Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Festival of Laziness: It's my goddamn birthday, bitches.

Hey Velocininjas. It is my twenty-fourth birthday today. We do only get one of these a year, after all, so I have a special birthday tradition. 

On the best of days, I am an extremely lazy person. This probably has something to do with the fact that I write and read for a living, and therefore sit a lot. And I know I should buy a standing desk, I know that's healthier, but I am too lazy to perform the actual act of buying one and setting it up, so there you go.

On my birthday, I allow myself a Festival of Laziness. Luckily I am rarely required to go into the office full-time so I can usually work it out so I don't have to work on my birthday. I get up late and Danlaration of Independence is usually home too since he also has a loose work schedule. 

Whenever any suggestion of responsibility is thrown my way throughout the day, I respond with:

"It's my birthday."

That's it. It is my birthday, and those responsibilities have no business mucking up my birthday. Laundry? Who can be bothered with laundry on a day like today: A day of dreams?

Danstar Runner: What are you doing for breakfast this morning?

Me (blinks a few times): It's my birthday.

The Dan with a Thousand Faces: Yeah, happy birthday, babe. So what are you going to do about breakfast?

Me: It's my birthday.

This goes on for a while, until Dannister eventually (perhaps begrudgingly) procures me some sort of breakfast. It's not that I want some crazy culinary achievement drenched in Hollandaise sauce. Mostly I just want not to deal with breakfast because today is an ode to laziness. 

When I got the delivery just now, I did so with a sigh.

Me: Ohhhkay. Even though it's my birthday.

Dannersburg: Do you expect me to do everything? Is that what you mean?

Me: It's my birthday.

Dantacular Dan: Damn it, Jill.

So the next time your birthday falls, I suggest you try my "It's my birthday" mind meld:

Don't you have that report to finish? 

It's my birthday. 

Are you planning to pay for that coffee, ma'am? 

It's my birthday. 

Shouldn't you be writing a coherent blog post for today?

It's my goddamn birthday, bitches.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

To Outline or Not to Outline

I thought maybe we should talk about writing since we haven't in a while. I haven't been talking about it because I've been doing it instead.

This new story I'm working on has been both incredibly wonderful fun and a bit frightening. The last few books I've written have gone obediently by their outlines, though there were a few surprises along the way. This project I'm working on now, conversely, keeps changing. 

The changes are fairly small—the story's still essentially the same—but I keep coming upon new ideas that call for changes to what I've already written. I tried writing a detailed outline of my current WIP in an attempt to get it to behave. I'm glad I did it—it helped me to figure out a lot about the story and its world. But I'm only going to use bits and pieces of that outline. I outlined a far more complex story than I think this one is. At its core it should be a simple story—albeit one taking place under quite fantastical circumstances.

I've had to scrap quite a few decent chunks of writing as I've gone, and have just finished rewriting the first pages of the book for the second time. The work I plan to do today will involve yet another structural change to what I've already written.

This is kind of terrifying. I've spent years working off of detailed outlines. I pick at and change the outline as I write, but I really, really like having that map around to guide me in case I get lost.

But, the thing is, each change I've made has made the story much, much better. The changes don't even feel like changes. They feel like erasing a smudge in a drawing, or fixing a picture on the wall that's gone crooked.

They feel like bringing the story closer to what it's supposed to be.

I don't plan to write another outline for this project. I know what I want the story to be. I may write chapter names on note cards and shuffle them around, but that's about it. I used to swear by outlines, but I just don't think that's how this project is going to go.

And I think that's okay. It's tempting to think that a certain process or habit will yield the best results, but I expect each new project will be different from the one that came before.

Or at least I hope so. Writing one book has never been like writing any other to me, and I'll count myself lucky if that never changes.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Short Post and a Song #4: Judgmental Monks

A Buddhist monk approached me at the Jay St. subway station one morning: 

Him: Would you like a pamphlet on meditation?
Me: Oh, no, thank you.
Him: Come on! (Observes the girly dress I happen to be wearing and my large, very floral bag.) It’s even better than shopping!

