Interlude: plugging “King Leopold’s Ghost”

King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial AfricaKing Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

History is usually rendered boring and inaccessible through pedantic language and an influx of context-less facts and statistics.

Hochschild removes all that and writes the story of history as if he were writing a novel. His use of imagery and figurative language builds the reader’s interest, his flow of characters make the reader greedy for the ending to find out what happens to them.

Writings about genocide frequently rely on the shocking statistics, blasted again and again in your face, intended for you to get the true scope of the horror.

Hochschild incorporates Congolese mythos around the White Man at that time to speak for the silenced African voices. There are numbers, yes, because those are undeniable, but Hochschild understands that it is not through bolded text and exclamation marks that these points are made–- he makes devastating use of pathos and humanity, narrating the book as if it is an “In Conversation With…” As if he has the utmost faith in his readers to know Right from Wrong, so that he doesn’t yell MURDER IS WRONG every other paragraph.

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You Get ABS, and You Get ABS, Everybody Gets ABS!

It’s a contemplative day in life when you realize you don’t have abs to spare. Or any abs at all. When you’re just a squishy tummy that cats like to sit on.

A squishy tummy with a brain, because while I may not have abs to spare, I certainly do have ABS to spare. A.B.S., or Angsty Backstory.

Angst (n.): an intense feeling of apprehension, anxiety, or inner turmoil
Backstory (n.): a history or background created for a fictional character

Now, before you judge me for regressing into tweenage blues, let me explain. Regardless of your current-day characteristics, you have experienced emotional turmoil in the past; that is simply a fact of humanity, that we always seek the ups and downs to map out the full spectrum of living. Whether this is through direct or indirect experiences is up to the individual. That is what I mean by angsty, those factors for physical, intellectual, or moral change, not OMFG parents wont lemme stay out until 9 parents sux.

In Creative Writing II, we are working the Fiction unit from the literal beginning: Your character is a child, make it happen. How old is this child? Who does this child live with? Does this child’s surroundings affect his or her view of the world? What does this child believe in? And beyond (or beneath– depends on how you look at it) those, does this child like hot or cold weather? How does he or she turn the pages in a book? Does he or she wear socks to sleep?

As a self-identified fiction-writer, this is well within my comfort zone. I name my character (Delilah, or Lilah for short), develop her voice (she’s eight years old, and tries to act more mature like her older sister, whom she admires very much), and decide on her surroundings (parents are divorced, live with Mom, older brother, and older sister). I cocoon myself in bed and think that Lilah likes hot weather because hot days are brighter and she can see more; she separates the pages by the top right hand corner because she doesn’t want to get spit all over the book; she sometimes goes to sleep with socks on because she forgot but always wakes up with them kicked off and lost in the sheets.

Here is where I hit a rut.

from Stop MOTION Mission

There was no way I could keep on going with Lilah’s character if I didn’t know about her family, the people who have influenced her: Why did Lilah idolize her older sister instead of her brother? What are her feelings on her father? Of course, those raised further questions: What are Lilah’s siblings like? Why did her parents get divorced in the first place?

Maia introduced to us the “Why” game, where one continues asking “Why?” to every answer to every question. She intended this to be a source of inspiration, I think, fleshing out the little details so that we can sink our teeth into one and blow it up to a full story. Little did she know this was to be my Downfall.

Now, I know everything about everyone (I can feel my hair growing bigger as I write). I know the older brother’s name is Allen and he likes arts and crafts and really doesn’t care for judgment, I know the older sister’s name is Chris and she hates being called Christina and she’s the student body president of her high school, I know the mother divorced the father for making a decision she couldn’t bear to make, I know the father remained desperately in love with the mother until the day he died. I also know that want to write a short story about what Lilah thinks about her Mom’s smile. But what about everything else? Where do I include the fact that Chris’s favorite animal is the arctic fox? How about that Dad knew how to tap dance? What about when Allen sold his first commissioned painting?

