Tags: cuddle monsters

Making History: The Time I Uncovered a Story

(note: the wonderful and awesome Victoria Schwab, about whom I've fangirled many times online and in person [...sorry, V.], has started a new project called Making History formed around the same concepts that make up her incredibly awesome book The Archived. After thinking about it for a few weeks and angsting, I decided to write this. I don't know what it means that my attempt at discussing my own experiences necessarily involves fiction, but there you go.)

If, by chance, you came upon my History and turned through its pages, you would find overwhelming scenes of me staring at books. Perhaps some are filled with words, printed and bound and crisp-paged, in just the way a book ought to be. Others are empty, their blank pages waiting for my pen to start moving—my pen, hovering only half an inch above the lined paper. In some scenes, I would begin to scribble half-baked thoughts and rhymes and riddles however I please, but in others—in most—the pen would slowly drift from the page, and before long, I'd set it down. 

After all, what could my silly thoughts ever come to?

But perhaps your fingers drift over my memories, and something flickering snags your attention. Look a bit closer, and you'll see a candle flaring up, its glow illuminating a half-size Moleskine with a cracked tan cover. 

The night is June 29 2012. My electricity went out a few hours ago, it's now growing dark, and the suffocating heat is starting to overcome every nook and cranny in the house. I'm halfway slumped over my notebook as I stare dully at the flame. I'd love to write something—anything—and if I could make it something good, so much the better. 

The page is blank. 

On the facing side, there are some scribbled notes from my acting class—on heroes and gods and monsters, Medea and King Lear and mythology. They remind me of last winter and the ice-storms, and the half-faded memory of a story. 

A story that's been nagging at me for a few days. 

The basic stuff of the story—its genetic code, all scrambled and messy—is in my head, and I know the kind of story I'd make it. Until now, I've been rather resistant in not thinking about it. After all, it's a dreadful risk. 

But in this moment, seated in near total darkness and with my candle flickering before me, I have nothing to lose. If I try to write it and it doesn't work, no one will know. 

Yet I know myself, and if I don't have someone to report to, then I'll give up. I'll try to protect myself, to save me from my own scorn should I fail to write this novel. We are only ever so cruel to other people as we are to ourselves, in some way, and I couldn't do that. If I were that awful to myself, then I'd risk it spilling over and affecting people who'd done nothing to deserve it. A rotten apple spoils the peer group, and all that.

I need someone to know. 

I grab my phone (precious little battery though it has), snap a picture, and tweet it. With a silent prayer, begging the stars to help me make this work, I grab my pen—swallow hard—and start writing. 

That was the beginning of Cuddle Monsters, silly little creature it is. It might seem silly to some of you, I know. Yet that was the night I discovered how deeply writing really runs through my soul. 

As it happens, however, the rest of my History's entry on this silly beast of a story and how tightly it's wound around my heart is still compiling. If and when it finishes, I'll let you know.

Be Inspired Meme

My lovely and darling critique partner, Constance, tagged me in this meme, and in doing so gave me free reign to talk all about the strange little beast known as CUDDLE MONSTERS. Considering I have a very strong and very weird love for this WIP, this should be very interesting. 

1. What is the name of your book?
At the moment, it is CUDDLE MONSTERS (the caps make me feel all official, yo). It does have a strong contender for A Real Title, but I feel weirdly superstitious about sharing it on the Interwebz. So—for now—CUDDLE MONSTERS it remains.

2. Where did the idea for your book come from?
It was an amalgamation of two distinct ideas, both of which were too flimsy to stand on their own, with a shot of Shakespeare and an interest in practical applications of literary archetypes on the side. That's my official response. My unofficial response is that I was rather possessed by a strong desire to write something of a fairy-tale, and wondering what it would look like if I did. I've said before that I think it's a Thing of fairy-tales to be dark and tragic, and CM might reflect that inclination. It's not horribly dark and tragic, but I think it has that lineage nonetheless. 

