Aug 31, 2011

my characters have *gasp* backstories?!

So I've come to the point with Southern Gothic novel where I go over my lovely critique partners' notes. This involves a lot of squinting, frowning, nodding and imaginary flashing lightbulbs over my head when they make a particularly good point that I'd never even considered (which they always, always do). It is a stage that I'm growing to love more now that I've been through the revision process with LUMINANCE HOUR. I now know how much revision can polish and improve a story. Even though the process itself kind of (okay, does) suck.
Yesterday I was going over my critique partner Kate's notes and having a singular, vast revelation over and over again.

My characters had lives before the events of the novel started. (Very much like learning that your parents existed before you were born. What? They went to high school too?)

This is a fact that, while I'm rough drafting, I tend to brush aside. I get very wrapped up in the immediate events of my plot. With the pace and the subplots and who hates who and why oh why did she go into the creepy swamp and do that?
But backstories are just as necessary to the health of a novel as present plot is, even though they rarely make appearances and are sometimes hardly mentioned at all. Backstories are what shape a character. Why they do the things they do. Everyone needs backstories. The plucky heroine, the unyielding father, the ruthless villain. The minor characters you don't even remember inserting into the text.
So yeah, that's what I'm doing this week. Sorting out my character's backstories. It's kind of fun. In a weird way. I'll let you know how it goes.

Aug 30, 2011

question of the day

The question of the day, as I dig deeper into revisions for my Southern gothic novel, is this:

In case you can’t read my loopy writing, the page asks What makes a man evil?
I’ve wrestled with this question often. I think many of us have. It’s hard to imagine what would drive a person to lead or even participate in atrocities like the Third Reich and the Khmer Rouge.
Is it because bad things happened to them? I know many people who’ve experienced terrible things in their life, but they haven’t become evil over it. This leads me to believe that, in some ways, being evil is a choice. But why choose it?
This is the quandary that has me beating my head against the desk as I strive to delve into the emotional lives of my villains. I would welcome any further thoughts below, if you're brave enough to delve into this deep topic!

Aug 29, 2011

monday musings: i have talented relatives

Sometimes the things that inspire me aren't just art projects I discover, but people I know. I know it isn't always kosher to brag, but that being said, the Graudin clan has some pretty talented members. One of these is my brother Jacob, who inherited the artsy gene I received (he also shares the same insanely curly hair gene). Not only is he also a creative writer, but he's a rocking singer/vocalist. I've decided to share a video of him and his a capella group (the "Chucktown Trippintones") performing Question! by System of a Down. Enjoy.

Aug 27, 2011

deep clean saturday

Since I have switched jobs I've found much more free time to do productive things. Things that I would have shoved aside for the sake of writing in whatever scraps of free time I happened to glean in my hectic schedule. Things like cooking and cleaning.
So I found myself with a free Saturday I looked around and was suddenly struck by the deep and sudden urge to make my living space presentable. Which meant some serious cleaning.
As I dug through boxes of stuff that were sitting in the corner for an embarrassing number of months, I decided that several of them were worth documenting and sharing on the blog.

Here are a few of the things I've found so far (it's still a work in progress):

A can of haggis my parents brought back from Scotland 6 years ago. I decided it was no longer edible.

Korean exorcism masks. You know, just in case.

Disposable camera from pre-highschool days. Apparently these too have expiration dates. (This one went bad in 2006)

A dissection kit. For all of those dead frogs we have lying around.

 I'm actually a bit fearful as to what further diggings will bring up. Wish me luck.

Aug 26, 2011

friday vlog: hurricane irene, no news and more yallfest

Unexpected three day weekend? Yes, please!

8/26 Disclaimer: I do not mean to downplay Irene or her nastiness. My hopes and prayers are with the north as it goes through this storm.

Aug 24, 2011

why i write.

