Last week, my friend Jake taught me how to play the Pokémon Trading Card Game. I know, I know, how can a self-proclaimed obsessed fan of Pokémon not know how to play the TCG? Don’t get me wrong, I do have a decent collection of Pokémon cards in a binder on my bookshelf at home but it’s exactly that, a collection–meant to look at and feel nostalgic not meant for playing purposes. Fun fact about me, never get me started on collecting anything, I will lose all impulse control and it will be a problem. Case in point, my collection of more than 100 Funko Pop figures currently packed away in a box somewhere because there simply isn’t space for all of them in my room right now. Anyway, the point is that no, I’ve never played the actual trading card game–although my friend Vicki and I used to make up our own rules for the game in elementary school because we thought the real way was too complicated…but I guess that probably doesn’t count.
Turns out the real game wasn’t nearly as complicated as I remember but then again I’m not ten anymore either. That’s not to say the game went well, however. I lost. Badly. We played three or four games and I couldn’t even come sort of close to beating Jake in any of them. He obliterated me. It was embarrassing. Now, I don’t consider myself a competitive person because while I always try my best to win, losing almost never bothers me. But this? this irked me. Maybe it’s because I see myself as something of a Pokémon expert and losing so badly felt a little like being exposed as an imposter. But it’s not like I’m all that competitive in Pokémon either, I enjoy the games for the collecting aspect and for the story I don’t take part in the online competitive battles so while I consider myself an expert I have no illusions of being–as Ash Ketchum would call it–a Pokémon Master as far as battling or strategy go. Still, losing to Jake bothered me. So I went home and downloaded the TCG app onto my iPad in order to hone my skills and prepare myself for a rematch I refused to lose. I’m proud to say that my training–combined with an entirely different deck–paid off big time. I won each of the three rematch games. As silly as it sounds, it was a win I really needed. It felt good to be reminded that sometimes you just need to get up when you fall and make sure you come back stronger than you were.
(Photo credit to my dad @kenhammond on Instagram)
It probably comes as no shock to you at this point that I am a major animal lover. Fuzzy, feathered, or scaly it doesn’t matter, I adore them all–to the point where for most of my childhood I wanted to be a vet or a dolphin trainer or a zookeeper–so the Nashville Zoo is something I’ve been wanting to do since we moved here in July but I haven’t had the chance until now. The past couple weeks my grandparents have been visiting from California which means we’ve been taking them on the usual Nashville tourist haunts: Civil War sites, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Parthenon and, my favorite, the Nashville Zoo. Of course, being from SoCal, I’ve grown up with some pretty amazing zoos such as the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Wild Animal Park, and LA Zoo, and while the Nashville Zoo was nowhere near as big as those and didn’t have nearly as many different animals–big cats are my favorites so I was a little disappointed that all the Nashville Zoo had were clouded leopards that I didn’t get to see because they weren’t out when I was there, and a couple cougars–it was still a really neat little zoo. My favorite animal that they had there (that I actually got to see anyway) were the red pandas. They were so fluffy and adorable and I’ve never wanted to sneak into an exhibit and steal an animal (or at least play with them till security dragged me away kicking and screaming) more in my life…I resisted the urge, obviously, pretty sure you’d have seen me on the news if I hadn’t. Still, they were beyond cute. My favorite experience, however, was definitely the kangaroo exhibit. Any exhibit where I get to touch a fuzzy animal is going to be an instant favorite for me so the kangaroo exhibit at the Nashville Zoo where you’re allowed to touch the roo’s (so long as they’re within reach of the path you have to stay on) won me over pretty quick. I mean I can now say I’ve pet a kangaroo–which was so much softer than I expected btw–how cool is that! Now if I can just find a zoo that’ll let me pet a red panda…
Hey everyone, I hope you all had a good holiday weekend–assuming you’re in the US of course. My grandparents have been in town the last couple weeks so I haven’t had a chance to post anything for a while. I’ve also been struggling with a bit of writer’s block as far as this blog is concerned, particularly Town Line Tuesdays. It’s not because I’ve hit a roadblock with the novel–to the contrary, I feel like I’ve actually been moving forward with that pretty well lately–but as I feared when I started this segment on the blog, I’m having trouble coming up with topics that aren’t too spoiler-y which is why updates haven’t been as regular as I’d like. That being said, if anyone has any suggestions or requests for writing and/or novel related topics you’d like to see featured here please leave a comment, I’d greatly appreciate it. In the meantime, having family in town for two weeks means I’ve got material for at least one non-novel-related post later this week and, regardless of whether or not I get any replies I’ll hopefully have an actual post for next week’s Town Line Tuesday. Thanks for your patience and support, y’all are great.