3. In what genre would you classify your book?
I nicknamed it "folkloric realism", because calling it fantasy seems a little misleading, but ultimately it's a form of fantasy inspired more by fairy tales than epic.

4. If you had to pick actors to play your characters in a movie rendition, who would you choose?
HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Sorry. See, this is a question I have serious issues with because I have never seen actors/celebrities who quite fit my image of the characters—so in this matter I'm totally useless. Maybe Constance-the-CP has some ideas, but I don't. 

5. Give us a one-sentence synopsis of your book.
DEAR GOD, NO.

(I leave it to you to decide if that IS the synopsis, or merely my response to the question.)

6. Is your book already published?
*twitches* Come back in four to six years, okay? 

7. How long did it take you to write your book?
CM took slightly over a month to draft (all 78k of it, and I regret nothing). Right now, I've just begun editing the Dreaded First Draft after my CP of Wonder sent me her über-lovely comments (and guys! SHE DOESN'T THINK IT TOTALLY SUCKS. THIS MAKES ME ALMOST INCONTROLLABLY HAPPY.). I have a lot of ambivalence towards it, because on one hand, I feel like my writing is much stronger with this draft than it was when I wrote my first attempt-at-a-book. On the other, I have a severe neurotic writerly perfectionism thing going on which makes me cringe at it even though I know I'm getting better. Go figure. 

8. What other books within your genre would you compare it to? Or, readers of which books would enjoy yours?
I have no idea. There are Certain Authors whom I admire infinitely and with whom I would absolutely love to wind up on the same bookshelf, because I aim to write the same sorts of things I like to read, but saying it would sound horrendously arrogant. I do hope, though, that if CM ever turned into something book-shaped, it would appeal to the same people who like Certain Authors—that's what I like, after all. 

9. Which authors inspired you to write this book?
Well, Shakespeare was a direct influence on CM because of Things and Reasons, although his presence is probably mute at best. In terms of advice/blog posts/other sources of inspiration, this post by Jodi Meadows and this post by Victoria Schwab both cemented my decision to write CM even though it scared me to death (if you don't believe me, go reread some of my Angsty!Posts on fear of failure with CM and whatnot). I read these posts long before I actually started writing CM, but they came back to me at the beginning of July, as I sat with a two-page outline of a weird little story that I desperately wanted to write well and beautifully.

10. Tell us anything that might pique our interest in your book. An early codename for CM, before it became CUDDLE MONSTERS, was "The Edmund Project" & named after Edmund in King Lear. There are still traces of this influence, since "The Edmund Project" was not so much a story as it was a study, but I'm not going to TELL you what they are. 

Oh, and it's inspired by Hamlet and Germanic folklore with a hefty dose of fantasy. Also, there is tea, and other lovely things like waistcoats and ruffly dresses and iron walls. Uh...there's a plot, too.


11. Tag five people! As most of my fellow bloggers have already done this/said they're not doing these anymore/whatever, I'm going to cheat and say ALL OF YOU. Or, well, if you want to. If you DO do it, though, leave a link in the comments! I would love to hear more about your WIPs. I KNOW there are some of you who click in fairly regularly, and I'm not sure who you are—but I would love to know you better.


What Makes a Fairy Tale?

I love fairy tales. 

That should surprise absolutely no one at this point. 

But I've been thinking a lot about exactly what it is that makes fairy tales so lovely, and the distinctions between modern YA retellings as opposed to original works that feel like (or really are) fairy tales. 

Note that I said have been. I stopped, because I don't know what I ought to say about it. It's an issue of authors writing magical books, and how do you pinpoint and describe a book that is magic?

There are fairy tales from all around the world, and I'm very fond of many of the lesser-known ones, but in the end I always come back to the Grimm tales. There's nothing quite like magic and creepiness and other worlds mixed with absolutely unconquerable spirit and people facing the odds relentlessly, all wrapped into one delightful package. 

That could describe Doctor Who, couldn't it? Hmm. 

