Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Bookshelf Tag

I was nominated for this exciting tag by the lovely Victoria @ Stori Tori’s Blog. Thanks, Victoria! (Also, you should totally check out her blog, just sayin’.)

Here are the rules:
The book(s) you answer with must be from your bookshelf.
Include a picture of your bookshelf, if possible, or you could include pictures of your dream shelf. (I'm not actually going to follow this last rule, because this post is long enough as it is.)

*Cue slightly crazed laughter.* Okay, so one thing you need to know about me is that I don’t just have one bookshelf. (In my case, perhaps we should call this tag The Library Tag.) I have, technically, three bookcases in my room. They are full. They are beyond full. They are so beyond full, I have taken to constructing rudimentary bookshelves out of sideways stacked cardboard boxes—AND I HAVE STILL RUN OUT OF ROOM. I mean, this is insane, and I love it, but I will soon have to surrender the luxury of having a bed so I can gain space for another bookshelf (only I’m moving next month, so that’s a non-issue).

Let’s skip to the questions before I lose my mind completely.

Describe your bookshelf (or wherever it is you keep your books—it doesn’t actually have to be a shelf!)

My shelving arrangement is a little bit idiosyncratic, and by a little, I mean a lot. Who needs the Dewey decimal system or the alphabetical system? Not me. I arrange by preference, author, color, height, and any other aesthetic/intangible quality I so desire. This ensures that book thieves will struggle to find any sort of rhyme or reason to my system, and their hesitation will be my chance to take them out. *bows deeply*

What’s the thickest (most amount of pages) book on your shelf?

My copy of The Lord of the Rings is 1,193 pages long, and I get carpal tunnel syndrome just thinking about it. But more on that later.

What’s the thinnest (least amount of pages) book on your shelf?

My copy of The Velveteen Rabbit is 44 pages long, and, by complete coincidence, at some point I decided to keep two little rabbit statuette things right in front of it. Clearly my subconscious knows what it’s doing a lot better than I do, so I will let it finish this post for me.

Is there a book you received as a birthday gift?

My birthday is on New Year’s Day, which isn’t all that far from Christmas, so I’m pretty sure I haven’t received all that many physical birthday gifts (not counting money—seriously, having birthdays is so lucrative, I’m thinking of turning it into a business). Many of my gifts are more like, combination birthday/Christmas presents. I have received books for Christmas, though, and I couldn’t even list them all here because I usually get around twenty or so every year. I’ll just stick with The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann, because it’s the first one that comes to mind.

What’s the smallest (height and width wise) book on your shelf?

My copy of Persuasion is six inches tall, three and three quarters inches wide, and half an inch thick. Incidentally, I don’t get carpal tunnel syndrome thinking about that one.

What’s the biggest (height and width wise) book on your shelf?

That would be The Lord of the Rings again (although I have a few others that come close—can you hear my wrists sobbing?) It stands ten inches tall, six and a half inches wide, and two and three quarters inches thick. It clocks in at exactly 2,397 pounds (I know because I checked).

Is there a book from a friend on your shelf?

One friend gave me The Peculiar, another gave me A Pleasure to Burn by Ray Bradbury. I have a few others from friends, but those are the ones that stick out.

Most expensive book?

Hmm, this is an interesting question. The list price for my LOTR edition is 70 dollars, but I have some very old books that are in super good condition, so I’m not sure whether their value might be a little higher or not. *shrugs*

The last book you read on your shelf?

I just finished Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke a few days ago.

Of all the books on your shelf, which was the first you read?

I’m leaning on either one of The Chronicles of Narnia, one from A Series of Unfortunate Events, or maybe Matilda. I’ve been collecting books for so long, I’m not sure.

Do you have more than one copy of a book?
I have two copies of Emma by Jane Austen, two copies of Northanger Abbey (also by Jane Austen), and two copies of Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore. And no, you can’t have one. They’re mine. *hugs books possessively*

Do you have the complete series of any book series?

I have all the following: the Hunger Games trilogy, the Divergent trilogy, the Legend Trilogy, A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Gallagher Girls books, the City of Ember series, Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quartet, C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, the Peculiar duology, and the Chaos Walking trilogy. There are several more series I have almost all of—just, you know, aside from that one book in the middle you can never seem to find in stores. Yeah. 

What’s the newest addition to your shelf?

