Monday Muse: Inspiration for the Uninspired

It’s Mondayyyy. And, lordy, was it ever a long one. BUT, I’ve been a very bad blogger as of late, so I’m going to put together a Muse even if it kills me.

So, lately, I’ve been pretty uninspired. I’m tired, I’m bored, I’m feeling unproductive, and the news/political nonsense have me on edge. All. The. Time.

Also, I haven’t done much writing. This, in spite of the fact that I’m pretty much always daydreaming about my latest projects. I take notes as necessary, but trying to sit down and find the right words for these characters seems like a Herculean task.

I’m slowly crawling out of this funk, and the catalyst was undoubtedly having the chance to meet Imbolo Mbue. Her author talk back for Behold the Dreamers provided tons of inspiration, but it was after the event that this uninspired writer truly found inspiration.

I spent a few minutes speaking with Ms. Mbue one-on-one, asking her writer-y questions that she graciously answered. I was most interested in the fact that she is a “self-taught” writer. She has several degrees (none of them in writing) and she never intended to be a writer, it was just something that felt right.

As someone who has loved writing forever, but never really gotten a chance to take a “formal class,” this gives me so much hope. My writing could, indeed, be worth publishing even without a master’s degree in writing. It’s all a matter of being true to the story and knowing that sometimes the process of writing is going to feel like I’m chipping away at a house-sized hunk of rock.

Mbue described writing as a journey of self-discovery even as you discover the story and characters that speak to you. Writing is an extension of yourself, so, yes, it has ups and downs. The important thing is to come back and keep chipping away at that rock, because eventually you’ll end up with a diamond.



Monday Muse: The Magic of Sleepless Nights

Hi readers, welcome! This post may end up being slightly late, but please note that I did, in fact, begin writing it on Monday…

Settle in, it’s story time. 

So, first off, let me preface this story by saying I attended a beach wedding this past weekend. A beach wedding? In December??? I hear you say. Well, yes… Please keep in mind that C and I live in the perpetual warmth and humidity of America’s penis: Florida. 

Anyway, I attended a gorgeous beach wedding, enjoyed a sizeable slice of delectable lavendar cake, and, oh, I was fairly eaten alive by no-see-ums (AKA sandflies (AKA bastards of the coast)).

And now, we move to the main portion of tonight’s post.

I did not sleep last night. Not a jot. My legs were painfully itchy, searing with discomfort, and neither caladryl, aloe, apple cider vinegar, hot water, nor cold water did anything to provide relief. It was agony!


Between multiple trips to the bathroom for various (useless) ointments, trying in vain not to scratch, and significantly disturbing the boyfriend’s sleep, I had an amazing hour of clarity.

You see, I’ve been developing a new project, but I’ve been stuck. The idea hit me like a ton of bricks in early October and then proceeded to settle into a pile of rubble rather than a solid foundation. I had character names, a basic premise, and a central conflict within a day, but I had no idea who was behind the conflict much less what his or her motive was. It was as much a mystery to me as it was to the characters who had already sprung to life in my imagination.

But last night, in the midst of itchiness that took me to the edge of madness, it all became clear. So clear, in fact, that I could recall every newly formed detail without the help of hastily scribbled “night notes.” (Which often don’t make any frickin’ sense, anyway.)

So, yeah. Losing sleep and wanting to cut off your own limbs may actually lead to epiphanies? At the very least, it’s true what they say: “Don’t worry, it’ll come to you. At 3 in the morning…”


Monday Muse: Names are Important, But Let’s Be Real…

Hello and welcome to the Monday Muse! It’s been a while since I did a Muse, due to busy schedules, date confusion, and general forgetfulness. For this, I apologize.

But I’m here today! And I’ve been thinking about this particular topic for quite a while, to be honest. So, it’s time I finally put it down in writing.

As writers, C and I have repeatedly advocated the importance of world building, backstory, and names. Every little detail you put into your story helps create something that is multidimensional and believable (within the given parameters of your world, of course). 

Now, sometimes overzealous writers get carried away with the nuances they’ve created, and feel that it’s important that every aspect of their work has a hidden meaning. More often than not, this also applies to the names characters are baptized with. And, also more often than not, it results in lame, cheeseball revelations that most people saw a mile away… “Ezra means “help” so this character’s issues stem from childhood trauma.” “You can’t trust Janus, she’s two-faced.” We get it, you know how to use Google.

