Oct 31, 2011

monday musings: a creepy song

Happy Halloween! It feels strange now that it's the actual day... I've been to parties and celebrations since last Monday! I find it funny that, during this time of year, people exalt things that are creepy and macabre. Things that wouldn't be so acceptable any other time of year. Kids talk about mummies, Frankensteins and ghosts like they're a common part of every day life.
I'm not a huge creepy fan myself (after I saw The Ring in middleschool, I swore off all horror movies. Ever), but here's a song I really enjoy that fall on the lighter side of the creepy-scale (it's from the Donnie Darko soundtrack, so I think it counts as creepy!).

Oct 26, 2011

setting as a character

Today, in my writerly writing post, I’m going to address something that I’ve come to realize over the course of my past two manuscripts. Place is important. Where your story is set is an incredibly significant detail.
You see, place is more than just a place. Place is a character. Where you set your novel can affect the mood, the language and the tone. It can make your novel distinct and set it apart. My agent says in her “what I’m looking for” list that she loves “settings tilled with strong regional flavors.” I would say that I have to agree with her. I’m much more drawn to a story that has a unique and well-described setting. So many novels take place in high schools and small towns—it’s the ones set in unique places that I’m most likely to remember. Katie Crouch and the dynamic duo Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl do a wonderful job of bringing the South to life in their novels. Though their characters go to school like every other American teenager, their experiences and stories are tinged with the flavor of the South (“Hey, y’all!”).
I think one of the reasons that place has become such an important aspect of my writing is because of my love for traveling. I know that not everyone gets the opportunity to fly around the world and experience different cultures and landscapes. I’ve been very blessed with the opportunities and resources to see a lot of foreign countries, eat all kinds of crazy foods (nevermind that I’ve had food poisoning thrice. We don’t speak of that…) and meet tons of amazing people. When I was twenty-two I was determined to drag my husband along with me on a three-week Eurotrip (Believe it or not he didn’t want to go. He thought Europe was just art galleries.). My father-in-law said something to this effect: “You’re going for writing research aren’t you.” This comment took my by surprise. I wasn’t going for writing research. I was going to eat. But the more I thought about it, the more I decided to shove away the experiences in my mind. I didn’t intend to write a book based on my experiences in Europe. But it was only because I’d been to Europe that I was brave enough to write a book based in London. When I moved to South Korea people asked me if I was going to write a book about my experiences there. I told them the truth: probably not. Will my experiences in South Korea show up in my writing? Undoubtedly. I don’t know when, or how, but I can almost guarantee that it will.
What are some places that you absolutely love? What are places that inspire you? For me, it’s impossible to count all such places on a single hand. I’ve already centered projects around two of them: London and Charleston. There are so many more countries and cities that I want to feature in my writing. I don’t know if I’ll have the time or the space to fit them all! This being said, I think it would be cool to do a mini blog series on different places I’ve been and how they inspire me. I’ll get on that.
So my challenge to those of you who are writers is this—treat your setting like a character. Give it depth and detail. Let it become an inseparable part of your story. Don’t be afraid to commit to a place, even if you’ve never lived there or spent a huge amount of time in it.
Readers—what are some books that you love because of where they’re set? Do you have any?

Oct 25, 2011

two things on a tuesday.

1. Here's my strange life-anecdote for the week:  Living in the city I usually don't get to see much of the inner workings of the animal kingdom. Sure, you see dogs on leashes, cats curled up on porches and silver-furred squirrels feverishly collecting acorns off the ground. Sometimes the dogs on the leashes even try to chase the squirrels. Last night my husband and I got to see a unique animal encounter all our own.
We were driving up the street when the cat darted out. It was dark, but fortunately the cat had white fur, causing us to slow so we wouldn't hit it. Instead of dashing out of our way, the cat crept along on all fours, its belly low to the ground, its attention aimed raptly in front of it.
My husband stopped the car and we stared, wondering at the cat's odd behavior. When it came into the glare of our headlights, all was clear. Just inches in front of it, plodding in the middle of the road, was a rat. It was a beast of an animal, nearly half the size of the cat creeping up behind it. It seemed very unconcerned with the fact that a predator was on its tail. The cat looked a bit bewildered. It would lean forward to sniff the rat's tail, jerk back and then reluctantly chase the rodent a few more inches before it stopped to sniff it once more.
We watched the strange exchange until they disappeared into the bushes on the other side of the road.
I can't completely blame the cat for not pouncing. The rat looked large and nasty enough to hold his own.

