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August 22, 2014 / Angela Sylvia

Graphic Novels: This One Summer, Say I Love You, and Seeing Red

I’ve been slack in my comic reading lately, which is weird for me. So, between the library and a couple of comic store trips, I’ve been trying to remedy that. Here are my thoughts on a few of the books I’ve been reading lately: This One Summer, Say I Love You, and Seeing Red.

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, art by Jillian Tamaki

Rose and her family are traveling to the lake this summer, like they do every year, and she’s excited to see her friend Windy, another girl a couple years younger than her. But this year things are different: her mother is depressed after failing to have another baby, her parents won’t stop fighting, and a local scandal involving a teenage girl wends it’s way through Rose’s life. All through that, she’s starting the horrible transition out of childhood.

Emotions run strong in This One Summer; Rose is bitter that her mother is so upset about not having another baby, as if she’s not enough, and this causes her to blame her mother, and all women, for the messes they get themselves and others into. As an objective adult I can see how bratty and selfish Rose is being, but I also understand that while it may be skewed this is the only way she can see to make sense of the problems around her. Her friendship with Windy get’s rocky, too, as Rose seems to force her way through growing up — taking out the scary movies to impress the boys at the general store — while Windy feels uncomfortable around the teenage boys and wants to keep making goofy jokes, even as it starts to annoy Rose. With constant tension between Rose and everyone else, and the intrigue of the local story, it’s a fast read even for a graphic novel, but Jillian’s illustrations made me pause again and again with the detail in things like the water or the trash at the teenagers’ firepit, or how she gets across whole scenes with their varying emotions often without the help of dialogue. A subtle, resonant character story that’s really everything I want out of comic. (This was a library book, but I may buy a copy for myself.)

Say I Love You Volumes 1 and 2 by Kanae Hazuki

Mei is a friendless loner, but then the handsome popular boy Yamato starts paying attention to her and things change. She gains friends, even rivals, and she starts to come out of her shell as she realizes that sometimes she can trust people and ask for help.

I’d heard great things about the anime, and also the story sounds so similar to Kimi ni Todoke, that I felt I had to check it out. The relationship certainly progresses much more quickly, as they kiss by the first chapter (it takes SO LONG for that to even start to happen in KnT). Mei’s quiet but still kind of standoffish attitude of course makes everyone hate her for being with the popular boy, and it doesn’t take long for a rival, in the form of the only girl Yamato slept with, to show up. I like the characters, and Mei’s ability to get people to understand how to interact with people (based on her experiences of everyone interacting badly with her) makes for a story that reaches beyond her own problems. But, I couldn’t get as invested as I would have hoped, partly because the story moves a little too fast. Also, Yamato, while generally sweet, is a little more forceful with Mei than I’m really comfortable with. I don’t think I’ll be compelled enough to keep up with this series.

Adventure Time: Seeing Red by Kate Leth, art by Zachary Sterling

Marceline forgot her bass at her dad’s house, so she goes back to the Nightosphere with Jake to endure a family reunion and get it back.

So, I love Adventure Time. And I love Marceline. Plus I already own the other books in this series featuring various lady characters, so I had to get this volume. Focusing on one of the bigger problems in Marcy’s life — her dad — she gets back home to find that her bass is gone, and that her dad actually stole it and sold it, sending her and Jake on a trail to get it back. Being in black in white, it’s missing all the bright candy-coated colors from the show, but the scenes are still detailed and full of varied character designs, including awesome frequent costume changes by Marceline. I like Sterling’s panel layouts, too, which are big enough to allow for the aforementioned detail and slow down the story enough to keep it from being too frenetic. The story gets a little cheeseball at the end (though that’s fine with me), with a touching scene between Marceline and her father showing that he may not understand his daughter’s motivations, but he still wants to try to make her happy. I also love the bonus story, in 4-koma style, of Lumpy Space Princess going on a quest for the hottest purse. Nice tough.

 

These are some of the comics I’ve been reading lately. Have you read any of these? What did you think? What other comics are you into right now?

August 19, 2014 / Angela Sylvia

Creating in a Mess

The other day, a few Facebook friends posted the same article that brought up the connection between “messiness” and having a creative mind. Basically, people who tend to create cluttered environments for themselves also tend to think more creatively since you have to go a little outside the box to keep making everything work. I was pleased to hear this, and also — vindicated.