So last weekend my parents and I went to the Nashville Exotic Pet Expo because we wanted to look at hedgehogs. I’ve been to Pet Expos back when we lived in California but I’d never been to an exotic pet show before and it was so cool! There were so many different and amazing animals, some of them I got to touch and others I just got to look at, some were for sale and others were just being shown off by their proud pet parents. I tried to take a lot of pictures but I couldn’t get pictures of everything. There were a bunch of snakes and a ton of lizards including iguanas and chameleons and some amphibians like frogs and axolotls. On the more fuzzy and cuddly side of things there were the expected animals like bunnies and hedgehogs and sugar gliders but also some crazy things like a baby fennec fox, monkeys, baby ring-tailed lemurs, and cutest of all a baby coatimundi–a South American cousin of the raccoon that I’m glad wasn’t for sale because I’m pretty sure all three of us would’ve had a really hard time not buying it. We went in search of hedgehogs because I’ve wanted one for a while now–and I even got to hold a baby hedgehog it was so tiny and shy!–but as an animal lover the entire show was just a really cool experience and I wanted to take home pretty much every animal I saw. Although I went in thinking I wanted a hedgehog, my favorite animals at the show–other than the coati–actually ended up being the sugar gliders. They were so cute and soft and the ones at this one booth just wanted to climb all over their people and sleep in their shirts and pockets and while I definitely need to do some serious research first, the people at the booth made them seem like great, loving pets. I wonder what the cats would think.
Magic and technology, kingdoms and queendoms and distant planets, alternate universes and mysterious galaxies, magical creatures and alien races, to name but a few of all the little pieces that go into building elaborate fantasy and sci-fi worlds. World-building is a key part of writing fantasy and sci-fi, it’s a fun and creative process but also a necessary one—even magic worlds of make-believe need some sort of rules and structure, without them you’ve got nothing but chaos and your readers won’t be able to follow what’s going on let alone suspend disbelief the way they should. Still, while world-building is a lot of fun when it’s all in my head—seriously I could spend all day lost in imagining worlds of my own design—I’ve found that getting it onto the page is…less fun. The problem with putting the world-building on the page is that it, by very definition, needs to be done through exposition (the placement of often very wordy explanations of important background information into a story) and honestly, I don’t much like reading exposition let alone writing it. Don’t get me wrong, exposition, while annoying, is very important and I do actually find its contents interesting (most of the time anyway) it just has a way of completely bogging down the story.
I’m currently reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and let me tell you, the first six chapters were a pain to get through. The prologue explaining the contest was one thing, it set up the premise of the story nicely and it was all necessary information at that point in the narrative. The next six chapters however…well as interesting as I find the OASIS and I have to admit the background about Halliday is certainly necessary for Parzival’s solving of the puzzles but nothing happens in those six chapters. Parzival goes to school and does almost nothing there and the rest of the sixty-odd pages are nothing but exposition. Maybe it’s just me but personally I’d prefer the author trust the reader a little more to figure out what’s going on through context and small bits of exposition spaced out throughout the novel and interspersed with action rather than dumping everything on us all at once at the start of the story. Maybe you like your world-building all at once at the beginning of a book because when you’re finished, once you’ve earned the action after slogging through all the background muck, you at least know what’s going on and you can sit back and enjoy the ride. But I’ve got to say, I actually don’t mind being somewhat confused at the start of the book, I relish figuring things out on my own and the twists and turns in the plot that slowly reveal the secrets of the world I’m immersed in keep me coming back for more when pages upon pages of exposition exhaust me to the point of wanting to walk a way rather than keep trudging forward.
This reading preference really shows itself in my writing, I like to play things close to the vest, revealing things only when the plot demands it. Sometimes this dislike of heavy exposition and descriptive language works to my disadvantage as I sometimes struggle with making sure scenes are as descriptive as they need to be but it’s something I am constantly working on. As for world-building in The Demon of New Salem, since the novel takes place in our world—albeit our world with magic—the primary pieces I have to worry about building are my fictional town of New Salem, creating lore for the Supernaturals, and of course creating a system of magic and rules for how magic works and doesn’t work—which is what I am currently trying to work out during my writing sessions at my local coffee shop. It’s funny how given that magic is something that doesn’t exist, and can therefore theoretically operate any way I want it to, has me spending quite a bit of time researching… I’m sure my Google search history from my last writing session looks like that of a novice Wicca. Unfortunately, since magic isn’t real, it hasn’t been super helpful, but at least it helps to get some idea as to what plants and incantations supposedly do what so I have a place to jump off from when creating my system. Now to figure out how to put the pieces I have worked out to paper without falling into the trap of wordy and complicated exposition. It’s all about balance I suppose.
