Worth 1000 Words #8: Coffee

A cup of coffee can either save or ruin an entire day. I guess that also applies to tea or other similar beverages, but I dislike most tea that is not of the iced variety, so this post will strictly deal with coffee.

IMG_20170515_145133_308For several folks all over the world, coffee is what sets the morning in motion. Or it provides a much-needed stimulant in the afternoon. Or it can be the fuel to a productive evening if you don’t have to wake up early the following day. Basically, coffee is a versatile tool that can be utilized whenever someone needs a caffeine-based boost. On many dreary days, it is only the tantalizing scent of coffee that is capable of dragging me out of bed in the morning, and during certain evenings, I look forward to indulging in a cup of “night coffee” as I settle in for an editing session or to read a few chapters of a book.

My personal relationship with coffee has not always been a healthy one; back in my late high-school / early college years, I was averaging about five to seven cups a day. Not good, and quite detrimental to my general state of being. My sleep schedule was terrible, my diet was awful, the caffeine headaches were brutal, I developed the appearance of a zombie raccoon, and I was basically using coffee as a crutch to hobble through each day and night. After receiving doctor’s orders to decrease my caffeine intake, I have managed to scale it back to two or three cups, depending on my work load or the kind of day I’m having, and on (very) rare occasions I even settle for one. I still resemble a zombie raccoon on most days, but I’m starting to think that’s just my natural appearance.

But I am also one of those folks who is not satisfied with just any kind of coffee. No, no… I am a snob. I’m definitely not as bad as some, so I guess you could say I’m a low-tier snob, but over the years, my tastes have evolved so that I can only tolerate certain strains of coffee, with dark roast being the most prominent. I am partial to French roast (the Starbucks kind is probably the best I’ve had, but Victor Allen’s is decent, and so is the Newman’s Own) but I will accept Sumatra, Italian, or any other kind of dark roast. I used to be able to drink any kind of coffee, but now, all variants of light roast taste like a single coffee bean floating in water to me – I call it devil’s swill. I honestly can’t fathom how people even drink light roast; I can tolerate medium roast if there are no other options, but really, the bolder the better.

However, despite my love of all things dark roast, I do have a fondness for sugary, frilly coffee drinks; frapuccinos, machiattos, lattes, blended drinks, etc. Sure, they’re often overpriced and provide about three days’ worth of sugar in a single sip, but they taste delicious! And sometimes, a frou-frou basic-white-girl whipped-cream-topped sweet treat is just what is required to propel someone through a rough patch. I’m off chocolate for the year (which has been a struggle, let me tell you), but if I weren’t, I’d be indulging in a S’mores Frappuccino right about now. Not that it will redeem me any, but I am STRONGLY anti-Pumpkin spiced anything and cannot stand the taste of gingerbread, so in the fall/winter, I am somewhat less of a basic bitch. I also haven’t tried the new Unicorn thing, but I suspect there isn’t any actual coffee in it, so I think I’ll avoid that sugar rush.

I prefer not to take coffee black; I’m not even sure how people do it. If I’m fixing myself a cup at home, I use a splash of creamer – basic vanilla or something simple. Right now, I’m using one called “sweet cream,” but it’s not overly-sweet. Y’all can get out of here with your hazelnut, though, or any of those fancy-pants flavors. If I’m out at a restaurant or something, I go for standard cream and sugar. Not too much; just enough to stave off bitterness.

I also have a mug preference, if I’m at home and am free to select whichever vessel I desire for my caffeinated beverages. My cupboard includes two Star Wars mugs (one is BB8, the other is Rogue One based) an Avengers mug, two Batman mugs, a mug with the logo of my alma mater on it, a Game of Thrones stein (House Baratheon… purchased before season 5 episode 9), and a bunch of plain white mugs for plain days. Sometimes, all it takes is a cup of java in a BB8 mug to lift my mood. Why would I use a plain old mug when I can drink out of a mug with superheroes on it?

