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In which I make up for lost time

I have the worst memory.  Seriously.  I am also very self-indulgent and pretty self-centered.  (Hopefully it's not the worst kind of self-centered-ness.  I do try to think of other people when I do things.  Usually.)  I know these things.  That's why I make lists and try to write everything down.  Unfortunately, when I forget to write things down, I become the self-centered me that is not very nice.  So this is my attempt at making up for it.

Since arriving back in the U.S., I've had a really hard time adjusting.  We were warned about reverse culture shock and I knew I would get it, but I didn't expect it to be this bad.  Everything's just so different.  It's amazing how quickly I became used to French culture.  I think it was because they're very self-centered and introverted (like me).  America's just so loud.  Incredibly loud.  And living in a small town where you're expected to smile and make eye contact and tell people about your life is... intrusive.  There's really no other word for it.

It's also nearly impossible to summarize a six-week experience.  So when people keep asking me, "How was France?" I have no idea what to say.  How do I explain six-weeks worth of experiences without spending several hours with that person?  So "good" or "fine" or "amazing" (when mentioning London) have been my general responses.  It's not that I don't want to tell you all the wonderful things I did, I do, really.  But it's hard.  And intrusive.  And I do not think linearly.

The best part about stories, in my opinion, is the characters.  When you know the character really well, you're attached to them.  You care what happens to them.  When something goes wrong, you empathize with them.  But when you don't know the character, the story has less meaning.  That's the other problem with my France stories.  You don't know the people in them.  And I can do my best to describe them, but it's not the same.  It's like telling the world's greatest pun and no one laughs.  It's really frustrating.  And quite frankly, it's easier to say "you just had to be there" than explain why one person's actions were so funny.  (Also, it's hard to translate French jokes.)

I think that's a good enough introduction.  I am sorry if you have been suffering from my lack of enthusiasm/energy/stories, but I'm going to try to make up for them now.  This blog might as well get used for something good.  And the best part?  When I write things down, I can edit them.  So hopefully my stories will be linear and make sense, even if my thoughts don't.  (Please forgive me for not remembering details.  I'm doing my best without my notebook.  That I didn't use like I originally planned.)  (See why I write things down?) 

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Beauty and the Beast

Dead Things Should Stay Dead

James was so focused on keeping his knees from trembling that he could almost block out the screams.  But the smell.  The smell was the worst.  Searing flesh was impossible to ignore.  If anything, it made his trembling worse.  James feared legs would give out if he had to wait any longer.

He could feel the heat closing in around him like the walls of a prison cell.  The flames leapt from their grates, eager to caress his skin.  James wanted to scoot away from the fire pits that surrounded him, but his feet were glued to the floor.  A step away from the flames would mean a step closer to a more terrifying foe.

Standing mere feet between the gods of the Underworld and the Gates of Hell did not lend courage to anyone.  Especially when that person was begging for Hades’s mercy.

James tried to think positive as he waited for Hades’s judgment.  It was winter.  Persephone was here.  He thought she had taken pity of him as his story unfolded.

James thought it was ironic that the God of the Underworld, Hades, perpetually surrounded by the Flames of Hell, had an ice-cold heart.  James prayed Persephone would be able to thaw it.

“He came here for love, darling,” Persephone crooned.  Her voice was warm and smooth, like honey.  James wanted to trust her but he knew what she was capable of.  One wrong move and he would be stuck in her honey like voice forever.

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Of course this would happen.  I make New Year's Resolutions to post more often and I don't.

On the bright side, I finally FINISHED MY NANOWRIMO NOVEL!!*  *does happy dance*  I had a lot of problems writing the ending but I think my biggest reason for taking so long was that I didn't know what I would do once I finished.  Writing a first draft, though painful, is relatively easy when compared to the editing process.  Especially since I want to rewrite my main character.  And the entire first half.  And the second half.  And all the little details that I left out that are essential to world building.  Oops.   :)

Now that my first draft is done, I am taking a break, writing short stories, and contemplating if I want to edit my NaNo novel at all.  We'll have to see about that one.  Considering I have about a million people asking "You're done?  Great!  When do I get to read it?" I'm sure I will at least rewrite some of it.  It will be a good challenge.  But I probably won't let anyone read it even after I'm done.**  Sorry.  It's for my own personal enjoyment.