Every writer has been subject to the plague known as Writer’s Block at one point or another and every writer has their own way of dealing with it, methods that are, ultimately, just treatments for the symptoms and not a cure for the disease itself–no matter what you do, Writer’s Block always rears its ugly head again. Writer’s Block can manifest in many forms and can persist for varying degrees of time, sometimes it comes as a loss of inspiration, sometimes as a loss of motivation or the ability to express oneself, it can last a few hours or a week or even years in truly severe cases. My own personal struggle with Writer’s Block is a near constant wrestling match between the story I want to tell and a brain that refuses to cooperate. Rarely is it an issue of ideas but instead a sort of invisible wall in my brain that makes it near impossible to get my ideas from my head to the page. It’s a sort of anxiety I think, a feeling like what I have to say needs to be said perfectly and if it’s not perfect, it might as well not even be on the page. Even now, writing each sentence feels like trying to squeeze that last little bit of ketchup out of the bottle without it exploding everywhere in a bloody red mess. Dad told me today that I need to just relax and just write, stop worrying so much about it being perfect that nothing gets done, which is good advice, advice I’ve heard before from several college writing professors, but saying it and getting my brain to actually comply are two very different things.
So how do you get that annoying invisible wall to go away long enough to actually be productive? Well, you’ve got your basic Google search of options. There’s the obvious putting it down and coming back to it later which is good for stressed out minds but not so good for productivity or lack of inspiration. Exercise such as yoga or anything that gets your blood flowing is always good–when I do have inspiration problems I like to go on nice long walks to clear my head. Some people say you need to minimize distractions but while I’m sure this works for some people, staring at a blank Word doc is the opposite of helpful to me. Listening to music is supposed to help but I always listen to music when I write (I don’t know about you but I can’t work in complete silence, I need background noise) so it’s less of a cure for Writer’s Block and more of a necessity. And then there’s the seemingly paradoxical tactic of free-writing. I mean, if you’re having problems writing it seems like you wouldn’t be able to sit down and, well, write, though I suppose it probably helps with specific problems with inspiration. You can’t figure out how to write the current project you’re working on, go write something else until you’ve loosened up enough to write what you need to write. Personally? When it comes to this particular kind of Writer’s Block, I prefer what I call the ninja method. When I’ve been staring at a blank Word doc, kind of knowing what I need to say but not quite able to say it, I need to shut my brain up so I can just relax and write. And in order to do that I need to sneak up on the problem; like a ninja. So I read. Sometimes a book, sometimes fan fiction, sometimes I just scroll on Tumblr, anything to distract my anxious foggy mind, to lull the anxiety into quieting for a bit, to clear my head and inspire me. Like the “walk away from this for a bit” option there is a very thin line between clearing up the Writer’s Block and your everyday procrastination. But, at least for me, it works better than staring at a blank Word doc getting increasingly anxious and frustrated.
Meet Baxter, my new fuzzy friend. Baxter and I have been hanging out for the past week while his mom and dad were out-of-town for their oldest daughter’s wedding. He’s a tiny little guy and even though in my experience the tinier the dog the more hyper they are, Baxter is probably the most laid-back dog I’ve ever met. He follows me around the house like a shadow with irresistible puppy-dog eyes, curls up with me on the couch and takes over the bed at night. He’s quieter and more cuddly than my cats. Smaller too.
Like my cats, Baxter has no idea how to play fetch. Apparently his idea of fetch is I throw the ball once, he chases after it, and then I chase him around the living room trying to get it back until I collapse from exhaustion. For one with such short legs he’s quite a speedy little fellow. Keeping up with him on walks has been a somewhat challenging exercise but has been great for clearing my head of all the noise my life seems to be filled with these days.
The past week has given me some much-needed alone time and I couldn’t have asked for a better companion in solitude than little Baxter, I’ll be sad to say goodbye tonight. Still, I’m ready to go home, see my cats (and my parents), and sleep in my own bed again.