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is: yes, names are important – super important – in the journey to creating great characters and great places, but there is also a fine line we must dance as authors. Don’t overdo it with the magical, mumbo jumbo names that somehow manage to foreshadow your protagonist’s entire story.  And give it a rest with made up names within the context of a story that is supposed to take place in our reality. It’s unnecessary. And it takes away from how the story stands on its own.

I’ve been struggling with “overnaming” myself lately, and I think it’s important to step back and be as objective as possible when you ask: “is this character, under this particular name, believable? Would I make it through this story without scoffing at the title character’s prenom?” You might be surprised.

Also, please don’t name your characters something that’s so jarringly dramatic to the ear that it becomes off-putting. I know… Hard to do objectively, but that’s why you have bookworm friends to give you beta reader feedback, amiright? Because somebody should have sat Rick Riordan the f**k down and steered him clear of “Magnus Chase.” 

Long time followers will know that I have a soft spot for the Percy Jackson series, but I think Riordan has gotten a wee bit carried away.  I literally did a spit-take when I saw the cover of his new book – and I wasn’t even drinking anything! 

Magnus Chase? That’s not a name, that’s a punk rock band. Or a luxury sunglasses company. Or maybe what Kanye West might name his pet jaguar. Or his next kid… Hmm, maybe it’s not the most unbelievable nonsense name.

Anyway, for those of you participating in NaNo, I salute you. Name your characters wisely, and with love, and they will serve you well. 

Happy writing!


Monday Muse: Writing Isn’t Just Drafting

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I’m a slow writer. I started drafting Liar (Lucky) way back in February, minus the first few hundred words, which I had done last summer before I’d decided I wanted to continue with the project. If I’m lucky, I’ll have the first draft done by the end of this year. But as I am C and not Lucky, there is a very good chance it’ll be until next February until it’s done. It just seems to take me about a year to get a draft done.

This is because, unlike many writers I’ve come across, writing leaves me drained. Well, more to the point, drafting leaves me drained. It’s like having a gas tank, you know? I fill it up and then burn it in order to put pen to paper (or, more accurately, fingers to keyboard), leaving that tank empty. I’m not someone who gets energized by the act of creation. I don’t fall into the writing zone, where the hours pass and the words pile up because I’m so deeply into creating, I don’t notice anything else. I am always–always–acutely aware of the fact that I’m writing, that I’m draining that tank and getting closer to needing to stop or I’ll be stuck by the side of the road.

The problem with being this way is that a lot of the advice out there seems more like the obnoxiously upbeat chirpings of a morning person than good, old-fashioned night owl cynicism. Write every day, put on music to get in the zone, write nonsense until it gets good, etc. All great, positive, upbeat, saccharine bullshit when it comes to people like me. Especially since it seems to come from the POV that the only writing that matters is the drafting and that you can only call yourself a writer if you draft every single day. Which is exclusionary AF.

But, you know what? Writing isn’t just drafting. And you don’t need to do it every day to be a writer. No, writing every day won’t make it easier to write every day. It doesn’t just become habit. I am not a perpetual motion machine. If I try to write every day, I’ll end up burning out. And I know there are people out there like that. I can’t be the only one.

Take a break. Don’t let those “write everyday” people let you feel guilty for needing some distance between yourself and the world of writing. And if you must do something every day, even thinking about your work or creating Pinterest boards count. You don’t need to read a novel looking for things you like and how to recreate them; just read the damn novel for fun. If you want to read with a view to improving your writing, go right ahead; just know that you don’t have to.

You’re not less of a writer because writing isn’t every single iota of your being. You chose to be a writer, you are a writer, but you are more than a writer. You are a person who is a writer. And if you need to stop sometimes, that’s cool.

I know I like getting away from writing. Sometimes a girl just wants to talk about history and politics.


Monday Muse: Recognizing the “Single Story”

G’day, Cacti friends! Happiest of Mondays to you. I know it’s not the best day of the week, but the good news is: it’s almost over. 

Today, I’m going to use the Muse to discuss a wonderful Ted Talk I recently watched, entitled: “The Danger of a Single Story“. The speaker is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author whose wit and eloquence is just mesmerizing.* She uses her time at the podium to educate her audience about the “single story”: a problematic viewpoint that leads people all over the world to limit their knowledge of a thing, or a place, or a person based on the few stories that come to define it. 