On to AWESOME news, tessagratton 's first book, BLOOD MAGIC is being released in May!  To celebrate, she's giving away an ARC!  *does happy dance again* ***

I love the cover of Tessa's book so much that it has frequented my desktop background for the past few months.  Seriously.  You look at it and tell me its not hauntingly beautiful.  That's right.  You CAN'T!  Just looking at it gives me chills!

I cannot tell you how excited I am to read Tessa's first novel.  Her short stories are filled with suspense, monsters****, and of course, blood!*****  She is incredibly talented and I always look forward to the short stories posted every Monday by Tessa and her critique partners at merry_fates .  I've read and now on all of Maggie's and Brenna's book so it will be amazing to place Tessa's book on my bookshelf with them!  I may even have to have a "Merry Sisters of Fate Shelf."  Because they're that awesome.

Here are my favorite short stories by each of the authors.  I don't think I can describe how difficult it was to pick only three!  I admit that I had too much fun rereading half of the stories just so I could figure out which ones to recommend.  I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I do.

INHERITANCE by Tessa Gratton

JUDGMENT by Brenna Yovanoff

90 OR LIFE by Maggie Stiefvater

Back to my New Year's Resolutions, I am currently in the middle of a "creation or origin story" for a writer's group that I am in.  I have to have it ready to go by Sunday so I will hopefully have it posted early next week.  Get excited for mythology, monsters, and of course, blood!

*At least I can keep to ONE of my resolutions...

**Except for my mom.  Even though it is DEFINITELY not her type of book.  But I think my mother has some right to read my first novel since she did give birth to me, after all.

***This is a very exciting time for me right now.  I just keep dancing all over the place.  Please just ignore me and continue walking.

****I have a thing for monster stories.  Seriously.  Have of  my bookshelf is full of them.

*****Also a thing for blood.  And not just war scenes.  I love the oozing, painful, suspenseful blood filled scenes that make your skin crawl.
Beauty and the Beast

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

STOLEN is by far one of the most challenging books I've ever read.  Correction.  This is THE most challenging book I've ever read.

I'm not talking challenging like, "Oh my goodness, this books sucks, I absolutely hate it, how am I ever going to get through it!"  Or "This character sucks!  Why is she whining all of the time!"  Or "I have no idea what half of that last paragraph even says.  Is this author still writing in English?  Because no one in their right mind should be able to understand that."

No.  I'm talking about the fact that I finished this book over a week ago but deliberately put off reviewing it for a few days so I could put my thoughts together to make a halfway coherent post.

Over a week, and I still have no idea what I think of it.  Other than the fact that I loved it.

STOLEN has challenged me as a reader in more ways than any other book has in the past.  For starters, the book is written in second person point of view, as a letter to the main character's kidnapper.  There were also no chapters.  Just page breaks.  This is the first book I have ever read that is written in this style.  I will admit that it took a lot of getting used to, but I did find it effective.

Before I began this book I had an idea of what would happen.  Girl gets kidnapped.  Girl develops Stockholm syndrome.  Girl goes home and tells everyone that the kidnapper didn't break the law.  While I am no expert on Stockholm syndrome, I do know the basics.  This book, however, was more complex than anything I could ever have imagined.

It made me think about what I would do if I were ever kidnapped.  Would I stay in bed, refuse to talk and cooperate, while simultaneously sinking into depression?  Or would I agree to interact with my kidnapper, all the while attempting to reason with them to let me go?  There is no clear right or wrong answer.