Yesterday I was going on a bike ride around my beautiful city, seeking out photo opportunities for a secret project I’m working on for the blog. I was pedaling my way toward the main streets of town when this caught my eye:

            It doesn’t seem like much at first glance, but there’s a story here.
            The iron fence actually borders the lot of what was once a grand historic house. I say once because, just a month or so ago, it burned down. Nothing is left but the stone steps, which lead up to a pile of charred wood and ash.
            The fire which ravaged this house was not a mistake or an accident. Authorities told us that it was the work of a serial arsonist, one who has been lighting fires on our peninsula the past several years. Fortunately no one was killed in this fire (six people lived in the house that was torched), but the surrounding community is still instilled with fear.
            As I biked past the blackened hovel of this house, I saw the first signs of life since it was ravaged. A vine, bright and green, had crept its way up the iron fence. Every other plant in the area is still stubbled and black. Not this vine. It’s already taken over the entire front part of the lot.
            The sight struck me in one of those deep metaphorical ways. The vine was life—life springing up after so much evil and destruction. No matter what terrible things befall us there is hope. Hope after the storm. Hope after death.
            And this turns my post back to writing. One of the reasons I write isn’t just to tell a good story, but to thread principles and beliefs like the one above into tales that have deeper meaning. Life is full of terrible things. But these terrible things don’t have to define us, not if we have hope in something greater.
            For me, personally, that greater thing is Christ. I don’t mean to get preachy on the blog, but my faith is something that is a big part of my life and therefore shouldn’t be hidden or ignored.
            And this isn’t to say that novels should have a didactic message or be allegorical. I love many novels just for the story. But the stories that hold meaning are the ones that stick with me. They’re the ones I carry in my heart, the ones I can’t shake.

Hope. It's why I write. What about you?

Aug 23, 2011

what happens when your alarm doesn't work

So this morning, I looked at my clock, bleary eyed and sans caffeine, and realized that the numbers blinking on its screen were not the ones I was prepared for.


Just climbing out of the depths of a very deep and heavy sleep, it took me a moment to register what that meant. It meant that I had ten minutes to dress in a publicly acceptable fashion, grab a granola bar and navigate a maze of one-way, traffic riddled, horse-carriage crowded streets in order to get to work.

Some things, such as coffee, breakfast and brushing my teeth, fell by the wayside as I crammed about 30 minutes worth of activities into ten minutes. This meant that I had to deal with the general public with questionable breath and lack of acceptable stimulants to bring me into a state of reasonable consciousness.

Needless to say, I did make it. But it was way more stress than I want involved in my daily life. I am, what you might say, and anti-procrastinator. I prided myself of this in college and post-college. As soon as someone tells me to do something, I try my best to get it done as soon as possible (or else I'm on edge, I hate having things hanging over my head). So when things like this happen, I freak out doubly.

Moral of the story: Always make sure your alarm works. Or is turned on. And work for fun bosses who think its humorous that you walk in the door looking like birds have started nesting in your hair. They were much more highly amused at the situation than I was.

Aug 22, 2011

monday musings: getting frosty (pardon the pun)

Today I thought I would share some more poetry, this time from one of the most well known poets in America. Robert Frost. It's strange, because for some reason I've always thought of him as a super old poet, but one of my English professors in college actually knew him as a family friend.
This poem in particular haunts me because of its final stanza. It's slightly depressing, but something about it just stuck with me. I would find myself walking down the sidewalk on my way to archaeology class (which actually was not as exciting as I thought it might be when I registered for it) and the last four lines of this poem would just run through my head. Over and over again.

Desert Places

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeks and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it--it is theirs.
All the animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lovely as it is, that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less--
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow.
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between the stars--on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home

To scare myself with my own desert places.
Robert Frost, 1936

David Strauss c2010

Aug 19, 2011

friday vlog: in which i discuss the importance of time and my intense clumsiness

The video has funky colors for the first ten seconds. Still trying to work out YouTube glitches. I say "um" a lot. And I make funny faces. Bear with me. :)