Now, coffee is a simple thing, I know; probably not something I should spend 1000 words droning on about. But simple pleasures have power. Besides, you can tell a lot about someone from the way they take their coffee. I like to think I’m as bold as French roast (I’m not) with just a splash of sweetness (I’m not that, either), but a coffee preference can be an integral part of a person’s psyche; something that someone else can identify with. I even try really hard not to judge people who drink light roast, though it’s a daily struggle. Seriously, how does anyone consume that… that… devil’s swill?!?

My coffee order has evolved over the years, and I have changed with it – maybe someday, I’ll be taking my coffee black to match my bright sunshine-y disposition! For now, however, I’ll happily stick to my French roast… I actually just ordered a pack of 200 Victor Allen’s K-cups and I’m curious to see how long it will take me to plow through it.

So, the question is… how do you take your coffee?

Writing Rewind #2: Wings of Fate – Chapter 1 Part 1

Because the chapters of this monstrosity are so long (the first was 10,000+ words and it’s one of the “shorter” ones if you can believe it) I’m splitting them each into at least 2 parts. Some may even be 3, depending on the content. Since I’m only including snippets instead of the full draft, which means large cuts in plot and context, I will attempt to assemble some semblance of a story from the passages I select. Don’t want y’all to miss out on the extremely well thought out and plausible plot I devised ten years ago!

Last time we dissected the problematic prologue, which introduced a mysterious “mission.” This time, we meet our hero, and my very first original protagonist (of some kind of substance) – Heiwa! So let’s get started with Wings of Fate, Chapter 1: The Letter.

KEY/GUIDE:
Strikethrough = cut out
Highlight = rephrase/reword/awk
Blue highlight = minor additions
DANGER RED HIGHLIGHT= massive cringe

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*sigh* Here we go again… bogged down with excess description and detail.

If it wasn’t cringe-worthy enough in itself, I envisioned this piece as an “anime/manga,” hence the random Japanese phrases strewn about. But that’s the least of the issues, here, so I’m not going to bother pointing them all out. Rest assured, I am mortified by them.

Every sentence just keeps going, and going, and going, when it has already conveyed the message and does not need any further explanation.

Also, way, way too many adverbs. I’m actually not as anti-adverb as some folks tend to be (within reason), but I do think they should be used sparingly. A decade ago, I was a huge advocate of adverbs; but I didn’t really know better. Still… I look forward to hacking through them. Might get my word count under 200,000 with that alone!

So, an initial scan yields this:

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Time to get rid of that awkward phrasing and those pesky adverbs! Not to mention the overly-descriptive passage about Grandma. Her character becomes clear later through dialogue and her interactions with others, and doesn’t need to be so overt from the get-go. We don’t need a full description in her first appearance. Or ever, really.

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Despite losing some description, Ritsuko’s character and personality still seems to come through, as does her relationship with Heiwa. And it could be done in far less words! Imagine that!

*cracks knuckles* The next bit is going to be… well… a challenge. But it does show just how bloated this entire story is, as there are passages like this throughout the piece.

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SWEET JESUS. Where to START? I almost wish I could highlight all of it in red.

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While some degree of description is necessary for setting and for characterization, as blindly leading a reader into a story probably isn’t wise, I think I laid it on a little too thick. And by “a little,” I mean way too thick. There does need to be set-up of some kind, especially since the story is futuristic, but an exposition dump is almost always a bad way to approach it.

These revelations should be more gradual, especially when it comes to the protag; we’re going to be spending 22 chapters with this guy, so not everything needs to be spelled out right at the beginning. Especially not in such a callous way, either – the listing of his flaws comes off as trying too hard to show what a “screw up” Heiwa is, or to downplay him on purpose; like making a girl protagonist “clumsy” just to give her a flaw. In retrospect, the message doesn’t need to be quite so heavy-handed, as his personality unfolds throughout the introductory chapters and doesn’t need to be foisted upon the reader right at the start.

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The word count for the selection was more or less halved, and nothing was really lost. Everything that needed to be said is still there in a more concise manner. Heck, it could probably be trimmed even more! HECK, I PROBABLY COULD HAVE LEFT IT ALL OUT. But, I digress… onto the next snippet!

