Vantage Point (A story about you)

Once I looked down the pier on a freezing night; it was empty. I smiled because I imagined the people there. It’s easier to deal with them — their largeness and loudness –when they aren’t really there.

Once I was brave enough I walked down it. The hot light from the tower at the end spun and spun, each time eating through my eyeballs and making pieces of my brain hurt. No other light contested it. It smelled on the pier. Not of the usual sweaty sweetness but of fish and watery salt.

Once I reached the end, I scooted around the light tower and climbed over the railing, my back to the pier, my chest to the sea. When the light turned out it caught nothing; inside the waves, it disappeared. Eaten up by earth’s black pupils.

Once the boat reached me I jumped on. It had nobody to steer it so I did that myself. I let the waves do most of the work, and followed that lost blinking light till I couldn’t see it no more.

 

by mackenzie blackwood

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Promise Me

Here’s one of the last stories I wrote for my writing class in high school. Now that I’m at university we’ll see how things go. Anyway, I felt like posting this so I will. Even though a grand total of 3 people still read blogs (congrats, you must be one of the three). Even if this is just floating around in the void forever, at least it’ll have somewhere to float. This story is called Promise Me.


On the night of Lee’s thirteenth birthday, the house felt like a prison. While family and friends fake-laughed downstairs, he’d managed to sneak up the steps to his bedroom–the one place where he could find solace. He kept his eyes fixed on the grimy window, rain tip-tapping on the glass like a million tiny heartbeats. It was dark out–a thick fog had nestled around the house–but he could just make out a shadowy figure standing guard on the cedar branch. It was a crow as black as the night itself. He waited for it to caw, for the sound of weekend camping trips and nights under the stars, but it never did. A mute crow, he thought. What a rarity.

This birthday was the first one he’d had to endure without Adrian. After what had happened the year before, he couldn’t bear to think of his friend. Adrian was the fastest boy their age with a laugh to rouse a corpse, the kind of boy who took his shoes off outside to feel the grass. The quiet one. Quiet like the crow. Memories of Adrian flooded back, hitting him in the heart like a gunshot. He knew that the more he thought about it, the worse he would feel. Even still he saw Adrian’s face in his mind, running down the hallways where they used to play in a house once familiar. His room was starting to drive him crazy, and he decided he had to get out.

Slipping on his rain-jacket, he tiptoed down the stairs. At the end of the hall, a pair of heavy doors stood guard, both threatening and beckoning him to come closer. With a glance over his shoulder, he left his bustling party behind and entered the night. He counted backwards in his head from one hundred, the numbers falling like leaves and crunching beneath his feet. The wind whipped and the ground squelched but he moved like clockwork, and by the time he’d reached twenty he was already there. The treehouse. Their adventurer’s paradise. He’d refused to go back since Adrian’s death, but that night was an exception. That night was a cold wind in the trees.

He put one foot in front of the other, up and up the rickety ladder that he’d climbed the year before to get away from Adrian’s funeral, where the words mumbled at the reception cut like knives; They shouldn’t have funerals for children. Lee nearly slipped but caught his footing. It’s just too sad. Inside, he felt a pang of sadness looking at the drawings lining the walls, depicting bygone fantasies. Past all of the dust and litter, a pile of blankets was lying in the corner. Then, the blankets breathed. Lee screamed bloody murder as something rose up from under the sheets. For the love of God, don’t be a bear. Not a bear, but a man, one with rough dirty skin, matted hair, and a strangely pristine explorer’s hat that seemed to glow in the dark.

“Please, I’m only hiding from the rain,” the man said, his voice surprisingly soft.

“Don’t you have a home?” Lee’s whole body trembled. The man shook his head.

“I used to, but I’m a wanderer now.” They shared a curious silence. “This is your treehouse?” Lee nodded. Mine… and Adrian’s. The wanderer smiled, surveying the place. “Take good care of it,” he said with a sudden urgency. “Promise me.” Looking up, Lee caught a glimpse of something wild in the wanderer’s crow-feather eyes.

“I promise.” The last time he said those words, he was holding Adrian’s hands and swearing he wouldn’t let him fall. Lee thought he heard the man mumble happy birthday, but it was probably just the wind. It was always just the wind.

As soon as dawn broke Lee was awake, running down the stairs and out the door with a garbage bag in tow. The woods were damp with dew and quiet, save for the cries of crows in the distance. There was no trace of his late-night meeting with the man, and a shiver ran down his spine. Where the pile of blankets were, a crumpled drawing sat, depicting two smiling boys with explorer’s hats. His hands shook as he read the black ink. Happy Birthday, Lee. Your friend always, Adrian.

I Gotta Talk About Fiasconauts

I’ve gotta talk about it! You read the title!! Or maybe you just skipped to this bit in which case, I like your style. Anyway, Fiasconauts.

I’m a big fan of podcasts because they require little commitment, you can listen to them pretty much anywhere, and they can be a really interesting and creative form of storytelling when done right. The right music, inflection, timing, and even voice can make a podcast special. Fiasconauts is one that I have been addicted to for months and months and months now that I wholeheartedly recommend.

When I first explained to my friends why I was laughing while waiting for the bus, they thought I was nuts and they still think I’m nuts. Why would you wanna listen to a bunch of guys playing a game?? How does that even work?  Oh. Trust me. It works beautifully. Fiasconauts is a monthly podcast by Easy Allies (or EZA), an “independent group of experienced writers and video producers.” They mostly deal in video game commentary and live streams, but I found them through Fiasco. 

