Two Busy Weeks

Between my family coming to town, getting Rich in Color all ready for our two new co-bloggers and one new contributor, and hunting for a job, I have had a very busy fourteen days. I also read two books (one for Rich in Color, the other for recharge time while family was in town), finished watching Arang and the Magistrate with Mary Beth and Beth (delightfully angsty with a satisfying ending), and cleaned the kitchen about eighty billion times (because that’s what happens when both you and your roommate are amazing cooks).

Consequently, my word count is a bit on the thin side—just 1,867 words. That’s okay. Next week will be more productive, both for novel writing and for blogging. I have been feeling the urge to try to cook something new (or a favorite I haven’t done in a while) and then blog about it, like I did for the biscotti earlier this year. We shall see.

An A Cappella Weekend

Last Thursday my mother and my brother Brandon came into town. In this case came means they got dropped off in Burley, Idaho, and I had to drive three hours (each way) to fetch them. I’ve driven that stretch of road several times since June of 2008, when I bought my car. Once you leave the Wasatch Front, it’s basically a big stretch of nothing, occasionally interrupted by tiny towns, truck stops, and ranch exits.

[Every time I make that drive, I can’t help but look at those miniscule towns like Snowville (population 167 in 2010) and think Brigham Young told your ancestors to settle there—you don’t have to stay! Until I left home for college, the largest town I remember living in had only 3,000 people in it, but it was only 15 minutes from a city with close to 150,000 people in it. Sorry, folks, but I like my sushi and speedy access to hospitals too much to live out there.]

The reason my mom and Brandon were in town was to see Cassie perform with her a cappella group, Noteworthy. They had two performances: one solo at the Covey Center on Friday night and one (with Voiceline and Vocal Point) at The Wall on Saturday night. Noteworthy is a great group, and you don’t have to take my word for it:

Cassie had solos on Friday night (but not on Saturday, woes!) when the group sang “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)” from Hercules and “Some Nights” by fun. (Yes, they did skip the verse with the f-bomb in it.) I’m definitely biased, but I thought Cassie did an amazing job at both of them.

The joint concert on Saturday was a lot of fun, despite the lack of seats. We (my mom, Brandon, my sister Mandy, her husband Trever, and cousin Steven) staked out spots at the very front, which meant we had some alarmingly close encounters with the Vocal Point boys when they decided to start leaping off the stage during certain songs. If you haven’t heard of them, just search for them on YouTube so you can be amazed. Voiceline (the a cappella group from UVU) did a great job, too—especially since they’d only been together since January.

When we weren’t attending Noteworthy performances, we spent a lot of time hanging out. Mandy and Trever were gracious enough to let me and Mom stay overnight (while Brandon stayed with Steven the first night), so we didn’t waste time on traveling back and forth. We went to In-N-Out Burger (Brandon’s request) and Café Zupas (Mom’s request), watched The Walking Dead and Treasure Planet, met my brother Beto’s current girlfriend, and helped Mandy and Trever move their first few boxes into the new home they bought.

It was a very busy, but very fun weekend. I’m glad I was able to see half of my immediate family, and I’m looking forward to this summer, when I get to see everyone.

Dissecting an Amazing Prologue

I’m not going to advise you on prologue strengths/weaknesses. Instead, I want to dissect one of my favorite prologues in any type of media—the first five minutes of The Princess’s Man—and talk about why it works. The Princess’s Man is a 24-episode Korean historical drama (sageuk) that aired in 2011, and you can watch it legally, for free, with subtitles on DramaFever.

I’m going to limit my discussion to elements that can be replicated in prose, so I won’t talk about the music, actors, acting, lighting, etc. I’ll be focusing on the events, characters, and stakes—all of which you can do in your writing. (And which you should establish quickly, whether or not you have a prologue.) Go watch the prologue first—I’ll be waiting for you when you’re done if you can stop there.

…you ready? Let’s break the prologue down to its key components:

The prologue begins with Gim Seung Yu on a mad horseback ride in the dark. He is clearly injured—and he is being pursued, though he does not seem to know it. Elsewhere, other people are getting slaughtered.

blood

The title cards reveal that this is 1453, when Grand Prince Su Yang framed Gim Jong Seo and his faction for treason and killed many of them.