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I thought the last section was bad, but now, I… am beginning to regret doing this. I’m not sure I can take it. I might just shrivel up and die of embarrassment.

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FIRST OF ALL, THAT CRINGE-TASTIC RED HIGHLIGHTED SENTENCE HAS GOT TO GO. That is so, so, so bad. “Green orbs.” I am horrified. LAY OFF THE EYE DESCRIPTIONS, ALLIE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. Sadly, as I have seen the rest of this work (being the one who wrote it, and all) I know it will only get worse from here on out. Much worse.

Also, lots of awkward wording and phrasing that needs to be refined.

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Whew, the cringe is gone! Well… most of it, anyway.

The last portion for the first part of the chapter (because I don’t think I have the energy to any more of it today… I need a break to ponder my life choices) features another character; Heiwa’s mother, Izumi.

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*gets out the scissors* TIME TO START CUTTING!!!!!!

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Izumi doesn’t need to spell out her entire life story and the progression of her illness all in one chunk of dialogue. Especially since it has already been discussed previously, and it is partially explored in the paragraph that follows it. It’s just too much, and can be narrowed into something that is more efficient.

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AH, much better! So much is gone, but not much is lost. Izumi’s personality and her situation peek through without bombarding the reader with info. Subtlety is a virtue… one I did not understand a decade ago.

That’s it for today – I’ve done enough damage! Next time, we’ll tackle the second half of Chapter 1… which is, unfortunately, similar to the first. We’ll discover what “the letter” means and how it will affect our hero, Heiwa. Hopefully, I can whip the latter half of the chapter into shape without splintering my sanity.

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Dir: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Kurt Russel
Runtime: 2hr16m
Spoiler Level: Light (ANY MAJOR SPOILERS WILL BE UNDER A “READ MORE”)

MV5BMTg2MzI1MTg3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTU3NDA2MTI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_.jpgBack in the summer of 2014, I knew nothing about Guardians of the Galaxy, but when Marvel’s film adaptation rolled into theaters, my best friend and I decided to venture out to see it on opening night. I knew there was a raccoon involved, and I do love my nocturnal, trash-eating rodents, so I figured it would be worthy entertainment for a Thursday night.

However, I did not expect it to become my favorite installation in the MCU up to that point. The original Guardians is an action-packed, visually-engrossing space opera laden with laugh-out-loud humor and fantastic music, and 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is a worthy sequel and excellent addition to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, even though it doesn’t quite achieve the same level of quirky charm of the first.

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 follows the titular band of space misfits as they continue their travels through space and adapt to their new role as “heroes”, but after a mission goes awry, they must work to resolve their internal conflicts while also navigating various precarious situations, including the question of Star Lord’s parentage, the sisterly rivalry between Nebula and Gamora, and Baby Groot’s inability to understand even the most basic directions.

Naturally, with such a stacked cast, it’s easy for the more “supporting” characters to get shoved aside so the main cast can bask in the spotlight, but GotGv2 does a decent job of balancing the plot and the narrative focus between all of the characters. I think this contributes to the somewhat “nonlinear plot” of the film, as this film is far more character-driven than it is plot-driven, but that’s not necessarily a drawback; in fact, I think it’s the film’s strength. Each character seemed to get their own sizable piece of the action, and in most cases, the character arcs “overlap” to help ensure enough time is devoted to each person/creature. Gamora has to grapple with her dysfunctional relationship with Nebula, which also gives the viewer a better look into Nebula’s motivations. Drax strikes up an unusual (and hilarious) friendship with Mantis, and Rocket finds an unusual kinship with Peter’s old mentor/guardian Yondu (Michael Rooker), which also opens a window into Yondu’s past as a ravager and his history with Peter. Peter struggles to reconcile the dreams he once had about his real father with the reality of his actual father, Ego, in addition to dealing with an “unspoken thing” with Gamora. And Baby Groot is… well, he’s Baby Groot. Every moment he is onscreen is a moment to treasure.