What I found so fascinating about this talk was that Adichie goes beyond the idea of a simple stereotype. According to her observations we are all susceptible to believing the single story presented in popular media or literature. It is not a phenomenon limited to affecting one culture or religion or region. We are all – most likely – in the same boat as Adichie when she describes her trip to Mexico and the realization that she too had bought into the single story of the people she met there. 

Stories in literature tend to follow trends, expectations, and popular culture, but Adichie’s narrative also points to an imbalance of power. And it’s true… If every voice of every country and every traditionally downtrodden culture had popular literature and media that represented their strengths and joys to the same degree that superpowers like America do, we would have too many stories to choose from and be unable to form such narrow views of our neighbors.

So write stories for everyone and consider every point of view before you stick with what you assume people expect to read. Ups and downs, joys and sorrows exist everywhere, and it’s dangerous to confine certain parts of the world within the darkest parts of their own narratives. 

I hope you take the time to watch Adichie’s talk: it’s enlightening as well as sweet and funny and wise. It’s well worth the watch.

See you on Friday for Boozy Books!


*The combination of her public speaking skills, personality, and worldview led me to purchase one of her novels shortly after watching. I can’t wait to read and pair it!

Monday Muse: Guys & Dolls, A Musical Fable of Broadway

Happy Monday, Nerd Cacti! Welcome to week three of Shakespeare-a-palooza!! That means we’re getting suuuper close to the week of the trip y’all! I can practically taste Laura’s homemade granola and feel the breeze on the back patio of Balzac’s. August 28th, you are so close, yet so damn far…

Anyway, this week marks our departure from Shakespeare-iness as we explore some of the other shows we’ll be attending when we hit Stratford at the end of the month. This week we’re spotlighting Guys & Dolls – the classic Broadway musical which I have had the privilege to perform in, and love very much despite its glaring problems (and in today’s day and age, they are quite glaring). It’s a well-known masterwork that helped set the stage for the American musical comedy: delivering laughs and conflict, stock characters that Broadway audiences would come to recognize in an instant, and doling out happy endings to all.

It’s a fun musical, to be sure – typically staged in an atmosphere awash with color and spectacle, and boasting a good handful of memorable songs and characters – but over time, I’ve come to find that it’s best enjoyed at face-value. Looking closely at this 1950s relic, a modern audience will find that the material has not aged well. It is brimming with problematic stereotypes, outdated gender expectations, and an old-timey Americana depiction of what is supposedly “wholesome” that leaves much to be desired. Simply put, beyond the flash and the catchy showtunes, Guys & Dolls is outdated.

Yes, as much as I love this musical, I can admit to its flaws. The gender-based humor is not kind to women, the depiction of police is irresponsible, and the fact that the audience is led to cheer on gangsters who receive little to no recourse is downright deranged. Under the magnifying glass this is far from a perfect example of American musical theatre. It features an array of chauvinistic themes, allowing the male characters to be the featured protagonists despite their errant and obvious flaws, while the women are caught in the narrow-minded writer’s depiction of either being virtuous or loose (with no apparent in-between). Also, Adelaide and Sarah’s duet at the end of the show – “Marry the Man Today” – can make the modern, emancipated woman feel a little itchy if it isn’t directed properly. If it is left to the lyrics and not paired with strong motivation on the part of the actors, it comes off as an ode to settling for the sake of being married.

Interestingly, the show’s subtitle – “A Musical Fable of Broadway” –  suggests that there is a moral to the story. I think, above all, this is my problem with the show. To me, it says that beyond shallow entertainment I should learn a lesson from this particular story. But – as I mentioned – being a believer in equality, it is hard to consider the story as something deeper than an old-fashioned romp that was written before women’s lib and the dawn of realistic character development. Sure, there are lots of examples of women being shoved into one of two pigeonholes, – moral and boring or sassy and loose – but this show’s deliberate subtitle suggests that there is an important lesson in watching a good woman fall for a crook, and another equally good woman (heart of gold, bitches, don’t judge Adelaide cause she sings in a sleazy lounge) settle for another crook who has given her no real reason to stay with him beyond the fear of ending up unmarried and old.