By the end of the book, I was just as confused as Gemma was.  How do we know she hasn't been affected by Stockholm syndrome?  How do we know that her feelings are real?  How do we know that everything the kidnapper told her wasn't a lie?  How can you not trust someone who has saved your life?  How do we distinguish between right/wrong, truth/lies, sanity/illness?

Over a week and I have no idea what to think of this book.  There is way more to the complexities of emotion and the human mind than anyone can objectively say.  I think this was the point that Lucy Christopher was trying to make.  When a person goes through this much trauma, there is no clear answer to anything anymore.  As an outsider, you may see one, but it is not always black and white for the victim.

Lucy Christopher has written a masterpiece.  I would recommend STOLEN to anyone and everyone.

After all, how are we ever supposed to grow if we are never challenged?
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On to 2011 with the help of British voiceovers

I realize that I am cutting it close to the wire, with only a few hours left in 2010, and I had several posts in mind before 2011, but hey, better late than never, right?  I've been endlessly distracted by the Youtube video that is in the bottom of this post.  Please enjoy.  If you don't laugh...  Something must be wrong with you.  Sorry.

I'm not a big one for New Year's Resolutions, but I figured I would try a few this year.  Mostly, because I need a little incentive to do a few of the things on the list.  Granted, I have not figured out an incentive for doing any of these, but I'll figure it out eventually.  I also think celebrating the New Year is a bit overrated, as not much changes between December 31st and January 1st, but in staying with tradition and conformity, here are my resolutions.

1.  Finish NaNoWriMo novel by January 20th - Yes.  I still haven't finished it.  I've barely written 3,000 words since the end of November (half of my problem) and I've forgotten where I was going with the plot (another half).  I should have plenty of time to write before classes start back up and I am swept up into school again.

2.  Write another book - I've enjoyed writing the first one too much.  Whether it is during NaNo again in November or on my own time, I want to write another one.  Practice makes perfect!

(Not worth making a resolution about because I am going to do it again:  Participate in NaNoWriMo 2011, regardless of whether Resolution #2 is complete.)

3.  Edit - A very basic resolution, but I need to work on writing good fiction.  NaNo was great for writing 50,000 words, but since finishing, I know that most of those words are crap, I have giant plot holes, and I have a lot of problems with my main character.  This editing stage shall mostly be completed in the next resolutions.

4.  Post a short story every 10 days at minimum.  Once a week if possible - Practice, practice practice.  To start January 21st, or earlier if I finish my NaNo novel.  Also helped along by Resolution $6.

5.  Post a book review at least once a month.  Once every two weeks if possible - I read enough, I should be able to do this easily.

6.  Tell lots of people about this blog - The more people who read it, the more feedback I get, the more incentives I have to blogging, and the more I have to deal with if I fail.

7.  Learn as much as possible about the publishing business, the writing/editing process, proper editing, etc. through various means - Important for multiple reasons, especially since I would like to make a career out of it.

8.  Prioritize books before buying - I got a kindle for Christmas.  This being said, I know must figure out which books are worth buying to display on my bookshelf(s) and which I would rather buy a cheaper version, though more accessible, not nearly as pretty lined up with my other books.

On less book-related topics...

9.  Pick a hairstyle and keep it - I have a very difficult time walking into a hair salon and asking for a trim.  I haven't done it in over a year and a half.  Instead, I have cut off drastic amounts of my hair in lieu of something "different."  I have had several different hairstyles, but I've had problems with each of them.  Hence the changes.  Hopefully over the course of a year, I will find something and love it enough to merely ask for a trim the next time I go in.  If it is even possible.

10.  Meet more people - I am not an extrovert or terribly outgoing, but I do enjoy challenging myself.  We'll see how it goes.

Hopefully I will be able to post a blog of my favorite books of 2010 soon, but no guarantees.  I'm not even sure if I can remember all of the books I've read this year, but I'll keep my fingers crossed!  Now that I have to remember to write "11" when I write the date, things become a little bit more difficult.  Oh well.  Here's a video to entertain you in the new year.

