Preptober 2021: Signing Up for NaNoWriMo

I have created my NaNoWriMo 2021 project, which I am determined to create this year. Here is my username, if you are also participating and would like to be my buddy in the site:

In the meantime, I have a ton of plotting and character development to work through, if I have time, before November 1st. I will not have everything figured out, but am hoping to have at least a few scenes planned for each of the 8 plot points per the one-page/small booklet plot I put together earlier.

What are you doing, in the last 1/2 week or so before November 1st? Let me know your plans in the comments below or in the NaNoWriMo site. I look forward to connecting and spurring each other on to ever higher word counts in our novel-writing journeys.

Preptober 2021: Plotting?

Next step in the Preptober journey is probably figuring out what you think you want to write, and if you have had trouble completing projects… putting in some thought about your work, I guess? To be completely frank, I have been slammed with work, so my Preptober has not been as focused as I would have liked. I have, however, listened to the Eva Deverell video on how to plot a novel on one page, and put together a teeny tiny little booklet to help guide me through the process. I think it will need to be expanded, and feel like I will start putting together some flash cards to help guide me through the plot as I work through it, separated by the 8 plot pieces I have in my booklet.

Seriously… how cool is this?

What are you doing to prep for NaNoWriMo? Any good videos/tips/tricks to recommend to me?

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, 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…).

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

Little by Little

The shrinking started slowly. She had heard of people’s hearts closing after a bad breakup, but for Mary, the entirety of her being began to grow smaller after Dave crushed her with his “I thought I loved you… But I don’t,” before he moved towards her with feigned niceness that was a feeble attempt to have goodbye sex and Mary grabbed her purse and left, even though they were in her apartment.

She went to the grocery store, but didn’t buy anything – there wasn’t enough ice cream in the world to make her feel better, and for the first time in her life, Mary wasn’t hungry. She returned to an empty apartment, Dave’s key glinting on the dining room table. She went to bed with puffy eyes and an empty stomach.

When she awoke the following morning, she felt shorter… and older, and withered, and fragile, and like an idiot. She felt cold, all the way down to her bones, even after she put on her thickest socks and wrapped herself in a warm fuzzy sweater. She took a mental health day, pulled on her coat, and walked for hours. Fittingly, it began to rain, and she returned home colder and wetter than she had left it. Her stomach growled at her, but nothing in her kitchen seemed appetizing. She settled on a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee, then settled on the couch with a thriller, but she couldn’t keep her eyes open long enough to finish more than a sentence.

The days, weeks, flew by in a daze, until one morning, Mary woke up and realized she needed a step stool to reach the bathroom faucet handle. Of course, she didn’t have a step stool, so she dragged her desk chair into the bathroom instead. Her chair had wheels and slid around beneath her as she applied and removed soap – her brain flashed through news stories of people who died or became seriously injured from slipping in the bathroom. Her teeth were a shade more yellow than Mary preferred, but she liked having all of them in her head, and she had used all of her sick days at work and couldn’t afford to recover from concussion. She went to her car, but no matter how straight she stretched her leg, or how much she pointed her toe, was unable to reach the pedal, and she was finally forced to give up and take the bus.

A girl with exactly half of her head, including her right eyebrow, shaved was gossiping with her reflection in the bus window. An older woman with a snake tattoo on her left arm was biting into a raw onion like it was an apple, the syn-Propanethial-S-oxide making Mary’s eyes water. A man with a pronounced limp kept getting out of his seat, slowly making his way up and down the aisle, knocking aside the unlucky few who were standing and holding onto a strap. Maybe she wasn’t really shrinking, Mary thought to herself. Maybe she was just losing grip on reality.

She had just logged on to her computer at work when Shannon stopped by, said the boss wanted to see her. Mary entered his office, excuses on the tip of her tongue about why she had been late, but Mr. Harrigan didn’t really care, since he had already been set to fire her.

“I’m fired?!” Mary asked, in shock.

“Honestly, the company can’t afford the liability having a shrinking person creates,” Mr. Harrigan responded. “It would be one thing if you were simply small, and had always been small. Even an inch or two, we could have overlooked. But you have lost several feet at this point, Mary, and we aren’t sure when it’s going to stop. We can’t accommodate your special needs, because they are unpredictable, and without accommodating your needs, the workplace is too dangerous.”

“I’ll be very careful, and if I get hurt, I promise, I won’t sue you!” Mary protested.

But Mr. Harrigan shook his head. The matter, he said, had been decided by individuals far above him in the company. Her exit interview was scheduled with HR at 2 that afternoon, at which point she needed to hand in her work laptop and would receive her final paycheck.

Mary walked back to her desk, then realized there was no point in putting forth effort working. She had been fired; she didn’t owe anything to this Company. She began submitting her resume to temp agencies, and scouring Craigslist for odd jobs that didn’t appear to have been posted by serial killers luring in the next victim.

She didn’t have much luck.

At two-fifteen in the afternoon, Mary was walking out into the sunshine, her last paycheck snugly tucked between her wallet and her cell. She wandered the entire parking lot twice before remembering that she had not driven, and reluctantly boarded the bus once more. Most seats were empty, and she plopped into one near the middle and behind the driver.

