Category Archives: Claire Staley

Fixing writer’s block

By Claire W. Staley

As a writer, I am familiar with this common ailment: Writer’s Block. When it attacks it can make your manuscript seem like the worst in the world. It’s frustrating, miserable, and kinda makes you want to throw your entire manuscript out.writersblock

Don’t do that. Instead, breathe, and then think about the following.

First of all, keep writing. The most important thing is not to stop and take a break. Set a timer for yourself and keep writing. I don’t care if you write four paragraphs of “la, la, la, la, la…” or “weeeeeeee,” you need to keep putting letters on the page, because if you stop writing you may never return.

Second, my moments of inspiration often happen when I’m neck-deep in other, necessary, work. For example, my most creative inspirations often come while I’m in my calculus II class. I’m so disinterested in what I’m supposed to be doing that my mind finds an alternative, which usually comes in the form of storylines. I am also inspired when I have three tests and two papers that I should be working on.

Funny how that works.

And, for me, I let it flow. Mostly because I’m passing calculus with no problem, so taking some time in my mind to fix my entire plot problem is not an unworthy cause. Listen to your body, your mind, and the little beast inside you trying to sort through millions of plot lines and make it into a seamless story.

Someone once said that what you do when you procrastinate might be what you should do for the rest of your life. Now me: When I’m listening to music I’m thinking about what scene in my book it would go with. When I’m rushing to class I picture myself as my main character running to/from whatever she’s running to/from. I do my homework and I think about if my character’s love interest would need to know it. I read other books and I look for inspiration for plot lines and characters. When I walk around at night I put myself into the scene where my character is sneaking around to spy on someone.

It’s my procrastination. It’s my second world. My split personality. Is it yours?

If not, that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be. But it certainly helps. I don’t know why you are writing a book, story, poem, song, or anything else, but trust that your reasons for starting are good enough to finish.

Like what your read? We'll make it easy for you to share....

When it’s time to break the writing “rules”

By Claire W. Staley

There are specific rules that are almost always followed in fiction, such as no adverbs, show don’t tell, and don’t overwhelm your readers with too many characters at once. Agatha Christie broke all of these rules in And Then There Were None, a mystery novel involving ten strangers with shady pasts on a deserted island. And yet, she is praised as one of the greatest mystery novelists. After reading this novel, she had me question my own past. Was I a murderer, too?Christie,AndThenThereWereNone

The reader is immediately introduced to all ten characters at once, and the reader gets multiple points of view. It’s chaotic, but I kept reading. She uses adverbs all the time, and yet it seems appropriate for the story type. They did not jump out at me as usual. She tells the reader what is happening and how the characters are feeling instead of showing them, but it works because the reader is never supposed to understand the characters to their fullest extent.

There is a time to break all the rules. There is a time to do what feels right instead follow conventional norms. There are times it makes sense to forgo the common, but the decision should be made intentionally. The author should know why he or she chooses to break the rules, and he or she should understand why the rules are put in place. That being said: listen to your gut and remember that writers are artists, and artists are supposed to do whatever they want with their art. Go forth and be free, and write something amazing.

Like what your read? We'll make it easy for you to share....

Slytherins Unite! The good and the bad of the “dark side” of Harry Potter

By Claire W. Staley

Hello all you Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws, and Slytherins, and welcome to the Slytherin common room, or as I like to call it, this blog post. I am a proud Slytherin, though it has taken me some time to learn to love it.

I struggled to accept the fact that I am a Slytherin, because I wanted to be a Hufflepuff, but I couldn’t deny all the tests I took and retook on Pottermore. I am a full-blooded Slytherin. My heart broke when I learned this; my soul died a little, and I didn’t know what to make of it.

And then I started researching. I reread the Harry Potter series, noticing more about the Slytherin house and who inhabited it, and I became more intrigued. The house with the worst reputation, with the most evil students, and with the most haters, was my house. How could I ever be proud of that?

I detest most Slytherins in the books. I really do. Many of them are vile and horrible, but they are also the ones most visible. They are the ones we’re familiar with, and we don’t really get to know many nice ones. We know who Draco Malfoy is and we know who Pansy Parkinson is because Harry hated them with almost every fiber of his being.

But there are plenty of Slytherins in the background that are not evil. To start off with, there is Severus Snape: though despicable in nature and rather unpleasant, he is not evil. There are plenty that are intelligent, stubborn, kind, and compassionate. Because if there weren’t, Draco would never have had the kind of power he does. Someone with a blacker heart would have stepped up to compete. But to be honest, no one wants to be Draco Malfoy, not even Draco Malfoy.