As I said, I love Guys & Dolls. It’s fun and silly and – oddly enough – charming, despite these issues. More often than not, this musical relies on its cast to make you like the characters they’re depicting and – generally – they succeed, because each character is written with such broad strokes that it’s easy to find something to relate to and connect with (even if it is a 14-year engagement to a man who won’t commit). Personally, I plan to watch the show for the spectacle – as I have done on at least four different occasions. It makes me laugh, it makes me hum along, and – if the choreography is good – is guaranteed to hold my attention. I love it in much the same way I love I Love Lucy (which has many of the same gender-based oopsies as Guys & Dolls)… it entertains me beyond measure, I honestly love the broad-stroke characters, and – in many ways – it is a nostalgic connection to something I discovered early on in my life.

That’s it for me, friends! I’ll be back on Friday for the pairing, which includes a bit of a history lesson so I’m sure C will be pleased.

See you then!


Monday Muse: Children are Exhausting

Hi everyone! I’m supposed to Muse today, but given that it’s the start of another week of summer camp and I had the least relaxing weekend in the history of weekends, I’ve got next-to-nothing left. I’m pooped and sore for reasons that are unfathomable to me because I didn’t actually do anything physically demanding. 

All I can say is children are exhausting and people who decide to actually own more than two are out of their everloving minds. Last week I had a whopping 12 kids to keep track of and, as if that weren’t enough, it was an insistently rambunctious group. This week is only seven – which, in contrast, feels a bit like a vacation – but I swear they’re sucking the life out of me. Are children the real vampires? Are they actually causing the aging process? Maybe if everybody stopped having children we’d all just live forever. I kid. Some children are pretty great. Just not in packs…

Good night, friends!


Monday Muse: The Thrilling Conclusion!

Hey, guys! Welcome to today’s Monday Muse! And welcome to the conclusion of my month-and-a-half long Brontë-off! Three sisters, three books, one winner!

Now, I really did come up with a points system for this. I even stuck to it! So, let me briefly explain that before I go forward and discuss my likes and dislikes and reveal the prize-winner.

Oh, shit. I didn’t create a prize. Well… I guess the prize will just have to be a re-read in the not-too-distant future. Or tracking down an adaptation and watching it because it can actually be difficult to find them for at least one of the books.

So, I basically created a system of points from 1-5 in the following categories: Characters, Plot, Writing Style, and overall Readability. That’s kind of vague, I know, but those are the kind of things I consider when I read books. Unless it’s fantasy, in which case there’s the “Holy Shit, That’s Awesome!” effect. But these aren’t fantasy (except the idea that Byronic heroes make good lovers), so that category isn’t all that important. In the end, I added up the points and, well… I think this part’s obvious.

Let’s start with Jane Eyre. You’ll be surprised to see how little my dislike of Charlotte Brontë has affected my opinion of her book. Or maybe you won’t be because you know I’m a historian and being disinterested is kind’ve our thing. I don’t have to like someone to acknowledge they’re good at what they do. And Jane Eyre is a great book. Jane is a wonderful character. She’s the kind of heroine we want our daughters to look up to: strong, passionate, self-possessed, and self-aware. She knows who she is and lives her life according to that knowledge. We seethe for her when she faces injustice and feel sorry for her when that whole secret-wife-in-the-attic thing happens. And, of course, I’ve always like that she takes delicious revenge on Rochester by telling him all about St.John Rivers. Now, this is the worst case of author manipulation for marriage plot in the history of ever (hearing his voice? really? really, charlotte? really?), but it is in keeping with Romantic ideals. And I can’t help but dislike Rochester. He made bad decisions and then decided he should be able to ignore them because he deserves to be happy? He was going to enter into bigamy and, in Jane’s belief, doom her to Hell all for his own feelings. Again, though… it’s good writing. And in keeping with Romanticism. But the biggest problem with Jane Eyre? The writing itself. It’s terribly dense, especially compared to her sisters, and it has a definite effect on the readability score.

So, let’s do this:

Characters: 4 out of 5. I take a point off because some of the characters (especially the Riverses) exist solely to further Jane’s story. I get she’s the main character, but everyone should exist for themselves.