For your sake, Subway Monk, I hope meditation is as wondrous as you say. Maybe if you do enough of it, you’ll meditate yourself out of being a judgmental dick.


"Seven Devils" by Florence + the Machine

This has been a popular song to use in TV these past few months: First in this epic trailer for Season 2 of Game of Thrones, and again in last week's Revenge finale. I don't know if you kids watch Revenge, but I highly recommend it if you're a fan of tight plotting, good acting, and this guy (you probably don't know of him if you don't watch the show, but I promise you will come to love his horrible hair and his beautiful soul). 

This song is creepy, and angry, and raw, and I love it. It was used perfectly in Revenge and reminded me that being the music supervisor on a television show or movie would really be just the coolest job.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sorry, Brad Pitt. But if you and Philip Pullman were walking down the street, I would shove you out of my path to the Great Pullman like a sack of overly handsome potatoes.

I've mentioned before that I interned for The Hollywood Reporter in college. In a previous post I spoke about one of the less fun aspects of the job: Hours of mind-numbing transcription.

Now I'm going to discuss one the most fun aspects: Covering events. Once I'd proven my mettle by breaking a story on Baz Luhrmann's plans to direct an adaptation of The Great Gatsby (say what you will about the recently released trailer)I suddenly had much more to do at work than transcription. I wrote a few blog pieces, and even got to hang around in my pajamas in the early morning after the Golden Globes nominations were announced, waiting to be called at home for interviews with the nominees on their reactions.

The magazine also started sending me out to cover premieres, parties, and screenings around New York City for the About Town events page. Covering events was kind of a Poor College Kid's Paradise. I got to watch movies for free. I got to eat popcorn for free. I could scrounge up enough food at the after parties to get out of procuring dinner for myself that night. All in all it was a pretty sweet deal for my broke-assed twenty-year-old self.

While I got to eat food that was better than in restaurants and see movies that weren't in theaters yet, the trade-off was that I had to get up the courage to interview celebrities and executives for quotes. Sometimes publicists set up interviews but often it was every reporter for her or himself. I was terrified at my first event, and it didn't help that the first celebrity I approached looked over my head and said he "really didn't have time for this."

But I happily discovered that same night that not all of them would be that way. Some would tell heartfelt stories about their commitment to independent film. Others would give me a perfectly hilarious quote right off the bat, then proceed to recommend some great places to play ping pong in my dorm's neighborhood. 

It was surprisingly easy to get used to talking to actors I admired and executives who could have built literal castles out of their fortunes. After a few minutes of weirdness, the people I knew from the television or movie screens shifted into simply people, and nothing more.

So you might be surprised to know how incredibly not cool and collected I've been on occasions when I've met famous writers. You would think that if I could keep calm around A-list actors I could deal with meeting a comic writer in a crowded bar. Or that I could get a book signed at Barnes & Noble without grinning like some kind of Jokeresque lunatic. 

But no. Whatever you're working right now zen I was able to muster in my Reporter days utterly deserts me when I meet writers I like. I did get the chance to interview a very well-known writer once when I was an intern. Luckily I had never read her writing and was interviewing the author about something completely unrelated to her work. So now that I have read and adored her books, I get to remember her as the adorable lady who complimented my Mary Janes, as opposed to the adorable lady whose drink I spilled because my hands were shaking because OH MY GOD SHE WRITES THE MOST AWESOME WORDS.

To the wonderful writers of the world I am ever lucky enough to meet: I’m sorry I will most likely lose my shit the first time I meet you. My palms will sweat, my already googly eyes will get even googlier, and I will speak in half-sentences that make little to no sense, like: 

“Books, I love read them.”

“You write historical fiction that is best.”

“Review in Kirkus at job. Congrats?”

I promise I can usually speak words just fine. I even write them down--for money, on occasion! I can talk to the latest big screen superhero without breaking a sweat, but I just get too excited about great writing to even make coherent sense.

Sorry about your sweater, Neil Gaiman.