Ultimately, the issue with writing about characters is that they're people, and people come with baggage. All sorts of baggage. Moral shades of grey, conflict internal and external, improbable motives, backstory...endless possibilities, and so little time to share the story. But stories need a resolution—something at least satisfying, if not necessarily happy. For satisfaction and/or optional happiness to matter, there has to be an equal or greater amount of darkness to make the resolution shine all the brighter. 

And fairy tales are very good at that. 

There are some stories where the bad guy receives due recompense, but equally many in which the protagonist goes through awful things—if I recall correctly, the heroine of the Norway Bull story actually needs iron shoes nailed to her feet in order to climb the glass hill—before some kind of resolution comes about. 

So, in this sense, an original fairy tale needs to be dark. It's in the story's genetic code, so to speak—a part of its nature. To an extent all books need a "dark"—some opposing force, that is, but in fairy tales it's especially important for this dark force to let its influence bleed over into the rest of the story. 

My first assertion, then, would be this: an original fairy tale needs darkness. 

My second is really a personal preference, and also entirely subjective. But, for what it is worth, I also think that an original fairy tale should be creepy. The core notion of "creepy", for me, rests upon what is known in part—but more heavily on what isn't. There are things in fairy tales we don't know, and the absence of certainty about these things has an impact on the core of the story. Something that's creepy straddles the lines between true and false, known and unknown, our world and someone else's. It blurs the lines, changes distinctions until you're not quite sure which world this story is in—a core factor in many traditional fairy tales. While much of traditional fantasy asks you to suspend your disbelief and step into a whole new world, fairy tales (since many original fairy tales—I think—are probably classified as fantasy in bookstores) take your hand and pull you from your world gradually along, slipping and slipping along a pond of iced-over words until you're quite dizzy—and not sure if, when you stand up, you're in the same place as you began. Perhaps you are, and perhaps you're not—and the only signs that can tell you for certain are those little nagging shadows in the corner of your eye. 

The third thing is stylistic, and hence also a personal preference and subjective, but I feel very strongly that original fairy tales ought to be poetic in their nature. Traditional fairy tales were passed down through oral tradition, on one hand, so it seems fitting to pay attention to the meter and the way your tongue feels as you pass through word after word. Language is very magical, and what kind of story is more magical than a fairy tale? Might as well double up on the magic, and have a beautiful fairy tale in the process. Because fairy tales and poetry and language are all tied so closely, the words themselves ought to be really beautiful. Because of their ancestral heritage in traditional fairy tales, I think original ones should be tied closely to the senses—to how it sounds aurally, to how the words feel in one's mouth, to the image painted by the pattern of the syllables and consonants and vowels*. In a sense, this means that—to me—an author's voice alone could make a novel a fairy tale. 

But fairy tales are so multifaceted, whether traditional or original YA, and I can't possibly cover everything that goes into them. So tell me, readers—what do you think makes an original YA fairy tale? Leave a comment with your thoughts, and I will send the spirits of goodwill to you with brownies.**

*Classics diversion: there's this bit in the Aeneid where Virgil is describing a depiction of the whole Minotaur incident, and the words he chose are brilliant because their sound matches the imagery exactly. Gawking at the ways ancient poets used hexameter to influence the coloring of their words is a very informative hobby.

**Due confession: I do aspire to write these. I love original fairy tales, and would be a Very Happy Writer if I could imbue my WIPs with the kind of fairy tale quality that I know and love from other works. It would make me terribly happy, I think, before it made me terribly nervous. 

PAYA! Fangirling! Long Car Trips!

Guys. 

Guys.

I write this from my house, exhausted but happy after a day of driving, a day at PAYA and a brief trip to Longwood Gardens (so much story fuel, but I digress), and then another long day of driving and cars that threaten to break down (that = today). So, like any mature college student on the brink of her third year who decided to take an eight-hour-one-way trip in pursuit of books and meeting author people and ALL the writing awesomeness, I've decided to blog about it. 

However, unlike real bloggers, I failed to take lots of pictures. This, dear friends, was because I was greatly in awe. On an intellectual level, of course, I know that authors are ordinary people (albeit ordinary people with a deal of storytelling ability), but that doesn't change the fact that I finally had the opportunity to meet people I truly admire. 