But this focus on the characters only seems to add more of an emotional impact to the film, even if the result is a less “plot-driven” film than the previous one. I mean, while there’s a solid plot and all, the individual stories and plotlines are kind of loosely interwoven until the climax, where they all crash into one another; but instead of stretching the story too thin, I think it adds a unique sort of depth. After all, a film about a superhero team should give adequate screen time to each of the members, and this film does a great job of doing just that. It didn’t feel like anyone got left behind, and certain events over the course of the film packed more of an emotional punch because of the enhanced focus on the entire cast, not only the leads; this is especially apparent in the treatment of Yondu and Nebula, who get more of a layered portrayal this time around.

New additions to the cast include Pom Klementieff as the empath, Mantis, who expresses a genuine naivete and wide-eyed sweetness that balances out some of the “rougher” members of the team. Mantis contributes to a lot of big laughs throughout the film, especially through her interactions with Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer. Kurt Russell oozes confidence and charisma as Star Lord’s father, Ego, and Elizabeth Debicki is “gold” in her appearance as High Priestess Ayesha of the Sovereign, though her screen time is limited. Also, Sly Stallone is in this for a hot second – didn’t know that until I saw the opening credits.

Much like with the first film, the music in this film is fitting for the plot and all around fantastic to listen to, and the effects are amazing, per usual – especially the design of Ego’s Planet. There’s plenty of action, and several sequences that are just an absolute blast to watch, especially in IMAX/3D. Plus, for a film/property that is generally more light-hearted in tone than other Marvel installments, GotGv2 isn’t afraid to land a roundhouse kick right to your feels in a couple of spots. Unlike Mantis, the film is beautiful – on the inside, and the outside.

Alas, with the good comes the bad; while the film features several legitimately hilarious moments (I’ll discuss a couple of them under the spoiler cut), some of the humor feels a bit forced and awkward, especially in the beginning – though obviously, this might differ for other folks depending on their sense of humor. It takes a bit of time for the film to find its groove, and a few jokes failed to hit the mark. However, Drax (along with his interaction with Mantis) is definitely the comedic heart of the film, along with the lovable Baby Groot. Everyone gets a few quips, and the film eventually finds a rhythm and sticks to it, despite a faltering start.

If you’re a fan of the first film, or just love a good, humorous jaunt through the distant reaches of the universe with a twig, a couple of aliens, a human/celestial, and a cybernetically-engineered trash panda, then prepare yourself to get hooked on a feelin’ (again) by Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2.

Overall rating: 9/10

SPOILERS BENEATH THE “READ MORE,” YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Continue reading

Writing Rewind #1: Wings of Fate – Prologue

I’ve mentioned my history with fanfiction in a previous blog post, and I’ve probably touched on some other early writing ventures, but perhaps the most significant of those endeavors is the 539 page, 285,000+ word anime-inspired sci-fi epic, Wings of Fate, which I wrote when I was a 14-15 year old “weeaboo” with lofty dreams of drafting a masterpiece. Sadly, the end result was a nightmare.

I look back on it sometimes when I need a chuckle at my own expense, because it’s bad. Unfortunately, these strolls down memory lane typically result in more cringing than anything else, but for the last decade or so, the file has been sitting mostly untouched on a flash-drive.

Therefore, I thought I could use it for an experiment, of sorts – I’ll cut out snippets, chapter by chapter, post them here, then examine mistakes I made and how I could have improved it. I’m not a “pro”  but I don’t intend to do anything with this work (no serious editing and I do not want/intend to attempt to have it published in the future) so I might as well use it as an exercise. Sure, digging up past examples of my terrible writing might not be the best idea for my ego and could even induce some level of trauma, but who knows? It might be therapeutic!

I won’t be posting all of it, so some context will be missing, but I’ll do my best to bridge the gaps. I mean, the whole thing was over 500 pages on WordPerfect, single-spaced except for paragraph breaks. I typed it on my now-ancient Dell PC, and it’s a tedious read that can probably be classified as torture. The end result of this little exercise won’t be perfection, but it will certainly be an adventure!