P.S. I didn’t do anything to Neil Gaiman’s sweater, and in fact have never met him. But I’m going to consider that one time he retweeted my blog post as the beginning of a beautiful broship—if a mostly one-sided one.

If we ever do meet, Mr. Gaiman, I promise to be very careful with any and all sweaters involved. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Shhh, don’t worry. The Arrogant Douche Police won’t arrest you for liking your own books. You might get fined for the goatee, though.

Hey guys. Sorry my post is a bit later than usual today. I’ve just spent the past few hours doing something kind of embarrassing: Reading Renaissance Lab. That’s right—I was reading my own book.

I wasn’t reading with the aim to edit, either. In fact, this was one of those times I was trying very hard not to edit. I was reading the book as I hope readers would: That is, I was reading it for fun.

I end up feeling smarmy and narcissistic every time I read my old work for my own enjoyment. Part of me feels like I’ll never be a good writer if I think I’m a good writer. Instead I should leave what I’ve already done behind me and focus on trying to do an even better job on the next thing. 

Narcissism aside, it’s also nearly impossible to ignore the overwhelming urge to edit finished projects, even if I’m reading an article or blog post that published years ago. A typo will scream, “How did you manage to make TWO errors in a 250-word article?!” and I’ll feel that mix of anger at myself and irritation with the editors of the world that perfectionist journalists come to know so well.

On top of all that, another voice adds to the chorus of discouragement and says that reading over old work is just a waste of time. Why not read a book by someone else—a book I might actually learn something new from?

But still, I continue to read over my long since finished stories. Reading over something I wrote in high school helps me to appreciate the improvements I’ve made since now and then. I can see the mistakes I made, and better decide if I’m still making them.

Reading a book I haven’t worked on for months helps me to see with the eyes of a reader rather than a writer. One of my very favorite feelings is to look at a piece of my writing and not recognize it as mine; when I can read the story just as I would read one on a shelf, or in my work as a reader.

This distance brings me a glorious sense of objectivity and I can better recognize what really works about the story and what doesn’t. I do sometimes find myself laughing at my own jokes and becoming invested in the characters’ stories as though I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Maybe that is arrogant. I don’t know.

But I do think frequently reading over my old work has helped me to become a better writer. Particularly with Renaissance Lab, rereading it reminds me to cultivate certain seeds I planted there when I write future books.

And narcissistic though it can feel, I think it’s important to be able to look back and enjoy your own writing. It’s one of the biggest reasons we write, after all: To be able to see the things that previously only existed in our heads out in the world.

Your readers should enjoy your writing, but so should you.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Short Post and a Song #3: In which I officially call PETA to the aid of Dan Harmon's Community

Putting Community on Fridays and firing Dan Harmon rather than just cancelling the show is like throwing rocks at a wounded dog as it tries to cross the street. Either do something to help the dog, or put the poor thing out of its misery.

I think the moral of this metaphor is clear: The people who made these decisions are animal-haters.

PETA, do your worst.


"I Want Some More" by Dan Auerbach

You guys may remember from this post that I am a big Black Keys fan. One half of that band, singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach, also makes some very great music all on his own that is a bit bluesier than what he does with the Black Keys. I have a hard time listening to this song without dancing like a fool. For once my song choice is ever so vaguely related to the short post above. I know that when Dan Auerbach sings he wants "some more," he's talking about sexy times with his candy store lady friend. But today these lyrics make me think about how I want some more Community by the guy who is known to be the driving creative force behind the show. I could've made my peace with the show being cancelled. It wasn't making money and the producer himself has admitted he's not the best manager. But the thought of Dan Harmon having to watch his weird, wonderful baby morph into some Happy Endings clone from afar gives me all kinds of writerly sympathy pains.

This one goes out to you, man.

P.S. In case y'alls haven't seen it, here's the Tumblr post Dan Harmon wrote after being replaced as showrunner on Community:

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Enrichment Academy

So on Tuesday I mentioned my Enrichment Academy Medieval Times class. I’ve since been informed by my very dearest and oldest friend (who took that class with me) that the class was in fact called “Life in a Castle.” It is such an awesome name for a summer class that I can hardly believe I forgot.

