Giving Thanks

posted in: Musings | 0

It’s that time of year…when we express our love and gratitude for the special people in our lives in $5 increments via Starbucks gift cards. When we show peace and goodwill towards all people by running each other down in WalMart to grab a deal on an XBox or iPhone. When we try to out-bake, out-light, and out-decorate our neighbors in displays of joyful festivity.

It’s so easy to see what we lack in life: a new pair of boots, a new laptop, a basket for my bike, a set of Jane Austen’s novels with redesigned covers, a Turkish kilim for my eclectic living room.

I love the holidays, but the consumer-driven focus really detracts from the spirit of celebration and reflection during this time of year. And a few weeks ago, amidst the chaos of another school year, the run-up towards the release of The Muse, and the busy pace of daily life in the city that not only never sleeps, but can’t even take a 5-minute nap, I realized that I lost sight of the many gifts that I already have.

I read a Latin saying somewhere once that translated to: everything that I want, I already have. I believe this. I have many gifts: friends, family, a home, a fulfilling job, enough money to go out to dinner occasionally or buy myself something I like.

But it’s easy to lose sight of this. I need a reminder. So I have decided that the “gift” I will give myself this year is one of gratitude. Every day from Thanksgiving until New Years, I will write a list of the people, places, and things for which I am grateful. I invite you to consider joining me. What are you grateful for?

My Favorite Books

posted in: Reading | 0

Given that The Muse is an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, you probably assumed that P&P is my favorite book. You’re correct. I also love Persuasion by Jane Austen. But actually, my taste in books extends beyond English novels, so I thought I’d highlight some of my favorite books in this post.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan has remained one of my favorite books since I first read it in middle school. A story of four Chinese mothers and their American daughters, the book delves into the misunderstandings not only between American and Chinese cultures, but between mothers and daughters. I tear up at the end of almost every chapter, and become a big snotty mess at the end of the book. Gah, I’m even tearing up as I write this.

 

 

I discovered Fire by Kristen Cashore last year around this time. The second book in her Graceling trilogy, this book is technically young adult fantasy. It is about a human monster named Fire, who is both hated and revered for her ethereal beauty. In the story, must make her enemy Prince Brigan learn to trust her, while also coming to terms with the death of her father, who she both loved and feared. Cashore writes exquisite prose, and strong yet human characters. I’d recommend the other books in the trilogy, Graceling and Bitterblue, too, but Fire is my favorite.

 

Rainbow Rowell is best known for the popular New Adult book Eleanor & Park, but I actually like her book Attachments the best. It’s about a dork named Lincoln who lives with his mother and works the graveyard shift as an IT guy in a newspaper. In the wee hours of the morning, he begins to snoop through the email exchanges between two of the reporters, best friends, Beth and Jennifer. The story is told from Lincoln’s point of view and through the hilarious emails between Beth and Jennifer. The ending is a little sappy, but it satisfied. A close second is Rowell’s other book, Fangirl, which is a story about a popular fanfic writer’s struggle to fit in during her first year of college.

 

Heart’s Blood by Julliet Marillier is historical fantasy, and also a reimagining of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale. The main character is a scribe running from an abusive brother-in-law. She finds safe haven with a strange chieftain in a place called Whistling Tor. Like Fire, the prose is lush and the romantic plot-line is carefully developed.

 

 

 

Last, I’ll talk about one of my favorite middle grade novels, the classic, Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George. The book begins as the main character, 13-year-old Miyax (Julie), is running away from her husband into the Alaskan tundra. Befriended by a pack of wolves, these creatures help Miyax survive the harsh winter. The book also touches upon the theme of cultural assimilation as Miyax must decide if she wants to embrace her Eskimo heritage or surrender to becoming Julie, her white-person name.

 

 

All of these books are wonderful. Have you read them? If so, let me know what you think in the comments.

