Preptober 2021: Supplies

The next step in my Preptober journey: pick up some inspirational writing supplies.

This could be a bullet journal, some of your favorite pens, sticky notes, stickers, a literal writer’s block, some amazing blueberry or coconut flavored coffee, etc. Just whatever will motivate and inspire you. For me, I have picked up a brown bullet journal:

Which includes using some of the stickers I had already lying around to try to inspire a steady writing habit:

My decoration has also included some more direct inspiration:

I will also, of course, be consuming coffee, and ransacking my children’s Halloween spoils.

What about you? What inspirational writing supplies are you planning to use for November?

Preptober 2021: Scheduling

Hi everyone! In my last post [tk], I discussed my plan to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, and to prepare during this month of October. I performed self-reflection and motivation, and the next step, I think, is developing the time and plan for writing.

There will always be reasons not to write right now, to write later, when there’s time… But I don’t think that there will ever actually be a magic time to write – at least, not for me. So I think that being thoughtful and making the time, and then making certain to actually stick to that schedule, is important. I also think it is the only way to make sure that the writing I have decided is important to me actually occurs.

After some careful thinking, I have decided that during the week, I will be writing during lunch. I have time blocked off in my calendar for an hour for lunch, Monday through Friday, and I will practice actually maintaining an hour for lunch during the work week in October.

On weekends, I think I will be writing in the late morning. On Saturdays, 11 – noon should generally work, since it coincides with one of my son’s extracurricular activities and the other son’s naptime. So I will try to use the same timeslot on Sundays, as well, for consistency. I generally do not need to work on the weekends, though, so realistically, if I can find/make more time on the weekends, I will be trying to take advantage to catch-up if I get behind on word count.

What about you – what writing schedule do you plan to implement in November? Do you have any tips or tricks to help keep that writing schedule, or to motivate yourself to really take advantage of the time you write? Please let me know in the comments below!

Preptober 2021

I have decided to do NaNoWriMo 2021. In preparation, I have created an October calendar, which I will be working through and which is available on Etsy, if you would like a copy. I think I will also try to post as I work to prepare for next month’s writing, as well, so you could also just read my blog to see what I’m doing to prep for next month.

First step: Self-reflection.

I think it is worthwhile to think about why you want to write, at all, and journal your thoughts now so you can remind yourself why you during the next month when things get tough. For me, I am doing this in the bullet journal that I purchased.

In addition to thinking about why I want to write and participate in NaNoWriMo, I also decided to put together a couple of pages with quotes about writing from writers to help motivate me.

I have placed both of these motivational items at the beginning of my bullet journal, before I have the calendar and weekly word count tracking pages, because I think it is worthwhile to remember why I write every time I pick up my bullet journal.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo and/or Preptober? Share a reason why you want to write or one of your favorite author/writer quotes in the comments below!

What Makes “Good” Art, Part II

Last post, I looked at a movie that had such a terrible ending, I was angry at myself for watching it when it was all said and done. Today, I will be analyzing a haunted house movie that I thought was, overall, extremely well done. Things Heard & Seen is the haunted house movie that I would recommend, and that I would consider “good” art, despite the things about the movie that I did not much appreciate.

So, what makes Things Heard & Seen “good” art?

Well…. for one thing, I have my own unique experiences and perspective, and I like it. Concepts of “good” and “bad” are entirely subjective, and while I think you’re wrong if you don’t agree with me, I am a technically biased person who thinks her taste in media is pretty damn good. I’m also unflinchingly honest, and will tell you if I personally like something but I don’t think it’s very good and don’t necessarily recommend.

So let’s get to our story – FYI, this post will be replete with spoilers, so if you have not seen the movie yet or are averse to discussion that includes spoilers for some reason, feel free to just “like” my blog post and go live your life.

One thing that Things Heard & Seen does really well is take a seemingly normal situation and make it absolutely horrific. There are some supernatural aspects that make the movie a true “Haunted House” movie (unlike the movie we talked about last week), but the actual horror in the movie is not because of the house. It is because of the evil that can exist within people, and that does exist within one specific character in the movie.

The movie opens with George Claire pulling into the garage to have blood drip onto his car. You know it’s a haunted house movie, so you wonder if ghosts are fucking with him, but don’t really know for certain. He walks into the house, and comes upon his daughter, who is standing and looking out of the window, bathed in ethereal light, which is creepy, because let’s face it – children are terrifying. The scene cuts to George fleeing the house, holding his daughter in his arms.

What a fucking clever beginning.

The beginning immediately pulls the viewer in, and brings up so many questions. What is going on? Is the house haunted? Is the daughter okay? It creates the lens that George is the hero of the story – a man living through the presumable terror of the haunted house, and protecting his daughter when things get out of hand… who doesn’t root for that?

A monster, that’s who.

No, of course not. As it turns out… George Claire is.

The way that the writers subtly bring out truths that slant the story in a completely different light is so well done. What at first seems to be simply a dysfunctional marriage that is likely either going to be resolved or end in a bitter divorce when the family experiences the haunted house turns out to be something else entirely.

After the intriguing beginning, the movie jumps back in time, and we meet the third member of the Claire family – wife and mother Catherine. The compliment on her thin figure, the fact that she barely eats any cake, and then throws it up, initially makes it seem as though Catherine has an eating disorder. We see her working a dream job for someone with an art degree – restoring some beautiful artwork in a church, and talking to her friend about how she needs to support George, who has given up so much for her, by moving out to the country (Saginaw, which I think in this movie is still supposed to be in NY and not the Saginaw I think of in MI). And as the viewer, you’re scared for her and her family, because they’re moving to a haunted house, and you’re thinking, “Man, if you weren’t moving to a terrifying haunted house, this would be the right move for you, because you’re obviously stressed or something and getting away from this negative influence will be good.”

As it turns out, as the viewer, you are so, so wrong.

