Women’s Obsession with Death: Millennial and Victorian time-traveling sisters

order-of-the-good-deathA reading list on this topic is at the bottom of the post!

If you haven’t noticed an uptick in the true crime obsession of late, you must be a prepper who lives in the wilderness of Wyoming (which doesn’t exist, stay woke) and doesn’t have internet or electricity or neighbors. And in that case, you might be a serial killer yourself. The explosion of true crime and horror podcasts has been serious. So has the increase of murderous television, mystery thriller novels, the popularity of witchcraft, and support for the death positive movement. But why? Who? What? How?

The who is easy…women. It’s always been women, honestly, but millennial women are viciously gobbling up all things violent crime and creepy lore. While I could point to something like the insane popularity of authors such as Gillian Flynn or Paula Hawkins, it really took shape with the phenomenon of Serial. From there we got the massive hit My Favorite Murder, a true crime podcast hosted by a comedian and a YouTuber turned Food Channel personality. Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark captured a moment. The shear volume of fan art, tattoos, and merch being generated…the memes!! Women tuning in felt like they were sitting down to a never ending glass of wine with their favorite girl friends, dishing about murder. The pod soon took off and became so much more than what it seemed. Karen and Georgia started using it as a way to preach about the benefits of therapy, self-care, and mental health awareness. They talk about women taking care of other women, and they face all of our worst nightmares with us. We cheer together when they tell the heroic tales of women breaking free from murderous men, or surviving against all odds. We cry with them when we lose another Sweet Baby Angel.

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When Great Women Die

Maya AngelouI was in a custom framing shop running errands for work when I saw a push message on my phone from my New York Times app, informing me of Maya Angelou’s death today. I was in the middle of discussing pricing with the young woman behind the counter, who looked to be about my age, when I stopped short and said, “Holy shit, Maya Angelou died.” She just looked at me, and I swear we both nearly started crying.

Maya Angelou’s death hit me very hard, and by the looks of my Facebook and Twitter feeds I wasn’t alone in that. So many of my friends of all genders posted condolences and shared links to powerful stories about the great woman, but it was my female friends who overwhelmingly shared how Angelou’s words SAVED them. I had one friend who talked about how Angelou’s poems helped her battle self-doubt and depression. Several talked about how her words pushed them to finish high school and live better lives. And another talked about how Maya Angelou’s words stopped her from killing herself. They SAVED her.

For me, Angelou was a reminder that hope is never dead and that there is always something to fight for. She taught me, and I think a lot of girls, what it means to be a strong woman. Two things happened when I first heard of her passing. The first was extreme sadness. In a way, I felt like all hope and all strength had died with her. The next was a moment of self-reflection where I thought about how I internalized her words and messages, and how they wouldn’t die with her because they had a place in me. Then I thought about how I could best embody those ideas she spread. A very similar thing happened to me when Nora Ephron died two years ago.

So what I started thinking about was what happens when great women die? Being a great woman on a scale as grand as Angelou’s is hard work. It’s hard enough just being a woman with so many things stacked against us. It’s hard to do even the simplest tasks, like go for a fucking jog. But that is why we need great women so badly, and when we lose one I get a little scared. Who will take her place? Honestly, it should be you and me.

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The Shameful Book Club: Southern Novels for Summer

3-28-13_ReadingSo I have a deep dark secret that I tend to hide pretty well. I am very ashamed of this, especially since my mother is a librarian, and over 50% of my immediate family members are writers (including myself), and I also consider myself a bibliophile. This is hard for me to admit, but I am not as well read as most people think I am. There, I said it.

Now that I’ve admitted this, I aim to rectify it. After all, one of the best things a writer can do is read. I’ve decided to create for myself a reading challenge. Each season of the year I will dictate a genre or category that I feel would compliment that season and try to read as many of the “must-reads” in that category as I can. Some categories and genres are very embarrassing for me, and others just have a lot of really great novels that I want to get to. Southern novels is one category where I’m really lacking, despite my absolute love of southern writing.

A lot of these books, like The Grapes of Wrath and The Color Purple, were books that were assigned in high school English classes. I had kind of a strange high school English experience, and a lot of classics (in all genres) slipped through the cracks. Now is my time to catch up.