The newest addition to my shelf would be Ruthless by Carolyn Lee Adams.

What book has been on your shelf FOREVER?

I have had the Hunger Games trilogy, the Gallagher Girls books, and my collection of Jane Austen books for a long time. I’m thinking, though, that I might have owned Watership Down by Richard Adams for even longer. I can’t really remember, and my theory is that I had collected at least a hundred or so books before I was even born.

What’s the most recently published book on your shelf?

Ruthless—it was released in July. And you should go read it.

The oldest book on your shelf (as in, the actual copy is old)?

My older copy of Lorna Doone hales from 1913, according to the date someone wrote in the inside cover. Perlycross (also by R.D. Blackmore) comes from 1894 and my collection of various Sherlock Holmes stories comes from 1892. My collection of Livy’s works says it was printed in 1890. And my copy of Daniel Deronda by George Eliot (from the time they printed books in multiple volumes instead of a whole book) dates back to 1901. I’m sure I have a few more older ones, but the farther back you get, the less likely you are to find a date on the copyright page, or anything like that. And, unlike the Doctor, I can’t just lick the paper and figure out what year it was made. Unfortunately.

A book you won?

I won Dove Arising (Karen Bao), Ruthless, Joshua and the Lightning Road (Donna Galanti), and The Canary Room (Edwin and Linda Casebeer).

A book you’d hate to let out of your sight (aka a book you’d never let someone borrow)?

All my books, most specifically my older ones (okay, okay, I let my sister and my mom borrow what they like, but only when I’m feeling benevolent and merciful).

Most beat up book?

I’m not sure I can really pick out one, because most of my books are in excellent condition. The ones that I do buy used will have some wear and tear, but I prefer not to buy anything ratty. So, maybe I’ll just go with my copy of Evangeline (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow). It’s old and it’s beautiful, but at least one page has sought independence and emancipated itself from the rest of its family.

Most pristine book?

Basically, any book that I bought new and read without sharing. Seriously, when I read books (even multiple times), they rarely look like they’ve been used.

A book from your childhood?

We’ll go with Watership Down on this one, although there are many.

A book that’s not actually your book?

I have one book, sitting on my shelf, that I’ve been meaning to read for ages and haven’t yet. It belongs to my mother. You’ve probably never heard of it, but it’s called Power Perfected in Weakness by Christopher J. Klicka.

A book with a special/different cover (e.g. leather bound, soft fuzzy cover etc.)?

Well, I have nothing special really, but some of my older books have different textured covers, and it’s possible the cover for Daniel Deronda is some sort of bonded leather that’s become flexible and papery over time. (Let’s just pretend I actually know what I’m talking about.)

A book that is your favorite color? But what if I don’t know what my favorite color is?

My newer copy of Lorna Doone would be my favorite color, but I cheated a bit on that one. You see, when I got it, the cover was this gross, generic beige, so I fixed that egregious, bookish crime with lime green duct tape and contact paper (to keep the duct tape from loosening or anything), and now it’s really pretty and I love it.

A book that’s been on your shelf the longest that you STILL haven’t read?

I bought A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine when all the Borders stores in my state were going out of business years ago, and I still haven’t read it yet, although my sister has. Actually, I spend so much time rereading books, I haven’t gotten around to reading about 35% of the books in my personal library. I should probably do something about that.

Any signed books?

Let’s see, I own a signed copy of Ruthless, a signed and personalized copy of Dove Arising, and a signed and personalized copy of The Rook by Steven James. I have another signed book, but I haven’t read it and I’m unfamiliar with the author (I just picked it up in a thrift store), so, meh.

And there you have it—all my delightful, inspiring answers. Now for the tags. Let’s see. *brandishes regal sword* I hereby nominate:


And that’s it, my little coffee beans. If I haven’t nominated you, and you’d like to do the tag, go for it. Just let me know in the comments, and I’ll include you in the list. Or, you could answer the questions here. Have you read any of the books I mentioned? What do your bookshelves look like? Have you ever had to resort to creative bookshelf-making?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Cinderella (2015) vs. Ever After (2002)

Warning: There will be spoilers—lots of spoilers.

So, I finally got a chance to watch the 2015 live action remake of Cinderella, and I was rather surprised to find that I liked it. A lot. Since falling in love with a random romance is a rare occasion for me, this warrants discussion. But, I can’t talk about Cinderella without also including Ever After. Hence this post.