Shin Myun reports to the Grand Prince and his cronies. The Grand Prince mentions that Seung Yu still thinks Shin Myun is a friend, so they can use that connection to track down Seung Yu’s father, Jong Seo.

betrayal

Seung Yu reaches the safe house and rushes inside to see his injured father. Before they can leave the house, the Grand Prince’s cronies arrive. Seung Yu takes up a sword to defend his father, but his previous injuries mean he is quickly defeated. Jong Seo is struck down and then dies while reaching for Seung Yu.

reach

Something happens off-screen and Seung Yu ends up on his back. As he falls unconscious, he flashes back to previous events. His father, the Grand Prince, Shin Myun, and a young woman we haven’t seen before feature prominently. The title card announces that the story has jumped back an entire year—and the story begins with the young woman, Lee Se Ryeong.

girl

The main reason this prologue works so well is that it leaves you with a lot of specific questions about the events, characters, and stakes:

  • How did Seung Yu and Jong Seo get hurt? Were they injured in separate incidents? If they weren’t, how did they get separated from one another? Where was Seung Yu coming from?
  • Why was one of the Grand Prince’s cronies spattered with blood? How many other people have been killed in this purge? Are there any survivors?
  • When did Shin Myun become loyal to the Grand Prince? How long and to what extent has he been betraying his friend Seung Yu?
  • Who is the young woman Seung Yu remembers as he falls unconscious?

Whatever the answers to these questions are, the stakes are clearly a matter of life and death for the characters involved. If you can dredge up a little sympathy for people framed for treason and murdered in the night, a betrayed friend, or a son who saw his father cut down in front of him, you want to know what happened.

But there’s another layer going on here, if you know your Korean history like the target audience did. The Princess’s Man centers on the rise to power of Grand Prince Su Yang/King Sejo, who—despite killing a lot of people (including his nephew) in order to take the throne—is remembered as one of Korea’s great kings. In other words, the bad guy will end up winning.

Even if you don’t know the history of these events, the importance of this massacre still comes through thanks to Seung Yu being the POV character. The viewers know that, no matter what plans he makes or victories he experiences over the year prior to this night, Seung Yu is going to end up helpless and bleeding on the ground. Despite this, the how, when, and why of it all is practically irresistible.

But the one thing that truly cemented my love for this prologue is that it subverted my expectations. Most prologues in this style end up sampling from the climax of the work, so you end up waiting for the climax for far too long. By the time you get there, chances are the prologue has been sapped of its strength or people have already figured out what the fallout will be, so reaching that scene is neither as exciting nor as dramatic as it was the first time around.

When I first watched this prologue, I assumed that this was how the show was going to end. What could possibly top this terrible massacre and Seung Yu’s defeat?

The purge started in episode 7 and ended in episode 8. I was floored. What I had assumed would be the climax of the story was instead the close of Act 1 and the start of Act 2. By subverting my expectations of how the prologue related to the rest of the story, The Princess’s Man surprised and delighted me. I thought I knew the very worst the show could throw at me—and I was wrong.

What other books/tv shows/movies/etc. have had good prologues? Why did those prologues work for you?

Discovering Spoken Word Poetry

YouTube is like Wikipedia: you go in for one specific thing, and you come out hours later with eighty tabs open, trying to figure out how you got from babies eating limes to a simulation of the Mars rover landing to explanations on why the U.S. penny needs to die.

On one such foray, I discovered spoken word poetry—specifically the work of Sarah Kay. If you haven’t encountered spoken word poetry before, take a couple minutes and experience it. This first video is from Kay’s TEDTalk, where she performs two poems and explains why spoken word poetry is a fascinating and powerful art form. The second video is a single poem by Kay, and the third video is a collaboration between her and Phil Kaye:

From “If I Should Have a Daughter…”

And she’s gonna learn that this life will hit you hard in the face—
wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach.
But getting the wind knocked out of you
is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.

From “Hiroshima”

My knees still buckle every time I get on a stage.
My self-confidence can be measured out in teaspoons,
mixed into my poetry, and it still always tastes funny in my mouth.
But in Hiroshima, some people were wiped clean away,
leaving only a wristwatch or a diary page.
So no matter that I have inhibitions to fill all my pockets, I keep trying,
hoping that one day I’ll write a poem I can be proud
to let sit in a museum exhibit as the only proof I existed.

From “Postcards”

Still now I send letters into space, hoping that some mailman somewhere
will track you down and recognize you from the descriptions in my poems,
that he will place the stack of them in your hands and tell you,
“There is a girl who still writes you. She doesn’t know how not to.”