Fiasco is a tabletop improv game that fascinates me to no end. I originally discovered it when I saw an article about using it as a novel-writing tool. I can’t explain this as well as the people who created it can, so here’s an official description:

“FIASCO is an award-winning, GM-less game for 3-5 players, designed to be played in a few hours with six-sided dice and no preparation. During a game you will engineer and play out stupid, disastrous situations, usually at the intersection of greed, fear, and lust. It’s like making your own Coen brothers movie, in about the same amount of time it’d take to watch one” (Bully Pulpit Games).

In short, it’s just a lot of fun. The guys at EZA are hilarious and never fail to make me laugh. I’ll recommend a few of my favourites below!! Now I should warn you that it takes a bit of work to get into before you can truly appreciate it. It helps to watch the recordings so that you can get a feel for who’s who and learn all their voices. If you’re anything like me, you’ll fall in love with them and their dynamic and become hooked on some of their other stuff!

Regina’s Wedding – ask any Fiasconauts fan. It’s a classic.

Heist! – All I’ll say is: five-point plan

Midnight at the Museum – really fun and a great laugh

A Superheroic Fiasco – this one solely for “Mind Control Ray”

Touring Rock Band – hilarious, amazing story too.

But in all honesty, listen to ’em all. If you like one, chances are you’ll like every one. I struggled to pick favourites because there are moments of pure genius in all of them. They are addictive and hilarious, plus they offer tips (whether intentionally or not) on how to tell a fantastic story. It always makes me want to find some friends to play with. You can find it on your podcast app, Youtube for if you like to watch along, and SoundCloud.

Anyway, please please please check it out! I have to give the mastermind behind Fiasconauts, Ian Hinck (find him on twitter here), a big round of applause for setting it up so beautifully and continuing to make episodes happen monthly!

Good luck – once you’ve ventured into the fiasco, you don’t come back the same. xx

Eclipses for Eyes

Maybe you’ve heard of the Swedish-American band Miike Snow, or maybe you haven’t. If you haven’t, allow me to introduce you. They deserve way more recognition than they receive but in a way, that’s a nice thing for me. That way I can keep them to myself and I don’t have to share them with anybody. Guess I’m ruining that now, but it’s all in the name of art. I could rave for hours about their music, and I won’t do that because you’d want to conk me over the head with a candlestick by the end of it. Today I’m going to talk about one particular song of theirs. It’s called Silvia.

I can’t remember the first time I heard Silvia, and I can’t remember how I discovered it. The memory of how I first came across the band is crystal clear, though. I was probably around 12 years old. There used to be an app (it’s unavailable on the app store now) called Tap Tap Revolution… yeah, hit me up if you remember because it was the best and I’m kind of sad it’s gone forever. Anyway, there was a free song on there, also by Miike Snow, also incredible, called Animal. If you’ve heard of the band you probably know it. I played that game to the point where I knew the song well and finally decided to look up the band one day. The rest, as they say, is geometry. Biology? Geography? Give me a minute, I’ll get it eventually.

Now that you’ve tolerated my shitty jokes I’ll talk about the song. I have a specific memory that’s tied very closely to it. Sitting in the car late at night in Miami on vacation with my parents, we were driving down the highway. I was maybe 14 at the time. I’d listened to the song before but this time it was different. This time it spoke to me and a fully-formed story played out in my head in time with the lyrics. I looked out the window and watched as the story of a broken woman and a lonely man unwound.

I latched onto this story, and variations of it, for years and years. In fact, I’m still trying to make something of it. My critical failure of a NaNoWriMo attempt? Based off of that first seed of a story that rocketed through the earth on that Miami highway.

The best part of this song is that I’ve loved it for years and it hasn’t gotten old. I still love singing it, I still think it’s a masterpiece, it’ll still make me cry if I let it. The extended version is akin to being beamed up to heaven by the alien gods themselves and even though it’s been almost 10 years since it was released, the charm isn’t lost. The beauty is still there. You can still visualize it if you try. The lyrics are astounding, the musical journey is remarkable and… who am I kidding. It’s just a good song. In my humble little opinion. Of course.

The title of this post is a reference to one of the first lyrics of the song: Met a man barside / with eclipses for eyes. It’s got me wondering what you see when you hear that. Eclipses for eyes! Damn! What a line! Even the very first line that comes before that one is utterly enchanting. It puts me in a trance. Reached the city steps tonight / following the power lines. I imagine these huge stone steps leading up to a vast platform with nothing on it but a lone street light, a man with eyes simultaneously dark and light standing beneath it. And who the hell is Silvia?! And do I even care?? Maybe the mystery of it is what makes it so beautiful to me.

Here it is in all of its glory. This link is for a breathtaking extended version (the alien soul sucking one).

I’m going to link to a few of my favourite covers of the song as well. They are all phenomenal and each brings a different vibe, a different atmosphere. Check them out if you like.

1 – Thabiso Mhlaba

2 – LivMakesMusic

3 – BenJamminAsh

Of course this won’t be for everyone. Even I surprised myself when I fell in love with this band years ago, because I usually stick to genres like rock or alternative. But critics are just as important as fans sometimes.