Ella and Danielle. Both Ella and Danielle are strong in their own way. While Ella is sweet and kind, willing to endure great cruelty in order to keep the peace, Danielle is fiery and aggressive, eager to fight back when she feels it’s necessary. Each of the two girls serves her stepmother faithfully, and each has a compassionate heart. But that’s where the similarities end. In Cinderella, Ella remains locked in her attic room until the Prince hears her singing and sends his captain up to free her. In Ever After, by the time Henry arrives on the scene to save Danielle from Pierre, Danielle has already escaped.

Ella, always courageous and gentle, offers her stepmother forgiveness, even though the woman has asked for no such thing. She is far too pleased with her happy ending, and far too loving, to return cruelty for cruelty. Danielle, on the other hand, makes it very clear that she cares nothing for her stepmother and stepsister, and while she saves them from execution, she does not hesitate to give them their just deserts.

The Romance, The Ball, and the Slipper. In Cinderella, Ella and Kit meet a grand total of two times (that we know of) before their engagement. Obviously these people aren’t much for procrastination. While both their previous encounters are brief, they do learn more about each other than the characters in the original Cinderella do. Instead of simply falling for her good looks and her mysteriousness, as Prince Charming does, Kit recognizes Ella’s gentleness, courage, and kindness. Still, the time frame doesn’t offer much chance to get to know each other. And I have a difficult time believing it’s a good idea to marry someone you hardly know. At least, though, we can give bonus points to Kit for remembering what Ella looks like.

In Ever After, Danielle and Henry have more of a chance to get to know each other before making the decision to tie the knot. While we do have the ball scene and the slipper scene, they are essential to the plot in a much different way. Up until the ball, Danielle has led Henry to believe that she is a courtier. Admittedly, her original reason for posing as a courtier is justifiable, and it’s understandable that she would be reluctant to reveal her true identity. But the fact is, the two of them have had plenty of time to hang out and build an actual relationship beyond the traditional “love at first sight” plot device.

Here, the ball is a defining moment, not because the Prince falls head-over-heels for her and forthwith decides to marry her, but because Danielle’s stepmother exposes her for the commoner she is, and Henry casts her out. Rather than accepting her, as Kit accepts Ella, Henry nurses his wounded pride, and for a while we have to worry that the two won’t end up together. Only later, at the insistence of Leonardo da Vinci, does Henry seek Danielle out. The slipper scene is thrown in more as a satisfying conclusion to the story, rather than as a search and rescue mission culminating in an aha moment. After all, Henry doesn’t need to know who belongs to the slipper—all he needs to know is if he still belongs to the woman who wears the slipper.

The Stepmother. Both movies share the same stepmother, so to speak. Each stepmother had married the father, hoping to receive love and acceptance, only to find that the Cinderella figure owns all of the father’s heart. Naturally, greed and jealousy combine to make a cruel woman.

The Stepsisters. One major difference here is that, while, in Cinderella, we have the two traditionally evil stepsisters, in Ever After only one of the stepsisters is evil. Another divergence is that, in Cinderella, the two stepsisters really have no chance of winning the prince’s heart, whereas, in Ever After, one stepsister almost manages to snag, if not his heart, at least his hand in marriage.

The Beginnings. Here’s where I get a little nitpicky. While I very much enjoyed both movies, I do think the beginning of Ever After is far superior to the beginning of Cinderella. Both start off with a picture of our Cinderella figure’s happy life before the evil stepmother ruins everything. But Ever After manages to craft a bittersweet, amusing, heart-wrenching introduction, while Cinderella starts off with a heavy dose of cotton candy, then rushes through the sad stuff, leaving us with more exposition and less story.


So there you have it, my little coffee beans. If you want a movie that sticks closer to the original Disney animation, complete with the actual fairy godmother and the cute animals, I definitely recommend the 2015 Cinderella (rated PG). But if you prefer a more realistic, down-to-earth retelling, and if you feel that Leonardo da Vinci (painter and inventor extraordinaire) would make a better fairy godmother figure by far, then I suggest you check out Ever After (rated PG-13). Also, if you’d like to read any Cinderella retellings, I recommend ELLA ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine and CINDER by Marissa Meyer.