KEY/GUIDE:
Strikethrough = cut out
Highlight = rephrase/reword/awk
Blue highlight = minor additions
DANGER RED HIGHLIGHT= massive cringe

So here we go… with Prologue: The Mission! (DUN DUN DUN!!!)

 

P1

I have mentioned my previous tendency to over-explain and add superfluous detail; an issue that still creeps up on me to this day. I was tempted to strikethrough the entire thing…and it’s only the first paragraphs. This is going to be a bumpy ride.

So, after a scan, this is what I came up with:

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First of all, I described the general’s eyes as “icy azure,” and then “frigid.” I guess I REALLY wanted to make sure everyone knew how cold he’s meant to be. Forewarning, this will be a recurring theme with the personality/physical traits of various characters. This whole section is bogged down with needless detail and a lot of “tell” instead of “show.” It’s just TOO MUCH.

And so, after a quick edit, this is the fixed version:

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Streamlined and much shorter – it attempts to set the scene without delving into too much unnecessary detail and description.

Let’s move on to…

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Again… this is just… no. Just no. My initial reactions resulted in this:

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I mean… clearly, I didn’t do much research prior to writing this, but for a story that features a confidential, military-related mission, the way I framed it is RIDICULOUS. Plus, it would never happen. Not that I was aiming for “believable,” but even the parts that could have been at least a tiny bit plausible were just… a mess.

ALSO WHY WOULD I EVER DESCRIBE SOMETHING AS “GOOD-SIZED?”” I mean really. USE YOUR WORDS, ALLIE!!!!

Here’s how I fixed it:

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I can feel the 533 pages being pared down already – like a sheep being shorn from the shackles of its oppressive fleece. How I wish I could travel back in time and give Past-Allie a thesaurus and a good smack in the face!

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Again… way too much all around. And, just in case it wasn’t clear, “The General” is a cold man. Frigid, even. I don’t think I used nearly enough adjectives to describe him.

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These were my initial edits, but I did rework some sentences a bit more as I slogged through through the changes. (I know “General” is meant to be under-cased, but since no names were used in the prologue, I capitalized it to make it more clear.)

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Seeing a theme? Edits are much shorter, because, back when I was 14/15, I frequently fell into the all-too-common trap of incessant, grating detail. Gotta leave something for the reader to draw on their own instead of beating them over the head with it.

Lastly, to send off this disaster…

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*headdesk*

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Notice there is only ONE SENTENCE LEFT UNTOUCHED. ONE. OF SEVERAL. And really, the comma in that sentence is sketchy.

Also, the two red segments scream of using a thesaurus for certain words. Typically, there is nothing wrong with this as the thesaurus is a useful tool, but it sometimes makes a sentence or phrase sound unnatural. I mean, “Ebony tresses?” “Azure eyes met cerulean heavens?” Kill me. However, I can see where my tendency to refer too-often to a character’s eye color began.

Less is more. LESS IS MORE. I was quite obviously not aware of that back then…

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Sadly, this is only the prologue. The ensuing chapters (of which there are 22, I think – I will probably split each chapter into 2 posts) are all absurdly long (I had a notorious reputation for long chapters in my fanfiction days) and the story was crammed with so much detail and bloated dialogue and repetition that it might cause me to lose my sanity to revisit all of it. However, despite the pain, it does feel good to go back and trim down the superfluous bits, and be able to pinpoint and mend the errors I made in my writing a decade ago. This is equal parts soothing and enraging… though the scales may tip more in favor of “enraging” as this blog series continues.

Next time, I’ll venture onto Wings of Fate, Chapter 1: The Letter. We’ll meet our reluctant hero and get a taste of what his life is like… it’s probably going to contain frequent references to his eye/hair color, so brace yourselves now.

 

*Also, thanks to anyone who bought the Kindle version of my YA novel, I’m With You, during the Countdown Deal this weekend! If you missed out, it’s still just $4.99 to purchase at Amazon, but I’ll be running more deals in the future!

Writing Techniques: Setting

I bet y’all looked at the title of this post and thought that this would be about creating settings for a story, right? GUESS AGAIN! I actually want to talk about “setting” in the context of the writing process. Like, the setting where the actual writing takes place… the “work space,” if you will. Where the so-called “magic” happens.