#sowrong

In a phone conversation midway through the movie, Catherine’s mother mentions that she is “so lucky” that George “did the right thing by her…” It has already been established by this point that Catherine was raised Catholic, so… we know what that means. But it gets worse. George takes one of his classes on a field trip to a museum (he’s teaching art), and one of his previous professors starts asking questions, like “Why are they calling you professor?” and “I was surprised you got this position, given that I refused to write you a letter of recommendation” and something along the lines of “you were blacklisted for inappropriate behavior with a student…”

Suddenly, the fact that Catherine avoids taking food or drink from her husband, when at all possible, takes on a completely different light. It helps that this movie takes place in the past – people would like to think that the ’80s is modern enough that domestic violence and date rape were looked down on… but actually, while people didn’t necessarily advocate for either of these things, most people just ignored it or looked the other way. Cops back then just stayed out of it, even if they were called, because it was a matter for the family to resolve. So a woman being drugged by the man she was dating, ending up pregnant, and marrying the asshole because her strict Catholic upbringing says that is what she is supposed to do if he is willing to “do the right thing” is a lot more terrifying because it is a lot more believable. I’m not saying this situation couldn’t occur today – but an open-minded woman like Catherine is going to have a lot more resources in 2021 as opposed to the 1980s, where a “he-said/she-said” is probably going to favor the “he,” unless this is an episode of 21 Jumpstreet where Harry was erroneously accused of knocking the girl up because she thought he was just some guy her age who had moved out of town and couldn’t be found.

Most girls weren’t lucky enough to have an officer Judy Hoffs to help.

There are all of these tiny details sprinkled throughout the movie that add to the horror that is George Claire, and you really feel for Catherine, particularly when she discovers that the one thing she loved about her husband – his skill as a painter, which included these amazing paintings he has hung up in his office – is actually his gay cousin, who coincidentally committed suicide, because being gay is not always easy and it was even more difficult in the ’80s. So not only is her husband a rapist monster who has taken her away from her friends and family to a secluded community where she’s expected to perform only the womanly duties of cleaning and caring for their daughter; the way he caught any of her attention in the first place was the result of lies and purloined paintings.

His natural inclination to do whatever it takes to get what he wants is strengthened by the malevolent male spirits of other assholes who have lived in the house previously and whose wives “mysteriously died.” There are female spirits of the woman who were murdered, as well, and the inevitable result of living in the house comes to fruition in a brutal scene where Catherine is, again, drugged by her husband, begs the spirits to help her, and they explain to her that she cannot fight her fate, but they will supposedly get justice in the end…

This bullshit didn’t work so well for me – like, what about the women who have already been murdered in the house? The entire town knows they were probably murdered, but no one can prove it, and it seems their terrible husbands just continued to live until their terrible lives came to a fairly normal end. But for some reason, we’re supposed to think George will be caught, because he ran Catherine’s friend and his co-worker off of the road and the dead women of the house awake this friend/co-worker from a coma.

How is that “justice?” Is George going to pay by going to prison? Is that really balancing the scales of justice when he brutally murdered his wife with a fucking ax? Ooh… he doesn’t get to spend time corrupting his daughter with his terrible influence, he gets a roof over his head, and three meals a day, and fucking recess…. Yeah, he’s really going to “learn his lesson.”

Not to mention, the friend/co-worker didn’t really see much, so it is difficult to believe that her testimony is going to put anyone away in prison.

So what’s probably really going to happen is she’s going to be like, “I told George I was keeping an eye on him, and knew he was having an affair, and then I got run off the road. I’m pretty sure it was George.”

And the cops will say, “Oh, did you see George?”

And she will say, “No. But it has to be him.”

And the cops will say, “Oh… could you at least tell it was his car?”

And she will say, “Well… no…. I just saw headlights. But it was, for real, definitely him.”

And the cops will say, “How do you know it was, for real, definitely him? Keep in mind – you have a vagina, and the words you say only hold 32% of the weight of a person with a penis. And that’s high, because you teach in a college, you get a higher % because we kind of think you have some dude-like qualities.”

And she cries, because she’s terrified, and says, “I just do! Are you telling me he’s just going to get away with it after he tried to kill me?”

And the cops will say to her husband, “Ugh, can you take care of this? You’re wife’s getting hysterical!”

See?! Even Lady Justice is skeptical…

So, there was some bullshit in this movie, for sure. But overall, this movie is terrifying, not so much because the house is haunted, but because people can be monsters who trap innocent people in their web of lies and torture and terrify them before eventually ending them. I’m still spooked.

What Makes “Good” Art?

For some reason, I have been watching haunted house movies recently. Specifically, I watched Aftermath and Things Seen and Heard. Aftermath has so many good elements… But it’s about 30 minutes too long, and the ending is so terrible, they should just use this movie as an example in writing class of why you need an appropriate ending for your work. Things Heard and Seen was great – the spirituality stuff and attempt to provide resolution didn’t really work for me, but the unfolding of the full horror of what Seyfried’s character Catherine goes through is so well done. So today I am going to analyze what made one of these movies so terrible I was angry when I was done watching it. Next week, I will analyze what made one movie so great, I was able to ignore the stuff I didn’t like. Because both movies had positive and negative features – so why do I only consider one of them to be a good work of art?

Aftermath is almost good. A young couple is struggling in their marriage, and as a last resort, decide to start over in a new house when they happen upon a good deal (which the husband has discovered through his work, and because something absolutely terrible occurred in the house). There is a loss of trust between the husband and the wife – she has been unfaithful at some point in the past, and he is not sure if he can trust any longer. But she’s Ashley Greene, and even though she probably doesn’t possess her Twilight character’s psychic powers, she is hella pretty, so… you know, he’s trying to figure out if he can keep that ass on tap, so to speak. (Also, they love each other and all that mushy stuff. #cooties)

So they buy a house — because nothing helps a couple bond like entering into an investment they probably can’t afford even though it is a really good deal — and immediately, shit starts happening.

The primary witness to the weird shit is Ashley Greene, a fashion designer who works from home while her husband is out cleaning up murder scenes during the day and taking night classes at the local college. So a good part of this movie hinges on the concept of whether or not the house is actually haunted or Ashley Greene is going crazy, as well as, if she’s not crazy, will her husband eventually believe her, given that they already have trust issues and there is no evidence to support her possible hallucinations.

