Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Normally I post on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays as sort of a writing exercise because my hobby is books, and someday I’d like to do creative writing.  Also, it’s a good outlet for things that I can’t talk about IRL.  However, I’ve switched focus to preparing for a translator’s exam, so I’m going to be posting less often for a while.

Also, I’m just kind of a downer in general at the moment, which makes it hard to write.  Normally I lean hard into religion to get me through times of madness, but I’m dealing with a lot of doubts right now, so that makes most of my normal coping mechanisms less accessible.  I’ll try to check in periodically and keep you posted on things that are pissing me off (like what the Supreme Court justices have been saying about Arizon’s immigration laws) or things that interest me (like the way watching TV works in a bilingual household).


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A lot of people are familiar with the classic dystopian literature that you have to read in school.  These titles would include, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and A Brave New World.  A few more people are getting to know this genre through titles like The Hunger Games or the comic The Walking Dead that’s become a hit TV show.  Here are a some other notable dystopian novels I read this year:

Divergent. In the future, all 16 year old’s go through trials to join one of 5 factions, or they risk becoming factionless.  This is the story of one girl, who was raised in Abnegation (the selfless faction) joining Dauntless (the brave).  I thought the concept was interesting, but there wasn’t much information about why society had made the choice to divide everyone into these factions.

Shatter Me. This story is narrated by a girl in a prison/insane asylum whose touch kills people.  A warlord has her released so he can use her as a weapon.  The most interesting aspect of this book was the way it almost seemed like the girl had written it by hand.  It was very notably in her voice and even included things that were crossed out.

Enclave. After massive wars and plague, the story picks up with a human enclave living in the tunnels below a city.  They trade with other enclaves and avoid “freaks” who seem to be plague-ridden monster humans.  A girl, Deuce, becomes a hunter in this society and learns something disturbing about the nearest enclave.  The book  has definitely made me look at subways differently.

Eve. Eve has spent her entire life in an all-girl’s school after a virus wiped out most the earth’s population.  When she turns 18, she ends up leaving the school in unexpected circumstances and meeting men for the first time.  It’s interesting how many of these books involve coming of age and then discovering terrible secrets.

When She Woke. This book is loosely based on The Scarlet Letter.  It’s about a future when many prisoners are released after short sentences, but their skin is marked with a dye that alerts everyone as to what their crime was.  It’s a cheaper alternative to prisons, and in this future you can get marked red as a murderer for having an abortion.  It’s a depressing read but I think envisioning different outcomes of the abortion debate is really important, whether you are pro-life or pro-choice.  There are scary futures possible on both ends of the spectrum.

The Pledge. In this future, each social class has their own language, and all of the classes share one common language.  Knowing other languages is punishable by death.  This book was unbelievable in many ways, but the whole notion of restricting the languages that a person can speak was fascinating to me.

Finally, here’s a recommendation that’s not from 2011, but that I just picked up and read this year:

The Road. After a horrific nuclear war, a father and his son journey to the sea.  Along the way, you discover what happened to the boy’s mother, encounter the typical post-apocalyptic bandits, and start to wonder about the point of living in a world that’s been destroyed.  This book was compelling and depressing – it’s on Oprah’s booklist, so that should tell you something about the depressing factor.

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I’ll be turning 26 soon, which has led me to reflect on what I’ve learned this year.  Here are some of the lessons that stand out to me, in no particular order:

-Miracles do happen.  My husband’s green card was a miracle.

-Pain fades over time.  So does anger.

-People die.  Make sure you’ve said everything you need to.

-Take a risk.  Share with people something personal you’ve written.

-If someone you know can treat certain people in their life well (their client, a friend) – they can treat you well.  They are just choosing not to.

-The later you stay at work, the more stupid mistakes you will make.

-Counseling only works over the long haul.  Go back again next week.

-There is still no crying at work.

-Sometimes the most powerful thing anyone can say to you is, ‘That was not your fault.’  Be that person for someone else.