I have put together a lofty list of novels that I will try to read between the months of June and September. I’m giving myself a lot of time, because, as you’ll see, there are an ass-load of novels. I actually had more, but then I realized that Gone with the Wind is roughly seven books in one, so I cut my list up a bit. I also might start this week instead of June, we’ll see. I’m currently trying to prepare for that devil called the GRE, so who knows what time I’ll actually have to devote to this. I’ve listed the novels below in the order I would like to read them in, but sometimes plans change, so I’m not holding myself to it.

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Part-time Creative: My rules for surviving the battle

Cheryl-StrayedCall me a weekend warrior, if by weekend warrior you mean someone who actually stays in and struggles to be creative and productive on the weekends (and weekday nights). I’m certainly going to war, but not with shots of tequila or complicated bongs. My adversaries are mostly my exhaustion, anxiety, self-doubt, and Netflix account. They all distract and prevent me from writing in my spare time, something that many of us with day jobs are forced to do.

There is only an incredibly small percentage of people who are lucky enough to pursue their creative dreams 100%. Most of us have to walk a fine line of full-time employment and part-time creativity in order to follow our dreams, and it’s exhausting.

The most important thing to remember is that different things work for different people. There isn’t just one process for navigating this situation, so figure out what works for you and stick with it until it doesn’t work. YA author Susan Dennard has an incredible series about how to maximize your productivity, and I highly recommend everyone take a look at it. You can follow her plan exactly, or you can bastardize her ideas and make them your own. That’s kind of what I did, and I will share my personal rules with you in the hopes that they will help you too.

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Taking Breaks

I am such a huge proponent of taking breaks that sometimes it gets in my way. Sometimes a weekend break turns into a week break, and then expands into a whole month. I think it’s worth mentioning that I have been working on developing a strict routine and being more disciplined when it comes to writing, but that does not diminish my love and enthusiasm for breaks!

When people talk about developing routines, working in breaks is always a really important part of that. You need to let your brain disengaged so new ideas can flow in uninhibited. It’s similar to the rest periods you would take when lifting or training for a marathon. But they talk about breaks in smaller terms, like an hour or two in your day. I’m talking about whole days or weeks!

After I finished a draft of something, I put it in a drawer and forget about it for about a month, usually. During that time I like to take a full week off from writing and catch up on reading and TV shows I love. Then I’ll work on new or other projects I have going on. Throughout all of this I will always have ideas come to me for the draft I have on the back burner. Many new thoughts pop into my head — new plot ideas, changes to characters, solutions to annoying problems, etc. I write those all down, but I keep my eyes off that locked away draft. Then, after the draft has cooked for a while in my mind, I will go back to it and dive into another round of revisions. I cannot stress enough how helpful this is for me.

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Camp NaNo: A change in plans

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Camp NaNoWriMo is a delightful off-season (if you will) NaNo event that is held in the spring every year. Like November’s NaNo, it is a time to push yourself and connect with other writers, but being Camp, it is also much more relaxed. Your options are cracked wide open, so instead of being restricted to just a novel, you can write a screenplay, short story collection, poems, anything your heart desires. The word count can be set to whatever is most appropriate for your project (as opposed to the traditional 50K), and you can be very specific about which medium and genre you’re writing in. Another awesome element are Cabins. You can fill out a quick questionnaire and be put in a small group of 11 people who are working on like projects. You can go with a random selection or pick a group of people you already know. This is incredible for helping you meet others that enjoy writing what you write.

I can’t tell you how excited I was to participate in this year’s first Camp NaNo. Like NaNoWriMo, I have never tried it before, and it sounded amazing to me. Most especially because I COULD WRITE A SCREENPLAY!! I started planning my plot, loosely outlining, building a brainstorming board on Pinterest, putting together a playlist, and getting really excited. But then I looked at all the projects I still have on my plate.

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Pinterest and Writing

pinterest-pinboard-600I had a crazy idea today, and I’m hoping I struck genius gold. I’m not sure how genius gold differs from real gold or just plain genius…I don’t know, I’m recovering from an illness so my mind isn’t quite right. Just go with it.

Maybe I’m not the first to come up with this particular idea, but I’ll certainly take credit for it! It’s very common for writers to create playlists to help us get in the right head-space to work on a particular project. I love the process of creating specific playlists. It’s another way for me to learn more about my setting and characters. Which song most accurately depicts the ora of this town? What song would she listen to after her heart’s been broken? What song would be laid behind this scene in a movie? Making the playlist that guides me through each story is almost better than writing the story itself. But what about those of us who are also greatly affected by visuals? Shouldn’t we have a sort of visual playlist to get us in the mood as well?