For those who are not aware, the inspiration for this movie comes from a real terrorization of a couple who purchased a home in San Diego. If you are aware of this real-life story, a lot of the things happening to the couple will seem familiar – though that doesn’t mean that the movie won’t make the source of the crazy shit different. I would say the first 90 minutes of the movie are solid. There’s drama from the couple’s marital tensions, there’s drama and terror from what is happening in the house, and there’s the question of, since I assume something is actually happening because this is a horror movie, is it supernatural or is it man-made?

I was really enjoying this movie, with it’s good actors and solid build-up. And then the last 28 – 30 minutes happened, and I. Got. Pissed.

[Seriously – I’m going to delve into specifics of Aftermath that could adversely impact your viewing if you decide to watch this shitshow, because you will know where it is headed. Read at your peril! #duhduhduhn]

*SPOILERS BEGINNING* So – it turns out that the couple was suffering from more than one tormentor. One was doing more mundane torture, like ordering magazine subscriptions the couple didn’t want and trying to get the wife raped and shit. The other was pulling a creepier-than-Edward-Cullen that included lurking over Ashley Greene to watch her sleep. The first was just some dude with debt who was relying on his wife taking longer to sell the house and allowing him to get out of the hole he had dug himself into with it. The second – a dude named Otto, who is only semi-explained, is completely unnecessary, and is illogical as well as slightly insulting to the viewer.

To explain this shitshow of an ending further, I guess I’ll have to delve into some of the backstory. Because while no one *loves* exposition, it is absolutely necessary to how they decided to end this story, despite the fact that the way they did it doesn’t really make sense.

The house was built by the couple who die at the beginning of the movie. Jay, the husband, built the house based on his wife Erin’s design. Jay and Erin also suffered from infidelity issues – basically, Jay didn’t know how to keep it in his pants, which pissed off Erin, so she ran off and slept with someone else to “get back at him.” This is all explained to Ashley Greene by Jay’s heartbroken sister, the lovely lady who sold them the house, who ends her tale with: “That bitch was up to something.” According to sister, there was something different about Erin’s affair, but she wasn’t sure what it was.

It turns out that what was different about Erin’s affair was that she decided to build a secret room in the bowels of their house where her lover, Otto, would live under her husband’s nose. Which is weird, because, like – if you’re that pissed off, can’t you just get a divorce like a normal person, and not turn this into a weird scenario that makes people question your viability as an actual adult? How did this woman successfully interact with the world?

Especially when you meet Otto – a painfully thin man with skin paler than brand-new white bedsheets and nails that are sharp as claws who towers over other people. If you were going to cheat on your husband, shouldn’t you be going after some young guy with a six-pack? Otto is a very unusual man, who ends up kidnapping Ashley Greene and chaining her to his bed (which supposedly Erin was doing to him, I guess?). He seems to have extremely limited verbal skills – like, worse than my children’s speaking ability at 1-year-old. He is freakishly tall, and also crazy strong. I just don’t understand where the attraction there is – he’s not super hot, you can’t have a conversation with him, and he’s potentially mentally ill if that wasn’t the result of this chick Erin chaining him to a fucking bed to keep him hidden in the walls of her house so she could have sneaky sex with him while her husband is gone?

It’s also really unclear – why did Erin chain him to a bed? The premise seems to be that she needed to do that to keep him in the house, in which case, you have to ask yourself, what part of this affair is consensual? Then again, from the creepy picture collage Otto managed to put together, it also seems he was obsessed with Erin, making it seem he would have stayed in the house without being chained. This idea is corroborated by the fact that he continues to stay in the house after he has killed the married couple there previously (because Erin “chose her husband” over him), presumably pining after his lady love until he found a new pretty lady to obsess over.

So Erin definitely had an inappropriate reaction to not liking her husband sleeping with other people, which ranged somewhere between taking advantage of a mentally ill person to kidnapping and raping that person, who happened to get Stockholm syndrome.

#totesnorm

This line of thinking is dumb and convoluted. It makes me think extremely poorly of Erin, whom I would normally presume we are supposed to feel sympathy for since she is brutally killed at the beginning of the movie, but… given this backstory the writers give us, honestly, I have no idea what they’re going for here. It’s hard for me to feel sorry for Erin, who has done horrible things. Basically, Otto defended himself against someone who was torturing him in one way or another. Do you feel sorry for John Wayne Bobbitt? Only if you’re a monster or don’t know the whole story.

Then, there’s the question of what the fuck is going on with Otto? It seems that he’s supposed to be a real person, given that Ashley Greene and her husband kill him in self-defense at the end of the movie. And like, yeah, they had to stop him – he was going to kill them. But also – I still kind of feel bad for him. It’s not his fault that he has limited speaking ability, or that he’s super tall and super thin. He also probably didn’t ask to be tortured by Erin, who seems to have been taking advantage of someone who is mentally ill in a best-case scenario. What is the point of Otto? It feels… insensitive, like the movie goes about systematically destroying a mentally ill person. Maybe all Otto needs are some drugs or some positive attention (because I’m not going to call whatever Erin was doing positive attention). Or maybe he needs to be institutionalized, because he doesn’t get the way the world works. I don’t know. I do know that I don’t think he deserved to get kidnapped, raped, psychologically tormented, and then stabbed with scissors.

My final point, and the reason I think so poorly about this ridiculousness that the writers hurled at us is that it is completely unnecessary. The average running time for a movie is approximately 90 minutes. If you had ended the movie with the husband and wife discovering that something was, indeed, happening, and it was due to the all-too-real broke-dude, that would have been a good movie. Then, you just need to give us some closure about this marriage, even if it’s Ashley Greene going: “Dude, you didn’t trust me, and I don’t think this is going to work. I need to find myself a fresh dick that won’t leave me alone in a house to be tormented and nearly raped.” Just closure – I’m not necessarily asking for an HEA here. You could end the movie like that, and have a complete movie with a solid ending. But no, instead we get this sordid soap opera which basically seems to involve mocking a mentally ill person. *SPOILERS ENDING*

In other words, Aftermath doesn’t add up.