And it was outstanding. 
IMG_1134
Picture taken shortly before the writing workshop began. Yes, I was reading King Lear.* I AM ALWAYS READING KING LEAR.

The day began in the room you see above for the PAYA writing workshop. It was a workshop of Awesome. The opportunity to hear the authors talk about such different things through their own perspectives was really invaluable, and it also reinforced something that—though I knew it intellectually—I needed to hear. 

Everyone writes differently. Uses different methods. Different things work with different people.

And that means that I can, y'know, write like myself.

That sounds silly, of course—who else would I write like, after all?—but for me it's a real concern. I've blogged before about my own knee-jerk reaction to being considered derivative or unoriginal, which—when balanced with the endless feeling of OMGISUCKHOWCOULDANYONEEVERREADME—makes for a ConfusedWriter!Rachel. CM helped me in both these respects, because a) I deliberately used archetypes and tropes, or attempted to, and in doing so discovered that it made the story much stronger than it otherwise would've been, and b) I wrote it the way I wanted to write it, using the style I liked (...or an approximation of it, anyway).

And guys.

I might not totally suck. Not all the way.

ISN'T THAT COOL?

...ahem. Sorry.

So—without going back into my THIS IS WHY I LOVE YOU, CUDDLE MONSTERS rant—CM has been such a lovely thing for me. It's helped my approach to writing in so many ways, and I love it. Even though it needs work. Even though I know it'll be hard. I love it . I actually want to start editing it, because I know that I can make it better, and then it will be Shiny. And maybe—once it's shiny—I can give it to people.  

You know. For Real. 

And that's a beautiful thought. 

*steps off soapbox* Right. Back to PAYA. 

I met so many wonderful people at the Workshop of Awesome and the subsequent signings, including the positively amazing Victoria Schwab. I've posted before about how much I admire Victoria's writing and the way it blends clear, economic prose with gorgeously poetic phrasing, so it should surprise no one that her books turn Fangirl!Rachel into a little puddle of mush. Thus, my excitement level was high. I mean, we could TALK without a 140 character limit! THIS IS COOL STUFF, GUYS. 

Both in the workshop and out of it, Victoria's insight into the writing craft and the underlying structures of storytelling and such was incredibly valuable, and I really can't thank her enough for spending time and chatting with me at PAYA. (fun fact: we both love the word archetype. If it weren't potentially creepy, I would say our friendship is meant to be right now. But, since it's potentially creepy, I won't. cough)**

While at PAYA, I planned to buy ALL the books. However, because I was Not Expecting This, I took only one bag. The result was that I had to lovingly cradle all the books in one arm. Which hurt. But guys! Books! Signed books! And I could talk with the authors! EPICNESS. 

Overall, it was a really wonderful way to end the summer, and I'm so happy that I got to go and finally meet People Who Understand Writerly Feelings. The only bad part is that it had to end (well, that and the part where we discovered that the wheels on our car could've fallen off and killed us on the Interstate, but that wasn't PAYA itself...). Nonetheless, it was very fulfilling, and I'm incredibly glad to have had this opportunity. 
*Trivia about which no one cares: Cuddle Monsters in its most bare, raw form had a doppelgangerish predecessor. I called that doppelganger The Edmund Project. Infer from that what you will... *mysterious cackle* 

**I'm still kind of thrilled that we got to meet. Hence the fangirlishness. But, as I said on Twitter, I REGRET NOTHING. 

The Power of Words

I've said before that I believe words have incredible power, and I wholeheartedly stand by that. But today I don't want to go into that again—it's floating somewhere back in my blog archives, so if you'd like to read it you can scroll down a bit. 

You see, on August 12, I finished my first draft of Cuddle Monsters. I was ecstatic and heartbroken at once—my little story needs work, but it's still very dear and magical to me, and the thought that it was the end of the beginning was terrifying. But—overall—I felt gratified. My hard work—those days of writing 3k or 4k or, in some blistering moments of utter stupidity, 5k—had paid off. I had the beginnings of something that could be beautiful. 