I’ll admit, I’ve not always been the best at selecting a place to write. Sometimes I’ll get set up on the couch and, within twenty minutes, I’ll end up resting on my elbows with my knees/feet tucked under my body (in a “snail” position, sort of), typing with the screen about five inches from my face, which is probably not the most effective sitting position for both productivity and posture, and it might also be a contributing factor to my declining eyesight. I became somewhat notorious for my unusual “study poses” while in college, as I used to splay out on couches or chairs to do my work, but I can’t say that it helped the study/work process much. I also don’t work very well in public places… I’ve gone to Panera Bread and Starbucks a handful of times with the intention of writing or getting work done, but I usually wind up puttering around on the internet and don’t accomplish anything of note. From this, I’ve drawn the conclusion that I can write anywhere, but I’m only at my best under specific conditions.

When I was writing I’m With You, I lived in a different house. I did some writing in my “office” area (also known as the spare bedroom with a desk in it), some in my bedroom, but most of the time, I wrote in a little kitchen “nook,” where my ancient PC was located. The nook was basically a table in the corner of my kitchen, right next to a window (so I could also make sure the neighbor kids weren’t terrorizing my yard.) That work station was about ten or so feet away from the fridge, so I could spend entire afternoons in there and only had to get up to use the restroom. I also lived alone for a significant portion of my time in that house, so I didn’t have to worry about bugging anyone else with my choice of work space or bizarre sitting positions. It was the ideal setting for writing productivity, and about 90% of I’m With You‘s first draft was completed there.

However, it is all thanks to my kitchen nook that I realized the importance of a proper work setting and atmosphere, because ever since I left that house I haven’t quite been able to recapture that level of efficiency. Sometimes, at night (or in the morning) I’ll write while I’m in bed, but it’s definitely not good for my posture, and I cannot even begin to count how many times I’ve fallen asleep mid-edit without meaning to. Unintentional naps are the true nemesis of my writing output and my spine.

desk.PNGNowadays, I’ve got a desk in the corner of my bedroom and a yoga ball chair. The enclosed picture is old (if the “Star Trek premiere” note on the calendar is any indication – although it’s referring to Star Trek Beyond, not the 2009 film), but my current setup is basically the same, with a bit more clutter on the desk. I’ve since gotten a rad BB8 light-up statue, for one. Also, that little fan is a great asset for summer days, because my room is like Antarctica in the winter and the tropics in the summer, with no in between.

Overall, it’s not a bad set up – but it does make me miss my kitchen nook. I have whittled away at various writing projects sitting at that desk, including the latter drafts of I’m With You. Some days I set up in the kitchen or the living room instead, for a change of scenery. If the weather is nice, I’ll even go on the enclosed patio and actually endure sunlight, but my desk is my primary work station. I genuinely wish that I could be one of those writers who can stroll into a Starbucks and pump out two chapters in the time it takes to finish a latte, or plop down in any sort of chair or table/desk and create quality content no matter the location. Maybe I’m just picky, or there are other factors at work here, but I have definitely noticed a correlation between setting and productivity when it comes to my writing. I can write anywhere, but if I want to work to the best of my ability, I need a solid “space” to get work done, and designating a specific area, like a nook or a desk, works best for me, because it makes it seem more “official.”

I’m also very curious to know what sort of “setting” works for other writers, as I’m sure different folks require a different set of circumstances to be at their best and most efficient. What kind of desk works for you? Is there a certain chair you have to use? Can you work in only one room, or can you spread out all over your house and work from any space? Is absolute silence necessary, or do you need some type of music or background noise? Do you have to preemptively make sure your obnoxious cat has been adequately fed so she doesn’t whine and beg for food while you’re in the middle of an inspiration burst? Lots of sunlight or little? Total isolation or a few folks around to bounce ideas off?

For some, “setting” in terms of a story is as important as “setting” in a literal sense… therefore, the “setting” in which you write the “setting” can be a vital decision. Perhaps it’s trivial in a way, and it might not even matter to some, but if it improves productivity (and posture, in some cases) then selecting the right place to work can have some worthwhile benefits.