Have you seen either or both of the two movies? What are your thoughts? Which one is your favorite? Do you have any other Cinderella retellings to recommend?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

That Really Deep Writing Post

A few weeks ago, I started working at a classy inn, and from the start I knew that this would be great for writing research. After all, what better way is there to observe the oddities of humanity than to clean someone’s messy room? And let’s not forget the added prestige points you get when you straighten up after a semi-famous person and help give them directions to the nearest post office.

But in all seriousness, every day I go to work and think about the parallels between housekeeping and writing. So, I figured I should share some of those with you.

Tidiness. People tend to notice tidiness as a general concept, but they’re much more likely to clue in to individual mistakes. For instance, we could spend half an hour sweeping the floors, making the beds, sanitizing the bathrooms, and dusting every single surface. But if we miss that one little hair on the pillow, we’re probably going to hear about it the next day. (Okay, I’m exaggerating, but you know what I mean.)

It’s the same with writing. You can comb your manuscript a dozen times and catch almost every typo and inconsistency and awkwardly phrased sentence. But the few mistakes you miss are going to stick in people’s minds a lot better than the overall neatness of your prose. As the writer (and the housekeeper), you can think of hundreds of errors you’ve fixed, but your audience isn’t going to know about those. And because most people don’t realize how much work goes into a finished manuscript, they won’t be as forgiving of mess-ups as you, the writer, will be. Unfortunately, that’s life.

Pickiness. At the inn where I work, we’re very picky about cleanliness. This means we’ll often dust stuff that isn’t dusty and wipe down surfaces that aren’t dirty. Likewise, in writing, it’s a very good idea to give your manuscript at least one last read through, even when you’re certain it’s finished and ready for other eyes. You’d be surprised by what you find when you make that final, seemingly unnecessary pass.

Minimizing Distractions. In cleaning a hotel room, the goal is to make the area seem almost unlived in, as though your current clients are the first people ever to use those facilities. It’s not that we want to dupe our customers into thinking they’re being given extra special treatment when they aren’t, but it’s nice for them when they can forget that they’re sleeping in a bed dozens of others have used before. The general neatness and freshness creates a relaxing atmosphere of renewal and comfort.

With your writing, you want your prose and grammar and spelling and all that fun stuff to be so tidy that nothing distracts your reader from the story. Essentially, as a writer, you want to disappear, because you aren’t describing the world, you’re creating a window to it. Sure, it’s important to leave your own special touch, just as it’s nice when we make flowers out of the tissues and fold the towels into pleasing shapes, but you don’t want your presence to be so overpowering that the reader can’t really focus on creating their own experience.

Attending to all the Little Details. Tidying up a hotel room can take a team of three anywhere from fifteen to forty-five minutes, depending on our energy levels and the extent of the mess we’re dealing with. There are lots of little details that need our attention—the above-mentioned towel folding and tissue origami, the little soaps, the coffee tray, the dusting and glass cleaning and furniture polishing, the sweeping and mopping and bed-making, the shower and toilet and sink, the rug, the smudges on the walls from careless luggage lugging, the fingerprints on the door paint, the stray hairs on the fresh duvet covers and pillow cases and towels, etc… While it’s possible for us to move quickly and efficiently, we can only do so to a point, and the more we rush, the more we’re bound to miss something.

In writing, you don’t have to force yourself to go slowly, but you don’t want to jump the gun, either. As you edit, especially, you want to make sure you take enough time to notice all the little details, and you want to make sure everything gets its fair share of your attention before you move on.

The small things may not be that important on their own, but added together, they make the difference between a messy room and a clean room, a messy manuscript and a clean manuscript.

Popularity. Last but not least, when it comes to hotel business, the more popular you get, the more work you have to do. Lately, the inn has had a steady string of no vacancies each night, which means we have to clean every single room every single morning. So, while that means more money for us, it also means more labor. You really can’t have one without the other.

Writing, especially blogging, can turn into a give-and-take relationship like that. The more comments you get on your blog, the more time you have to invest in answering them and, possibly, visiting your commenter’s blogs. As your page view counter begins to rise, you’ll be happy, but you’ll also have the added stress of knowing that if you blow it now, you’re blowing it in front of a larger audience. There’ll be that greater pressure to provide interesting and original content so as not to let your readers down. (I imagine this is much the same for popular, published authors.) And you’ll probably find it rather disappointing if your success rate plummets for a time.