Happy New Year everyone, I will see you in 2011!

Challenge complete!

As of 2 A.M. Sunday morning, I have officially written over 50,000 words in less than 30 days.  I am a NaNoWriMo winner!

Granted, my novel is not done yet and it is mostly crap, but those are minor details.  Here are some things that I've learned on this journey.

1.  Anyone can write a novel.  Anyone.  As long as you have the determination and a halfway decent plot/character, you're good to go.  The problem is that most people have this problem with saying they're going to write a novel "some day," but some day never comes because they are too busy doing other things.  If you make writing a priority, it pays off in the end.

2.  It's amazing what you can do with a deadline.  I've heard the saying, "If it weren't for the last minute, nothing would ever get done" many times.  I honestly don't think I could have written a novel without having a deadline.  It would have ended up in the pile of Things I Started But Lost Interest In Halfway Through.  For the novel, I didn't lose interest in it, but I did hit a few rough patches.  If I hadn't told so many people that I was doing it, or if I didn't have a fear of failure, or if I didn't have a set number of words I had to write that day, I would have quit.  Thankfully, the finish line was always lurking in the distance and kept me on track!

3.  A month is both really long and really short.  When I started NaNo, I thought that a month was a reasonable amount of time and that I could easily write enough words to get through it.  As I was writing, there were times when I just wanted the month to be over and it seemed as if it would never end.  Then there were times when I felt like I did not have enough time to finish my story (which is true).  It's all about perspective.

4.  A good support group full of people doing the same thing you are is much more helpful than family and friends.  Yeah.  I said it.  Without the Lawrence community and their write-ins, I, once again, probably would have quit.  Writing a novel in a month is a monumental task.  It was great to have people who were also writing novels, having the same problems as I, and also having answers to those problems.  It also helped to make new friends.

5.  Writing a novel is much harder than it looks.  It also takes an insane amount of time when you relate it to the time it takes to read one.  Now that I've written most of a rough draft, I have an even greater respect for anyone who makes their living as an author.  I tip my hat to you!  It is also an even greater incentive to buy books rather than go to the library.  It is entirely too much work for authors not to earn royalties.

Now, I am going to sleep (something I have been deprived of since November 1st).  And I should probably catch up on the homework I have been neglecting as well.  Then it is off to finish my story and celebrate the end of a fantastic month!

I have never been more proud of myself! :)

Week Two: Speed bumps, anxiety, and lots of homework

Week two of NaNo is notoriously difficult.  Its the time when you start to doubt yourself.  The adrenaline of Week One wears off and the reality that you are actually crazy enough to try to write 50,000 words in 30 days begins to set in.  This is the week most writers drop out.  You run into plot problems, writer's block, and all kinds of trouble.  In my case, its the week I actually have a lot of homework to do.

While my Western Civ paper sits with its introduction staring at me in the face, I am, alas, distracted.

I have hit a speed bump.

This is not to be confused with writer's block.

I know where I'm going.  I know what is supposed to happen.  I am at Point A.  I know where Point B is.  I just can't seem to find the road from Point A to Point B.  It is proving to be a little bit of a challenge.

I have been brainstorming for a long time, used the Plot Box from the NaNo Lawrence community, and taken very long showers.  I've even stopped listening to music on my way to class in the morning in an attempt to keep my brain free of other distractions so I can think.

I have had little luck.

I have several ideas why this has happened.  1.  I am secretly trying to sabotage myself because, honestly, who tries to write an entire novel in a month?  2.  I have screwed up/written something wrong several thousand words ago and this is the consequences.  3.  I haven't been trying hard enough.  4.  I am completely terrified of picking the right road and ending up at Point Q instead of Point B.

Most likely, its a combination of 3 and 4.  I found this quote, and I feel that it is very fitting for this month: 

"Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” - E.L. Doctorow

I am putting my Western Civ paper down and picking up my novel.  I am bound and determined to stay on the Top Ten List in the Lawrence community and I know that I can get through this.  I'm just going to write and write and write, and hopefully end up where I hope to be.  Otherwise, its going to be an interesting month.