I’m not a neat person. I put effort into being so: I’ll try to put my books on the shelves, remind myself to put away the spices when I’m done cooking, maybe actually use my jewelry box every once in a while. But in the end, clearing off the kitchen table is an insurmountable chore, and I swear sometimes that putting my clean laundry in the drawers causes me a small level of physical pain. Just look at the photo of my desk for proof:

There’s room in my line of writing books, but I choose instead to leave others stacked on top. Random papers poking out everywhere. A box of paper clips containing one paper clip. A haphazard pile of books stacked on top of my husband’s old laptop, which neither of us has used in, I think, years. Not shone is that day’s coffee cup alongside the half-drunk tea from the day before, and the magazines, books, and an open box of envelopes shoved in the alcove under the printer.

Obviously as a kid my room was a pit. My sister shared the blame for that, but my brother’s room wasn’t much better. So, constantly, we were asked, ordered, implored to clean up the mess, to not stop until the rooms were “immaculate”, a word so oft-repeated, and so impossible to attain, that it’s now the only word in the English language I actively hate.

It was nice to see, with this article, that the mess isn’t necessarily my fault — my brain actually does not function that way — and that it may have helped fuel my creativity. Take that!

There needs to be a balance, obviously; even the article mentions that. There have been times I’ve let things get so out-of-control messy that I can’t think of anything else. And I can’t expect friends to sit alongside unfolded shirts and eat around last week’s mail. But maybe if I can figure out what the method to my mess is, I can stay comfortable in the kind of person I am without getting in my own way.

What about you — are you messy, or a neat freak? Does that ever get in the way of your ability to create? Do you wish you could be neater?

August 13, 2014 / Angela Sylvia

Recent Inspirations: Young Lady YouTubers

Ever since I figured out the YouTube app on our Playstation and my phone, I’ve been watching a lot of videos not just at my desk, but now on the couch while I eat lunch and even some of my breaks at work. So, my list of subscribed channels I watch has been steadily growing. While a lot of these channels are run by older men (I love you, John Green) I’ve stumbled upon a couple by younger (by which I mean, younger than me) ladies who I not only find interesting and funny, but inspiring as well.

JustMargaret

A twenty-something ex-English major who talks about books and other nerdy things, her videos remind me of myself just out of college with the weird wide open world before her, except she seems to have a much better (and healthier) grasp on herself than I did at the time. I’m not too far off from where she is, so occasional talks about the uncertainty of Life After College and how that’s normal and nothing to be ashamed of resonate quite loudly to me.

Nerdy and Quirky

This channel is run by a high school kid named Sabrina. She showcases a big personality I wish I’d had the guts to show in high school, displaying her unabashed nerdy weirdness. I haven’t skimmed as many of her videos as Margaret’s, but again there’s some fun focus on what she loves, and her reactions to the world around her. Also some videos that are simply fun, as above.

Books and Quills

I just started looking at her page, so I’ve only gone through a few videos. But I would regret not mentioning her here, since I know this page has already inspired a couple of planned posts. This is mainly a book reviewing blog by a young woman named Sanne, but she also talks about books in general, what she’s bought, as well as things outside of that scope. Right now, she’s reminded me of how much I want to go back to writing quick reviews of at least the graphic novels I’ve been reading, with her own graphic novel review videos.

I don’t vlog, but I blog, which is the same thing except I hide behind a mask of text rather than embarrass myself by trying to talk to people, and seeing how they handle the content on their pages has started to inspire what I want to try to do here. Firstly, to be a little more varied in the way that I talk about books with things like the list I showcased from JustMargaret’s channel (though I need to be better at writing reviews, in general). Also, to not 100% focus my posts on books and/or writing. Though that’s the alleged purpose of this thing here, I start to run out of unique or even mildly interesting things to say. Occasionally writing on other passions or interests (like YouTube videos) or things I take note of doesn’t stray so far from the simultaneously specific and overly vague point of this blog, and may even generate the kind of conversations I keep hoping will start here, but which rarely ever do.

Anyway — go to their channels, watch their videos. They’re very much worth it.

What’s been inspiring you lately? Do you have any YouTube channels you enjoy? Ever made your own video blog? Share below!

August 11, 2014 / Angela Sylvia

Unfinished Books: Preventing Disappointment

A little while ago, I gave myself permission to give up on books, to leave them unfinished if I felt I wasn’t enjoying myself. While I have a list of books I’ve given up before, I’ve always felt guilty about it — like it’s me, letting the book down. Which is silly, but, also, it’s my brain, so. But, telling myself not to feel guilty (or at least less guilty) has helped me cease reading when the book wasn’t doing it for me.