Writing Prompt: Daisies & Dandelions

Once upon a time, in a small cottage deep in the woods, the wife of a woodcutter gave birth to fraternal twin girls. She named them Myrtle and Agatha, and tried to raise them like respectable English ladies, as she herself had been raised. But only Agatha listened. Agatha stayed indoors, wore delicate dresses, tended to the house, and drank tea in the afternoon with her mother every day. The boys in the village all fell in love with her pale skin, sweet smile, and amiable temperament. Tom Willingden, with his blond hair and dashing smile, called her “the Daisy,” because she reminded him of his favorite flower and because he was Tom Willingden, the name stuck. George Hampden lurked outside her bedroom window in the evening, when his parents thought he was out doing normal things with his friends, and watched with great interest as she put on the least sensual pajamas known to man.

George did many things of which his parents were unaware. His neighbors didn’t realize that he was the reason they were unlucky with pets. Slicing through the hide of a squirrel was no longer providing that feeling of release and warmth in his groin and stomach, though. He needed… Daisy.

George thought the largest obstacle to his obsession was Tom; actually, it was Myrtle. Tom had given Myrtle a nickname, too… “Dandelion,” since she was “always where she wasn’t wanted, could be pretty if she tried, and seemed indestructible.” Because four syllables is a lot for a nickname, the kids shortened it to “Lion.” Lion was almost never indoors, insisted on wearing pants, and liked to pick fights with the boys so she could get some of her aggression out through her fists. Lion was always angry; her mother claimed she had even screamed more loudly than her sister when directly out of the womb.

Daisy pleased everyone; Lion pleased no one. Daisy brushed her long raven locks so that they gleamed; Lion impulsively grabbed a pair of scissors and cropped her hair as close to her scalp as she could get at the beginning of summer. Her peers joked that she had cut herself a mane, since her blonde locks reacted to the humidity, framing her head with a crown of frizz. Lion prowled through the woods, moving soundlessly through tall grasses and twig-strewn woodland floor, and she saw George looking at her sister. Lion knew a fellow predator when she saw one, and Lion refused to allow Daisy to become his prey.

She went foraging in the forest when the first few rays of sunlight peeked over the Eastern horizon, and brought her sister gossamer webs from Lady Spider. “I thought you could sew these into curtains for your windows,” she told Daisy, who agreed that they were absolutely lovely and had completed the task of sewing and hanging the gauzy confections before supper.

As Daisy was preparing for bed that evening, a howl rent through the air that frightened her and sent her father outside to discern its source. The woodcutter found George struggling to balance on one foot, grasping his left foot in his hands, expletives falling from his mouth as freely as water gushes over the edge of a waterfall. Proffering his right arm and shoulder, the woodcutter helped George hobble into his house, where Daisy, Lion, and their mother waited. He was helped into a sturdy and comfortable chair, and it was discovered that his foot had been pierced clean through with a sharp wooden stick.

“Bummer,” Lion pretended to commiserate.

“Lion…” her father said in a tone that made it clear he thought she had something to do with the current situation.

“Yes, father?” she asked, mock innocence personified.

“Why is there a plethora of sharpened sticks outside of your sister’s window?”

“I don’t know, father,” Lion answered. “What was George doing outside of mine sister’s window?”

The woodcutter blinked rapidly as he reluctantly realized that his wild and often aggravating daughter had a point.

“Yes, George, what were you doing outside of Daisy’s window?” their mother asked, bringing in clean water and rags for the wound.

After many moments of awkward silence, George said: “Whaaaaaat?! Was that Daisy’s window I was outside of…? I… had no idea! Oh, geez, look at the time.” And he stood up and limped out of the room as quickly as he was able, which was not very quickly at all.

Daisy innocently told Tom about the event the following day, as they drank tea, mostly to prevent him from telling her yet again how beautiful he found her. “Of course, he had no idea he was right outside my window!” she finished. “But where he thought he was, and what he was doing outside there is a perplexing puzzle all its’ own!”

Tom feigned amusement at Daisy’s story, inwardly seething since he was aware that all of the boys in the village knew which window was Daisy’s. Shortly after the episode had occurred, George mysteriously lost a few digits, with rumors whispered that not all of them were on his hands… People were awed that Tom had gone so far to defend his lady love, though Tom was as mystified as anyone else about how it had occurred, since he and his pals had only roughed up George and given him some bruises. And George never told anyone how it had occurred, either, though he flinched every time he was around a cat… or a fascimile of one.

Written in response to ~M’s June Writing Prompts (yes, I’m late, but I moved across the country, so I feel okay about this…).

I’d be “Lion” if I Said this is a Good Book

I recently snagged a copy of Tippi: A Memoir at Barnes & Noble. I was curious, because of the whole Hitchcock thing and the fact that she’s Melanie Griffith’s mom. The back cover has what is presumably a publicity shot from The Birds that also plays a pivotal moment in the film, along with a titillating quote that makes you think you may be getting something along the lines of a real-life Evelyn Hugo.

But Hedren is no Taylor Jenkins-Reid.

This book is not well-written. Hedren’s memoir focuses the majority of its’ time and energy on the large cats that she devoted much of her life to, glossing over the glamorous, refusing to notice the inconsistencies, and proving without a doubt that Tippi Hedren is one of the craziest bitches you will ever (probably not actually) meet. In a way, the craziness of her book, which seems as poorly edited as Twilight, is kind of fascinating. As is the fact that her book manages to be boring while being filled with one of the most interesting lives I have ever encountered. I present this book as exhibit 1 in my argument that interesting/unique plot alone is not sufficient.

Tippi Hedren has lived a live of immense privilege. Although she writes repeatedly about how self-sufficient she is, and always has been, she was scouted to be a model at, like, 13 years old or something, a career she continued when she left her parents with the intent to support herself. In other words, people paid her enough to live off of for the privilege of looking at her at the beginning of her adult life. Modeling has its’ own unique challenges, I am sure, although the closest I have come to exposure to it is America’s Next Top Model, which is probably not very accurate. But the fact remains that most people are not given enough money to travel the world, and live off of savings in a huge rental in Beverly Hills for several months at their first job. And at 13, Tippi was scouted because her genetics made other people go: “Damn! That girl’s pretty. I want to, like, take care of her and stare at her forever.”