-There are values more important than honesty, like loyalty.


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This week’s postings are heavy, so here’s a poem I like from October of 2005, because we just don’t get to use the phrase “flaming braziers” nearly often enough in everyday conversation:


The Chinese burnt offerings to their ancestors; the Jews burnt them for Yahweh.

Some people cast their money at your altar, while the wretched fling themselves whole

Begging for your cleansing fire to burn away their sins, their regrets.

Today, Father, if I stood like Isaiah before the flaming braziers at your throne

Like every “good Christian” I would gladly offer all of me.

But if I stood on earth with flickering shadows on my face

Contemplating a solitary bonfire in some primordial forest

And I dedicated that pagan blaze to you, I would incinerate my agenda

And humbly ask to borrow yours.

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You are a poisonous lullaby, honey infected with plague.

Your hands that hold me conceal razor blades.

You rock me gently, smother me sweetly

Demand that I carry your condemnation.

Your silence is venomous, your words toxic

And when I kiss you, you only see Judas.

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I’ve been reading Story Engineering by Larry Brooks because I’ve never gotten to take a creative writing course and I thought this might teach me what I missed.  This week I’ve been reading about characters and I was struck by this quote:

“Characters are sometimes defined by their backstory.  And sometimes they are who they are in spite of their backstory.”

I want to give a shout out to all of those people who come from a depth of madness that you would never imagine just by looking at them.  I want to acknowledge those people who get up each day and put on their work clothes and earn a living and come home and spend time with their families, who put on a happy face and go grocery shopping and get stuck in traffic and pay taxes.  Those are my people!  It seems like no one sees that you are doing so much better than where you came from.   Living well in spite of your backstory is hard, but each day you get up and choose to make something of yourself is a day that you are a bad-ass.

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Poem after repeated failure

I’m trying to work up the courage to post some of the bits of fiction that I experiment with.  I think the  most I’m ready for is a poem, so I’ll start without something short I wrote in 2009:

I’ve been thinking a lot

About grains of sand

About concentric circles

And self made plans

About sea shells

And the curve of my ear

About me being tired

And you being near

About despair and drinking until I die

About the blood in my veins

And the traitor inside

I’ve been thinking a lot

About the end of days

About arriving at your throne

With nothing but grace

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I have an idea for a novel that I work on periodically in my spare time.  For Christmas I got some books on plotting and character development that I’m really excited about since I’ve never taken a creative writing class.  One issue that I’m hoping to find guidance on involves writing dialogue that is consistent with the setting for my fiction.

In this fantasy world I’m exploring, I visualize a landscape that is not as technologically advanced as ours.  I see an intricate network of islands organized in two opposing empires with some islands that aren’t aligned with either side.  I visualize island fortresses and war on horseback and marauding pirates.  However, I stumble again and again with getting the content of the dialogue to be true to this setting.  How do you write fantasy without incorporating song lyrics?  I’m pretty obsessed with song lyrics and find it difficulty to excise them from my writing.  I always skipped over the parts of Tolkien where the dwarfs sang and I don’t fancy writing poetry for my characters to quote at each other.

My main character is part of a guild of interpreters who serve an important diplomatic function.  How can I represent multiple languages in this story without actually resorting to using real languages?  If I do, how would I explain the presence of Spanish and English in a landscape with no Spain or England?  How do you know what kind of modern slang is acceptable to use in dialogue?  For instance, would people in these island kingdoms say “okay?”  I think anachronisms have the potential to yank a reader out of a believable story and I don’t want to stumble into that pitfall.

I’d also like to incorporate aspects of the story of the Tower of Babel and other themes from Christianity.  I see these interpreters being like priests in a sworn brotherhood of public servants.  They struggle with protecting the confidentiality of what they hear in their professional capacity and with the existence of God during times of terrible conflict.  How do I include Christianity in a setting with no Israel?

I’m honestly asking.

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