Plot: 3 out of 5. I took points off of this one because there are some really damn obvious cases of things being unbelievable for the sake of the plot. Jane takes off into the moors and ends up being found by the only people in England who happen to be her long lost family? Seriously? I get that these are all Romantic tropes, I really do, but Charlotte does it too much.

Writing Style: 3 out of 5. Again, especially when compared with her sisters, Charlotte’s language can feel clunky and dense. It starts out with a great first line and then nary a period for what feels like forever. So long, dense sentences that attempt to say too much. Compared to her sisters (for different reasons I’ll cover), Charlotte’s writing style is my least favorite.

Readability: 4 out of 5. There are periods in this book I just want Jane to shut up and move on. The part where she’s wandering in the moors after running from Rochester is one of them. The part with the Riverses is another. Actually, the entire second half of the novel needed tightening. And that made it, on occasion, difficult to slog through. Honestly, I prefer adaptations to the book sometimes for this very reason.

Total. 14 out of 20.

Now on to Wuthering Heights. This book suffers a lot for me from having such high scores for readability and writing style and yet awful characters and a somewhat… overwrought plot. As I discussed in the pairing, I hate every character in this book. I hate them all. Heathcliff isn’t a romantic hero. Catherine blames everyone for her own weakness. They’re terrible together and apart and everywhere. And the thing is… they aren’t real. None of this is real. It’s so overwrought and so full of the dark side of Romantic sensibility that it loses any and all of its realism. If Emily Brontë had wanted to look at the dark side of Romanticism or in what can happen to people when they don’t do what their soul is telling them to do, she could have done so without delving into a nightmare Gothic world and I think her thesis would have been much more powerful. That said, this is the book I actually enjoy just reading most, if that makes sense. The language is spectacular. Emily is the best writer of the three sisters, in my opinion. Her poetry is powerful, her prose is evocative, and if she had been the one to write The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I think no one would ever talk about Jane Eyre.

Then again, no one would talk about Anne, either… and that’s sad. I like Anne. I like the whole concept of Gondal that she and Emily created.

The scores!

Characters: 3 out of 5. OK. Are they well-written? Yes. But they’re… they’re almost caricatures of real people. They’re like Gothic archetypes. Like… you know how Commedia dell’Arte is all about archetypes and the characters are differentiated by their masks and costumes? Yeah. These characters feel like all the villains from Gothic romance put together into one novel. They’re well-constructed, but… I just like a little more realism in my work.

Plot: 3 out of 5. Yeah. I know. But… guys. The plot is so unrealistic. I mean. Yes… people are awful. They marry the wrong people and are then unhappy. They try to get revenge on one another. But it’s like Emily decided she wanted to take EVERY TROPE in Romantic literature and then explore the dark side. It’s just one awful thing after another until, in the last few pages (literally, like 9 pages from the end), Heathcliff dies and people can be happy. Sort of.

Writing Style: 5 out of 5. Emily is the best Brontë. She can WRITE. Enough side.

Readability: 4 out of 5. I only take a point off because, as well-written as the whole thing is, it’s sometimes hard to keep reading when all you want to do is murder everyone in the book. And then you realize you’ve become Heathcliff. And you hate yourself a little bit.

Final Score: 15 out of 20.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The book that, in the interests of disclosure, was my favorite. But, in the interests of disinterest, I have some problems with. Like I said above, if Emily had written this book, I think it would have been the greatest masterpiece in the history of ever. EVER. EVER!!! But that’s because it’s my favorite book, but Emily is the best writer. That being said, Anne’s no slouch. Something I marveled was her ability to characterize so well in only a few words. One line and you knew a character, especially in the case of secondary characters. This allows her to focus on the main players. In fact, of the two biggest weaknesses of the book, one is something Anne couldn’t really help because of the time in which she wrote (Arthur’s affair, for example, could be dealt with in a much more… open manner), and the other is at the heart of the novel. If you’ve been keeping up with the Brontë-off, you’ll know I disliked the constant moralizing and Bible-quoting on the part of the main character. It got to be… a bit much. But, also… the point was it didn’t work. And, once Helen realized it wouldn’t work, she stopped quoting the Bible. So I think Anne just went too far. One final weakness is the final portion of the novel, where it goes back to Gilbert’s POV and we’re treated to being told what is going on with Helen (and on occasion reading her letters) instead of seeing it. But because of that framing device choice, I got treated to Gilbert falling in love with a Byronic heroine (of sorts), and that is worth everything.