And that’s what hurts the most (Cascada, hello 8th grade-dance flashback), to take this character that you’ve detailed all over, and presenting only a sliver. And it’s never the sliver you want. You move the spotlight over onto one part for an easier perspective, and one character’s arm gets lost in the shuffle. You point out everybody’s eyes, but you miss all of their mouths and ears. You want to talk about the shapes, but you have to do so at expense of the colors, the composition. Sure, you can try your darn best to show everything vital, everything that makes up the whole of your work, but it’s the fine line between fitting everything snugly into a suitcase and stuffing your shirt inside your mug which is inside your jacket pocket. It makes me infinitely sad that you can’t know the entirety of my babies’ stories within one piece of writing.

I guess, though, that’s another fine line to tread, between the raw inspiration and the refined outcome. What do I want my audience to know, the telling of my characters’ emotions, or the showing of my art, portraying a moment in their lives? The answer is, of course, clear, as it is my self-decided path of a Creative Writer. It’s a sacrifice I– and most other fiction writers, I dare to say– have to make.

Of course, I can also write the stories, then write essays about my stories under a pseudonym. What do you mean, pathetic?

You Can’t Spell November without NaNoWriMo

That’s right, ladies and folks and collective bros, it is once again November, as in NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, during which ladies and folks and collective bros across the map of our United States will be participating in a challenge to write a total of 50,000 words by the end of the month.

Here is where we start: good old zero. As writers, CDubs are intimately familiar with the blank page, the emotionally abusive affair we all hold with the cursor icon, blinking in morse code why haven’t you written yet write you worthless numbskull write. But we always come back in the end, do we not? Writing– for me, at least– always seems to be the only option left, the last thing I have hope of doing well. So, better stick with it.

The turtle got out again…

And that’s where NaNoWriMo comes in. As Heather loves to say, the hardest part about writing is the physical act of writing, and participating in NaNoWriMo suspends you in this absurd, magical space where quantity trumps quality (though your ego probably would strive for both). As a participant from last year, I can honestly say that it is something to experience. Some hate the pressure of the deadline, and some, like myself, thrive under that pressure, eagerly updating our word counts every evening and hungrily watching the orange bar climb.

So my advice? Give it a shot. There are different goals you can set for yourself depending on real life, and there is no penalty for quitting or not quite reaching where you wanted. It’s a great way to see your personality as a writer, and, well, since I’m going to be juggling this alongside all my classes, misery loves company.

Portfolios: Words from the Not-So-Wise

Incoming freshmen, a grave duty has befallen upon you, to lead the Creative Writing department on the trek to reform our portfolio-utilization skills.

In other words, keep your stuff together. Literally. Never assume a CW assignment, once done, to be negligible, because chances are, it will end up on the list of items you should have in your portfolio at the end of the year, and you’ll end up tearing your room apart at two in the morning swearing you had that paper somewhere (I speak from personal experience only).

See, here at Creative Writing, we have a long-standing tradition of leaving our portfolios to the last second, but frankly, I think it’s a tad bit outdated. See how in the picture, the words fade and blur out at the vanishing point? Yeah, it doesn’t. It just kind of goes on and on and on, and the panic’s settled in when you finally take a good look at the pieces you’ve saved in your “CW binder”– a handful of poems, a short story or two, and maybe someone that acted in my play has a script? Collapsing on the floor and hyperventilating is no longer an option, because by that point, there’s paper everywhere and you just kind of run out of your room screaming (again, personal experience).

So. Learn from past mistakes, future Freshies, and keep up with your portfolio. I mean it. And will some kind soul please get on my case about it next year? I’ll make Jules bring you cookies. They’re to die for.

Playwriting in Opinion

When you think Creative Writing, you think poetry and fiction, but rarely playwriting. Why is that? Well, “fiction” connotes imagination, “poetry” brings to mind eloquence and, well, poetry, which is an esoteric term all in itself. But “playwriting?” That’s like, people talking on stage and chasing each other with guns and trying to make the audience laugh, right?


…Well, mostly wrong. Continue reading