Well, there you have it, my little coffee beans. I’m sure I could dig up other parallels (co-workers and characters, for instance), but I don’t want to bore you. If you have any work/writing comparisons of your own, I’d love to hear about them. In the meantime, to all my writer coffee beans, best of luck with your novel editing. I’m off to clean some rooms.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Book Review: RUTHLESS by Carolyn Lee Adams

Warning: As always, I try to stay relatively spoiler free. But it doesn’t hurt to proceed with caution.

Rating:  Five Stars—ajklsdflk (when words fail to describe how wonderful a book is)


I won a free copy of RUTHLESS from the author, Carolyn Lee Adams, on Literary Rambles. (Thanks, Carolyn and Natalie!) And I think I can safely say I haven’t read a book like this in a long while.

I was going to write a brief description, but the Goodreads summary is far superior to my efforts, so I’ll just give you the link instead.

Okay, let’s talk about this.

Ruth. As our main character, Ruth is technically the hero (heroine) of the story, but she has more than a smidge of the villain in her. The harder her kidnapper, Wolfman, pushes her, the harder she pushes back. I love that she’s not your average, unintelligent thriller heroine, who makes all sorts of stupid decisions and should, by all rights, get killed by the tenth page. Instead, she’s tough and competitive, smart and clear-headed. She wastes no time whining about her predicament or cowering in fear. Instead, she forces herself to keep going, always thinking on her feet, always sizing up her opposition and strategizing her best move.

On the one hand, we have Ruthless, the girl who bosses around the other girls in the stable, the girl who gets her way and always wins, the girl who enjoys inflicting pain on her kidnapper. But we also have Ruth, the girl who cares about Caleb—even if she can’t seem to overlook his hick exterior—the girl who almost cried at some of the things her parents said about her, the girl who had to grow up listening to those parents fight all the time. She might not be a huggable duckling, but she’s loyal to those she loves, and she might be cold and calculating, but she’s also a very sympathetic character.

Wolfman. I like that we get to see a little bit of what goes on inside Wolfman’s head, because I think it’s important that we understand what drives him. With his belief that all girls with red hair are bad and that he must punish and purify them, it’s clear that he’s more than just a little bit off. Since I was given a window into his childhood life, I could still feel somewhat sorry for him, even if I couldn’t cheer him on. But I also like that Ruth doesn’t simply try to label him as a product of poor parenting (although that would definitely play a part). Instead, she recognizes that it’s possible he was born with this inclination toward violence, that sometimes the fault lies deeper than a missing father and a drunken mother, that there might actually be something fundamentally wrong with the human heart itself.

Another great thing about Wolfman is that he doesn’t talk much, so when he does speak, what he says matters. He’s no moustache-twirling villain with long monologues about his superiority or anything like that. His speech about Ruth’s sins is well-worded and sprinkled with truth that cuts to the heart. Clearly this guy is very observant, someone who can read people well and hit the points where it will hurt the most. He also doesn’t take up a lot of narrative space, because most of the story follows Ruth as she tries to avoid him, but because he’s often not physically there, his presence is all the more palpable.

The Narrative Structure. Ordinarily, I’m not a big fan of flashbacks, because they often are placed as memories designed to deliver exposition. But Carolyn Adams does remarkably well in this case. By inserting glimpses from both Ruth’s and Wolfman’s pasts at just the right points, she helps mix up the pace and avoid monotony while providing tasty little chunks of backstory. Another benefit to these is that they really help flesh out the characters—their motivations and driving forces—in a short space of time, without making it feel forced.

Dominance vs. Submission. The story doesn’t dwell on this issue, but it does raise some discussion-worthy points. On the one hand, we have Ruth, whose overbearing nature allows her to make monetary decisions about her father’s business. And on the other hand, we have Wolfman, who believes that all women need a man to keep them in line. While the story doesn’t make any judgments or final statements on the subject, it does show some of the consequences of both ideologies.

With Ruth, she may be intuitive and hard-headed and efficient, but her parents also know they can’t approach her about any of her faults or any issues they may have with her because she will argue them down—a skill that may work well in business but doesn’t necessarily fly in family or social life. With Wolfman, we get to see how he came by his ideology that the only good woman is a perfectly submissive one. We get to witness his pain and shame at how his mother beat him. When his uncle tells him that Wolfman’s mother is bad because she’s a woman and women are like that without a man to keep them in line, we know that this hits on a sensitive, vulnerable point. But we also get to see, with the killing of the piglets, what might be a sadistic, unstable side of this uncle.