Then, Tippi got older, and men suck, so she entered into a relationship with her first husband Peter Griffith, which she doesn’t talk about much except to say they were way too young to be married and she cannot regret it because her daughter Melanie came out of it. Tippi describes Melanie repeatedly as the “love of her life,” which would probably mean more if the sentences that flow forth from her pen describing her husbands and ex-fiance weren’t quite so bitter. When Tippi is 13, she’s getting offered money by random people she’s never met because she’s so beautiful they want to help her start a career. When Melanie Griffith is 13, her mother’s beginning to become obsessed with lions and letting one live in their house, and asking her what she [i.e., Melanie] did wrong when the lion bites her leg in the middle of the night.

Tippi Hedren can take care of herself, thank you very much, which is why she glances over all the Hitchcock stuff that is probably why, like, 70% or more people buy the book, except to say that she was lucky he and his wife taught her how to become an actress, but yeah, being the object of Hitch’s obsession was super creepy, and also, everyone else saw it and no one did anything about it. One scene that sticks out is one where the very un-self aware Hedren talks about waiting at an elevator when Alma Hitchcock walks up and says she is so sorry Tippi has to go through the craziness that is her husband. Tippi responds that Alma could “stop it. You’re the only one who could.” First of all, Tippi is assuming that the man who is treating her horribly is not also a monster to his wife behind closed doors. Second, Tippi is assuming that Alma can stop a grown man from doing whatever the hell he wants to do when public propriety wasn’t doing shit. Third, if this instance is not Tippi expecting someone else to jump in and save her, I don’t know what is. (To be clear, I am 100% not blaming Tippi for the shit that director put her through. Hitchcock was obviously a creep who was obsessed and thought, like too many men do, that because he was obsessed and willing to do things to prove his obsession, the object of his desires was required to love him. In reality, he didn’t love her, though he probably thought he did. I can also understand why Tippi felt that she had to stay under Hitch’s thumb; she was under contract, she was living in L.A., shit is expensive, and this job was the only way she was aware of that would allow her to pay the bills. I just don’t think it’s fair to assume that Alma was in a position to stop her husband, a husband known for being a master manipulator of cinema, during a time period when women were at a decided disadvantage.)

Also, when the shoe is on the other foot, when Tippi finds out that a man she is working with on a movie is having an intimate relationship with her 15-year-old daughter, she doesn’t feel like she can put her foot down because she’s worried her 15-year-old daughter might never speak to her again. In other words, Tippi doesn’t feel empowered enough to parent her teenage daughter who is in an illegal relationship with an adult creep committing statutory rape, but Alma Hitchcock was supposed to stop a much more powerful adult creep from being a creep. Based on what I know of the Hitchcock stalking, I think Alma and Tippi are both lucky the bastard didn’t kill them and bury their bodies out in the desert.

To recap, Tippi glances past the relevant gross and unacceptable behavior of a famous male director that was widely accepted, barely acknowledges her privilege, and gives enough information about her lack of parenting to make anyone with a heart feel for poor Melanie Griffith. So what does she spend most of her 267 pages on? Lions. Bitch is crazy about the huge, deadly things.

While on set for a movie in Africa, Tippi and the dude she married to try to escape from Hitch or something go on a safari and see a house filled with lions. The majesty and beauty overwhelms them, and since they’re both from Hollywood, they immediately decide they must make a movie about it. They begin doing their due diligence, and all of the trainers they talk to about their idea is like, “Nah. That’s a really bad idea. You should not do that.” But they decide to do it anyway. They begin interacting with lions, asking a trainer to bring an adult lion over to the house so they can get used to it, allowing the huge, deadly beast around their 3 children, because #parenting. They begin to acquire cubs, lions, then some tigers, then more lions, an elephant, kind of anything that is wild that needs a home. Because not only do they want to make a movie, they want to make a movie with at least 40 lions, guys. This ill-advised and deadly part of the dream is very important.

Tippi goes into excruciating detail about the journey they go on with these lions, guys, but long story short, the producers don’t want to fund it, the trainers who work with lions think it’s a bad idea, and the family and cast members once they start shooting the damn thing have to go to the hospital so routinely due to injuries that they pretty much have a doctor on call.

Amusing for all the wrong reasons, I would only recommend Tippi’s memoir if you really, really, really, really, really, really, really like lions.

Books within Books: Novels Featuring Writers

Many writing teachers tell their students to “write what you know.” And what do writers know better than… writers? I love a good story about a writer, and so jumped at the chance to read ARCs of Joani Elliott’s The Audacity of Sara Grayson and Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Plot.

The Audacity of Sara Grayson

Synopsis:

What happens when your mother’s dying wish becomes your worst nightmare?

What happens when the world’s greatest literary icon dies before she finishes the final book in her best-selling series?

And what happens when she leaves that book in the hands of her unstable, neurotic daughter, who swears she’s not a real writer?

Sara Grayson is a thirty-two-year-old greeting card writer about to land the toughest assignment of her life. Three weeks after the death of her mother—a world-famous suspense novelist—Sara learns that her mother’s dying wish is for her to write the final book in her bestselling series.

Sara has lived alone with her dog, Gatsby, ever since her husband walked out with their Pro Double Waffle Maker and her last shred of confidence. She can’t fathom writing a book for thirty million fans—not when last week’s big win was resetting the microwave clock.

But in a bold move that surprises even herself, Sara takes it on. Against an impossible deadline and a publisher intent on sabotaging her every move, Sara discovers that stepping into her mother’s shoes means stumbling on family secrets she was never meant to find—secrets that threaten her mother’s legacy and the very book she’s trying to create.

My thoughts:

Joani Elliott knows how to write! Well crafted novel with a realistic depiction of the art of writing — the insecurity and hopelessness and futility and accomplishment, cycling in an endless, introspective loop. If you think the story synopsis above sounds interesting, the book storyline should be right up your alley. Elliott’s writing is empathetic, and feels uplifting, in a real, truthful way. As someone who dabbles in writing, I found much of this book inspiring. I definitely recommend if you are a writer. You will love Phil, because he’s the best.

The book also has a couple of adorable and believable romances.