She was too numb inside to be bothered to go to the bank, or run the errands she needed to run. Mary tugged her shoes off of her weary feet, and burrowed into the warmth of her comforter. She couldn’t be sure how long she slept – it could have been an instant, it could have been a year – but when she awoke, her bed had become gargantuan. She tried to sit up, but the cotton filling of her bedspread had become ineffably heavy.

She took a deep breath, pulled her core in as tightly as she could, focused on shifting her body up from its’ prone position into a plank, using the muscles in her arms and shoulders to push her up.

She then thrust her hips up and back into the world’s most uncomfortable down dog.

Her arms and legs quickly began quivering, her body covered in a sheen of sweat, but Mary pulled her abs in tighter and began walking her hands back to her feet.

She then started slowly rolling up through her spine, the weight of the comforter continually pushing her back down, so that she was bouncing slightly up, back down, back up, slightly down, for what felt like (and maybe was) hours, until finally, she was standing as tall as her miniature frame would allow.

She began moving forwards, pushing against the cotton comforter with all of her might, until the bed gave way beneath her, and she was falling.

She grabbed at the comforter, able to slow down her descent and make it slightly more controlled so that her teeth only clattered against each other a bit, and then she lay down on her back and fell asleep once more.

She woke, and all she could experience was pain. It hurt to open her eyelids. Tiny muscles she hadn’t realized existed in her arms and abs were making themselves known. She didn’t want to move, but existing hurt too much, so she forced herself up into a sitting position.

She had no idea where she was.

She seemed to be outside. Currently, she was sitting on various large, sharp blades of grass. She moved to the right and sliced her left arm on one of them. Blood trickled from the wound, but she wasn’t capable of feeling more pain, and just watched the red escape down her arm.

She eventually grew bored enough to force herself to stand, take a few tentative steps.

She smelled something sweet, and realized she was hungry, for the first time since her break-up. In trying to locate the source of this deliciousness, she stumbled into a banner. Her brain made sense of the words on it – “Little by Little” right before she fell into it, and brought down the two wooden totem poles holding it up upon her person. She lost consciousness for the second time that day.

She awoke strapped to a bed, still in pain, and began to scream. She may not have been entirely sure what had happened to her, but being restricted from movement was never a good sign. A man rushed into the room, looked around, and said, “You’re awake! Would you like some hot chocolate?”

“Why should I trust you to give me a beverage? I’m assuming you’re the jerk who strapped me to this bed.”

His mouth quirked down. “Ah… yes. Sorry about that. It’s just – you seem to be having trouble moving, and I couldn’t bear the thought that you would ruin my art.” He gestured to the top of a nearby dresser, where small (even by her current standards) wooden figurines were covering every visible surface.

“You made all of those?” Mary asked.

“I did,” he responded, his chest puffing up like a bird warming itself or trying to find a mate.

“Ew,” Mary said involuntarily.

He didn’t seem to notice. “These,” he continued, “are my Littles.”

After a few seconds of silence, Mary asked him what he meant by that.

“My Littles! I am Little – that’s my name, I mean – these are mine, these are little – that is, tiny – and I am trying to sell the sons-of-bitches, but you pulled my banner down and ruined two of my larger art pieces, so I don’t know how anyone will know I am a purveyor of littles.”

“Sorry about that,” Mary said.

Little shrugged. “It’s fine. You can help me make a new banner when you’re feeling better.”

“How long have you been making littles?”

“Since I was a wee boy. Although, I used to be taller than this, when I was a wee boy. But you know how that is.”

“I mean, I guess. I also used to taller; I only began shrinking quite recently.”

“It’s nice, being small,” Little told her. “It’s easy to find enough food to fill you up, no one bothers you about stupid shit that doesn’t matter, you can kind of just do your own thing.”

“How many of us are there?” Mary asked.

Little shrugged. “Fuck if I know. I run across someone every now and again, but I mostly keep to myself.”

“I see – sorry to have barged in on you like this,” Mary said, wondering why she was apologizing to this man who had restrained her to the bed.

“Thanks. Sorry I had to tie you up,” Little returned, making Mary feel marginally better.

“Do you think you can un-tie me now?”

Little looked skeptical. “We can try. But try not to mess up my shit, please.” Mary chose not to verbally respond to this, smiling sweetly so this crazy man would let her go.

She was still starving, and decided to chance it that Little’s food and beverages were not poisoned. The hot chocolate was sweet and creamy, the warmth soothing as it went down her throat. Little also gave her bread and cheese, and a red grape he had cut into cubes of a more manageable size. Everything tasted amazing, and it had been so long since Mary had eaten and enjoyed it that she ate too much and too fast, her stomach protesting as she sank back into her chair and finished her hot chocolate.

