Into My Playlist: Ain’t Too Proud To Beg

First of all, this is the kickoff of this series of posts! The plan is to cover my (ever-growing) music library, once a week, talking about each song I have, why I have it, and my thoughts on the work and the artist (first time they’re featured) until I (probably never) cover them all.

We’re starting today with “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” by The Temptations.

Let me begin by saying that I love Motown. I will more than likely repeat that statement many times in the months to come. My love for Motown is complete and beyond rationalization. I have literally never EVER heard a Motown song I didn’t like, and I have rarely heard one that I didn’t love. All commentary on Motown songs should be taken with that in mind.

I could wax poetic about the history of Motown and various artists, but that would make this article about six times as long, so I won’t. Instead, I’ll just say that probably my favorite thing about Motown (and The Temptations were experts at this) is the way that content and form blend and sometimes even clash emotively.

This song is actually a brilliant example of this. I mean, one of the main lines of the chorus is “Please don’t leave me girl,” so this guy is in a really bad place. He’s desperate. He’s literally begging.

And yet the music is chirpy, danceable, gives me those happy feels that make me dance around in a sort of squirmy joyous motion that is irrelevant to the beat of the music. The song makes me immeasurably happy because of how it sounds, and then mix that in with this utterly depressed man begging his lover to stay with him because he can’t imagine life without her.

Seriously, who even does that?

There’s a reason Motown was the sound of two decades strong with very little in the way of musical change. There’s a reason they’ve got some of the most soundtrack-repped music of the modern era. This is music that ticks all the emotional boxes without being too heavy, has clear and appropriate lyrics, and is delivered by some of the best voices of the day. Nothing to argue with there.

This song also has the wonderful distinction of being well-associated with Remember the Titans. It was well-used in the film, and thus every time I hear it (frequently), I think instantly of that movie. I can think of worse things to be reminded of when hearing a song.

Cheers,

C

Into My Bookshelf: To Kill a Mockingbird

If you haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, stop reading this, drop everything, read it, and come back.

Done? Great. Because ahead are mild spoilers. I’ll try to avoid big things. It’s just so hard to discuss this book without spoilers.

This book was a standard read for 9th grade honors English at my high school, and so naturally I read it in middle school, summer of 6th or 7th grade, I’ve forgotten now which. In a way, I’m glad I did this. The main character is quite young when the events of the book take place, and in a way reading it closer to her age gave me a very interesting perspective. Going back and reading it in English class when older and wiser, fully in the formal operational stage of development, it was a completely different experience. I understood and realized things that went right over my head the first time through – something that happens every time a book is reread, because we are always looking at it with new eyes.

Lee deals with some heavy topics through the eyes of someone recalling childhood, innocence, not understanding fully everything around her. The recluse down the street everyone’s afraid of? Definitely suffering some sort of social/emotional disorder, possibly disabled in some way, and in a way he’s the hero of the whole story. The center of the whole novel? A trumped up rape trial heavily colored by good old-fashioned southern racial bigotry. Famously, the main character – a tiny little girl – saves her father and the defendant from a lynching mob in the middle of the night without realizing because she recognizes one of the mob, calls him out, asks about his son, who is a classmate of hers at school. The man is suddenly ashamed of what he is doing and calls off the whole mob, telling everyone to go home.

Perhaps my favorite scenes, however, have very little to do with the big-picture issues of race. They’re social moments and school moments. Scout, the main character, sits in on a missionary meeting where a bunch of white women meet with a missionary and talk about poor people in other parts of the world when their own community is so obviously suffering and in need of help. Scout is uncomfortable, but she isn’t judging these women, simply observing. This is the beauty of her voice, the voice of a child. She never judges others because she doesn’t have the context to do so meaningfully, so she simply tells what is happening and it’s up to the reader to connect the dots.

The best bits, though, are the school. You get issues of class (the family that always has lice, the family that doesn’t accept handouts because of pride), and the wonderful jab at the absurdity of educational systems developed without understanding of the needs of the schools they’re to be implemented in. As someone working on my Masters in Teaching, this is especially great to think back on, because it just illustrates this problem so well. This teacher comes in, fresh, inexperienced, but trained in all the latest theories. And when she tries to apply these theories to her first classroom, she finds it impossible because it doesn’t address the needs of her students. And the best part is, the students can see this so clearly, but the teacher is oblivious.

This book is basically the epitome of “out of the mouths of babes,” with incredible range of profundity in an open voice. Every time I open it is a new experience, a new treasure. Especially given how timely the racial and educational considerations are (class issues as well, honestly), I think it’s time for those of you who haven’t read it in a while to give it a reread, and a good, long think.

What I’m Doing Now: Annual Update

Hello, everybody!

I’ve outlined all my blogging for the year, and that includes my new concept of making this an annual blog update. Since I recently updated everyone on what I’ve been up to, I’ll keep this a brief overview. You’ll be hearing more about other features of this blog very soon, and regularly.