From “When Love Arrives”

Love arrives exactly when love is supposed to,
and love leaves exactly when love must.
When love arrives, say “Welcome! Make yourself comfortable.”
If love leaves, ask her to leave the door open behind her,
turn off the music, listen to the quiet whisper,
“Thank you for stopping by.”

On Schedule for Decisions

I spent a lot of time in March doing things other than writing, like launching Rich in Color, watching Shining Inheritance, and reading. Once you add in my birthday and other life disruptions, I only managed to write 4,818 words last month. This week went much better—I wrote 1,622 words and finished chapter five.

This weekend Crystal and I will be sifting through the co-blogger applications for Rich in Color and extending offers to two people. I’ve been very impressed with the quality of the applicants and think that the people we end up choosing will be wonderful assets to the site.

My creative goals for this week include making headway on chapter six, reviewing a book for Rich in Color, and devising a posting schedule for the site. It will be fun to coordinate and collaborate with two new people.

Two Weeks and Two Changes

Last Thursday, the company I worked for eliminated sixteen positions, including mine. It was a shock, but I have since determined that this means the universe has awesome things in store for me. I’ve been making daily to-do lists and weekly goals, and so far I feel pretty good. Every now and then stray thoughts will catch me by surprise (like the fact that I need to rewrite my bio now), but I’m keeping on top of things.

Over the last two weeks I have managed to write 2,520 words in The Dying Shrine. The count is so low (despite that 1,000-word day I promised!) because I have been busy launching Rich in Color AKA that secret project I’ve been talking about for the last couple of weeks.

The Rich in Color blog is dedicated to reading, reviewing, talking about, and otherwise promoting young adult fiction starring people of color or written by people of color. So far Crystal and I have posted three reviews, and we’re currently searching for co-bloggers to help us out. We’ve gotten a surprising amount of support from the YA lit community (at least in the parts I frequent), and I’m very excited about the project, especially the release calendar.

My creative goals for the upcoming week are to keep writing The Dying Shrine and to make sure we stay on target with our posting schedule for Rich in Color.

Selected Birthday Highlights

On Sunday, my sister Mandy and her husband hosted a family birthday party. We had lasagna, baguettes, salad, and chocolate cake, and it was a lot of fun to hang out with three of my siblings, my brother-in-law, a cousin, and Mary Beth.

Monday and Tuesday evenings were spent making this amazing cake:

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Mary Beth and I added hazelnut flavoring to the filling (and toasted the chopped hazelnuts that went on top). This was one of the prettiest cakes we have ever made.

On Wednesday (my actual birthday), I came into work to find my desk decorated and covered in candy, as is tradition for my department:

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After work, Mary Beth, Beth, Amanda, and I went to Mahider’s for some seriously tasty Ethiopian food. Then we retreated to my apartment to eat the hazelnut chocolate cake (which was divine), watch YouTube videos, and talk about racial/ethnic diversity (with a side-order of feminism) in popular media. My friends are awesome.

Thursday was another family day, though this time with an added aunt, uncle, and cousin I hadn’t seen eight years. We had a fun, low-key dinner at Mimi’s Café.

Then on Friday, my department treated me to for lunch. I got to spend all of Saturday hanging out with Mary Beth, two of her sisters, one brother-in-law, and one boyfriend. We had delicious scones for breakfast, went to the farmer’s market (goat cheese, sharpened knives, and CSA information for all!), watched House of Flying Daggers and were astonished by everything we had forgotten, and then went out for sushi.

All in all, an excellent week. Thanks, everyone!

KDramas I’m Currently Watching

That Winter the Wind Blows. (Currently Airing) What’s not to love in a melodrama about a gambler/con artist on the hook for 7.8 billion won (~US$7.8 million) to a mob boss thanks to a psycho ex-girlfriend framing him for the theft? After getting out of prison, Oh Soo has 100 days to come up with the money or else a friend-turned-mortal-enemy hitman will take great pleasure in killing him. His best chance at getting the money is to assume the identity of a deceased friend, who was both conveniently named Oh Soo and the only son of GL Group’s deceased chairman. Can Oh Soo fool Young, the deceased chairman’s blind daughter, and her associates into believing he’s her estranged brother before he falls in love with her and Young’s brain explodes of a brain tumor? I have no idea, but there are a lot of pretty people in a lot of emotional turmoil with very complicated motives and fauxcest everywhere, so it’s quite the ride. (8 seen; 11 episodes aired of 16)