On August 13, my grandfather died. 

It wasn't really a surprise. He was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer in July 2011, and the fact that we had this past year with him was a gift in itself, but he was such a fighter. I had been up at my grandparents' house only the day before—the day I finished my draft—and when I told him goodbye, I knew this was it. Somehow. It cut into my heart and bone, that last goodbye, but I couldn't let myself cry. I had to think positively. He could still pull out of it. Yet...I knew.

So I wasn't surprised, but it hurt. How it did hurt. 

I'll write more about him later—when it's not quite so fresh, so that I can give him his due—but the point is that the Very Good Thing of finishing my first draft was immediately bookended by the death of someone I loved very much. 

I cried and mourned, but I've cried in secret many times. Nothing I could do would change what had happened, and I couldn't just snap my fingers, whisk everyone up in a TARDIS and fix everything. I couldn't even dry their tears, so how could I absolve their pain?

I pulled CM open and reread the beginning. The voice was off—you know how the characters are sometimes not totally established at the beginning? Not quite themselves yet, even if you know who they are and what needs to happen? That was it. 

I could fix that. 

So I did, as much as I could, and I tinkered away with it. They were short, almost mindless revisions—the sorts of things I should've never missed in the first place—but still. I worked with them, fiddled and fumbled until it looked a little better. The ache never dulled, but that silly little project of mine, the child of Hamlet and Elektra and the Brothers Grimm through Science, helped. Not much, not in the long run, but just an increment. That increment was enough.

Writing is cathartic, in a way, although I can't and don't write as a release (that is—if I'm genuinely in pain, there's no way I can write).  The ability to create—to make something beautiful, or something with the potential to be beautiful—salves wounds, though it can never take them away. Words give us the ability to do remarkable things, whether hurt or heal, and sometimes just the ability to do that helps. After all, language is how we communicate—how I talked with my grandfather, how he told stories about silly things like green bugs perpetually reincarnated only to be squished while crossing a road, how all those lovely memories are created. 

And it was language funneled through my dear baby WIP that, however distantly, helped me in the wake of such sorrow. 

Words are beautiful and powerful. Use them wisely. 

A Deep Want

Ah, love and want. Two components of however many romance novels, these things can provide a layer of tension to any storyline! So when I say that I both feel a deep love and a deep want, you'd think there would be a lot of awesome dramatic tension floating around my cranial unit.

Alas, however, my love is for my story (=CM) and my want is to share the story with others. So while my entire relationship with The WIP is tense, it's not the kind of tension that people are just dying to read about. 

So I'll try to keep the amount of ANGST ANGST ANGSTY MCANGSTER to a minimum. 

The simple fact of the matter is that I love CM deeply. It's the first project I've attacked from a professional perspective—that is, with the idea that since I want to do this for real someday, I might as well act like I'm doing it "for real" now—and with clear, constant attention to plotting, tension/conflict, making every scene matter, etc. The sorts of things I've read about for years, really, but only tried to implement consistently now. It appears I'm improving, anyway; the people test-reading my first draft (read: family, and I adamantly emphasize that they are not coddlers or a built-in fan base—hi, Mom!) have said it's hooking them and decent enough. There's plenty to fix in edits, of course, and then I have to find critique partners and/or beta readers, and sometimes THERE IS JUST SO MUCH WORK MY HEAD WANTS TO EXPLODE. 

But ultimately—when it really comes down to it—I love this story. I love it so much. I want to make it as shiny as it can be, and I want for other people to love it as much as I do. It's a weird little beast—can't decide quite what it wants to be—but I love it, believe in it, and pray that others will as well. Ultimately, that's why I'd love to be A Real Author (TM)—stories are wonderful things, all strangeness and beauty wrapped up in a magic box. The thought of being able to share mine and have people actually like them is odd and wondrous all at once. It's terrifying and exhilarating, and I can hardly wait. 