The past few months I’ve been having an extra problem with it. There are at least a dozen books I’ve cracked open and then put aside before even reaching the halfway point. While in retrospect I agree with my reasons for ditching those books — not in the mood, could only think of other books I wanted to start while slogging through this one — I still don’t really like doing it, since I’m wasting precious book time. So I’ve been thinking: How to keep this from happening entirely?

  • books by johnny_automatic - Line and Form by Walter Crane, 1914Test the waters. Not sure about a book? Crack it open, give it a quick read. Sometimes I read the first page or two before I take an unknown library book home to see if the opening sentences hook me. A friend (who obviously doesn’t care nearly as much about spoilers as I do) reads the last page to find out if she cares to learn how the characters got there. Maybe you want to flip to the middle and see how the writing carries through.
  • Check your mood. Yeah, you’ve been meaning to read that 1,200 page fantasy novel…but is that what you really want to read right now? Maybe you’re more in the mood for a funny essay, or an emotional but quick young adult novel. I try to make sure I have the right attitude for a book so I don’t prematurely cast it aside, or feel like I have to slog through. Which brings me to…
  • No “obligation” reads. Unless you’re in school, or it’s for a job, or you’re doing a writing friend a favor, there are very few books that you have to read. Never read Jane Austen? Don’t worry, the English Majors police won’t shoot you (they may give you funny looks, though). Can’t get amped up for that popular paranomral thing everyone you work with is talking about? No big deal, you can stand to be left out of the conversation sometimes, maybe (not really, but you’ll figure it out). Basically, you have too many books to read (I don’t know about you, but my Goodreads “To Read” list is over a hundred long, and I can’t think of anything to cut) so why waste precious reading hours on something that feels like a chore?
  • Careful about those impulses. I’ve done it. You grab a book with a pretty cover and an interesting title off the shelf, only never to open it, or to start and find out that the writing isn’t very good, or that the main character is irritating (this is while I drop a book more than anything — if I can’t stand the MC why should I follow him?) I’ve had lots of good impulses — I only read Amy Tan because I snatched The Joy Luck Club of a book sale cart at the last second — but there are too many other books that I’ve grabbed on a whim only to add another book to my unfinished list. If leaving a book half-finished bugs you that much, I suggest holding back and doing a little research before you lug those books home.

I’m hoping that if I check down the list I’ll keep myself from wasting time on books I don’t feel like, or that I don’t really want to read. But mistakes happen; you are misled. Even with your anticipation the book’s just not hitting any of the right chords. And then you have to figure out if, or likely when, to give it up.

August 8, 2014 / Angela Sylvia

Animated Distractions: Steven Universe

When Cartoon Network started showing commercials for a cartoon featuring three lady warriors last year, I was certainly intrigued. With unique character designs and an art style not really similar to anything else on television, I thought, This could be great! Then a pudgy kid talking about a cheeseburger backpack ruined it for me. Here we go–another cartoon with a stupid main male character overshadowing the others. I should have had no hope. But then, two things sat me down for the premiere. First was the showrunner, not only an ex-Adventure Time team member (who wrote the best songs* and storyboarded some of my favorite episodes), but also the first woman to create a Cartoon Network show, Rebecca Sugar. Number two? A single line Steven and his dad said in the longer preview: “If every pork chop were perfect…” “…we wouldn’t have hot dogs!”

Okay.

So I sat through the premiere episodes, “Gem Glow” and “Laser Light Cannon”, and all the things that piqued my interest before hand — female characters, goofy lines — were there in wonderful full force and the scenes were beautiful, the backgrounds with a light, pinkish hue.. Every second fixed my eyes more firmly on the screen. And then, the Cookie Cat Rap happened.

Yeah. This is my kind of show. Read more…

August 6, 2014 / Angela Sylvia

The Power of Routine; or, Why I Can’t Write on Vacation

Last week was our week long vacation down on Cape Cod, and as usual I had more plans for myself than I actually understood what to do with. I was going to do my new book research, read most of my critique partner’s novel, catch up on a bunch of books. Instead I went to the beach, walked the dog, and did an intense amount of napping.