“Feeling better?” Little asked, and Mary nodded, her mouth turned up at the corners, her limbs growing heavy with satiation. “Good, let’s fix that banner,” Little said, holding out a hand to haul Mary to her feet. He pulled so hard, her head snapped a bit, and Mary saw small brown and black squares dancing before her eyes for a few moments. “C’mon!” Little urged, striding away toward the front of his shoppe. Mary followed, and was soon surveying the damage with him.

One of the totem poles holding up the banner did not sustain any noticeable damage; the other had broken into 6 pieces. Little grew a little red in the face, but his voice was calm as he said he would need to make another one. The banner, made of sturdy paper, had been torn, and needed to be re-done. Little thrust some paper and a chunk of purple crayon broken off of a full-size crayon and whittled into a usable writing implement at her, and she set to work. Mary’s writing was not intricate, but it was neat and legible, and she made the letters large, and was done within an hour. She showed her work to Little, who nodded his head briefly, then said: “Thanks. You can go now.”

“Go… where?” Mary asked.

“Anywhere! The joy of being little is that you can pretty much do whatever you want. And I want to live on my own. So, you know, scram.” He turned back to his totem, where an owl was slowly taking shape.

“Can I have some food for the road?” she asked.

“What road?”

“Figuratively speaking.”

“Then yes, you may have figurative food. Here you go!” He held out his empty hands, cupped around nothing.

Mary carefully removed the non-existent food from Little’s hands, turned around, and walked away. She walked aimlessly until she was done feeling sorry for herself, looked up, and recognized exactly where she was. Approximately two feet away was the red door of Dave’s apartment. To the right of the door were Dave’s black-and-white checkered Vans, caked in a layer of mud, next to a pair of tall pink heels with pointed toes.

Mary trekked to the door, sneaking through the mail slot, and smelling the citrus-scented candles Dave lit when he was making love. Her eyes involuntarily trekked to the right, even though a very large part of her really didn’t want to see who her replacement was. Due to her size, however, all she could see was wall. She breathed a sigh of relief.

Dave walked right in front of her, and her heart began beating very fast and her cheeks reddened, but again, due to her size, Dave didn’t even notice her. He loped into the kitchen, where she heard the fridge open, running water, the clatter of counters and dishes, and he loped back before her and into the bedroom holding a tray with a bowl of strawberries and a canister of whipped cream.

Part of Mary burned with anger that Dave was already sharing a sweet aphrodisiac with someone else; part of Mary was somehow hungry again and craved strawberries herself. So she did what any woman in her position would do, and followed him. The woman luxuriating on Dave’s silk sheets was thin and tan, and when she sat up, her long blonde locks cascaded over her back and splayed on the pillows. Her visage was flushed, round red cheeks and lips plump from kissing. Her eyes glinted out from her face like two dark sapphires. She was perfection, to the extent that Mary’s mind couldn’t even draw a comparison between herself and this other woman – it was almost like Dave was dating a different species.

Mary heard a low giggle, and heard the blonde one ask: “You can’t possibly be ready to go again?”

Dave set the tray down on the bedside table, nuzzled his face into the nape of the blonde’s neck, and said: “Are you kidding? With you in my bed, I may never be flaccid again.”

The giggle again. “What an odd way of saying you find me attractive.”

Kissing sounds ensued, and Mary looked longingly at the ripe, red strawberries just lying, untouched, on the bedside table. It was far too high for Mary to easily reach it. She looked around, to see if there was anything to help her, and as luck would have it, there was a blanket that lay half on, half off of the bed, it’s length spilling down to the floor in an awkward tangle that looked difficult but possible for Mary to climb. She embarked on the climb/hike, slowly making her way up to the bed where her ex-boyfriend was engaged in sexual congress. She was exhilarated to reach the top, tumbling off of the blanket and into the blonde one’s foot.

A bloodcurdling scream resounded through the apartment.

Dave: “Lauren, what’s wrong.”

Something just touched my foot.”

Mary had already retreated out of sight into the blanket.

Dave: “I don’t see anything.”

“Are you saying I’m crazy?! Something definitely touched my foot, I’m not making this up.”

“What did it feel like?”

“I only felt it for like a second, but it was big.”

Dave went to the end of the bed, smushed the blanket with Mary inside of it a little closer to the edge of the bed. “There’s nothing here.”

“Well, you’ve got mice or something. I’m too hot to deal with a guy who has barely any money and probably has mice in his place.”

“Lauren! I’ll – I’ll call the exterminator on Monday. But really – I keep my place clean, and I’ve never seen or heard a mouse in here.”

“Well, call me after your apartment’s been taken care of, if you want. I probably won’t see you again, though.” Mary heard the sharp rustling of clothes being pulled on with hurried, jerky movements.

She heard Lauren walk out of the apartment, then Dave quickly follow. The door slammed behind him, and Mary slowly exited the blanket. She made her way to the bedside table with quick, confident strides, pulled out the smallest strawberry slice she could find, and took the largest bite she was able. Red juice from the strawberry ran down her chin, her heart felt light, and Mary felt the vastness of opportunities proffered by her life as she ate and listened for the sound of Dave’s return.

Response to ~M, Putting My Feet in the Dirt’s Prompt “Little by Little.”