Psychology. Aside from glimpses we get into the inner workings of Ruth’s and Wolfman’s minds and hearts, we also get to see the way fear can make people selfish and uncaring. Also, as we follow Ruth through the woods, we witness the effects of hunger, dehydration, and sleeplessness, and I love what happens when Adams pushes Ruth to the breaking point.

Issues. While I highly recommend this book, I do want to warn you that there is some strong language and thematic material, as is to be expected. Coming into the story, I was a little worried that the premise might lead to a lot of needlessly inappropriate content, but I feel that Adams skillfully presents an honest portrayal of the sick things humans can do, without dwelling on the less savory bits. (I like it when authors do this, when they show us mud but don’t force us to wallow in it.)


All in all, RUTHLESS is a deep and gripping book with tight pacing and a stream-lined plot. I would definitely recommend it, especially to fans of Steven James.


What about you, my little coffee beans? Have any of you read this novel? If so, what are your thoughts?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Welcome to the Blogosphere

Note: The winner of Out of Coffee, Out of Mind’s First Blogversary Giveaway is Tessa Ann from Books, Bubbles, & Arohanui! Congratulations, Tessa!

When I first started blogging, I had no clue what I was getting into. I mean, yes, I was aware that I would hold myself to a strict schedule (at that point, a post every Wednesday), so I knew I would have to come up with something to write each week. How hard could that be?

Apparently more difficult than my cavalier brain made it sound.

Now, I realize some of you don’t struggle with blogging ideas, and I’m very happy for you. That’s actually not so much the issue with me. At the moment, I have over ten potential posts lined up—some even partially drafted. But, from the first, I underestimated the fact that I wouldn’t always feel confident about my ideas, that I wouldn’t always find them interesting a few days after their inception.

I was an ignorant little coffee bean about a lot of things, so I figured I’d enlighten you a little, in case you’re new to blogging, or in case you’re just curious.

During the early weeks of blogging, I got a handful of page views for every post, and I struggled not to get too discouraged. Instead of letting myself mope, I did my best to shake it off and look on the bright side. I decided to just go for it, to act as though I was speaking to a larger audience than my lone follower and the one or two weary travelers who found themselves stumbling through the caffeine haze of my brain. After a while, I found myself getting into the rhythm of things. Sometimes I forgot that I even had any readers, and I enjoyed the feeling of talking to myself in my own little corner of the internet. (That might have sounded a tad arrogant, or insane. *hides*)

Then I got my first comment, during November, and I suddenly remembered the existence of my readers. Right around that time, my page view count spiked, and that threw me for a loop. Suddenly I found myself balking at the idea of blogging at all. Somehow, I had been fine with the false sense of security that came with writing only for myself without the promise of a caring (or uncaring) audience. I realized I wasn’t so sure I liked the idea of people reading my work, and possibly, actually…liking it? Translation: I got stage fright.

For a few months after that, as I started getting a few comments here and there, and more and more page views, I found myself mesmerized by the little graph depicting the dips and rises of traffic on my blog, kicking myself when the numbers fell, cursing myself when they rose. Because, if there’s one thing you need to know about me, it’s that I’m a very confusing person—but I’m also human (bet you didn’t see that coming), so I know this problem isn’t unique to me.

During this time, I consoled myself with the notion that, after the initial rush had faded, I would stop being such a wonky shot of espresso. And there’s a point to which that happened. Sometimes I go through whole weeks where I don’t even track my page views (although I do keep an eye on my audience, because it’s always exciting to get a new country—so far I’ve had hits from every continent except Antarctica. *waits impatiently for the Antarcticans to discover me*). But there are still periods when I care far too much, when I unconsciously (or consciously) gauge my worth by the rise and fall of my page view count.

Unfortunately, that close attention to my readership is what exhausts me the most and drains me of my ability to write anything even vaguely interesting. It’s brought me to that point of fatigue, on several occasions, when I’m not sure if I can post at all.

Looking back, I wish my self of August, 2014 had known what to expect. I wish I could tell younger me that it’s hard, but I shouldn’t let myself get hitched up in all the details, because the reward is well worth the effort—in fact, the reward IS the effort, rather than the outcome.