And they're off!

NaNoWriMo started today!  I went to the Lawrence Community Official Kick-Off party last night.  Let's just say that I'm very happy not to be the only one in Lawrence (or at KU) attempting this challenge.

By the end of last night, I had reached over 2,600 words.  For each day of the month, I only need 1,667 words to keep on schedule.  Needless to say, I was pretty excited.  It was totally worth going to bed at 2 A.M. and getting up at 6:30 A.M.  I've just had a few coffees today.  No big deal.

Now I am in the process of camping for KU's first basketball game!  Yes!  Allen Fieldhouse, I've missed you.

I've also racked my word count up to 3,343 words.  I'm just that awesome.  I also know that it is important to pace yourself.  So as much as I want to continue writing the scene I am on, it is more important to wait til tomorrow.  I don't want to burn out too quickly.  But its still good to get a litle bit ahead.  Week Two is supposed to be a little more challenging.

So far, my sanity is intact, I love my characters, and I still need to draw out a map of my setting, but that part isn't imperative right now.

We'll see how everything is going in a few days.  Hopefully, just as well.
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Spring Awakening

If there's one thing I love more than books, its theater.

Specifically, musicals.

Earlier tonight, I went and saw Spring Awakening with my sister.  I'd heard amazing things about it, listened to one song in particular, and seen various photographs beforehand.  Other than that, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I originally wanted to go see Spring Awakening after watching Glee.  It is one of my favorite tv shows and after I heard that Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff both started out in Spring Awakening, I knew I had to see it.  I'm very glad I did.

Spring Awakening is a musical set in a previous era but remains current thanks to the awesome rock music.  While the musical tackles many difficult issues, I was amazed at how it approached them in an in-your-face manner, without overdoing it.  Spring Awakening is perfect for college students.  There's lots of sex, cursing, standing up for what you believe in, and upbeat music.  It also tackles issues that college students, especially those at KU, often deal with:  Sex, suicide/death, homosexuality, child abuse, love, pregnancy/abortion, and most importantly, getting out from under "the Man" (or their parents).

I couldn't believe the amount of adults who were in the audience.  I was glad that they were there, but I wondered if they knew the entirety of the show.  At intermission, as I was standing in line to buy my t-shirt and soundtrack, I watched a couple of old ladies walk out.  They were muttering to each other, probably talking about how "corrupted today's youth" has become.  Considering the last scene before intermission is filled with sex, I was surprised I didn't see more people walking out.  I'm sure there were more that I just missed.

I pride myself on being able to step out of my comfort zone.  Because of my ability to do so, I've learned I can do some pretty amazing things, and I'm not afraid to do them.  Like asking a boy to dance, going shopping by myself, being able to speak to complete strangers.

Every once in awhile, everyone needs to step out a little.  I wanted to grab those little old ladies by the hand and drag them back into the theater.  I KNOW that there was partial nudity.  I KNOW that there's been a lot of cursing.  I KNOW that there have been too many euphemisms to count.  There were many disclaimers when I read the synopsis, bought the tickets, and walked into the theater.  They may have grown up when things were different, but if you completely shut yourself of from new experiences that make you uncomfortable, how are you ever going to grow?  How do you expect to continue to learn?

The best part about life, is that it keeps going.  There are always ways to expand your mind and challenge yourself.  Take my NaNoWriMo experience, for instance!  (Which, by the way, I am super excited for.  November 1st please get here soon!)

There's a reason that this musical won eight Tony Awards, including BEST MUSICAL.  It's meant to make you uncomfortable.  Yes, it is for entertainment (and it is very much so!), but you should walk out with more than song lyrics and dance number stuck in your head as you walk home.  It's supposed to make you think.

Challenge yourself.  Think outside the box.  Do something you normally wouldn't.  Otherwise, you're totally f*cked.