Has a song ever inspired you? Stayed with you through the years and still managed to keep you singing along? I hope so. Thanks for reading and check out the song if you fancy it. x

 

Vigilante Sunrise

“Can I take that? Thank you.” Without waiting for an answer, she snatched the drink from her friend’s hand and downed it in a second. The lights were still too bright and the music and chatter still too loud. The room was an oven, and if she closed her eyes it felt like she was in the middle of the fire, not miles away from it.

“What the hell, man!”

“I gotta get out of here.” She pushed her friend aside and saw her pained expression melt into one of placation as a bodiless hand passed her a new drink. And she continued to writhe to the nonsensical beats as the room seemed to get smaller and the people got closer together. Finally the light at the end of the tunnel appeared — a set of glass french doors that were out of place in the mountainside cabin. She held her arms out, to be used as human windshield wipers, and pushed her way out of the oven and into freedom.

It was the first breath of air she’d taken all night, yet it was far from healing. The distant smell of burning flesh and metal singed her nostrils and throat. Anything was better than the lodge. She stumbled down the path, feeling the fire of the liquor in her belly, and wandered off towards the railing that separated the living from the edge of a cliff. Impossibly far below, the world was engulfed in a raging fire, a fire that knew not names or faces, eating everything in its path. From so high up, it looked like a bloodstain, spreading and spreading. She gripped the railing with a white-knuckle grasp and looked to the right, following with her eyes the suspended line of the cable car that they’d used to get up here all the way to its base at the bottom. Tiny shadows of men circled around down there in the middle distance, holding rifles like babies to their chests. She shivered.

“Oh, hi.”

She jumped at the voice that snaked in from her left. It belonged to a man in a knit hat, his face still obscured in the dark. “Sorry if I scared you.” He settled in beside her and leaned up against the rail, looking down at the chaos.

“No, it’s ok. I didn’t know anyone else was out here,” she said to the stranger. He seemed harmless enough, but there was no real way of knowing. He hunched his shoulders and reached into the paper bag he held tightly.

“I couldn’t stand it in there,” he said, thrusting his head back towards the lodge. When he turned his head towards the light of the building she caught a half-second glance of his face: a jaw covered in thin stubble, deep-set eyes, boyish lips. She turned away and looked back down the cliff.

“No,” which came out with a breathy laugh. “Me neither.”

The stranger held out the paper bag in a friendly gesture. “You like chocolate?”

Of course I do.

Gratefully, she took his offer. The two sat in understanding silence and she decided that he was harmless. It was the ones with too much to say that you had to watch out for. Their noses slowly turned red from the cold but neither made a move to go back inside. It could have been minutes that went by or hours perhaps; the only indicator of time was the spreading of the flames — they were approaching midtown when the stranger asked his next question.

“What’s your name?” When he opened his mouth his breath was hot and smelled like chocolate. His voice wasn’t too high or too deep. It hovered in a pleasant middle-ground full of rounded vowels and ambiguity that reminded her of nowhere in particular.

She trusted him enough to use her real one. “Andrea.” Then she risked looking over at him again. It was still too dark to see what he looked like, yet she watched as he stuffed the nearly empty paper bag in his coat pocket and took off his glove to offer his bare hand to her.

“I’m Nick.”

She peeled off her own glove and held his warm hand in her own for a moment. Maybe his lips curled into a juvenile smile, or maybe the light from the flames was playing tricks on her. In either case, she smiled at him. “You know there are people in there that still refuse to believe this happens,” he said.

She did know. My best friend is one of those people. She thought of her friend dancing with strangers, her long black hair clinging to her sweaty forehead. “I think we’re supposed to be those people,” she said. A strong wind rolled in and they both shuddered in tandem.

“I kind of wish I hadn’t been invited. It’s my first year, anyway,” Nick said. He sounded strained. She understood.

“Mine too. I was planning on skipping town as soon as I heard the news.” She felt Nick looking over at her. Maybe he was confused. “My dad’s police,” she explained. “He warned me before it started.” Nick reached back in his coat pocket for more chocolate and wordlessly put one in her palm. It didn’t taste as good as the first. They let the silence creep between them once again for a while, until the stranger made a stuffy sound, like a sob. She shot him a tentative glance, wondering if it was something she’d said. But no, he wasn’t crying. His shoulders shook and even in the dark, she could tell that his lips had morphed into a grin. He laughed. No, giggled. Like a kid. “What?” she asked, concerned and a little offended at nothing. “What?”

“Let’s scream,” he said finally, keeping his eyes fixed on the world below.

“Scream?” Come again? He nodded and looked her in the eyes, a darkly childish glint in his own.

Uh oh.

Nick opened his mouth and let out a scream that overpowered the music and the crackling of the flames. It lit up the night and made her hairs stand on end. Loud, unabashed. Almost strangled like a dying animal. And he didn’t stop, either. Just held onto the railing a little tighter, closed his eyes a little more and opened wider. It was guttural. It cut through the trees and scared birds from their hiding places. By the end of it, she realized that a massive grin had overtaken her own face. He threw his head back and made one more sound of relief.

“God! You’ve gotta try it.”

She looked down to where the guards were circling — they stood alert but she knew they wouldn’t dare shoot. They probably assumed the sound came from some drunk rich kid with a reckless disregard for peace and quiet. Maybe they were right. Nick jostled her and egged her on. “Come on, I swear you’ll feel better.”

Aw, what the hell.

She let go, adding her own scream to the air. Nick jumped and laughed, yelling out something and joining in. The two held onto the railing with teary eyes shut tight and screamed their throats raw. They screamed until they ran out of breath and then they laughed together; euphoric, but afraid.