Some kids in my school filled their summers with barbecues, camping trips, afternoons by the pool, and whatever else it was that ten-year-olds with lots of friends did. But for me, summer was the time when I got to do all the nerdtastic things I hadn’t had time for during the school year. I spent half of two summers at a fine arts camp studying singing and acting. I did a ridiculous amount of community theater. And during my brief respite from school, I voluntarily took summer classes.

Mind you, these were not typical school classes. The Enrichment Academy was a set of extracurricular summer classes available to the “gifted” kids at my school. So, basically, only geeks could take them. Truth be told, we were the only ones who would’ve signed up for Enrichment Academy in the first place. The cool kids had all those parties and cookouts to occupy their time.

But let me just say that those kids missed out. Enrichment Academy was fucking awesome. You could take acting classes, model airplane-building classes, and classes in which the main objective was turning a soda bottle into a rocket.

In “Fact, Fantasy, and Folklore,” we learned about the history of fairy tales and had a mock, Hansel-and-Gretel themed murder trial. I was the lawyer prosecuting Hansel and Gretel, and called up the dead witch’s bereft niece as a surprise witness. Not to brag, but … let’s just say those little monsters won't be eating any more nice old ladies' houses any time soon.

In “Write Your First Book,” each student was given a slim, bound book with a white cover. We were then given art supplies so we could write and illustrate our books. Mine was about a little girl who fell through a mirror to a fantasy world, and was commissioned by the king to battle a terrifying monster. But once the little girl sneaked into the monster’s cave, she found that the monster turned out to be less evil and more misunderstood.

And then there was, of course, “Life in a Castle.” We met in the auditorium of the local Arts Center once a week and learned about how medieval society had worked. We each got to choose our own titles (Lady Jillian of Shetland, since my dog was a Sheltie) and wore blue tunics over our clothes. We were given a fencing lesson and another on medieval fashions. On our last day of class, we were encouraged to dress up in medieval costumes and were served a period-appropriate feast.

Though the dragon we ate was made out of cake, and not actual dragon.

Much as I enjoyed my Enrichment Academy classes, I still envied the popular kids their cool bonfires and Cedar Point excursions. But with the hindsight of adulthood, I'm damned glad I was such a little nerdenheimer. Those Enrichment Academy classes taught me a lot that I never would’ve learned in an elementary school class. They helped to spark my interest in storytelling. 

They also gave me the excuse to wear a beautiful medieval gown a full six months away from Halloween. If that’s not a childhood well-spent, then I don’t know what is.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Awkward Giraffe

My neck is very, very long. Up until a year and a half ago, my friends and family led me to believe this was a good thing. I was compared to swans and gazelles and told I looked graceful and ladylike.  

I even got an extra jewel in my Enrichment Academy Medieval Times class once thanks to my super-long neck. Dudes apparently went crazy for long necks back then—between that and my enormous forehead I probably would've been a queen or at least a duchess. But I also wouldn't have had indoor plumbing or, you know, the right to do basically anything, so I guess I'm grateful I was born when I was.

(More on my Medieval Times class in a future post, but in the meantime I assure you that it was a real class that I took at age ten and that the jewels our teacher handed out as rewards were actually disgusting gummy candies that just looked like jewels. We were still all desperate to win them, though, for whatever reason.)

But then I went to a new chiropractor in the city. I went to the chiropractor frequently growing up—Fibromyalgia plagues my whole family, which means our soft tissues (joints, muscles, tendons, etc.) hurt worse and more often than your typical person's. I fell out of going to the chiropractor, optometrist, dentist, and basically just took horrendous care of myself in college, like you do. Once I was able to climb up out of post-grad poverty, I decided to be an adult and make some damned doctor's appointments. 

I especially needed to see a chiropractor since I'd recently hurt my shoulder on a trip to Israel. I wish I could say I got my injury on some kind of badass Israeli adventure that involved four-wheeling in the desert, Jesus, Moses, and Muhammad, but unfortunately I'm pretty sure I just fell asleep in a weird position on the thirteen-hour plane ride.