Aug 17, 2011

traveling the midwest: blooper reel style

Being so well traveled, I have my fair share of air travel snafus. You know, the things that go horribly awry while in transit. Once, in New Zealand, Husband and I had to throw out 20 lbs of luggage in order to board our flight to Ethiopia. We were in the process of moving, so we had to throw out a good number of items from our year overseas. A terrible, yet oddly effective, way to purge.
Yes, that was a bad airport moment. This one was worse.
Husband and I arrive at the United Airways counter in Omaha, Nebraska with passports in hand, ready to collect our boarding pass and be on our way. Swiping our IDs didn’t work. Putting in our credit card didn’t work.
Commence worrying. Husband can’t remember flight number and I mentally beat myself for not forcing him to forward me the flight information. After a phone call to the parentals (who conveniently had internet access and looked up said information), husband went to the counter to talk to the physical assistant.
He came back with that look on his face. The look that inspires utter dread.
“We’re in the wrong airport.”
In my head I was thinking, Oh, there must be some smaller airport nearby.
This thought was immediately shattered with my husband telling me, “Our flight leaves from Lincoln.”
I stared at him with what must have been my Oh dear god you have got to be kidding me right now expression while he phoned the inlaws to come retrieve us. We’d just driven from Lincoln to get to the Omaha airport. Somehow, the information had gotten mixed up.
I looked at the time and paled again. We had an hour and a half until our flight took off. With a sane-person driving, Omaha and Lincoln are about an hour apart from each other.
Cue father-in-law wheeling furiously to the curb in a borrowed red Dodge truck. We pile into the vehicle and tear away so fast that we leave David’s grandmother behind.
“We’ll come back for her later,” father-in-law said as he sped away.
I spent the next fifty minutes trying to keep anxiety from taking over. Cornfields sped by in a green blur. I sat on my hands so I wouldn’t be tempted to throttle my husband.
Fortunately, the Lincoln airport is small. As in, teeny tiny. We dashed up to the counter mere minutes before our flight was supposed to take off, finagled the one woman at the counter into giving us our boarding passes. There was no line at security, and by some form of miracle we ended up making the flight.
Moral of the story? Always check your flight information before you travel to the wrong city to catch a flight. And stay with people who have internet so you can check said flight information. It will save you much grief.

Aug 16, 2011

ryan meets the midwest

Husband and I love traveling. I consider it a (very expensive) hobby. It happens to work well with writing, a trade that can be done, literally, anywhere. In 2010, husband and I were on a traveling roll. Our destinations included:

-South Korea (well, we lived there for a year, so I’m not sure it counts as a destination)
-Thailand (a wonderful week of street-food, elephant trekking and white-sand beaches)
-New Zealand (spend a month and a half in this most gorgeous country in the world. Just the memory makes me drool a little)
-Ethiopia (where husband grew up)
-Kenya (where husband went to boarding school. We also went on a safari and I got chased by a possibly rabid monkey. If you wish to learn more, click here to get to my old travel blog.)

Then we came back to America and decided to live lives as starving artists, pursuing careers in the things we loved. We still traveled, but our destinations were considerably less glamorous.

-Dallas, Texas (where inlaws live. We went for Christmas. It was cold.)
-Dallas, Texas (went again for brother-in-laws wedding. It was hot.)
-Black Mountain, North Carolina (a lovely mountain town with a killer coffee shop called the dripolator)
-Dallas, Texas (Yes. A third time. For another wedding.)

            Our latest destination was Lincoln, Nebraska. Mode of transportation, inlaws car. With inlaws driving us all the way from Dallas. Husband and I decided to document the trip with his nifty new video camera. This is what commenced:

            Pardon the newscaster voice. It does tend to pop up at times. Oh, and the typo “leave London” should have been “leave Oklahoma” but I didn’t catch it until too late. Alas.

monday musings a day late

So, apparently there are still people in this world who don't use the internet. (I know!!!) I happened to be staying at one such house, which is why my monday musings posts did not happen as it should have.

Today's musing is a song that I've had in my music library for a long time. It's called Selig and it's by a European band by the name of Helium Vola. I stumbled across the song in college and have loved it ever since. I think it encompasses the mood of LUMINANCE HOUR (ie GODMOTHER for all of you who weren't apprised of the title change). It's so wistful and ethereal. Enjoy the listen.

Aug 12, 2011

in which i vlog about news, yallfest and sweet tea

Here's the link to Yallfest. Grammatically I suppose it should be Y'allfest. But we'll let that slide.

Aug 11, 2011

awesome free music

One of my guilty pleasures is going through the free MP3s on Amazon and downloading all of my favorites. (Maybe not so guilty? Perhaps I feel slightly bad because I'm getting some awesome music for free?) But one of the songs that I've found very influential for my WIP has popped up on the free list and I thought I would share. It's by an artist named Sarah Jarosz, who I discovered via the coffee shop radio. She's folksy and awesome. Go ahead and check her out! (It's free. Why not?)