“I’ve been pretty lucky,” he said. They walked a narrow pathway that wound behind the lodge into the brush. It was dark as pitch but surprisingly easy to navigate. “I guess they invited me this time because they haven’t been able to catch me yet. I’m not… one of them,” he said with a hint of contempt. “But if I’m anything, I’m unkillable.”

“That’s something.” She wanted to say I’m not one of them either, but that would be a lie, and an invitation for more questions, more grilling. She was born with a silver spoon in her mouth, and all that. But it was hardly her fault.

“I guess so,” he mumbled. They dipped down a little hill. A suddenly very obvious silence hung between them. Nick sniffled. “You ever been down there during? Or even right after, when everything’s still hot?”

She shook her head fervently before realizing he probably couldn’t see her movements. Her voice was small. “No.” She guessed he had seen a lot, by the way he stuffed his hands in his pockets and shifted his weight around. The same posture one would have before they’re about to tell someone a hard truth.

“Count your lucky stars. It’s a God damn nightmare.” The croaky way his words came out told her more than she cared to know. “I don’t know if you’ve ever lost anyone, but… anyway.” It was clear he didn’t want to talk about it anymore, and she was grateful. They walked on.

The path was taking them deeper, through bushes and trees. She cast a look over her shoulder and saw the lodge — it wasn’t much more than a pinpoint of light atop the snowy mountain. They marched to the sounds of their breaths and the snow crunching underfoot. She thought she heard Nick’s breath hitch before another sound hit — somewhere deep in the woods, a twig snapped. Or maybe it was a camera clicking. Or a gun cocking. The fear struck her all at once, and she stopped dead in her tracks. It scared him too. He nearly stumbled and fell. “What?” He whispered in that familiar tone that everyone always had at the ready.

“I don’t think we should go out any further. Maybe… let’s head back,” she said, reaching out to brush his arm. Nick sighed but didn’t protest. They marched back up to where they began. In any case, the cold was starting to freeze their muscles. “Nick your real name?” She asked between laborious breaths as they trudged upwards. She heard the stranger smile.

“It is. You don’t want to see my birth records, do you?”

“I believe you.”

The suggestion of daylight toyed at the horizon and the flames started to subside. Columns of ash and smoke rose from the hell pit of a town at the base of the mountain. The screech of machinery sounded as the cable car started back up. The soldiers still patrolled the mountainside in their black masks and thick rubber boots. All of the lodge’s curtains had been drawn yet the lazy pulse of electronic music droned on from within. Inside the four walls were the richest, the most important, the strongest. Among them stood at least one “unkillable” and one sheriff’s daughter that arguably didn’t deserve to be there. A couple hundred drunk opportunists and exhausted liars were all concentrated in that one little room. As soon as they’d reached the top of the hill after their walk, they stood under the heat lamps for a moment to catch their breath. She wanted to tell him she worked at the laundry and dry cleaner’s on Foxtrot, that she’d love to see him there sometime, even would give him a discount and oh- she always kept a little jar of candy on the counter too, but she didn’t know if it would still be standing by the time they got back down there. Claimed by the flames, she thought in her dad’s voice. So many things were. The dim orange light let each finally get a good look at the other. Nick’s eyes were blue and kind. He looked down at his feet and kicked at the ice there. He was unshaven but it didn’t look bad on him. No, not at all.

God damn it.

She gave him a pitiful smile and he returned it. Without speaking, the two pushed back inside and rejoined the mob as the sun came up and the fire died.

What Am I Watching?

I’m one of those terrible people that like to say “No, I don’t watch a lot of TV,” when in reality, I’m a fiend for Netflix and I can keep up with ten shows at a time (not that I recommend that. Seriously, don’t do that). It’s true that I don’t watch just anything. I haven’t seen a lot of the most popular shows, like Game of Thrones, or Orange is the New Black or Grey’s Anatomy… and the list goes on and on. That being said, there are a few shows I’ve been hooked on for the past little while so I thought I’d give them the attention they deserve.


Inside No. 9

“The Dark Comedy”

Inside No. 9

This is an anthology style dark comedy series that airs on BBC Two. With 4 seasons and 6 20-minute episodes per season, it’s easy to get lost in. I discovered it not too long ago after seeing someone make a comparison between it and Black Mirror, which is one of my all-time favourite TV shows. Here’s the thing: to me, it’s nothing like Black Mirror at all, it’s deliciously unique and exciting in its own way. Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, the creators (pictured above), appear in every episode as different characters, showcasing their chameleon-like acting skills and their incredible versatility. It’s genius!! Genius genius genius. The best part is that if you’re some kind of psycho, you can watch the episodes out of order, as each story is self-contained. I suppose in that way, it’s a bit like Black Mirror, although I always recommend watching BM in order anyway (because then, catching the easter eggs is so much more satisfying). The only thing binding them together (that I know of…) is that each one takes place “inside number 9”, whether it’s a house number or a hotel room, or even a size 9 shoe. Perhaps my favourite part of this show is the suspense. Once you start watching, you figure out that each episode has some kind of (usually sick and macabre) twist at the end. Though this is not always the case–there are a couple of what I like to call “soft” episodes that are equally enjoyable–it’s thrilling to try to anticipate what will come next. It’s definitely a winner in my book, demonstrating masterful writing. Here’s a shortlist of my favourite episodes:

  • S01E02 – “A Quiet Night In” (an AMAZING showcase of acting with almost no dialogue)
  • S02E04 – “Cold Comfort” (filmed entirely through a CCTV camera in a call centre, very dark)
  • S03E01 – “The Devil of Christmas” (director’s commentary on an old b-movie)
  • S03E03 – “The Riddle of the Sphinx” (mind-bending, involves fascinating cryptic crosswords)
  • S03E06 – “Private View” (I love the set in this one, beautifully designed yet still wicked)
  • “Once Removed” (creative backwards chronology storytelling)
  • “To Have and to Hold” (the twist in this one shocked me! That’s all I’ll say)

 

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“The Historical One”

Call the Midwife

I know what you’re thinking. Hear me out on this one. Call the Midwife has been a favourite of mine for YEARS now. Unlike No. 9, this one is a bit of a commitment. Based off of a real woman’s memoirs, CTM has been running since 2012, which, now that I’m thinking about it, is a hell of a long time. There are 8 hour(ish)-long episodes per season and Christmas specials in between. It’s on its seventh season, running on BBC One, and I’d imagine it’s most popular amongst middle-aged British women (please correct me if you’re not a middle-aged British woman and you love this show). I’m not a middle-aged British woman, but there’s something special about watching midwives and nuns of London’s East End deliver babies and get into all sorts of antics throughout the 50s and 60s (Dammit. I sound like a middle-aged British woman). The magic of this show is never lost on me–it gets impossibly emotional at times, lighthearted at others, and honestly, I’m still not tired of watching them deliver babies on Sunday nights. I find that it does a great job of exploring various social issues without coming across as preachy. Plus, it comes with a lot of knowledge I’ll never use about mid-century midwifery and random medical problems. Even though many of my favourite characters have left the show, the new ones never fail to disappoint. Needless to say, I’ll keep watching this show until it dies. I can’t really name my favourite episodes for this one as they aren’t self-contained, so you’ll just have to trust me on this if you like historical dramas.

 

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“The True Story”

American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace

Admittedly, I decided to watch this show because I’m a notorious fan of Darren Criss (even though I’m not a Glee fan) and have been for a long time. I saw that it was going to be on FX, which sweetened the deal for me as one of my all-time favourite shows is FX’s Fargo, and I really enjoyed the first season of Legion as well. I think that this show is an obvious choice if you’ve seen the previous “American Crime Story”, “The People v. OJ Simpson”. I’m a horrible researcher because I haven’t seen it, but I’m assuming that if you liked that you’ll love this. It’s true crime, what’s not to love? Week after week, the story of the murder of Gianni Versace is told, sometimes chronologically, and sometimes retroactively. Darren Criss’s performance is breathtaking (and no… I’m not just saying that). One of my friends noted that they won’t be able to look at him in the same way anymore. His portrayal of cold-blooded killer Andrew Cunanan is enough to make even the toughest person sweat. Penelope Cruz as Donatella Versace is surprisingly refreshing. I was worried she would be over-the-top, due to my limited knowledge going in about Versace and the world of fashion in general, but she makes it look easy. It’s a bit slower at times, as it sometimes repeats itself for clarity’s sake, but it’s original and well-executed enough to keep me watching. The show airs on Wednesday nights, and I can’t wait to see what comes next. It keeps me on the edge of my seat, even though I know what’s on the horizon.

Let me know what you’re loving on TV right now, or whether you’ve seen some of these. I’ll see you next time! xox

 

 

 

First Date Book Tag

Traditionally speaking, the nature of a “tag” is that you have to be “tagged” by somebody else to answer some questions, but I decided that I’m going to tag myself and do this for fun.

This is a fairly old tag but I like to disregard the rules and so I’m going to do it anyway. I found the questions on LilyCReads youtube channel (Her videos are hilarious and some of the only “BookTube” videos I watch. Go check her out). Without further ado, here are the questions:

  • The Awkward First Date – a book where something felt off. It wasn’t a bad book but lacked that spark for you.

For this I’m going with I am Nine by Diane Major. This book was really weird. Like the question says, it wasn’t bad, in fact, it was only 280 pages, and in general it was quite entertaining. However, I’m not sure whether the author self-published, or maybe it was because I read an e-book copy, but the book was filled with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. At first, I thought it was an attempt to illustrate the voice of the young protagonist, but there weren’t enough mistakes to distinguish that it was on purpose. Anyway, weird book.

  • The Cheap First Date – book that turned out less than you expected.

I chose Matched by Ally Condie for this one because I read it a while ago and I cannot remember a single thing that happened in the book. A lot of my friends had told me how much they loved the book and the series, and so I gave it a shot but it turned out to be a lot less exciting than I’d thought it would be. I think I was in grade eight at the time and it was still a relatively new book, and I remember being interested in the premise, but I was pretty disappointed. I don’t even know if I finished it if I’m honest. I can’t even remember what the protagonist’s name is.

  • Well-Prepared First Date – book that turned out better than expected.

After thinking about this one for a bit I chose The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. I read this one in grade 10 and I didn’t have huge expectations, but I ended up loving it. I thought maybe it would be cheesy or preachy but I, and my book talk group, really enjoyed talking about it. I guess my answer to this question could be a few school reading list books, like To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, a book that I absolutely adore, but that I thought I would hate because I had to read it for school. I guess you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Speaking of which…

  • Hot but Dumb – pretty book, but not so hot on the inside.