My only issue with this book (which, unfortunately, is a big one), is that we spend the majority of our time with Sara Grayson, and Sara Grayson is… kind of awful. Whiny, full of excuses. Literally everyone she knows is like, “Your writing is so good! You need to do this! Also, you’ve been unhappy. Trying this new thing may help you realize what you want and feel fulfilled.” And she doesn’t trust herself, she doesn’t trust those she loves, and she’s fucking annoying about it. It’s probably realistic, but it’s very difficult to spend so much time with her when she’s insufferable, and, like, not in a fun way.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 typewriters

The Plot

Synopsis:

Jacob Finch Bonner was once a promising young novelist with a respectably published first book. Today, he’s teaching in a third-rate MFA program and struggling to maintain what’s left of his self-respect; he hasn’t written–let alone published–anything decent in years. When Evan Parker, his most arrogant student, announces he doesn’t need Jake’s help because the plot of his book in progress is a sure thing, Jake is prepared to dismiss the boast as typical amateur narcissism. But then . . . he hears the plot.

Jake returns to the downward trajectory of his own career and braces himself for the supernova publication of Evan Parker’s first novel: but it never comes. When he discovers that his former student has died, presumably without ever completing his book, Jake does what any self-respecting writer would do with a story like that–a story that absolutely needs to be told.

In a few short years, all of Evan Parker’s predictions have come true, but Jake is the author enjoying the wave. He is wealthy, famous, praised and read all over the world. But at the height of his glorious new life, an e-mail arrives, the first salvo in a terrifying, anonymous campaign: You are a thief, it says.

As Jake struggles to understand his antagonist and hide the truth from his readers and his publishers, he begins to learn more about his late student, and what he discovers both amazes and terrifies him. Who was Evan Parker, and how did he get the idea for his “sure thing” of a novel? What is the real story behind the plot, and who stole it from whom?

My thoughts:

Thriller novels are difficult, in that they rely on either:

  • creating tension/suspense that causes the readers to avidly keep reading out of desperate need to find out what happens/get resolution;
  • have a twist that changes the lens by which the story has been viewed;
  • have writing so amazing, that even if the twist is predictable, the reader doesn’t care, because it’s so fun getting there.

I applaud Jean for the work that she put into this book. The concept is interesting, and writing a book is a lot of work.

However, I was able to see the “surprise twist” about 20% of the way through the book, the writing was fine, but nothing that particularly filled me with wonder, and given that I knew where everything was likely headed (and I was correct), lacked the tension/suspense I would generally want from a thriller.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 typewriters

Does the New Sisters of Salem Series Cast a Spell?

Wednesday Books was kind enough to send me a very nice package for the Cast authors (P.C. & Kristin) debut novel in the new “Sisters of Salem” series. This package was so pretty, and I know they say not to judge a book by its’ cover, but I mean, look at that book cover:

To say I was excited may be a slight understatement. This book has a big marketing push, is written by established authors, and it involves magic and twins, the former of which is intriguing and can be done very well in literature, the latter of which are interesting to me, particularly in terms of magic.

I really wanted to like this book — but for various reasons, I did not. However, I think that I come from a very specific viewpoint that I can see is biased in certain ways, so if the idea of twin sisters who come from a line of witches dating back to Salem sounds interesting and you are okay with a few spoilers, please read on to see if it could be a fit for you, as I will try to explain what I didn’t like and why I didn’t like it, the latter of which may very well not be applicable to you.

#hearmeout

Let me start by telling you about myself in high school. In tenth grade, I kind of began to have a thing for witches – fictional and historical. The idea of magic is captivating; even if you don’t think it’s real, it is fun to pretend. And the ways that people get out of control and start blaming people for using magic to cause all of their problems, even if it’s just a wet dream, is fascinating (and frightening, once you start seeing parallels occurring in the current world, and have to wonder how civilized we all actually are…). So I read numerous books on the Salem Witch Trials, including one that claimed maybe the first girls to exhibit symptoms in Salem actually had a very rare illness that was not known about at the time.

In addition, I am a person who believes that it is okay to write historical fiction, but important to remain true to the historical facts that are known or make it very clear that the author(s) has(ve) chosen to explore a hypothetical or changed things in order to make a certain point in his/her/their story, etc.

The Casts are inarguably exploring a hypothetical – what if there was a real witch charged in the Salem Witch Trials who escaped, and her magic continued to present-day generations? My issue is that this hypothetical specifically says – what if Sarah Good, one of the first women accused of being a witch, was actually a witch, and escaped with her daughter Dorcas, who was 4 at the time and also accused of being a witch, and fled to Illinois and started a town where their line continued to present-day.

But Sarah Good was one of the 19 people hanged for the crime of being a witch.

If this work is a sweeping historical re-write, I would like her actual tragic death acknowledged somewhere, so that impressionable youngsters with poor research skills or lack of curiosity don’t somehow get the idea that this woman managed to escape. (In a similar vein, I think Disney was recklessly irresponsible in making Pocahontas, a movie designed for impressionable youngsters who may not have ever attended a history class the impression that an actual 12-year-old girl who bravely stood up for a stranger who her father wanted to kill (and who can blame him – I mean, look at what white people did to America and the people who were already living there when they discovered it…) was a 17-year-old head-over-heels in love.)

Sarah Good was a woman who grew up in an affluent family and fell into desperate poverty throughout her life. Forced to live off of other people’s charity, she was bitter and unsociable, which made her an easy target when the town began looking for scapegoats to help explain why their lives sucked. She had to sit in a courtroom and hear numerous people, including her then 4-year-old daughter, spin lies about her before being thrown into prison, where she accrued debt to be treated terribly for a crime of which she wasn’t guilty. She had to witness her own young daughter condemned of the same crime and thrown into prison. She gave birth and witnessed her baby die, likely due to malnutrition and poor conditions in the prison. She was then hauled off in a cart like a piece of livestock, hauled up a ladder, and pushed off. Sarah suffered, and she may have bravely called out the people who were killing her on their bullshit before she was pushed. Her last selfish thoughts probably consisted of hoping that her neck broke, which would make her death quick, since if it didn’t, the people gathered to watch the crime would gleefully watch her slowly strangle. She didn’t live to see the end of the trials, including her daughter’s release from prison (after 8.5 months), nor to witness her daughter’s severe psychological damage from the entire experience.