Despite how strapped for time I sometimes feel with my normal schedule — near full time work, taking care of the house, making myself exercise — the regular happenings of my week actually help my writing projects, in that I know what time I have set aside to work on them. Generally mornings, before and maybe just after breakfast, and then until noon if I’m not going to my job until later that day. On vacation, despite all this open time, I manage to spend less on work, I think because I lack part of the urgency. I don’t get up as early, I don’t have a desk to sit at and get me in the right mindset. Also my husband, and often his family, is right there, waiting for me to spend time with them and state what I want to do that day.

photo credit: visualpanic via photopin cc

photo credit: visualpanic via photopin cc

So, on vacation, my regular routine won’t work. And that’s fine. There are plenty of times in my life where my routine has morphed to fit the lifestyle I’m living, like how I work in the morning now rather than night when the family slept like I did when I lived with my parents. The problem is, with a vacation, it’s a short term change that I have to get into right away and try to keep up, until I quickly ditch it again for the old one I’ve grown so accustomed to when I get home. I figured out how to make it work a little better by the end of the week, and while I still didn’t get as much done as I wished, I was able to complete something.

  • Figure out your new writing time. Is there an hour when everyone’s in the shower and you know you won’t be bothered? A period right after lunch when you would normally just rest? Can you go to bed a half hour later? It’s your vacation, but maybe waking yourself up before everyone else stumbles to the coffee is the only thing you can do. I did that a bit, forcing myself up at 7:00 with the dog, so I could do my research and make my notes.
  • Don’t give up that time. It’s a vacation, plans are fluid, you might feel you need to give up late night writing in favor of ice cream, or the morning for a big out-to-eat breakfast. Guard that time, though, or set aside something else specific. I’ve found that when writing time is a “when I get to it” kind of deal, it tends to not get done.
  • Separate yourself. Maybe you can write within a crowd. I can’t. Depending on what kind of project I’m working on, the more activity going on around me, the harder it is to focus on the story at hand. It doesn’t help that everyone suddenly shows interest in what you’re working on once you crack open a notebook in their presence. Hide in your bed, walk to the coffee shop. I’ve gotten work done while curling up in a chair opposite someone taking a nap — no one’s going to be too loud in that room.
  • Small goals, please. You’re probably not going to write as much as you would at home, despite your lofty intentions. Set little goals: I’ll write a page, I’ll annotate this chapter, I’ll edit 5 pages. Then you’re not stressing yourself out (you’re on vacation, man) and you’ll close the laptop with a little sense of accomplishment.
  • Relax. Writing on vacation is not the same thing as taking time off specifically to write. You won’t finish your great amazing novel now; this is just to keep your head in the game, keep your wordsmithing sharp. Worry about marathon sessions and intense edits when you get back to the dusty corner of your own house, not when you’re supposed to be choking on sea water and crisping your lily-white skin at the beach.

Do you try to keep up a writing routine when you go away, or do you treat it like any other job and leave it all behind? How do you keep up the quota on your vacation?

 

July 30, 2014 / Angela Sylvia

My Cape Cod Fox

A couple days ago my husband and I took our dog on a morning walk through a neighborhood on Cape Cod. Most of my attention was focused on keeping our sniffy dog from pausing in the road, so my husband’s hand signaling me to halt startled me. “Look,” he said. “Right there.”

I looked. Across the street stood a red fox, his fur a pale, shining burnt orange, right in someone’s yard, in the open. he knew we were there. And he stared straight back.

Not our guy — he seems to know right when you mean to record him — but a particularly similar stare.

I’ve been reading a few books (see, I can bring it back to books) specifically on crows and other corvids, but aside from those birds one thing the authors commonly bring up is the way wild life almost inevitably intersects with human life. On this short visit to the Cape I’ve seen it several times, with the rabbits calmly munching grass while a party goes on over a fence, the sea gulls weaving between beach chairs and umbrellas searching out potato chips, a trio of crows perching on a wire outside the window, their close calls cutting through TV noise. And a fox, standing in a yard, watching you.

I’m relatively certain I’ve seen him before on other trips to this spot, slinking between fences as we drove the car at night, somehow dog-like and cat-like all at once, and again from a yard down the street, watching me, assessing minutes before I noticed him there. (The dog, meanwhile–thankfully–oblivious, scratching through pine needles.)

Each time I see him I’m shocked — but why should I be? This was once a forest and parts of it still is. There are rabbits, squirrels, so many chattering songbirds, there’s plenty to attract him. But I”m always surprised to see he’s decided to stick around, and also that no one has decided to chase him away. Or worse.

When I see that fox, head low beside the trees, I’m awed. Just like I am whenever something wild appears in a time or place unexpected.

Do you ever see wild life in a place you think of as decidedly not wild? What do you think? What do you do?