For this, I am going with The Palace of Curiosities by Rosie Garland. I’ll be honest, I definitely mostly chose this book for its cover, but I didn’t end up loving the novel itself. I actually have a review for it on this blog which you can check out here. It was a good example of poetry overshadowing plot. The story was pretty dry in my opinion, and I didn’t connect with any of the characters. I did finish it, though, I didn’t give up, which must count for something.

  • Blind Date – a book you picked up not knowing anything about it.

I went way back in my Goodreads to find Bad Girls Don’t Die by Katie Alender. This was a book that I borrowed from a friend of mine, and she didn’t really tell me anything about it, just that it was pretty scary. Needless to say, I ended up knocking it back in a couple nights, because even though it wasn’t the most complex novel, it was gripping. I wouldn’t have picked up this book had my friend not given it to me, because at the time, this wasn’t the style or genre that I was used to reading. I think it’s the first book in a series, but I never read the other ones. Maybe I should put more blind faith in my friends and let them pick another book for me.

  • Speed Dating – a book you read super fast.

This one is tricky because there are a lot of books that I’ve read super fast. Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (review – my first! – here) is a given, and probably doesn’t count, because it’s only 160 pages long. So, for this question, I’m going to go with A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (review here). I smashed this book in a weekend on a camping trip. I really couldn’t put it down, and I don’t know why I haven’t gotten around to continuing the series because it’s rare that I love a fantasy novel. I think I’m worried that reading a continuation would ruin the perfect ideas I have about A Darker Shade of Magic. Everything I’ve read by Victoria Schwab has really delivered so far so I may give it a shot in the future. Maybe. But I’m lazy so take that with a grain of salt.

  • The Rebound – a book you read too soon after a book hangover and it kind of ruined the book for you.

I don’t have an answer for this one, simply because I tend to take pretty long breaks between books. Instead, I’ll just talk about the only two real “book hangovers” I’ve ever experienced. The first was after I read another book that a friend had lent to me; Delirium by Lauren Oliver. Ahh yes, good old Lauren Oliver. I remember actually throwing the book after I was finished with it (which, now that I think about it, is kind of a horrible thing to do to someone’s property). Something about the ending just shook me to my very core, I guess, to warrant a response like that. I didn’t really like the rest of the books in the series, though, and I haven’t read anything by Lauren Oliver since, so, take that. The second “book hangover” was after I read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, one of my all-time favourite novels. I didn’t throw this one because I had too much respect for it, instead, I just cried for a while and then watched the movie 6 times in a row.

  • Overly Enthusiastic Date – a book that felt like it was trying too hard.

Without a doubt, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. So many people worship this book but I couldn’t. Remember what I said about being pleasantly surprised by school reading-list books? Well, even after multiple people told me how much they hated The Alchemist, I still tried to give it a chance. I was very unpleasantly unsurprised. The only thing I genuinely liked about it was the ending, which, ironically, was the part that most of my friends hated the most. I found myself skimming through parts of it and being generally annoyed by its content, although sometimes there would be a part that made me think. Overall, I thought it read more like a self-help book, and it didn’t help that my teacher was obsessed with it and treated it as gospel. Sorry Paulo Coelho, but if I hear anyone say “Personal Legend” ever again, I might throw up.

  • The Perfect First Date – a book that did everything right for you.

This one has got to be Room by Emma Donoghue (review here). This book didn’t give me a book hangover, it was more like a book-heavenly-awakening. You can read my review if you want to hear me talk about how much I loved this novel. Everything from the expert character design, the research that went into it, the emotion, the stakes, etc. I could go on, but I’ve already done it once so I won’t do it again. Room. Read it!

  • Humiliating First Date – a book you’re embarrassed to admit you liked.

Yeah, there’s really only one book I could talk about, and I know a lot of people aren’t embarrassed that they like this series. It’s The Selection by Kiera Cass. This is the book that I read right after I threw Delirium at my wall, and I was pretty much hooked by it, and yes, I am kind of embarrassed to admit that. I’ve read the first three books in the series and I have no intention of reading the other ones, but I did enjoy the three I did read. I think I’m embarrassed because this is a “guilty pleasure” kind of book; it’s like admitting to your friends that you watched three seasons of America’s Next Top Model in one weekend. It’s not exactly a classic in the making, but it’s just so much fun.

That’s it for the First Date book tag. Hope you enjoyed reading my answers. Click here for the link to Lily’s First Date tag video on youtube. I don’t know if I’m supposed to tag anyone or not, so I tag anyone reading this who thinks it might be fun.

Thanks for stopping by, and happy reading.

No Man’s Land

   When I come to, the sky is caught somewhere between night and day. Silence surrounds me, and fragmented memories jangle around my brain like loose change. I see the landmine, the explosion. A white-hot pain brings me back to the present, and my cry echoes out across the empty battlefield. I look down and brace myself for the worst–the sight nearly makes me sick. There’s a gruesome mess where my leg should be.

   Dusk settles in, staining the sky red like my blood stains the earth. There isn’t a recognizable town or landmark anywhere, only mud and shadows. I strain my eyes to make out the shapes. Good God. Not shadows. Bodies.

   With the sky purpling like a bruise, I feel my heartbeat getting slower. There’s blood everywhere; my stained skin is a reminder of what’s happened. My mind slowly unravels. I stand on the precipice of life and what comes after, picturing my mother’s face when the soldiers knock on her door, or the wedding ring my wife will forget to put on after a while. Night begins its slow descent, and I think, just for a moment, that I see one of the bodies stirring in the distance.