I can see the temptation to write a better ending for Sarah and Dorothy. But I take issue with the fact that it is never stated, that I can identify, that this fictional novel is based on re-writing the ending of the Salem experience for Sarah and Dorothy (also called “Dorcas” because the jackass who wrote her name on the arrest warrant was bad at spelling), who actually had a much different experience.

On a related and very specific note, the book opens with Sarah listening to the sounds of her shitty male neighbors building a gallows and desperately doing what she can to try to get her daughter and herself the hell out of town. Yet, as I previously stated, Salem didn’t use a gallows. They put a ladder up against a very tall tree, forced the “witch” up the ladder, put the noose around their neck, and pushed them off. I guess the sounds of a dude putting a tall ladder together or rummaging through his storage shed to find it aren’t quite as tension-building, but again, I’m a stickler, so I read “gallows” and was immediately annoyed.

I didn’t like the way the characters were written. The twins on whom the series currently seems set to focus feel hollow, possibly due to the fact that this novel is the first in a series (I’ll get to this potential in a minute), possibly because the authors really wanted to quickly establish the characters so they could get to the plot. The problem is, for a book/series that feels like it should be pretty plot-heavy, we spend a lot of time with these characters and the internal thoughts of these characters, rather than the focus being on the things that happen to the characters. And Hunter and Mercy are fucking annoying. To be fair, not a deal-breaker for a teenage girl character. Some teenage girls are annoying (I was one of them). But the girls in this book are annoying, while at the same time not feeling real. The twins can pretty much be summed up in one phrase each:

  • Mercy = the shallow, popular one
  • Hunter = the moody, ambitious one

We are introduced to Hunter first. Hunter is the “ugly” twin, because, you know, she wears her hair in a ponytail. She is also pretentious as fuck. She desperately wants to be a writer, but doesn’t, you know, actually want to write (which I actually somewhat empathize with, because my own aspiring novel is currently languishing on the alphasmart with an abysmal word count… #notimportant). She needs you to know that she’s not like other girls/teenagers, even in her own thoughts. The fact that being a witch is inherent to her is brought across in such a confusing sentence, I underlined it (I’ll abstain from publishing herein, since my copy is not final, and the words may change). And she’s super judgy of the way her twin dances, which she compares to “a stripper.” (It’s ok, though, guys, because the third person narration agrees with Hunter’s assessment, as does Hunter’s best friend Jax, who is presumably in love with her twin since Hunter’s a lesbian. Slut-shaming is supes fun – let’s all do it!)

Mercy we sort of get to know later, but basically, she’s beautiful and she knows it. She’s dating a hot football player, she likes attention, she can’t handle… anything. Basically, anything goes wrong, and Mercy goes catatonic. She also has a pathological need to be correct (as evidenced by this super weird scene where she uses magic to basically project what her boyfriend thinks is a private conversation to everyone else in their high school so she can show her sister that she’s totally wrong, but, of course, it blows up in her face), and whenever possible, likes to blame her problems on her sister (it was so, so obvious her interpretation of an olde passage was likely incorrect).

So neither of these characters is likable. And they’re presumably going to change and grow throughout the series and blah, blah, blah, but at least for this book, I was kind of just like, I don’t really care about you…? They didn’t feel like real teenagers, and they were awful, so I personally felt no reason to root for them or care about their wellbeing.

And before y’all respond, “That was totally me in high school!” or “what the fuck, IG, have you even met a teenager before?” let me give an example of why they don’t feel like real characters. For teenagers with problems and potential narcissism complexes, these chicks responses to the idea of drugs and sex and, you know, fun stuff that teenagers with problems (aka, all teenagers) often get themselves into more problems with until they develop other interests, is like an after-school special. This interpretation could be me as an adult looking at teenage characters, but personally, I don’t see any reason why kids need to feel like they are a bad person if they are curious about what recreational drugs are like, and also no kid needs to feel guilty about liking the little death. Although I was traumatized as a 10-year-old reading SVH, where Regina dies because she does a bump of cocaine, smoking a joint really isn’t the end of the world (or doing a bump of cocaine). Just, like anything, don’t overdo it, or you can, like, ruin your nose and have trouble finding a job and shit. In a similar way, sexual activity in and of itself isn’t bad. Consent in all activity is very, very important. As long as both parties were consenting, there isn’t an illegal age difference, and both parties are being smart (condoms, guys, keeps you covered in more way than one), you have no reason to feel ashamed of anything you have done. And I guess after-school special teens aren’t necessarily non-existent, but it would have been nice to see some open-minded teen protagonists who aren’t jerks about anything non-traditional that they themselves aren’t personally experiencing (i.e., they’re witches, and one is a lesbian in a small town, and as such, it would be cool if they showed empathy towards other people who don’t fit into the mythical small-town box).

Then, there’s the weird description of their mother. The twins literally hold hands and stare at their mother and think about how hot she is, in one scene. I found myself thinking about the fact that this book was written by a mother/daughter duo as I read the scene, and finding the whole thing very unrelatable. Even if your mother is good-looking, I just find it weird that as a teenager, you think about how beautiful her ample, unrestrained bosom is, and the staring twin thing doesn’t translate to “Aw…” in my mind. More “Ah!!!” horror-feels.

To me, I think the ideas and characters in this series would maybe have worked better as a single, epic book. This book kind of felt like a Halloween-sized piece of Laffy Taffy that was being stretched and forced into an unnaturally larger size and then proffered as an alternative for dinner. The idea behind the debut novel in a series is to leave you hungry for more, but in this case, the candy had been stretched too thin, so that it was wasn’t tasty enough to leave me craving more Sisters of Salem, but instead, a meatier book with more substance. The plot itself was kind of interesting – alluding to five distinct sets of mythology – but also didn’t exactly make sense. Why did a monster only escape from one of the five gates, when all of them were losing strength? Presumably, we will encounter a different monster/mythology with each book in the series. But this book would have been stronger, and there would have been a greater sense of urgency, if there had been more enemy for the girls to conquer in this debut. I would have much rather had a larger book, jam-packed with plot, than the book we have, which is trying to hook the reader but didn’t quite work for me.