Characters: 4 out of 5. I have to take points off for Helen’s moralizing. During these portions, I found myself sympathizing with her husband… and we’re not meant to do that. Now, maybe the constant Bible quotes wouldn’t bother someone for whom religion forms a big part of their life (does that clause even make sense?), but it bothered me. I hate being proselytized to and it made me sympathize with Helen less. Plus, it was SO OBVIOUS. If you want to make a bad person better, you don’t quote the Bible at them. That just makes you seem obnoxious.

Plot: 5 out of 5. I wanted to give it 6. I really did. But that would be breaking the rules. Guys. A woman tries to save her husband for love, realizes it can’t be done, and leaves him. She takes her son and runs off to become a painter. In 19th century England. And a dude falls in love with her AND RESPECTS HER WISHES WHEN SHE SAYS NO, LET’S JUST BE FRIENDS. (There’s also a Toxic Nice Guy who doesn’t, and we’re meant to hate him. No sympathy from Anne.) Guys. Can I just give this six points out of five? PLEASE.

Writing Style: 4 out of 5. Just because she isn’t as good as Emily. Sorry, Anne… I love you. But I can’t give you the same score as Emily. I mean, she’s your sister… you definitely understand. That being said, aside from a tendency to just, throw, punctuation, in random places; everything was really good. And it’s clear, evocative, and gets the point across. Which leads to:

Readability: 4 out of 5. It’s an easy novel to get into. Except for the parts I had to push through because Helen was just throwing constant Bible quotes around. I think I was supposed to understand what they meant. But I’ve never finished the Bible. So I didn’t, and they kinda just felt… plugged in there. Once those few pages were done with, though, and they became much more judicious, I plowed through this book like it was a summer, poolside novel.

Final score: 17 out of 20.

OK. Maybe it’s a bit anticlimactic, but… ANNE WINS! Yeah, I know, you probably knew that coming in, but, really… it was the book I enjoyed reading the most. And it’s the book that has the most realism and the most staying power. I mean, seriously… women can’t change problematic, abusive men through their love? That’s still so damn relevant!

So. Go read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Realize why it’s the best. It’s been settled now.

Emily Brontë is still the best writer, though.


Monday Muse: Leaving Your Mark

Hello, readers! It’s me, A! I know… Shocking: I actually remembered/managed to get in both of my weekly posts this week. Hath hell frozen over?! Who are we to say?

Anyway, welcome one and all, to this week’s edition of the Monday Muse. Truth be told the Muse is not exactly my cuppa… Occasionally I’ll get a good idea and go to the lengths of preparing my thoughts and arguments, but more often than not it takes me by surprise and I flail for something (anything!) to riff on. It’s just a lot of pressure, ok? We have, like, 200 followers. We’re 1/100000 of the way to WordPress fame. (Kidding.)

Today happens to be one of the days when I’ve got a little something up my sleeve. A particular niggling tickle at the back of my brain has been causing me to consider where I stand on a matter that many readers have unwaveringly decisive stances on. I am not one such reader…

Here is my question to you: how do you, dear readers and fellow book lovers, feel about writing on/marking up the pages of your books? I’ve been considering my feelings on this very seriously, but my conclusions are indecisive and confused. 

Here are the two sides of the argument that hold me in limbo: 

1. I am a bibliophile and a perfectionist so I have a tendency to want to preserve my books exactly as I bought them. There’s nothing like a crisp, clean page. I mean, the main reason I dislike buying paperbacks is that the spines are so easily worn. And bookmarks are my salvation because earmarks drive me insane. Also, some small part of me is certain that one day my Harry Potter books will be worth a great sum of money (but only if they’re in mint condition). *Who am I kidding, I’d  NEVER sell my Harry Potter collection. If they did get sold it would be by the heathens calling themselves my great-grandchildren… And if they should be reading this in the future and even consider doing such: SHAME.

2. Annotating, highlighting, and underlining have always served me well in academic settings. Granted, it was practically a requirement in the face of great literary classics, but it made me a more attentive reader and helped me recall information and even be more receptive to foreshadowing clues that I’d previously taken note of. AND, having picked up a good number of used books here and there, I kinda love finding the markings of previous readers. It’s like they’re leading the way, dropping breadcrumbs, showing me why this particular book deserves appreciation. He or she has left a trace of themselves so not only do I feel a connection to the story, but also to another reader, showing me their interpretations, their favorite passages, the sentences that deeply affected them. 