2. Things have been a little weird on the daily writing front. I'm tinkering with other projects that I know I'll have to set aside at a moment's notice once revision letters float back my way. Still, it's good to have stuff to work on, and I know that once I'm ready to dedicate a huge block of time to a completely new project, I'll already have a lot of stuff to work with. Also, I've realized that the writing focused posts have been lacking as of late. I'll fix that very soon (ie. this week!)

Music: The Shanghai Restoration Project
Fueled by: The goodness of H2O
Working on: An experimental "short story" (although in reality I think it may be a future novel.)

Oct 24, 2011

monday musings: time

There is one song on my playlists that I can literally put on repeat and listen to forever. I have yet to grow tired of it. There's just something about it that's so moving and epic. Hans Zimmer is a really great composer, he's written a whole host of amazing movie scores: The Lion King, Gladiator, The Dark Knight, Sherlock Holmes... Inception's entire soundtrack is really great, but this song, its final track, is really worth a listen (on full volume, the beginning is super quiet).

Oct 19, 2011

snapshots of savannah

Since I very recently posted an absurd amount of pictures of Charleston, I figured I'd let its sister city Savannah have a chance to shine. I just spent a lovely two days exploring her dozens of squares and feasting on all of the delicious goodness of her restaurants. Time and money very well spent!

Elegant brick storefronts.

The elegant storefronts also housed elegant stores. I wish I could say that this was my bedroom. Brick wall + Moroccan quilts and throw pillows = Awesome.

A storefront of glowing honey.

 This is just one of the many squares that was a part of the city's original layout. There are twenty-four of them throughout the city. Each of them has a different significant meaning (which you can look up on Wikipedia if you happen to be curious).

As you can see there are plenty of churches here as well. We wanted to peek inside the Cathedral (lower right), but a Bishop was being installed while we were there and it was closed to the public.

Is it bad that this sign made me giggle? (Probably) 

The city was all dressed up for fall. This is the entrance of a super-cute B&B.

 An incredible gargantuan pumpkin. How many pies do you think you could make out of this?

Why yes. I am peeking into someone's garden.

The riverfront at twilight.

 Colors in the fountain by the City Market.

This is what happens when I'm super hungry and husband wants me to pose for a picture.

As we were driving back we passed the sign for the Old Sheldon Church. I'd always heard that it was a sight worth stopping for, so we pulled onto a side road and went on the two-mile detour to go see it. The church was built once in the 1700s and then burned down by the British. It was rebuilt in the 1800s and lasted only 40 years before it was once again burned down by the Union Troops. Its ruins have stood there ever since: housing vandalizing teenagers and hordes of hungry mosquitoes. It was worth braving the latter for a look around.

back from vacay

I'm back from a wonderful getaway to Savannah, GA. Even though it's only a two-hour drive from my hometown, I've never been able to visit it before. I found it eerily similar to Charleston. Charleston and Savannah are like fraternal twins... the exact same DNA just manifesting itself in different ways. I felt so comfortable there that I was a bit weirded out by the fact that I didn't know where I was going. More to come on that later though.

Writers, if you want to hear some sagely wisdom (ha!) from your's truly about querying and submissions, the pop on over here to Literary Rambles. I dish on the five most important things I've learned throughout the whole process. The blog itself was super helpful in my hunt for an agent. I first learned about Alyssa there!

Oct 14, 2011

friday vlog: in which i whine about writer's block

Warning: Part of today's vlog is a pity party. Proceed at your own risk.

Also, I will be on blogcation for the first part of next week due to the fact that husband and I are going to Savannah for a few days. I'll see you guys on Wednesday!!

Oct 12, 2011

my charleston

8 reasons to come to
(besides the awesome authors)

  1. Deliciousness: If there’s anything the South is well known for, it’s the food. Fried, sautéed. From land and sea. A few of our signature dishes: Shrimp and grits, frogmore stew, fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, fried pickles, Carolina gold barbeque, pecan pie, Coca-Cola cake… All of them can be found and consumed in Charleston. You don’t have to walk very far to find some good Southern cuisine here. There are restaurants on almost every street of the peninsula. Justine’s (pictured below) is a notoriously delicious Southern haunt. Hominy Grill (also pictured) is the place to get your grits on. If you’ve never tried grits, then you’re missing out.