So, I’m still working on my Masters, still blogging, still writing, still editing. All that jazz.

I will say that I made a friend in one of my recent classes who took a look at my manuscript for The Death of a Billionaire, and apart from loving it – and not being able to relate to the main character – she did say, quite aptly, that my dialogue all sounds alike. I have a terrible habit of all the speech sounding like my speech, which works pretty well for a lot of my characters, but definitely not all of them. So that’s something I’ll be focusing on in this round of edits, which Natalie says should be close to the end. I’m very pleased about this.

Drafting of Chasing the Imaginary Octopus has begun in earnest, and In the Dark and Dank and another as-of-yet untitled piece are also in the drafting stages.

Also, my fan fiction writing has really taken off. I’ve resolved to schedule a chapter a day. I can definitely write that much, and it keeps stories flowing in spite of my busy life flooded with schoolwork. I’ve been updating Faithful, so my ASoIaF fans are pleased. And Craving Comfort has gotten a couple of updates as well. I’ve begun scheduling into August based on reader reviews and favorites and follows, so I may finish scheduling there rest of the year in the next month or so.

As far as reading is concerned, that’s coming on slowly. Still doing my annual re-read of Anna Karenina. Classes slow that sort of thing down, regrettably. But I’ll be keeping you all updated on my reading with a new feature: every time I finish reading a book that isn’t one of my textbooks, I’ll have a book review prepared on this site by the following Saturday. You’re welcome. :D

I think that’s about all for now, but I’ll be speaking to you all soon!

Cheers!

-C

Into My Bookshelf: Which Witch?

Still on my short bookshelf, I have to confess that we’re going to have to come back to a few books. Four, as a matter of fact. Three are Neil Gaiman books given to me by an ex-boyfriend that I’ve yet to read, one James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small, which my mother got me years and years ago for a birthday and I honestly don’t recall a word of. They’re on my list, and I’ll return to them as soon as possible.

Instead, we’re moving on to yet another one of my childhood favorites, Eva Ibbotsen’s Which Witch?

Yes, I was a very predictable child. I liked magic stories. It probably didn’t hurt when Harry Potter came along. We’ll come to those books eventually, but let’s focus on this one.

This book was released in 1979, which in my mind makes it a children’s classic, and if I ever have children I’m passing this gem on.

The main character is a white witch, Belladonna, who lives in a world where magic is supposed to be dark. She wants to marry Arriman the Awful, who is looking for a wife in his hometown in order to fulfill a prophecy he thinks refers to a son he doesn’t yet have. She’s rescued a boy named Terence from an awful orphanage and he agrees to help her win the hand of this dark sorcerer. How? The impossibly difficult task of necromancy.

To top it off, they’ve got to battle the desires of an evil enchantress who is intent on winning, and the fact that Belladonna’s supposed familiar goes missing just before the competition.

I won’t say that there are unpredictable twists and turns, because as an adult it is all very obvious. But the wonderful thing about well-written children’s books is that they’re not obvious to the children, and even when they are obvious to adults they’re still a riveting joy to read. This is definitely one of those books. It’s a bit silly, but in an incredibly charming way. The characters are exaggerated just enough to be comical, but not so much that it’s painful to read.

This is one of the few books from my childhood that I would read over and over and over again without pause if I could. I would recommend it to literally every child at the right reading level, and if they weren’t a the right reading level I’d read it to any child who would sit still long enough.

I think the most charming thing about this story is that it’s uplifting, and even though it uses some familiar tropes it uses them as pieces of a larger story, not as the primary story in and of itself (which is something I’ll say in another post, coming once I finally get it back from my sister…. Probably the favorite book of my entire childhood).

So if you haven’t come across this book, I really do encourage you to check it out. I’d love to get thoughts of other readers of it! It’s always a good day to reminisce about childhood favorites.

Cheers,

C

Writing Outside Your Life Experience

One of the oldest, most repeated axioms in writing is, “Write what you know.”

There are some definite advantages to taking this vein. Obviously, when we write about things we have experienced we bring our own experiential knowledge to the table, something that increases accuracy and ability to improvise around the truth. We know our hometown better than most places in the world, for example. We know our high school best friend better than a stranger we see on the subway. Our ability to create settings and characters based on what we know is vastly improved, and this helps to create more viable, believable characters and settings.

Sometimes, though, we have to step outside our experience. If we didn’t, horror stories and mysteries would be pretty empty of excitement. Surrealism in literature would (probably) not exist. And great writers like Tolstoy would never write in the point of view of a woman, much less a dog.

The point is, art isn’t about exploring what we already know from the viewpoint we always see it in. It’s about looking at the world in different ways, or imagining other worlds. This involves stepping outside of our life experiences, and there are lots of ways to do this.