Worth 1000 Words #6: Leon

My first car was a navy blue ’02 Subaru Legacy, purchased with 148,000 miles on it. I was 17 years old and absolutely terrified of driving on the highway (still am, for the record), but regardless, I was ready to (slowly) hit the road.

And boy, I loved that car. I named him Leon, because all cars must have names. I actually got the name “Leon” from the main character of Final Fantasy VIII, Squall Leonhart, my favorite all-time FF character. Leon the Legacy was his full name, but I usually called him by his stage name – Leyonce. This post shall be an ode to Leon.

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Now, I did not get my learner’s permit or license until well after most of my friends had already acquired wheels and the means to use them. This is largely because I was terrified of driving. When I was still learning how to drive, I took my mom’s Ford Escape around our neighborhood at 15mph, constantly asking, “Am I going too fast? AM I?” I also cried during my driver’s test because the instructor yelled at me, and I’m like, 43% sure he only passed me because he felt bad.  That should give you some idea of what sort of driver I was at the start of my driving career.

But soon, I had Leon.

I did not have him an exceptionally long time, but Leon got me through a lot, helped me overcome some of my driving inhibitions, and was with me during my first forays into the world of adulthood. I only got a car because I needed one to go to college in a state six hours away from home, since I didn’t live on campus and needed a way to get to class and my part-time job – and Leon was the best first car I could have ever asked for.

I believe I suffer from some sort of driving dyslexia, because, while I am not a good driver in general, it’s mostly because I am not good at all with directions. Two months ago I had to use my GPS to get home from the same doctor’s office I’ve been going to for like, eight years. I don’t know what it is, but when I’m behind the wheel, I am utterly useless at finding my way anywhere. It’s a miracle I even make it to work.

Leon is the first car I braved the highway with. I have fond memories of driving on the Mass Pike by myself for the first time, eschewing a panic attack, and having to climb out of the car to get my ticket at the station because I couldn’t reach it through the window. A 20 minute trip turned into 2 hours; and that’s not including the return journey, which included trauma I won’t go into. But I had Leon; my navy blue security blanket with all-wheel drive. I made it safely home, despite my struggles, thanks to him.

Late night heart-to-hearts with friends, parked at a curb in our tiny PA town. Driving up to the highest residential point in the area to look out on the city below. Venturing home from work after a snowstorm and skidding straight through a red light at a four-way intersection, screaming bloody murder all the while. My first road trip, from PA to MA, where I didn’t have to trade the wheel off until CT, when I was fighting to ward off sleep. Crossing state lines to play laser-tag (medieval style) for my 20th birthday, and jamming out to the Backstreet Boys on our way back to campus.

Leon’s demise came in 2014, after two head gasket replacements in a one year span. The first one made my wallet weep, but I understood why it was necessary, as Leon was 12 and things were starting to get worn out. After the repair was finished, I assumed all was well for the time being. So, I was driving around for a while (as in, for months) before I started to smell something burning every time I drove. A mechanic told me it was my oil pan, so I shelled out money for a “used” oil pan, then when that didn’t fix the problem, they took another, closer look. I was told that I needed another head gasket, and that I shouldn’t have been driving with my car in such a condition, because it could have broken down at any moment. Apparently, the first one wasn’t installed properly, or whatever – which made me lose a lot of confidence in said mechanic. Needless to say, I got another new head gasket. For free.

Sadly, though he seemed to be mostly okay after the second repair, this incident basically showed me that Leon was now costing more to maintain than he was worth. Every time I took him in for an inspection, there was something wrong with him – and it was never something that was easy or inexpensive to fix. I was forking over hundreds of dollars for a car that experienced constant issues, so, in the late summer of 2014, I decided that it was time to let Leon go and get a new car.