 

 

July 24, 2014 / Angela Sylvia

Reading, Writing, Tea, and Dogs

I sit on the couch with my legs pull up. I hold the book on crows I’m reading for novel research, propping it against my knees. I’m sitting with the side table to my left, so I hold my tea in my right hand.

But, since this is for research, sometimes I must take notes, so I precariously wedge my mug between my thighs and my bit of stomach to scribble something on a Post-it.

…Yet my dog is next to me, also, and she wants attention. Too sleepy to jump on my lap, she sits, leaning against the couch, one paw raised like a member of royalty, silently commanding me with infinitely sad dark eyes to scratch her chest, or rub that bit of skin right next to her tail, or maybe scritch off that spot of eye gook stuck on her snout.

So I do all these things — write, read, drink, pet — somehow simultaneously, somehow without spilling my tea or dropping my book or irreversibly offending my dog. I’m glad I have this weird kind of multitasking under my belt, but boy, wouldn’t four hands be nice.

July 23, 2014 / Angela Sylvia

Earnin’ My Keep with My Critique Partner

The critique partner I mentioned in a recent post just sent me her manuscript the other day. This is something that I’ve read portions of before, but in other versions where her character had different beginnings, met a few different people, and was even narrated in a different perspective. As I said in that other post, I’m so happy the get this manuscript because I love her writing, I love this character, and I love that I have the chance to see her adventure from beginning to end. (Also, this puts me in a position to help twist and turn and fine tune the path of said adventure, which is thrilling.) On top of all of that, though — I’m relieved.

Since graduation, I’ve sent her my whole manuscript TWICE, plus a few short stories I cobbled together. She’s sent me a few short stories of her own, and asked for help in plotting out her rewrite, but, I feel, nothing near the volume I’ve asked her to critique for me.

click to return to the previous pageThe “partner” in the phrase isn’t something to take lightly. There should be a near-even amount of back and forth, of assistance and gain, going between the two. Lately I’ve felt as if I have taken an unfair amount of time on the receiving end, so while I’m always anxious to hear her opinion of a new idea of mine, there’s a little bit of guilt involved in knowing I’m not doing the same for her (who cares that she’s not currently asking for help and I am, my guilt certainly doesn’t care).

I like feeling like I’m earning my keep, that I can even out the trade off we’re doing with each other so we can both always feel like this relationship is beneficial and good. At least until I send her another manuscript in a couple of weeks.

 

Writers, do you have a critique partner? Do you ever feel like one or the other is taking up all the time, whether it’s true or simply in your head?

July 18, 2014 / Angela Sylvia

Defacing Books

Books are precious objects to me, and for all of my childhood and early adulthood the idea of taking a pen to that paper (aside from writing my name inside the cover in case a friend “forgot” to return The Sorcerer’s Stone) was foul, cruel, immoral.

I got over this some in college, circling favorite poems and writing notes in a novel’s margins so I wouldn’t forget what I wanted to say in class. I wasn’t tortured by some vengeful book god, and this act of defacing the page got me more involved in the reading, and possibly more involved in class.

Still, I never did that to my own books. A sense of wrongdoing, of messing up something pristine, acted like a near-physical wall.

image

Books on their way to being scribbled in messes.

Recently I’ve taken pencil, pen, and sometimes highlighter to my own books, ones not for any kind of class, but there are limits even now. I underline and star passages in a nonfiction book I’m using for research, I again circle poems, and I scribble, underline, and highlight the writing craft books that have the most effect on me, the ones growing soft as I continually flip to random or favorite pages.

But my novels, in general, remain clean. Especially ones I’ve held onto and kept safe for so many years, like my Harry Potter collection. I even tend to hold my pen back from beautiful phrases in library book sale copies, ones I’ll likely pass on.

And there it is — the passing on. My brain, always too future-oriented, can’t help but take in the books on my shelves and think of who might read them someday — friends, family, used bookstore patrons, hypothetical unborn children. Aside from some very beat up copies, usually bought for a college class, I came into these books fresh, with no notes or underlines to influence me on my first run through, and I want the same for whoever reads them next.

‘They won’t want my shaky underlines, my nonsense inane annotations,’ I think, rarely clarifying for myself who “they” are. It would ruin the experience! They may even cast the book aside because I dirtied it too much.

I know how assuming this is, how unlikely, especially for the volumes I cling to. Still, I can’t help but worry how my thoughtlessness with a pen might affect the next person to pull back the cover.

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