...and I must wait. 

Now I'm waiting to finish my first draft. Then, assuming I don't have to redraft it, I will have to wait to edit it multiple times on my own and with CPs, and then wait while I write a synopsis and a query and then the actual querying process and I'MGONNADIE other things of that nature. 

But I have to wait, because this is worth waiting for. Sure, I'd love for CM to need only minimal editing and then hook the perfect agent within a few months, and then have the perfect editor fall in love with it in turn—but realistically, I will almost certainly have to wait for a very long time. 

I don't want to, but I must. 

Because I love it, and I want you to love it as well. 

In Which the Title of "Cuddle Monsters" becomes Thematically Appropriate

Depending on how long you've been lurking around here, you may remember  this post, in which an angst-ridden Rachel complained at length about having only snippets of scenes and no plot for her Shiny New Idea. 

Now, look over at the sidebar under the meter marking my progress on CM. 

Look back at that post. 

...I found a plot. 

Not only did I find a plot, but I found a plot in which nearly every element I listed earlier fit in organically—one or two aren't present, but I'm not going to tell you what they are. (Shush. I'm pretending that people are actually curious about this, and that I can be secretive and sneaky out of a sense of duty to the WIP rather than just embarrassment at my Potential for Suck.) I spent about a week doing nothing but hammering out each scene that was vital to the plot, which makes this my first really-for-real outlined WIP. In the middle of the massive power outage that followed the derecho, I spent time fiddling around by candlelight with nothing but my paper and pencil. It was rather magical. 

But it still terrifies me anyway. 

I should back up a bit, and bring Little!Rachel back into the picture. You see, Little!Rachel started writing and telling stories very early, and—as very little writers often do—they were quite derivative of things Little!Rachel liked. All things considered, Little!Rachel was relatively good at parroting other works, but didn't realize that quite yet—and heaven help the person who pointed out the derivation, because that would send even a pint-sized (err...younger, that is. I'm still short.) Rachel into a fit of angsty rage. Of course, maybe if Little!Rachel had accepted this fact, her actual craft would've improved long before *cough* her freshman year of college, when she finished re-writing what I've retroactively dubbed The First Novel (For Realz). It wasn't terribly good, but it was a valiant first effort, and not derivative at all. It was also rather dry and uninteresting, although I still like the world.

So...I never actually grew out of what I call a general fear of unoriginality. For a *cough* very long time, my thought process when writing looked a lot like this: "holy crap I'm a talentless hack and no amount of work will ever fix my writing and everything good in my WIPs was actually written first by someone else what will I do ARGH".  As a result, I have half a dozen unfinished WIPs saved on my computer...and I gave up on them all. I toyed with the idea of, y'know, just not writing, and it failed horribly. Throughout the whole time, though, I continued to study and work on my craft as best I could. 

Then CM started to come together, and I wanted to cry. I loved what I saw—those snippets and little scenes of something lovely and dark—but if I wrote what needed to be written for the story's sake, I would use the very same things that haunted me for years. I weighed it. On one hand, if it ended up as just another unoriginal craptastic draft, I could give up on it and not suffer the consequences. I'm not agented, so I didn't have to answer to them. This story could be for me—just for me—and I could do whatever the heck I wanted with it. 

At the same time, and probably instrumental in CM's development on a subconscious level, I was researching folklore and mythology. I realized soon that I could connect the dots and see archetypes everywhere. If you asked me why this was, I would've responded quite reasonably that archetypes and tropes exist because they work. They were literally made to be used. No wonder they show up in every culture's myth and legend with a fair amount of reliability, right?

...yeah. 

So I decided to embrace the archetypes in a Hug of Doom and try to wring every last bit of usefulness out of them. I would do nothing but tell the truth about the story (you can do that in fiction, right?) and see what happens. 

Well. I love it. 