Jestine's: the ultimate destination for "down home" Southern cooking.

2. The Scenery: Sweeping green marshes. A harbor with several pods of dolphins. Streets and streets of gorgeous old mansions. Plantations covered in creeping oak trees and Spanish moss… It’s hard to put Charleston’s beauty into words, so I’ll just let the pictures do it for me.

The Lowcountry

I am in love with these marshes.

Nooks and Crannies

This is the alleyway by the house Blackbeard used when he stayed in Charleston (i.e. held it hostage).

The Houses

The Institutions

College of Charleston: My Alma Mater
The Provost Dungeons

  1. Churches: There's a reason it's called the Holy City. Churches are everywhere in Charleston. Around every corner. There’s a church that was turned into a bar and a bar that was turned into a church. Even if you aren’t particularly religious, there’s something stunning about the beauty and majesty of these old structures.
St. Philip's Episcopal Church and the French Huguenot Church

Once a maritime chapel, now Mad River Bar and Grille.

St. Michael's Episcopal Church

  1. Creepy Graveyards: Along with all of the old churches come the inevitable creepy graveyards. I know it sounds rather macabre, but I actually really enjoy walking through the graveyards. I must confess though, as a child my friends and I would hide behind gravestones and wait for the ghost tours to make their rounds. As soon as the guide started talking we would jump out and scare the daylights out of those poor tourists. I have calmed down much since then, and let the ghost tours pass by unscathed.

Wrought iron gates guard all of the graveyards.

  1. Lots of places to spend your allowance (I mean, money): Charleston has a strange mix of open-air markets, high-priced clothing boutiques and everything in between. King Street (which is where most of the Yallfest events are taking place) is the town’s main shopping stretch. Whether you want Louis Vuitton or gourmet honey, you can find it here.
There's even a store dedicated solely to Moon Pies.
If you want a shopping experience you can’t get anywhere else, then take a walk through Charleston City Market. This is an outdoor market where vendors rent out tables and sell their wares. You can get sweetgrass baskets handwoven by skilled local women, bags of salt-water taffy, puzzle boxes carved from cypress wood. Even if you don’t buy anything, the experience alone is worth the saunter.

Charleston City Market

  1. Beach: I can just hear you thinking: The beach? In November? Seriously? And yes, I know November is not the ideal time for taking a quick (or long) dip, but the beach is nice for sunset walks and chasing seagulls. Or just being quiet and resting after a long weekend of meeting awesome YA authors.
Sullivan's Island Lighthouse
The Battery

  1. Horses: In some ways, Charleston hasn’t changed much. There is a fully dressed pirate who swaggers down Church Street with his parrot every day (I kid you not) as well as several people in period dress who hang out around the Provost Dungeon. Another common sight around the city is horse-drawn carriages. These tours leave from the Charleston City Market almost every quarter hour and show visitors all of the important sites. The tours themselves are a bit expensive, but worth the cash if you’re interested in history and a unique experience.

  1. Our Paranormal Underground: Charleston is full of mysteries. One particularly creepy site is the Old City Jail. It's full of ghosts. One in particular is Lavinia Fisher, the first female serial killer in the United States. She's also the first woman to be executed in the US. There are reports that she haunts the halls of the old jail, peering through the windows and dragging around the wedding dress she was executed in. There are many other ghosts (Charleston is crawling with them), but Lavinia is definitely among the most infamous.

The Old City Jail
Not hard to imagine Lavinia behind those windows.

Also, it's quite possible that there may be wizards and superheroes here. I have photographic evidence:

Deathly Hallows? Anyone?
This sign was on the same building. I see a Snitch...
Superman's girlfriend moved here and became a real estate agent. It's true.

So, to sum things up. Food. Gorgeous scenery. Shopping. Paranormal happenings. Pretty much it's the perfect place to hold YALLfest. And hey, if Taylor Swift loved Charleston enough to vacation in, then you should too.

PS. Charleston just got voted the Top City in the US by Condé Nast Traveler. They put together an awesomesauce video and website about how great the city is. You can find that here.