Enter Pinterest! I just started using Pinterest a few months ago. I boycotted it for a long time because I thought only desperate housewives and boring girls who only thought about weddings all day used it. But then I realized how helpful it is for storing ideas and discovering fun recipes! It also caters to my OCD organizational habits quite nicely. I have a board for my dream house, a board for recipes, a board for desserts, and board for style, a board for books, a board for films, but NOT a board for weddings! I refuse. But I’ll admit it’s hard to resist. Those pins are just so damn pretty!

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My Writing Debate: For me or for publication

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This might be kind of like a manifesto (the first of many, I’m sure).

I have always stretched myself thin. In high school I juggled everything: band (wind ensemble, jazz, marching, and pep), sports (soccer and track), drama club, student council, honor society, music honor society, tutoring, a part-time job, and my school work. College was even worse, adding on three more part-time jobs, a 100% full course load, and a ton of extra curriculars (working on friends’ film sets, writing for campus publications, running writing groups, etc). It hurt me then, dividing my attention and diluting my work. Be involved, sure! But maybe not to the point of nervous break downs and anxiety attacks.

I’m much less busy these days, which upsets me. In a positive light, I’d like to be more involved in community activities, maybe explore some new hobbies (I’m getting really into baking and knitting, at least), and just enrich my life more outside of work. But this is also extending to my writing. I feel like need to write everything and be everywhere. It’s splitting me in all different directions and causing some serious confusion. That’s the negative.

My writing spans multiple media. I write journalistic pieces, blogs, scripts, business documents, essays, and prose. I have the technical ability to write all of them, but if I continue to focus on each I’ll never master any. So a frustrating battle has started to rage inside of me: do I try to get more work published and truly attempt a life as a freelancer (which is nearly impossible today)? Or should I leave that behind and devote all my time to fiction? It’s difficult to suppress my overachiever personality.

I have also always loved getting my work out there and posting articles I’d written to Facebook to prove to people that I was relevant and, in fact, a writer. But in order to commit to a life of self-affirmation via Facebook, you have to leave everything else behind and become a monster. Sounds tiring.

But there’s more to this…

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NaNoWriMo 2013: Week 3

2013-Winner-Facebook-CoverWell, I’m done! I reached my 50,000 words and validated my novel yesterday. It got pretty rough at the end of last week, and the stuff that was coming out of me was not the greatest (both in terms of words and mucus). I think it was a combination of being sick of my story in general and actually running out of story to write. It was the definition of pain. I was writing well over 2,000 words a day, usually hitting 3,000, and then it became difficult for me to get to 1,000. I started focusing on just making the NaNo minimum of 1,667 each day and that helped me to inch forward in this last week. I ended up adding in a few scenes here and there just to make the word count, but I’m not entirely sure they will be scenes that stand the test of time.

I’ll be taking a significant break from the manuscript before starting revisions. I need to rethink my ending, as well as add a few/handful/lot of new scenes. Barely squeaking past 50,000 words of story probably means it could stand to be expanded a pinch. From poking around on various websites and friends’ blogs, I found an incredible revision course or guide or whatever you want to call it on author Susan Dennard‘s website. She has a section with advice specifically for writers, and I’ve found it all very helpful. I enjoy working very methodically and having steps to cross off a list, so her approach to revision is exactly what I need. It looks time-consuming, but thorough. And I usually enjoy revising much more than I do writing the original draft (it’s easier to work from something that already exists), so I’m excited to give her method a try! I won’t be touching my MS for at least a month, however.

Ultimately, this was a great experience. I’m happy I did it, happy I finished, and happy I enjoyed the process. It helped me to write every day and stick with a project through to the end. I encourage anyone who is considering doing NaNo, or is a writer of any sort, to participate next year. Just do it. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and your writing, and writing in general!

NaNoWriMo 2013: Week 2

They aren’t joking when they talk about the week two slumps. I couldn’t even post this blog entry on time last Friday. In my defense, I was busy ravaging the Penguin warehouse sale and watching hours of Sister Wives, so I didn’t really have time for silly matters like blogs. I was hit hard with lazy disinterest last week and started off barely writing at all. But that gave me a challenge to work harder and catch up to where I was. Ultimately, that pushed me farther ahead in my word count than I ever would have expected!

Just living the Principle!

Just living the Principle!

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