I’m torn. 


Outside the world of academia I haven’t so much as underlined a sentence. I occasionally have the impulse to, but then my love of my personified sheaf of neatly printed and bound pages overtakes me and I ultimately decide against it. Am I some kind of new book snob? Why can’t I bear the leave my mark despite relishing in the input of readers of the past? It’s weird, right? 

So that’s my Monday Muse. It’s definitely earned it’s name… No sense of resolution or defining conclusion here. Just a rambling chunk of text that explores dilemma. Honestly, I probably won’t start marking up my books any more than I have been, but I recognize that it is a useful device. And, also, if you look at it the right way, it’s a way of communicating with future readers, whether yourself or future generations or total strangers.

Just something to think about…

Maybe I’ll leave a few marks after all.


Monday Muse: Giving Your World Layers

Heyo! Welcome to today’s Monday Muse!

First off, WordPress has been advising me I should tell y’all to register to vote, so I guess I’ll do that here. As a student of American history — and American POLITICAL history in particular — I have spent my adult life studying the way America has grown and changed. The way low turn-out and high turn-out affect the way elections work. The way, over time, a series of small changes can lead to real, substantive differences. A vote is never unimportant. A vote is never wasted. A vote can be un-strategic. But, whatever the case, it’s vital that we, as Americans, vote. In fact, voting could be said to be our duty as citizens. After all, what is our end of the social contract if not to follow the laws and be civic-minded citizens? The privileges of being a citizen are that: a privilege. And privileges must be earned. Now, I’m all for acting like a moron to get out of jury duty — they don’t pay you NEARLY enough to not work for days on end if you get chosen — but voting? You can mail it in, vote early, show up day of, etc. It takes ten minutes. There’s really no excuse. So… make sure you’re registered.

Happy now, WordPress?

OK. I want to talk about something I experience pretty often. As I mentioned, I’m a historian. I enjoy studying the past. For me, it isn’t just a bunch of things that happened; it’s the greatest, most epic story of all time. It is every decision and every action every person has ever made. It is their passions, their fears, their moments of exquisite poignancy and their decades of irredeemable squalor. It is religion used as a tool of conquest and for building communities. It is political systems begun in glory and ending in corrupt vitriol. It is humanity. It is the purest example of humanity at its best and worst. And I love it.

What I really love, and this is as a storyteller rather than a historian, is to put myself in different places in that narrative and realize just how much of our thought and our feeling is the same. Sure, there are huge differences like our tendency, on the whole, to not blame everything on supernatural influences (a witch didn’t curse my cattle; they died of hoof and mouth, or something like that), but we are the same species. We are the same people. We want the same things for ourselves and our loved ones. And we think of ourselves as the latest, the last, the pinnacle. Our reality is the ultimate reality. (Ultimate in the sense of last, not best… though we often regard ourselves as both, except for the tendency to think of the past as ‘the good old days’.) But the fact of the matter is that, barring the complete extinction of our species in our lifetime, we are just another chapter in the narrative. We aren’t the end. The story is still going. People in Medieval Europe were visiting the Colosseum as ruins the same way we are. There are pictures of flappers staring out over the Egyptian desert from the pyramid of Khufu. Videos from WW1 of bright-eyed soldiers marching off to war, living and laughing. There are pictures of their bodies, riddled with bullets. All of that is part of the story.

And in writing, especially in world building, it is important to understand that. Our story isn’t in the ultimate version of our world (unless, of course, you’re writing the destruction of that world entirely, but most of us have a few survivors); it is merely the most recent (you know, unless we go with the all time is happening at once theory, or something). Your characters, your plot, are just part of the narrative of that world. So when you’re creating your world, don’t create it JUST for your story, even if you never write another one in it. Don’t tie everything up in a neat bow, because then there’s no sense that you’ve created a world, just a setting. Just a canvas or a stage on which your characters act. Breathe life into your world and it, in turn, will make your story seem more alive.

Well, that’s it for me today! I’ll be back on Friday to pair something. Don’t know what yet. I’m re-reading Middlemarch, and I’ve already paired that…