Oh, Hamlet…

In summation: does this novel cast a spell on all who read it? I mean, obviously, it didn’t on me. But if you are a series reader, if you don’t need to like the characters, and if you’re cool with historical inaccuracy and/or lack of transparency, it may cast one on you.

How to Host the Fucking Socks Off of a Book Club

I recently hosted a virtual book club, which went pretty well considering it was for a work event, we weren’t drinking or imbibing other tongue-loosening victuals, and it was the first such event we had done. Being part of a book club is a concept that has always intrigued me, but being a shy person who desperately doesn’t want to accidentally offend anyone, not an activity in which I had previously partaken. Now that I’ve done it, I would recommend, especially if it’s something you can do with friends in a casual setting. And since I’ve already done the research on how to host one, starting from scratch and being slightly type A, today I’m going to share how you can (& possibly should?) host a book club.

To foster discussion, it helps to have a book with material for discussion (you could also pick a book that really sucks to pick apart, if that suits you and other club member’s fancy). My starting point was genre (adult contemporary) translated books. A Google and Goodreads search later, I had 5 potential books that I personally thought sounded interested, and then those interested in joining the Book Club voted. We ended up reading Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (a very good novel that I highly recommend, whether for a Book Club or personal reading pleasure).

I feel like this one’s pretty obvious.

In general, I recommend over-preparing rather than vice versa. Also, people get busy, and so the chances that someone won’t actually be able to finish or someone might have forgotten some details doesn’t preclude them from attending and participating. I would not put a lot of time into this summary, and would present it with the disclaimer that everyone brings his/her/their own perspective to every reading, so it is biased. Here is the summary I put together for Convenience Store Woman:

Narrator/protagonist: Keiko Furukura

Summary:

  1. Keiko has always been different from those around her.
    1. Dead bird (food vs. funeral)
    2. Break-up fight… with a spade
  2. When Keiko started working at the convenience store, as a college student, it was a relief to her family and to herself.
    1. There was a very specific guide on what actions to perform in pretty much all instances, from the greeting to give a customer when they walk in the door to the farewell message to customers when they leave.
    2. The novella is set when Keiko is still working at the convenience store as a middle-aged woman, and the relief initially felt by those she knew when she began working part-time at the store has metamorphosed into concern that she is still working at a convenience store.
  3. As Keiko comes to realize that, in spite of her careful observations of and attempts to mimic the people around her, she still does not fit in, she begins to wonder how she should “fix” her life.
  4. She agrees to let former co-worker Shiraha, a man who took a job at the convenience store with the sole intent to find a wife, stay with her, when he is drunk and has nowhere to go. He convinces her that society will accept her if he is living with her in her apartment.
    1. It seems to work.
  5. As Keiko’s family, friends, and workplace acquaintances accept her now that they think she is “normal,” Keiko begins to question her life, and her own judgment.
  6. Shiraha insists that the next step, to continue being normal, is that Keiko quit her job at the convenience store and get a job that pays more money.
  7. Keiko and Shiraha have arrived too early to the building where Keiko has an interview, and Shiraha needs to pop into the convenience store to use the restroom. Keiko follows him, and through encountering the familiar environment once more, has a self-realization.

Having some discussion points ready is generally a good idea. You can often find some potential questions via Google search. You can also ask participants to come prepared with a question or favorite quote for discussion, but again – people get busy, so it might be easier to take a more low-key approach and have questions in your back pocket. Here is the discussion guide I came up with for my meeting:

  1. Opening line – “A convenience store is a world of sound.”
    1. A movie w/o a soundtrack is nothing. What do you think the sounds of the convenience store represent to Keiko?
    2. What is the soundtrack of your life?
  2. Convenience store – similarities & differences
    1. Greeting – same concept, different words, seems universal
    2. Unisex uniform
    3. Corporate culture
      1. The specific, everyday food for sale is different from American popcorn/nachos/pizza/hot dogs.
    4. Co-workers – mothers looking for part-time work, very young people, people with social disorders
      1. Co-worker who wants to be a singer
      2. Seem polite in a way Americans might not be
  3. What does Keiko’s status as an outsider, and her observations about the people she interacts with, tell us about Japanese culture?
    1. Bird story
  4. Work-life balance
    1. In Japan, it is not uncommon for someone to work the same job at the same company for his entire life
    2. However. Keiko, who has worked the job of convenience store worker at the same store for 18 years, is considered “weird/odd”
    3. Is it really that different to work on one part of the car, for example, for your entire life vs. running a convenience store for your entire life?
  5. Keiko doesn’t think that she is like other people – she makes references to people that indicate she almost feels like a different species (although she doesn’t like when others make it clear they think the same way
    1. However, although she wants to be accepted and to have friends, she doesn’t otherwise seem unhappy
    2. Why are her friends and family so uneasy about her ability to be comfortable leading a life that is different?
      1. She doesn’t mind the simple food – she is very rational, and cares about food only as fuel
      2. She doesn’t mind that she has an old apartment, there is no indication, overtly or implicitly via word choice, that she desires more
      3. She seems absolutely fine with the fact that there are cockroaches in her apartment
  6. What do you think of Shiraha’s role in Keiko’s life?
    1. In a rom-com, he would be the love interest they get into a wacky agreement and then end up falling in love
    2. In an indie, they might end up becoming friends
    3. In a thriller, he would end up being dangerous and Keiko would have to run for her life
  7. The phrasing that Keiko uses about the convenience store makes it clear that she thinks of it as more than a mere workplace
    1. She seems to almost revere it
    2. What do you think of the significance of this seeming thinking that the convenience store is Keiko’s religion?
  8. Ending –  
    1. In an American book, I feel like the ending would have been that someone observed Keiko identifying what changes needed to be made at the downtown convenience store, and implementing those changes efficiently, and offering her a job as a manager at the convenience store.
    2. However, this novella ends when Keiko has her self-realization, and allows the sounds of the convenience store to once again become the soundtrack of her life.
    3. How do you interpret the ending? Is it happy? Sad? Ambivalent?
#bookclub

Do you have any book club tips/tricks you would like to share?