The reason I’m bringing all this up is that I’m going through one of the rougher times. There are many reasons why I’ve been struggling. For a while, it looked like my mother might have had cancer, and I spent two weeks living away from home while she recovered from surgery. During that time, I had a great deal of trouble focusing, because there were so many distractions. When I got home, I immediately started a new job, which cuts into my day, and I have other obligations that tend to take priority over reading and writing and other things I love—things that help me maintain my sanity.

That’s not to say I don’t love blogging. Lately I’ve found that love and discomfort aren’t mutually exclusive. But neither are they hugely harmonious.

Last Wednesday’s post, “I am Seven” did very well. Within a matter of twenty-four hours, it far surpassed my previous most popular post. I’ve received some very encouraging feedback, and I appreciate that so much. But writing that post was extremely difficult, and it burned me out a little. Unfortunately, though, there’s that part of me that wants to keep seeking out success, to tap into that something that made “I am Seven” resonate with people and made them want to share it with others. I know if I do that, without giving myself the necessary break from all things Africa, I’ll turn blogging into a chore, rather than a joy. (That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate it when you tell me you want to read more about Côte d’Ivoire, since I really am happy to oblige—I just need time.)

Even as I write this, I’m nervous, because I feel like I’ve set a precedent, reached a high score that I won’t be able to manage again for a long time. That everything’s going to be downhill from here. You’d think I’d only be happy at how successful “I am Seven” was, and I am. But I dread the mundane, the posts that don’t resonate as widely, the ones that get forgotten. All my other ideas pale in comparison, and I don’t want to get sucked into the trap of writing for page views, like a dog doing tricks for treats.

All that to say, in my experience, blogging doesn’t necessarily get easier as you garner a larger audience, because, if you’re like me, you’ll frequently catch yourself wanting more. So find your purpose, the reason why you blog, and cling to that, because comment counts and page views will always let you down. And write every post with the love it deserves. In the end, popularity is less important than art.


Note: A few weeks back, Heather @ Sometimes I’m a Story shared a lovely post, “How to Survive a Viscous Comment Count”, which taps into a similar vein and is well worth the read.

Monday, September 14, 2015

SERENITY: Scary Girl and Hollow Man

Note: There’s still time to enter my blogversary giveaway, so hop on over there for a chance to win a copy of Ray Bradbury’s FAHRENHEIT 451 (you know, if you want).

Warning: As always, I try to stay relatively spoiler free. But it doesn’t hurt to proceed with caution.

Can I just say? SERENITY. IS. INTENSE. I’m pretty sure Joss Whedon missed his calling—obviously he was meant to be Master Torturer or Head Executioner or something like that, because he is just a tiny bit brutal. I’m torn between sending him fan mail and sending him hate mail—it’s really a toss-up.

So let’s talk about this.

In my FIREFLY discussion, I introduced some of the characters, and with them, a bit of the moral ambiguity which forms the backbone of the show and its companion movie. But I’m not sure I delved into the many aspects of the story as well as I could have, so let’s go a bit further, beginning with the two characters who take center stage in SERENITY.

River. You thought you knew River before? Seriously, no—if you haven’t seen SERENITY, you haven’t met her yet. Just trust me. The most important thing you need to realize about River is that she is both extremely old—in that she has suffered extensive trauma, not to mention the fact that she makes geniuses look like idiots—and incredibly young—for example, her heavy dependence on Simon. In FIREFLY, we get a quick glimpse at the dangerous side of River, when she guns down three men and treats it like a game. Clearly this isn’t an easy case of cold-blooded killer vs. scared girl acting out of self-defense. What makes this even less simple is that she exhibits many symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. And given her unstable nature and her occasional run-ins with the crew, it’s difficult even to determine whether she’s friend or foe. While she generally feels bad when she hurts others, it remains uncertain whether she’s able to process this guilt fully.

Let’s give her a break, though, since she’s had the government poking and prodding around in her brain, turning her into a tool for its own use. Yet, after all that, she never intentionally plays the victim card, which might be why I’m especially fond of her. Considering her condition, she would be well within her rights to lie down and play dead, so to speak, to let the others do for her and pick up the slack. Instead, on several occasions, she risks her life for the lives of her friends and proves how truly strong she is, despite her brokenness.