I found a used Nissan that I liked, and it was time to say goodbye to Leon. Before I traded him in, I took the time to clean everything out. The frisbees in my trunk, which I kept because you never know when you’ll need a frisbee. My emergency bag, complete with emergency granola bars and emergency change of clothes and emergency toothbrush. Countless poptart wrappers (it’s an addiction, don’t judge me). A surplus of CD’s, chronicling my taste in music over the years; from J-Pop to film scores to Swedish metal. Approximately 47 half-filled water bottles.

Once all my things were cleared out, I handed the keys to the dealer, and my trusty Subaru either went off to auction or was sold to someone new. It was difficult to say goodbye, but no matter what I’m driving, I’ll always have fond memories of Leon.

The 3 Happy Things Journal

I have never been a “journal” person. Not because I don’t like to journal, but because I always tumble into the “I’ll do it later” mentality and fall off the routine. In an effort to be a more positive and appreciative person, I decided to give journaling another go at the start of 2016. But instead of daily entries detailing events or pondering my existence, I wrote down at least 3 “happy” things that happened over the course of the day.

I’ll admit, I slacked a bit during the holidays, so I ended up cramming a few days at a time toward the end, but on the whole, I managed to stay consistent in my journal efforts for the first time.

1/11/16 – CORN MUFFINS
1/26/16 – Orchard Skittles and reclining movie theater seats.
2/5/16 – Mac n’ cheese absolutely MURDERED my cramps.
2/18/16 – Went through a car wash without suffering a panic attack.
3/2/16 – MANUSCRIPT DONE AND SENT! AHHHHH!
3/10/16 -Made the cashier at a gas station laugh.
4/10/16 – Discovered Would I Lie To You? reruns on Youtube.
4/26/16 – Survived a day with no coffee.
5/5/16 – Captain America: Civil War was awesome, and the Winter Soldier is FINE.
5/27/16 – Two-story Barnes & Noble in NYC, A.K.A, heaven.
5/28/16 – Steve Martin playing the banjo at the intermission of Bright Star.
6/10/16 – Cereal. I just really love cereal.
6/20/16 – New shampoo smells great.
7/10/16 – Mom, Dad, and I driving around to all  Pokestops in the area.
7/20/16 – So cool to see the format of my book.
8/8/16 – Got to watch a beautiful sunrise.
8/26/16 – Stayed up until 2AM reading and finished two books in one day.
9/30/16 – MY BOOK WAS RELEASED ON AMAZON!!! AHHH!!!
10/1/16 – MY BOOK WAS RELEASED AT BN.COM!!! AHHH!!!
10/6/16 – First person told me they like my book!
11/9/16 – Solidarity, unity, and determination.
11/27/16 – Killed a fly with my ninja skills.
12/16/168 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown reruns. I AM ADDICTED.
12/25/16 – Held my baby cousin for the first time.
12/26/16 – Giveaway ended with 1,202 entries.
12/29/16 – Burritos with friends, catching up for 4 hours.

2016, on the whole, was not a great year, but looking back through my journal has reminded me that there was at least a little bit of good to be found in each day. A small bit of sun to part the dismal clouds. Sometimes (and by sometimes, I mean frequently) the “good things” were something as small as “Chinese food for dinner!” or “Had a great workout today.” There were multiple days where I wrote basically the same thing; some variation of “good workout, work was okay, got some editing/writing done.” It is also alarming how many times I wrote about coffee, pizza, starting a book, and getting to sleep on time. Mundane things, maybe, but I’ve found there’s nothing wrong with thinking the “boring” things are positive.

There were some not so good days in there, too. On June 7th, I only wrote one thing down: nothing. Implying that nothing good happened the entire day. But looking back on it now, I don’t remember what made that day so bad, so really, it must not have been as awful as I thought at the time. That’s not to say that bad things should be ignored, because they shouldn’t. Bad things are a part of life, and they must be acknowledged, but they should not conquer all else.

The year might not have been great, but despite the bad things that happened, there are tiny pinpricks of light that make the bad far less bleak, even if it’s something as small as “Corn muffins!” I only intended to keep this journal for a year, sort of as an experiment, but I’m going to keep going into 2017, and probably beyond. There are a lot of blank pages left in my Happy Things journal, and I look forward to filling them.