Another story I wrote for my writing class. We had a limit of 200 words, so I was a bit out of my comfort zone in that respect. With the next semester of school rolling in soon, I’m excited to stray from the fairly serious stories I’ve been writing, so expect changes and fun things ahead. Thanks for reading.

The Break – Katherena Vermette

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“The dead don’t hang on, the living do. The dead don’t have anything to hang on to. Our bodies become nothing, and we just float around the people who love us. We go back to nothing. That is all we ever were or should ever be.” – Katherena Vermette, The Break

Happy new year! Over the holidays, I finished The Break – it was one that I’d started months ago but I’d never completed. My dad was actually the one who recommended it to me–he loved the story and thought I might too. So, without further ado, here’s my review of Katherena Vermette’s debut novel, The Break.

This story is one of family ties, bonds, and unrest. It begins with a shocking catalyst that sets the novel up for tragedy right from the get-go–a violent attack that happens in the middle of winter out on “the Break”, a stretch of empty land in Northern Manitoba. From there, readers get glimpses into the lives of those directly and indirectly affected–from the victim herself to her mother, her aunts, her friend, grandmother, the police officer on the case, and even her attacker. The novel is exploratory and deals with the heavy emotional baggage that comes with experiencing an assault. Specifically, Vermette dives into the lives of intergenerational Métis women from Manitoba who are juggling being mothers, partners, good daughters, and sisters. The men in the novel are also masterfully illustrated. Vermette skillfully weaves sorrow with nostalgia and light-heartedness, making for a beautiful story that hits hard in its message. Unlike a traditional “crime” novel, The Break does not focus so much on finding evidence and cold facts; it takes time with characters, their inner and outer changes, and their relationships with each other.

The Break felt like a journey to me. Not only was I along for the ride with these characters, but it was also like I was watching Katherena Vermette feel out her first novel. The charm of it was unmistakable, with a few typos here and there, a family tree drawn at the front of the book so you could keep track of who’s who. It’s difficult to share all of my thoughts without spoiling the novel, so I won’t, but there are many things that stood out to me that are safe for spilling.

The chapters are structured in a way that I’ve been known to hate–each one is told from a different character’s perspective. Sometimes I did have trouble remembering who was related to whom, who was older and who was younger, etc. That being said, it didn’t stop me from enjoying the book, because I was warned that I might lose track (and the family tree definitely came in handy). By the time I’d finished reading, I realized that the formatting of the chapters was almost necessary to understand all of the sides of the story. Putting aside the logistics, Vermette’s writing was very comfortable. It felt conversational, or like I was really running through the jumbled-up thoughts in somebody’s head. At times in the middle–as many novels do–it droned on and lost momentum, but I still tore through the ending and finished it with tears in my eyes. Sometimes it was expertly nuanced, and Vermette left things unsaid, but, other times it was a little too on-the-nose for me. There’s a really interesting subversion of expectations which I can’t mention without spoiling the novel… but let’s just say, there was a certain character that fascinated me, angered me, and broke my heart all at once.

I found the most pleasure in reading the chapters of smaller characters, like Kookom Flora–the mother and grandmother to most of the characters, Zegwan–a young girl who finds herself in the middle of the attack, and Tommy–a Métis police officer who I found myself really rooting for, unexpectedly. As I mentioned before, the book has its happier moments, but most of the time the characters are wallowing in regret, or sadness, or both. Fortunately, it’s never tiresome in a “here we go again” sort of way. It’s gut-wrenching, it’s real, it’s raw, and it makes you stop and think. However, it’s heartbreaking to know that the novel is only a small glimpse into reality. The book could never go into all of the real-life struggles that many Indigenous Canadians face, but it is an illuminating snapshot. I was partially drawn to this novel after having done a lot of research on Canada’s National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in the past. The heartache of the people in this novel runs deep, and I believe that Vermette captured this wild Canadian spirit in her writing that connected with me. I’m pleased to see that it has won as many awards as it has, because the novel is truly well written. Even if you aren’t Canadian, I encourage you to give the book a try if it interests you. After reading many reviews, I’ve noticed that even people who didn’t love it still recognized and connected with the message. I hope to see more from Vermette in the future, but for now, some of her simplest lines will stay with me. Because after all is said and done, there is so much beauty in simplicity, and so much pain too.

The cycle of poverty, homelessness, alcoholism and drug abuse, violence, and gang activity is thoroughly explored in The Break. It deals with detailed depictions of rape, assault, and grief. It is an intense book that is held together by the unchanging love that the main characters have for one another. Putting it down left me feeling sad yet hopeful, as Vermette’s words were chosen with such care.

Thanks for stopping by, and as always, happy reading (and happy 2018!).

NaNoWriMo 2017 – A Memoir

Oh boy. Here we go.

Yeah. My first ever NaNoWriMo was one thing and one thing only: a trainwreck. Okay, fine, maybe that’s unfair. One woman’s trainwreck is someone else’s triumph I guess. If you aren’t familiar, NaNoWriMo (or just NaNo, as it’s known in the “community”) stands for National Novel Writing Month. The essential objective is to write a 50000-word novel in the 30 days of November, and if you want to stay just on track, that means writing about 1667 words a day.