For the first time, everything seems to just work. Not that drafting hasn't been difficult and trying, but I actually feel like I know what I'm doing within the story—part of which is no doubt due to the fact that I've done a great deal of reading on structure and plotting. On the other hand, though, I can't help but think that it's also connected to the fact that I'm learning to accept that nihil novi sub sole—and, as a result, I can use the tools created long ago to tell a decent story without feeling like I'm nothing more than a plagiarist with an occasional good turn of phrase. I've been able to plot and explore and play with it like never before—all thanks to these types. CM can be what it is because those archetypical figures and folkloric tales are in its genes—a vital part of what it is, but not all it is. 

But it's still terrifying, because others could see only the bones of the archetypes and think I'm derivative all the same, or if I managed to royally screw up my very favorite archetypes. That fear of being dull, stupid, unoriginal, and anything else you can think of is still there, and it's continually dragging down my ability to proceed with this WIP (example: what am I doing right now? Or, more specifically, if I'm writing this blog post, what am I not doing? Yeah.). But I've managed as best I can—trying to let my love of the story carry me through the endless Fear of Suck waves. If I write, then I can get better. If I don't, I never will. 

This fear is precisely why I need to write this story. Even if it doesn't go anywhere at all (and I want it to go somewhere, of course, because I love it immensely and hope that others would as well), the fact that it scares me so much is a sign that I'll grow through it. It is funny, I think, that while my characters have to fight many monsters in the story, I have to fight my own just to write it. Life must be lived, fear must be conquered, and words must be written. Rather like Victor Frankenstein, we create our own monsters. We have to choose what to do with them. 

Assorted Stuff (Giveaways! CM! Tea! Cute little birds!—OHMYGOSHTHEWEEPINGANGELS)

—So, that strange academic child of Elektra, Hamlet and the Grimm brothers (you know, through science) known as "Cuddle Monsters" has officially reached 30k. It's fun. It's still something of a secret. And kind of...unstable. Like some of the characters are. BUT FUN. 

—I attempted to make milk tea by steeping teabags in hot milk with sugar and cinnamon. Since I have a habit of scalding milk, this made me nervous. However, I am happy to report that it was a delicious (and weird, but mostly delicious) combination of flavours. 

—I am very easily distracted by birds. Any kind of bird, actually—even vultures are funny, when you pay attention to them. Hawks are lovely and majestic, meadowlarks have the best song ever, and there is nothing cuter in the animal kingdom than seeing a tiny sparrow taking a bath. NOTHING, I TELL YOU. (Except for kittens. And red pandas. And velociraptors.)

—In other news, my favorite animal changes very easily. 

—In honor of the six-months-'til-THE ARCHIVED, Victoria Schwab is giving away six awesome ARCs, and they ALL look incredible. Unfortunately, THE ARCHIVED is not actually one of them...which makes me sad, because I like stuff involving the dead stacked like books and whatnot. However, I'm trying not to be too heartbroken at the six-month wait ahead of me. *pats TBR stack*

(random: Tony Stark had an arc reactor, so can I have an ARC reactor? It can be powered by the written word. If knowledge is power, then can I take over the world after grad school?)

—I've been staring at pictures of England lately, and thinking about how lovely it would be to write stories there while studying Classics at Oxford or Cambridge. It would be heavenly. *deep sigh* It is kind of funny, though, that while antiquity is full of good stories, I've never written anything that can be connected to the classical world in a concrete way. I think it's because I'm too close to it—it's fascinating and exciting and wonderful, of course, but I'm connected to it in such an academic way that I can't approach it just for love of story. Since I'm not really tied to fairy-tales and Germanic mythology in the same way, it's easier for me to use that as a springboard for ideas. At least, that's my theory. 

—I'm trying to come up with something new and interesting to post that people will actually, y'know, read, but thus far I'm failing. I might take to writing flash fiction in which famous characters from literature get devoured by velociraptors, and see if anyone notices. If anyone has any ideas of interesting subjects, PLEASE FOR GOODNESS' SAKE let me know, else the Angst Monster might take over and post a whole bunch of pictures of depressing, scary, and otherwise sundry things. 

And, on that note, here's an Angel. 