Where Do I Find Inspiration?

posted in: Writing Life | 0

I find inspiration in:

  • Stories that I already love: Pride and Prejudice, Anne of Green Gables, Sailor Moon. Writing fanfiction has always been easy for me because I get very attached to the characters and worlds from other stories. But often, my own creations start with a pre-existing story, and take a few detours. Characters change, plots change, themes change. The Muse is very closely based on Pride and Prejudicebut another P&P-based fic that I once wrote, called The Chosen People, started off with an image of an Elizabeth Bennet-like heroine and a Fitzwilliam Darcy-like hero, and then went way in another direction.
  • Music: certain artists and songs just conjure up stories. Norah Jones provided a lot of inspiration for The Muse, particularly the more melancholy scenes. But, I’ve also been inspired by Colbie Caillat, Celine Dion, Sara Bareilles, and a few others artists. The funny thing is, sometimes, I may not even love the singer or the song that inspires me. For instance, Celine Dion. I think she’s completely overblown and melodramatic. When she starts belting, I want to cover my ears and cower. Yet, whenever I hear her cover of “Alone,” I automatically envision a story about a woman sitting alone in her apartment painting. Weird, huh?
  • Ballet. That one’s pretty obvious. I know a bit about the dance world and, because it’s such a brutal, perfectionistic, beautiful world, I think it holds a lot of opportunity for stories.
  • Walks through the park. All that fresh air must do something for my imagination.
  • My own wishes, fantasies, and dreams. (Does this count?) Often, I write for wish-fulfillment. For example, I wrote The Chosen People as I was going through a painful breakup. In TCP, my main characters found a way to work through their differences. In real life, my now ex-boyfriend and I didn’t.

However, sometimes my inspiration comes from places I’d least expect. A story that I’m writing now was “inspired” by a short story assignment that I gave my sixth grade students. I always write alongside them, I had no ideas, and I just picked the first thing that came into my head: a story about a boy who’s too scared to ask his crush to the dance. Not the kind of character or story I’d ever think to write! Which just goes to show, sometimes writing is less about “inspiration” and more about “just write something!”

Backstage Episodes from The Muse

posted in: Ballet, The Muse, Writing Life | 0

As I discussed in a previous post, I used to dance ballet in a private, semi-professional ballet studio and in a performing arts high school. Many of the scenes from The Muse come from backstage episodes that happened to me.

In The Muse, my heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, overhears superstar choreographer William Darcy make a mean-spirited comment about her weight. Darcy tells the company artistic director that Elizabeth is “too fat to be a ballerina” because of her larger-than-average chest. This comment incites Elizabeth’s prejudice against Darcy and is, unfortunately, also inspired by events in my real life. I can recall three different instances when (male) dance teachers and choreographers told me to lose weight if I wanted to make it in the ballet world. (For the record, I was a healthy 5’4″, 130 pounds at my “heaviest.”) In part, Elizabeth’s anger is my own, though none of my teachers ever made amends like Darcy eventually does.

Another backstage episode inspired from real-life is the “tutu incident.” William Darcy recounts a situation in which the prima ballerina’s tutu gets stolen hours before a show. Seems pretty bitchy, right? This actually happened in my high school! We were performing a short one-act ballet, Paquita, when, an hour before curtain, the lead dancer’s tutu went missing. Fortunately, the costume director found her an ill-fitting tutu and she was able to go on stage. Weeks later, I was hanging out in the hall with a friend during our lunch break and saw a piece of tulle sticking out from a garbage bin. You guessed it: the missing tutu! In The Muse, they find out who stole the tutu, but in real life, our teachers never did. They did, however, punish every dancer in the program by canceling the evening performance of our Senior Concert. Rumors of the tutu thief’s identity circulated for years after the actual incident: everyone suspected the victim’s romantic rival. Pretty juicy stuff.

Honestly, I wouldn’t believe that these things could happen if I hadn’t experienced them for myself! Art imitating life, indeed!