Sarah Jarosz-Run Away

character studies

I've been reading through my latest WIP, a novel I have affectionately nicknamed "zombiemance" (although this name is somewhat misleading, therefore you will only see it in this short blogpost and nowhere else), and I realized something.
My main character isn't like me at all. This is a good thing I suppose, since it means that I'm stretching my creative abilities to new heights. If every character were a mirror of me, then my stories would get rather repetitive and boring.
But this girl. She lies. A lot.
I can't lie worth a ****. Anyone who's close to me knows this. At times it is very inconvenient and awkward.
Character in question is also very manipulative.
I'd like to think I'm not a manipulative person. I don't have it in me.
Or maybe I'm just in denial?

Aug 10, 2011

"and that's why they called me 'the terror'"

Okay—so you guys know that I love to talk about perseverance (the man with the whip anyone?). I do this for good reason, but I fear that sometimes such abstract talk can make the reader sleepy or disinterested. I’ve decided to draw from events in my own often strangely eventful life.

It happened last week. Last Tuesday to be exact. I had just arrived into work, and although it was 9:45 in the morning I was rather sleepy, steaming lattes and dealing with disgruntled customers (To be fair, many of the customers I deal with are quite pleasant. But there’s always one or two that get under my skin because of their utter ridiculousness.) I was just settling into operating the espresso bar when the morning took a terrible, awful turn.
Our coffee shop is on the edge of a major highway. We often hear sirens speeding by and get a lot of traffic at all times of the day. I suppose it was only a matter of time before a major accident occurred directly in front of our store.
It was bad. Really bad. A dump truck lost control of its brakes, plowed through a line of cars sitting at the red light, ran into a tree, burst into flames. All work stopped as people ran out to help.
Only one person died, which was in itself a miracle, since the dump truck had crushed eight cars almost beyond recognition. One woman jumped out of her car just before it hit. Another was pinned under the car and rescued by onlookers. One man threw his van into reverse and backed out of the truck’s path just before all of the cars around him were smashed to bits.
Needless to say, we were all in shock. The police, ambulances and firetrucks came. They roped off a good two miles of our highway for their investigation. This meant that no cars could come in and out of our store, which drastically cut down business (and by that I mean no one came in. At all.) For some reason my manager decided to stay open, and I was the lucky barista who got to guard the store in case of looting. I spent much of the day cleaning and restocking while the police documented each piece of glass that flew from each individual car.
The road had been closed for almost three hours when my manager ran back inside and said, “Oh my God! Bob is crossing the street!”
Every coffee shop has its regulars: the people who come in every day and buy the exact same beverage. Many of them are colorful characters. Such is Bob. I’m not quite sure how old he is, but by my best estimates he’s in his late 80s or early 90s. Bob was a veteran of World War II. He walks with a cane embellished with a silver duck’s head and sports aviators.
I ran to the door and looked out. Sure enough, there was Bob with his wife. They had ducked under the swaths of police tape and were crossing the accident scene in what could only be described as a dodder. He even stopped at one point to yell at the police for blocking off the road.
We stared in amazement as Bob and his wife ducked under the opposite side of the police tape to enter our store. I brewed a fresh batch of coffee just for him, since he was the only soul who’d been ingenious and plucky enough to walk across a restricted accident scene to get his coffee.
Later, just before they were preparing to cross the road again and return to their car, Bob leaned over to me.
            “That’s why they called me “The Terror” in Ireland during the war,” he said with a grin, “because when I set out to do something, it gets done. This morning, I set out to get a cup of coffee and I got it.”
            I blinked and relished in the significance of this statement. Here was a man who knew what he wanted. Even in the face of catastrophe, when police were blocks all visible paths, he made a way through. Now, whenever I see Bob, I get inspired. If a 90 some year-old man can persist like that. Then I can too.
            Never give up, even if it’s for something as small as a cup of coffee. (But don’t be mean to your barista, please! We hate that!)