I failed miserably, in that respect. Just after the halfway point of the month, my novel was sitting at around 20700 words and I had completely lost touch with it. At that point, I thought to myself that this thing might have been easier to write from just one character’s perspective and if I’d actually had a super specific step-by-step plan (which I didn’t think I needed). Of course, I didn’t want to restart at the time because there was still half of the month to go and still a stupidly optimistic little part of me that thought I would be able to write 50000 words. By the way, off the record, 50000 is not a lot in novel world. However–and that is a big however– that is not at ALL to say that short novels don’t have the potential to be good. One of my all-time favourite books is The Giver by Lois Lowry, and its word count is 43617 words. The Great Gatsby, Fight Club, Fahrenheit 451, The Invisible Man, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy–all of these novels come up to just around 50000 as well. So there’s some evidence that quantity does not equal quality (and I’m a strong believer of that). But I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that these authors didn’t craft their novels in one month.

The point of NaNoWriMo, as far as I’m concerned, is to create a skeleton. Something that has the potential to be built upon and changed A LOT. In my opinion, you can’t come straight out of NaNo with an unedited 50000-word manuscript and start sending it to agents- that’s just not realistic. My novel was definitely an experiment. I started with an idea that had been fermenting in my brain for 2 years and made the mistake of thinking that I knew enough about my characters and their goals. Truth time: I didn’t! Not even a bit. There is nothing, nothing that could have prepared me to write this novel besides sitting down and blocking out a concrete action plan–which I didn’t do. That was mistake number one.

Mistake number two was going into it blind. I signed up for NaNo back in September and so I did try to participate in what they call “Preptober” where you plan for writing in the month of October–some people use this time to make cutesy little planners full of stickers and motivational quotes and far too much scrapbooking tape, others use the time to bake a bunch of unhealthy snacks to binge on during November, and some people- like me- pretend they’re getting work done when in reality they’re just making playlists and writing out the characters’ names in thirteen different colours. The underlying problem that I didn’t account for was that school was going to run me ragged, and I wouldn’t have enough time to sit down and write every day. In the midst of filling out university applications and being buried up to my nose in unwritten essays, the very last thing on my mind was figuring out my mess of a novel, it just didn’t appeal to me. And maybe that’s a sign that my idea needs to be tossed out the window, but that’s easier said than done when you’ve been spending time with characters for two years. Yeah yeah, excuses excuses. I know. You don’t have to tell me twice.

The third mistake I made was telling people that I was trying to write a novel. Now, this is twofold: Firstly, I had people holding me accountable for my writing, and secondly, I had people holding me accountable for my writing. Some of it was amazing- my friends encouraged me and pretended to care while I ranted to them about word counts and wanting to abandon my goals. But sometimes, the dreaded comment would pop up.

“How’s your novel coming?”

Ugh. I’m shuddering even typing it out. I guess I hated that comment because it made me realize just how behind I was- in fact, my novel was coming along badly and I didn’t want to admit to that. It unleashed some kind of beast in me. I know they meant no harm by it, just making small talk, taking interest in my life, but I guess I put too much pressure on myself to “finish” a novel that had hardly any direction to it. In that sense, I’m glad I didn’t waste 50000 words on it because if I didn’t even know what my novel was about, how would readers know? To me, it’s evident when a writer lacks a centralization and purpose.

My next mistake was that I’d never tried such long writing projects before. I’m used to writing short stories, scripts, that sort of thing–not books. And maybe that’s where I went wrong. I approached it the way I assumed novelists approach writing their books. Regimented, strict, I wrote by chapter which put restrictions on me, and I didn’t write it in a way that makes me excited to write. This novel idea is so close to my heart, but as the days go by I’m really wondering whether I should lay it to rest… I mean, at least for a little bit. Maybe I’ll dig it up later. I searched “books that took years to write” for a little motivation and a Bustle article came up entitled “7 Novels That Took Their Authors Years To Write (To Make You Feel Better About Not Finishing NaNoWriMo” and I don’t know about you, but to me, that feels like a sign. A sign to do what, I’m not sure. Not sure at all.

Because I have nothing to lose, I’ll insert the little blurb I wrote about my novel that’s featured on my NaNo page:

“It’s the middle of winter in Toronto. The year is 1979.

When 16-year-old Ashenee Walker’s aunt Sylvia goes missing- she realizes that she doesn’t know her aunt all that well at all. Out on her own, Ashenee has to find the one woman in the world that means something to her.

Along the way, she meets Wes- a boy who is trying to find out who killed his older brother- and Reid, an addict who is trying to get back on his feet and give back to the world. Somehow, in any way they can, the three will try to hold their patchwork friendship together and find what they are looking for before the stitches come undone.”

If anything, I’m glad I participated this year because it taught me what I have to do. I learned that I need a lot more prep time in order to get this story to take off, and I think I’m going to give it another shot. I guess after all is said and done, my trainwreck turned out to be my triumph.

I really want to know what you think about NaNoWriMo. If you’ve tried it, let me know if you love the format or hate it with all your guts. If you never have, would you? The thing I liked about it was that it finally got me to start and keep at it for a little while, and it made me realize how I should go about a big project like this next time. I love the idea of it, and I think that it works for some people–but does it promote quantity over quality?? I think it does.

Thanks for sticking around, and as always, happy reading. xoxo

PS. I wrote more in this post than I did on a daily basis in November, so if that makes you feel better about your writing projects… I’m glad I could help.