Captain Malcom Reynolds. Mal is a hard nut to crack, in more ways than one. At first glance, he comes across as cocky and capable, almost light-hearted, a man who views life as a giant game. But he might possibly be one of the most broken characters you could ever come across, and he wears his over-confident exterior as a mask to disguise the part of him that can’t leave the battle of Serenity Valley behind, no matter how long it’s been since the end of the war.

In SERENITY, now that Inara is no longer living aboard the ship, we see a completely different side of Mal, and it’s more than a little bit unsettling. He is angrier, more unstable, less predictable. He’s a Firefly with no engine, floating about in the vast emptiness of space, and I can’t help but wonder if the echo of his pain is loud enough to drown out almost everything else but his thoughts.

Still, despite his deeply fractured psyche, he remains one of the best captains out there, because he cares deeply for his crew and his ship—no matter how poorly he shows it. And he possesses the invaluable ability to carry on even under the worst of circumstances—goodness knows, he’s had the practice. Other captains might be softer and kinder, gentler and more considerate, but few could lead their crews through as many horrific situations as Mal can without risking mutiny or worse.

Now on to other points of interest.

Simon. I’ve never been certain what to think about River’s older brother. On the one hand, he often comes across as weak and defenseless. When it comes to combat, odds are he’ll lose, and half the time he seems to lack even the will necessary to fight back. Perhaps, because he is a doctor, he balks at the thought of inflicting injuries. Or perhaps he is so neat and orderly and calm, right down to the very core, that he’s forgotten what it’s like to be aggressive. Either way, he doesn’t seem like a particularly strong character. But if you assumed that, like I almost did initially, then you would be wrong. Because Simon is one of the strongest characters in the show.

While he may not be quick to strike back, and while he may not be able to hold his own in a fist fight—as a general rule—he isn’t afraid to put himself in harm’s way if it means standing up for his sister or finding out information he deems important. More often than not, he thinks of others over himself. Throughout the brief span of the show and the companion movie, we witness multiple examples of his caring, patient nature as he deals with his sister’s unsettling mental illness. He never complains, never belittles River or speaks sharply to her. I’m not sure how many people would be able to die to self so consistently in order to see to the wellbeing of others. Jayne might be able to break Simon with his bare hands, and Mal might be able to outgun him, but they will never sacrifice themselves for others the way Simon does on a daily basis.

The Operative and The Reivers. I love this plotline—the man who fights to keep the truth hidden, and the truth that says we cannot make humans perfect through our own power. I’d say more, but I don’t want to spoil anything for you. Just know that, in my opinion, Joss Whedon offers a very satisfying conclusion, both to the mystery surrounding River and to the questions concerning the Reivers’ origins, while simultaneously introducing a fascinating, terrifying new character.

The Alliance. Joss has created my favorite form of society—the honest kind. On the one hand, we have the stamp of the Alliance—gorgeous architecture; large, prosperous cities; exceptional healthcare and security. We have a homogenized cultural landscape, a beautifully balanced blend of Chinese and American customs with layers of historical reflections. But on the other hand, we also witness the losses that come with those gains. Beneath the Alliance’s enlightened front, we get to sample the brutality and the totalitarian undertones—the tension between the Independents, who only want to be free, and the Alliance, who will force its ideas of “freedom” on anyone smaller than it. Although the American and Chinese people of the future have come to terms enough to form a single cultural alliance, peace is far from complete, and the very efforts to build a perfectly utopian society are what create worse horrors than international tensions.

Intensity. While we never get to see any of our precious darlings hit rock bottom, we do come pretty close. And I have a theory that, with SERENITY, Joss means to break his audience rather than his characters. Of course I’m not bitter. But, suffice it to say, I’m not sure I’ve ever been as invested in a story’s conclusion as I was in the last, terrifying hour of film. Like I said earlier, I’m still deciding whether that warrants fan mail and praises or hate mail and threats.

The Humor. Fortunately, Joss understands how to balance emotional roller coasters and dizzying fight/crash scenes with comic relief. So if you were worried there’d be nothing to laugh at in SERENITY, rest assured, Joss does not disappoint. Despite the raised stakes and the lowered morale, our favorite characters are still our favorite characters, and while they fall quite a few times, they also have the chance to shine.

Time to discuss, my little coffee beans. If you’ve seen SERENITY (and/or FIREFLY) what are your thoughts? I haven’t really mentioned Shepherd Book, but I’d love to know your opinion of him. What is your take on the Alliance and the Chinese/American cultural blend?