Do. Not. Blink. 
I want to make statues that look like Weeping Angels and stick them in my front yard, and then move them a tiny bit day by day. It would be hilarious. And potentially cruel, of course, but mostly hilarious.

Heroes! Villains! Shakespeare! Cuddle Monsters!

So. I've been working on my new project a lot recently (it's up to 15k after about five days of writing—way faster than I usually write). You know the one. The one with the very odd codename of "Project Cuddle Monsters" or, if I want to make myself feel all official, CUDDLE MONSTERS (it does have a different working title, but I'm not convinced that it will stick). The one that has resulted in copious Hamlet quotes, and pictures of iron necklaces and keys, and sketches of Jane Austen characters all dwelling in harmony in my Evernote folders. Not to mention the memes I've built for CM while snerking the whole time. 

But Cuddle Monsters lives up to its codename: it's a very strange little project, and (as a result) evokes all sorts of feelings from me. It's the first project I've actually planned out the scenes/acts/etc. for, and maybe as a consequence of that foresight has been relatively easy and quick to write (of course, whether or not the words resulting from that quick and easy writing are any good is a different matter—I'm still battling the Inclination To Distance Reader From Character, Passiveness, etc., but I trust that I can overcome that in edits *crosses fingers*). Its strangeness extends beyond that, though; it's an entirely different sort of project from what I usually try to write. It's much more quiet (well, aside from the monsters) and intense, with the majority of the drama being drawn from family dynamics (hyper-dysfunctional family dynamics complicated by the presence of monsters, but still). It's also startlingly unfunny—humor is almost totally absent, at least in part thanks to the source material and otherwise from the natural development of the characters. Speaking of which, in spite of my plotting, I've had a positively magical time discovering new things about the characters and storyline. They've stumped me a few times, actually—the character that I thought would be Snark Warlord 2012 ended up being much, much more interior of a character than I imagined. But as a result of that, I realized exactly how hard it would be on this poor character's brain to contain, absolutely and unyieldingly, all those rapid-cycling emotions 24/7, and said character is much more interesting for it. 

As a result of CM's plot, which is inspired by all my favorite plays ever (read: lots of revenge, and tragedy, and murder), the characters all get to have moments of Ultimate Darkness and half-descents into madness, etc. which fits nicely with its tragic roots, but is actually also a way of letting me poke around with my ideas of heroes and villains. The moral grey area of revenge plots is a perfect place to torture characters examine what these situations would do to a person psychologically, and how even good intentions can go awry. The ways in which heroes and villains are made complex, tested in their missions, and how they become the people they are are fascinating to me, and I think that a thorough understanding of those factors can really deepen the manner in which a story plays out.

At the same time, though, the scenes involving that depth are the hardest ones to write because they scare me. They evoke abject terror, because while those contradictions and complex manners of thought and deed are wonderful when done well...I don't have faith in myself to actually do them well. Of course, if I never write it, then I certainly won't get better, and will doom myself to Perpetual Suckitude. But not doing something because of fear is an absolutely horrible way to live, and no way at all to write. So, with quaking fingers, I write the scenes. Some of them make me cringe, and the ones that do are the most important of all because that's where the most is at stake for me. I've spent so much time analyzing heroes and villains that now, when I try to write some of my own, I'm terrified to do it and fail. It would be far more humiliating for me, having done all this stuff on how shiny characters are, to fail at developing my characters than it would be otherwise. 

But I want to do it anyway. I want to write those characters so vivid that they can reach out of the pages and shove their presence down your throat (not literally), the characters who make tears well in your eyes from the sharpness of their pain—the ones you want to hug when they break. I want to write those Shiny characters, even though I know it will involve potential embarrassment and suffering on my part. Isn't that weird? 

I think this means either than I love my project deeply, or I've really lost it. Maybe a bit of both. 

So tell me, you 5.5 people who will read this post—if you're a writer, have you had Fear of the Shiny and, if so, how did you deal with it? Non-writers, how have you conquered fear of taking those risks in your own life, and what makes characters stand out to you? I'm all ears.