World-building is a common one, creating something entirely new. But this is very difficult to do anymore. Most fantasy comes out feeling a bit too much like Middle-Earth, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not necessarily new, either. And really, even writers like George R. R. Martin and Tolkien are basing their fantasy worlds off of history or politics that are familiar to them (War of the Roses, anyone?)

We don’t start with a blank slate when we sit down to write, and it’s important to remember our experiences and our studies whenever we try to create. But it’s also important to think about things outside the box.

One of my best friends as a writer is research. Natalie Cannon, for example, is a wealth of information on horses, medieval history, monks, and things of that nature. When I write anything about any of these things, it would be pretty stupid not to ask her many, many questions. Consequently, if you are writing about horses and don’t actually know much about them, I encourage you to check out her blog. She’s doing a series on horses for writers.

Recently, I’ve been working on a story that intersects heavily with drug culture. And in spite of my being a fairly adventurous artistic soul, I’ve never really done drugs. Especially the things this story covers, like LSD and cocaine. My ignorance was so much that until a week or so ago, I didn’t even know how people took LSD, or what exactly the appeal was in cocaine.

So I took advantage of my resources. As someone who went to college, I definitely knew people who did drugs (of many sorts), and people who knew people. I contacted some of these people for questioning, and they gave me all kinds of information: how LSD is taken, what the point of cocaine actually is, what some of their trips were like, etc. One person (a reader of mine, actually), happily told me about a website where I could read about the drug trips of other people with various drugs and drug combinations.

The internet. I’m telling you. You can find anything on here.

So yes, write what you know. But even if it’s something you don’t know, or maybe even can’t know (like exactly how a female might think about something), call in your resources. Interview people who know things, read about things, read about people who know things, and become savvy with the internet.

And when all else fails, as one of my writing teachers, Kevin Moffatt once said, make it up. You’re an artist. You’re not obligated to accuracy. Sometimes a convincing bluff goes a long way.

Into my Bookshelf: Seven-Day Magic

Welcome back to my bookshelf! Today we are going over the last of the Edward Eager books: Seven-Day Magic. In several ways, this is the weirdest book in the series – certainly the most unique – and in several of those ways, it’s a definite contender for my favorite.

First of all, Seven-Day Magic is the only book in the series with a set of children who aren’t present in the other books. I won’t say that it’s a stand-alone story, because their adventures intersect with the adventures from previous stories (as we have become accustomed to in recent books). Still, we aren’t getting a pair of stories. This may have been his original intention, to have another, eighth book with these same four children, however Seven-Day Magic was the last book Eager ever wrote, so we will never know.

The story surrounds four children who check out a book on their summer holiday, and they find that it contains magical power. If you ever wanted a book to introduce children to the magic of reading, this is a good place to start. The actual book they check out has magical properties, containing the adventures they inhabit, including the tales of previous books.

The appeal of this to a chronic reader is obvious. While I have developed a wariness of libraries among my other phobias (because there is just something unnatural about a building that quiet), the idea of a book that holds the secret to magical adventures is definitely an idea any bibliophilic child would appreciate. I don’t know how many public libraries still have summer reading experiences for children, to encourage reading lots and lots of books, but that was literally the only thing that ever got me into a library (except the occasional book sale, because those used books are just SO CHEAP it’s worth braving the library and its eerie silence, in groups, naturally). It inspired me to devour books at a rate that alarmed many an adult, something I wish I still had the time and energy to do.

Some of the most magical and influential reads of my life were devoured during summer reading. Finnish Folktales, for example, which later led me to the Kalevala. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was drawn into reading by the promise of prizes and, you know, beating all my siblings and friends.

Even if your library doesn’t have this program – or your community somehow doesn’t have a library – you can still get your children interested in reading, through the immortal excellence of Edward Eager, capped off with this excellent addition to his work: Seven-Day Magic.

Into my Bookshelf: The Well-Wishers

Almost done with this portion of the experience, my little trip into Edward Eager. I have to say, I’ll miss revisiting these books for the time being, but they’re on my list of things to re-read, and hopefully I’ll get to them sooner rather than later. Nothing is able to make you think about the world differently, if only for a moment, than a really good children’s book.

And that’s exactly what The Well-Wishers is, second to last book in the series.

It reuses the same cast of characters from Magic or Not? and the same concept as well. Instead of clear and obvious instances of magic from the early books, all the magic in this book might just be magic-seeming. As I said before, there is a certain endearing quality to this ambiguity.

Also, as the title suggest, there’s a wishing well. And let’s be honest, who hasn’t thrown in a penny from time to time? There’s a certain… fairytale quality about a wishing well, and when it has that same ambiguity, the quality is even more charming.

This is the last book of the series in a pair, and to be honest I prefer this one to Magic or Not?, perhaps because the characters aren’t brand new this time, perhaps because I really like the wishing well concept. Whatever the reason, I love this almost as much as I love the literary story lines Eager sometimes uses.

One more to go, and this one I will gush about.

Cheers,

C