The chiropractor had me do some stretches which worked absolute magic on my shoulder. I talked about my work as a writer and reader, and he talked about his wife and adorable kids. I was getting to feel like we were becoming bros, this magical muscle shaman and I. 

But after I mentioned that I usually read at least two books a week, he squinted at me. "You have an extraordinarily long neck," he observed.

I grinned. I'd heard this my whole life, but it was nice to have it confirmed by an actual neck professional.

I was about to thank him for the compliment when Muscle Shaman said, "It's not a bad thing." 

He said it in such a way that showed he obviously thought my long neck was a very, very bad thing indeed. 

What? I replied, outraged, but only in my head. My long neck is awesome. It makes me look like a fucking swan.

Muscle Shaman went on to explain that because of my neck’s length, I'm tempted to crane it more than most people and put extra stress on my muscles. My brand of neck is especially ill-suited to a career of frequent looking down at manuscripts, books, and my computer screen. 

I could barely listen to Muscle Shaman as he described exercises that would help me to manage my neck "problem.” I was too busy desperately trying to hold onto that image of myself as an Audrey Hepburn gazelle. 

But as I thought more about it, I realized I'd never really been a gazelle or a swan. I'm about the least graceful person you'll ever meet. I have trouble turning corners in hallways without running into the wall. (I'm not exaggerating about this at all.) I did ballet for years but was a stiff dancer. I tended to hold my hands in weird, claw-like positions rather than relaxing them. I'm not particularly ladylike either—I swear a lot, have terrible table manners, and have never quite figured out how to paint my nails without getting polish all over my hands.

My long neck was really the only graceful thing about me, and Muscle Shaman took it away.

Crappy as it felt at the time, Muscle Shaman really did me a favor. Much as I wanted her to, Audrey Swanzelle Jillian never really existed. I’ve always been more like a giraffe, bobbing my neck this way and that and running into nearby trees.

It was tempting to cling to an idealized image of myself. But now that I was old enough to make my own doctor's appointments, I had to face facts and acknowledge who I truly am: An awkward giraffe. And honestly, since I've embraced all the less poised and ladylike parts of my personality, I've been much happier. 

In the end, I'd much rather be a giraffe than a swan. Have you ever tried to feed a swan? Those birds are fucking dicks.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Short Post and a Song #2: Heckling Train

It's terrible to watch a train's doors close just as you arrive on the subway platform. It's even worse when the train chooses to sit still for a full minute or more. It's like that train is mocking you. It could help you get to work on time, but it won't.

"That's what you get for playing that extra game of Tetris," the train taunts. "You thought you'd have the time to make breakfast at home for once and save some money? Hahaha, fuck no."

You, Heckling Train, are an asshole.


"Ocarina of Time Medley" by Setu-Firestorm

I was recently listening to a playlist on, and this lovely song came on. Dan McNerderson told me that it was a medley of songs from the Legend of Zelda game, Ocarina of Time, which he assures me is quite literally the best video game that has ever existed. 

So now I'm left somewhat curious about a video game for a very long time. Mostly, though, I'm just glad that however good the rest of the game is, the creators clearly put a lot of work into their music.

I'm pretty excited about this Video-Game-Music-Can-Be-Good-to-Write-to epiphany. Do you guys know of any other video games with good music? I really have no idea. I haven't played video games since blowing into the carton was still considered the Cure of All Ills.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Peggy: Her creativity isn’t dead. It’s just sleeping.

NOTE: Spoilers for the most recent episode of Mad Men ahead. This isn’t a proper recap, though. For those you should go here and here.

I am a big fan of television. I believe it is where a lot of the very best stories are being told these days. Throughout my life I’ve read a few books that screamed to be adapted into film—The Secret History by Donna Tartt and Divergent by Veronica Roth being two of them. I’ve seen even fewer movies I enjoyed enough that I wished I could read them in book form. Pan’s Labyrinth is the main film I can think of that affected me in such a way.