Arang and the Magistrate. (2012) Based on a famous Korean folktale, this show revolves around Arang and her attempt to find out what really happened the night she was murdered. With the help (and possible romance?) of a bastard-nobleman-that-can-see-ghosts-turned-reluctant-magistrate, Arang searches for clues to her mortal life and who killed her. The Jade Emperor and King of Hell are also moving pieces behind the scenes to discover why souls are going missing and to put everything back to rights. There’s also an evil nobleman, his slightly less evil son, and an eldritch abomination in disguise running about as well. The show is at turns cute, creepy, and awkwardly hilarious. I’m watching it with Mary Beth and Beth, so progress has been slow. (12 of 20 episodes)

Shining Inheritance. (2009) A modern Cinderella-retelling centered on the character, Eun Sung, who gets kicked out of the house with her autistic younger brother by their stepmother after their father dies. Stepsister is thus far not wicked, but she lacks the gumption to truly stand up to her mother. The “prince charming” is the grandson of a self-made wealthy food manufacturer/restaurateur, who also happens to function as the fairy godmother of the piece. As of the last episode I watched, prince charming still needed a good shin-kicking, and the fairy godmother decided she’d had enough of his (and his sister’s and his mother’s) spoiled antics and declared our heroine the heir to her food company (due to complicated in-universe reasons that mostly make sense). Also, there’s a restaurant owner who’s sweet on Eun Sung and will probably not get the girl once prince charming gets his act together and the story teaches him not to be a terrible human being. Until then, I will root for secondary man. (6 of 28 episodes)

What visual media are you consuming right now?

Birthday Week Interference

So it turns out that it is very difficult to write consistently during your birthday week when you have a family party, spend two days making an amazing cake, have a friend birthday party, have dinner with family you haven’t seen in eight years, and need to prep more secret project things. I only managed to write once this week, netting me a grand total of 597 words.

But no worries—I’ve had a self-indulgent and me-centric week, which means I will be ready to focus on fictional people tomorrow. I have grand plans for Saturday, ranging from getting my kitchen knives sharpened at the pop-up winter farmer’s market to reading a book to chatting with Crystal to writing a thousand words. (I am very fond of to-do lists, and my list for Saturday already has twelve items on it. I will do ALL the things!)

It has been a long time since I’ve had a thousand-word day, and I’m very much looking forward to the challenge of it. It helps that I’ve figured out how the rest of this chapter is going to play out. I should be able to wrap up chapter four tomorrow and begin chapter five on Sunday, which means the final member of my trio will actually get to meet the other two heroes. Wish me luck!

When I Woke Up This Morning, I Was 27

It amazes me how often I find myself thinking that I’m not an adult. I’ve been employed full-time for close to five years—isn’t that adulthood? I can support myself financially—isn’t that adulthood?

I’ve signed rental contracts, had utilities under my name, given to charity, tried and failed and occasionally succeeded at creative projects, nurtured and neglected friendships, gone on road trips, rented hotel rooms, gotten lost, bought a car, had surgery, lost family members, tried new recipes, took out a loan, cried myself to sleep, graduated from college, gotten into fights, slept just five hours in seventy-two, been a bridesmaid more than once—aren’t these things that adults do?

I don’t have some of the big, traditional hallmarks of adulthood—no partner, no children, no house (that’s partly mine but mostly the bank’s). But if I am not a full-fledged adult, what am I? I’m certainly not a teenager anymore. Can I claim adulthood provided I put some adjectives out in front, like young or single or twenty-something?

Sometimes I think adulthood is something that I can earn, like a bachelor’s degree or an Olympic medal. If I can just do X, Y, and Z (though these criteria change daily in my head), I’ll unlock the Adulthood Achievement. This is nonsense, of course—by every legal measure in the U.S., I am an adult and have been for several years. (Adulthood is a very boring achievement to the government, one almost everyone gets for simply playing the game long enough.)

I don’t feel like an adult, though. Or at least, I don’t know what adulthood is supposed to feel like. Is it knowing that your fears are real and that failure is possible? Is it mourning for the lost people and places and things? Is it the hard-earned caution and suspicion after being burned? Is it the sense of wonder you get when you realize just how small you are compared to the rest of the world?

Perhaps it’s just the ability to laugh at yourself when you realize that the questions you’re amateur-philosophizing over are neither interesting nor revolutionary.

If that is the case, then sometime between the Ethiopian food and the hazelnut chocolate cake and the off-key singing, I’ll finally become an adult.

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