Aug 9, 2011

"fall on us": a short story for the merry sisters of fate

Over on the Merry Sisters of Fate blog, the wonderful trio has decided to hold a contest for some very desirable books. The challenge was to write an original piece based on the following image:

"The Turret Stairs" by Frederic Burton

Fall on Us

We met in the stairway. Always. Such a place, where the stone steps curled up like a strand of my sister’s hair, made it easy to ghost away together.
It was Eoin’s idea. He was the one who first took my hand and led me to a corner of the castle I’d never before laid eyes on. My duties as a lady-in-waiting kept me close to the queen and her chambers. King Alfred’s wife was not one for unnecessary walking, so I spent my days sitting, waiting for the moment she would tire from her needlework and send me on some hapless errand. It was these stolen moments, these few minutes of the day I called my own, that I discovered Eoin.
It wasn’t that his face was strange to me, I’d glimpsed him many times in the court. He was a knight—one of King Alfred’s more privileged men.
He had seen me too. I discovered this much and more in our secret times together. It was my hair that first caught his eye, he told me. The way it sparked with deep red when the sun hit it—how it brought out a glow from my skin. He saw me and wanted me. But he was not the only one. For this reason we met in the secret places, in the shadows of the stairs.
Our love grew, slowly at first, like ivy inching into the cracks of my life. Soon it was everything. It was all I could think of, see or know. Eoin, his words to me, his touch, they filled what was missing. I lived for our moments together, for the times I could truly be myself.
But this meeting was different from the others. The knowledge weighed heavy on us both. It was behind every word said and every fleeting touch. All of them precious simply because they could be our last.
War was coming. For month we’d known this. It was a looming shadow in the edges of our existence here. Men from across the sea, garbed in horns and furs, had breached our shores with their boats and axes.
And now Eoin had to leave. His soul and his sword were sworn to Alfred. And the king was sworn to defend this land. I’d seen and heard enough of war to know that many men never came back. Eoin might never come back.
It was this thought that flooded my heart and my heart today. I could not rid myself of it.
“Worry not, Marion,” he said softly and placed his hand on my cheek. His thumb grazed my cheekbone with a whisper. “I will come back for you.”
I hated the tears that rose up inside me and blurred my vision. I loathed the emotion which swelled the lining of my throat. Part of me wished I didn’t want him, that letting him go would be easy. But I knew that would never be the case. I would always desire him. He would always haunt me.
I couldn’t say anything. I was emptied of words. All I could do was let him hold me and pray, somewhere in the back of my mind, that God would let his mercy fall on us.

Aug 8, 2011

monday musings: in which i share things that inspire me.

In an effort to whip this blog into shape, I've decided to throw in posts about the various things that inspire me: passages of poetry, music and art. Everyone needs to share a little beauty every once in a while, no?

For this installment I've decided to share some poetry. I've always been rather picky about poetry. Some of it I'm purely amazed and enraptured by. Other lines make no sense. One of my favorite poets of all time is T.S. Eliot. He has a way of capturing emotion with such perfect words. I have several favorite poems of his, but today I'll share with you the final passage of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
TIll human voices wake us, and we drown.

Aug 7, 2011


Sorry for the blog design whiplash--I've been trying to mess around with the template that will best convey my personality and work. I've finally settled on a background photo taken by my dear husband when we were backpacking New Zealand for a month and a half. Most beautiful country I've ever seen. Period. It's pretty much what I imagine heaven will be like one day.

still can't share. this is my apology.

Waiting to share news can almost be as excruciating as waiting to hear it. (Although perhaps not...)
I feel as if I'm doing this:

I have news! Wait, what? You want to know?

Aug 4, 2011


So, I've spent much of the week like this:

Interpret as you will.

But as of yesterday, I've been like this:

And really, that's joy, I'm not actually trying to punch someone. :)
I'm not at liberty to say why this insanely joyful grin has covered my face. Let's just say I have news. Really good news.

Aug 2, 2011

why i love my husband

Last night we came home from a friend's pool party to find that someone had stolen our camping chair from our porch. Being that we don't live in the most glamorous of neighborhoods, I wasn't altogether surprised. I was however, a bit put out.
I came home from work today to find that my lovely husband, who had very little to say after the actual incident, had taped this to the front of our house:

And that is one of the (many) reasons I love him.