But I have a long list of television shows which I would absolutely love to read as books. And at the top of that list is AMC’s Mad Men. It is definitely one of those shows that you have to watch the whole way through. I tried watching a random episode in Season 2 years ago and found it boring. But when I went back to Season 1 and got a strong sense of who these characters were, I knew I would follow them anywhere.

Like the writing of Richard Yates, Mad Men beautifully encapsulates big ideas about the 1960s and society as a whole within its characters. Don, Megan, Peggy, Joan, and many of the other characters all represent different walks of life—some specific to their period and some that are just as relatable today.

Don started out as the brilliant kid with new ideas, and for a time Peggy was that person on the show. But Mad Men proves time and time again that you never get to be that person for long. Don was working as a salesman at a fur company and Peggy was fresh out of secretarial school before they were “discovered.” It may have been due to the fact that their previous careers had nothing to do with advertising that they were so good at it. Now that they’ve been in advertising so long, they can’t see the world outside anymore and it’s started to affect their work.

Being out of touch with the current generation has been a prominent theme throughout Mad Men’s later seasons. It’s an increasingly relatable theme today—with how quickly technology is advancing these days even kids in their early twenties like me start feeling behind the times. In some of the wonderful Mad Men recaps out there, I’ve seen a lot of discussion of the men in the show and how little they relate to the swinging sixties. Peggy is often of lumped into this group of Out-of-Touchers since she’s been doing so poorly at work this season.

But I don’t think Peggy’s out of touch. I think she’s been working too much and needs to take a good look around outside the office. That’s the key difference between Peggy and Don this season. Even now that Don is married to young, hip Megan and gets his daily dose of the free-thinking, experimental sixties mentality from her, he still doesn’t get it. Whereas I think if Peggy let herself out of the office cage more often, she would.

There was evidence of this in a conversation between Peggy and Joan in Mad Men’s most recent episode. Don’s talented copywriter wife has just left Sterling Cooper Draper Price to pursue acting—an act that astounds Peggy and Don. But Joan isn’t surprised. “Did you know that he met Betty Draper doing a print ad?” she asks with a smug smile. “Did you know that she was a model? That’s the kind of girl that Don marries.” Joan thinks Megan is just being a typical second wife, and that she’ll be “a failing actress with a rich husband.”

But Peggy doesn’t agree. She’s willing to entertain the idea that Megan is just “one of those girls” who is good at everything. And here is where Peggy shows that she’s still just as perceptive about society’s wants and changes as she ever was.

For a long time people thought that if you were good at something, it was clearly what you were supposed to do. But in the sixties, gangs of teenagers started thinking they could be rock stars whether they’d previously shown any skill with a guitar or not. In a revolution that is still going on to this day, people began to have the dreams before they had the skills and knowhow to back them up. Now people are feeling less and less walled in by their careers to the extent that there are people like Donald Glover who rap, act, and do standup comedy.

The fact that Peggy can see that far forward and admit that a person could succeed in more than one field shows that her creative vision hasn’t left her. It’s just momentarily misplaced. I hope she gets out of that skyscraper sometime soon and finds it, preferably with Abe because I like him.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Short Post and a Song #1: Telepaths who don't understand sarcasm

I was just thinking, "Wow, I wish my neighbors would turn their music up EVEN LOUDER." A few seconds later, they obliged.

Now I'm pretty sure my neighbors are telepaths who don't understand sarcasm.


"Safe and Sound" by Taylor Swift


I’m not usually a big Taylor Swift fan, but I like this song a lot. It helps that I adore The Civil Wars and they feature in “Safe and Sound.” It’s also been in my head all week, and I would like to do you the service of passing that torture on to you.

Go forth, my young ones. Sing this song all the time, but only learn these lyrics (all caps indicate you should scream these words in a high-pitched screech): “Just close your EYES, lalalalalala. You’ll be all RIGHT, lalalalalalala, Come morning LIGHT, you and I’ll be safe and SOOOOOUUUUNNNNDDD.”

Your significant others will love you all the more for it.