I find solace in the fact that the kind Slytherins help keep everyone in check. They have to, because they have to balance out the not-so-good ones. All Slytherins are expected to go dark from the very beginning, even by adults, making it much easier for them to go dark. They are surrounded by people telling them they’ll be evil. People judging and hating them because of the house they are a part of, and this comes from fellow students and adults. Imagine what it would take to combat that and fight to be good?

So to those kind and compassionate Slytherins, you fight a hard battle. You fight to be good when no one gives you the chance.

I think the Slytherins can be pretty amazing.

Like what your read? We'll make it easy for you to share....

Does Sexism pervades storyline of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”?

By Claire W. Staley

Black Widow, or Natasha Romanoff, is a spy in the Marvel Comics universe and, most recently, in the film Avengers: Age of Ultron. She is not the typical super hero, but she’s not a villain, either. She’s someone with both good and bad clearly etched into her character. She doesn’t pretend either way, and she takes the world at full force. She is a goddess of war and a champion of not-so-hero-heroes. She’s the one with the past we know is sketchy but we just believe, deep down, she’s on the good side.avengers-age-of-ultron-alternate

She is not, however, a mother. Parenthood is a large issue for most of the Avengers because Hawkeye (aka Clint Barton) has a family in the film.

But not Black Widow. While Black Widow’s inability to have children highlights the fact that having children inhibits women’s careers across all fields, the way it was handled was disappointing. Barton, as a male, had a family at the same time as being a superhero. This was not an option for Romanoff, as she is a woman, and she is not allowed to have those kind of attachments to children or accept the kind of bodily change that comes with pregnancy. So the choice is removed. The other guys are allowed to flirt and have children without being called into question if they so choose.

But not Black Widow. This can be paralleled in modern society, as having children almost always inhibits a woman’s career. More and more women, however, are deciding not to have children for various reasons, including to focus more on their careers. Women are constantly being called “slut” and “whore” as they exercise their choices involving their sexuality. Meanwhile, men are not impacted by their choice to have a family, have sex, or flirt, as Barton, Stark (Ironman), Thor, and Rogers (Captain America) are not inhibited by it.

Black Widow is the only female Avenger in the group at the outset in the movie, and her character’s personality is incomplete without the ability to have children. Being a superhero, having decent romantic and platonic relationships, and saving good people from death is just not enough. She has to have kids and a house and a family, despite the fact that Stark and Thor are quite content not having kids.

Captain America is the only other superhero who might be interested in settling down, but we don’t see him complaining about his lack of offspring. Actually, it seems hard to believe he would put people he loves in danger. Moreover, it seems hard to believe that any of them would bring families into the world when they could die at any moment, or their families could be used against them.

Black Widow, in contrast, wants a family like Barton. She doesn’t care that it isn’t practical or it would be dangerous. It doesn’t matter she’s almost always about to die. Her womanly role has been taken from her, leaving her to console the self-loathing Hulk (Bruce Banner) like a child. She’s always picking up after the boys, as she states, and she’s the one with enough feminine touch to bring Banner back from his monster state using various methods of motherly speaking and lullabies.

When Banner tells her he can’t have children, Romanoff tells him she can’t either. It is the most haunting part of her, that she can’t have kids. In fact, the Scarlet Witch uses this to distract her from battle. Her inability to produce offspring literally gets in the way of her saving the world. Isn’t her ability to save the world independent of her sexuality, like the other male superheroes? Apparently

Marvel and the movie’s producers reduced Black Widow’s role and personality to someone who only believes she’s worthy if she can give birth. We needed her soft side, her broken side, but we also needed her to understand that her fertility has nothing to do with her ability to be a hero and save people. We needed her to not be given the womanly role of child-bearer for once. We needed her to be a champion because she is a champion, and we needed that to not be put in jeopardy because of her sex.

 

Like what your read? We'll make it easy for you to share....

Traveling Episodes: Caye Caulker, Belize

By Claire W. Staley

I adore island countries. They remind me of something that many people forget: taking it slow is okay. As a college student, I’m surrounded by many driven, career-oriented peers who can have a tendency to be judgmental. I am also familiar with people who elected not to go to college, and instead plant themselves somewhere and get a minimum wage job while they enjoy the nearest ski resort or coral reef. And it astounded me that these ski bums and island creatures really bother some of my friends. “What are they doing with their life?” they ask.  “They’re going nowhere. Why didn’t they go to college and study something?”

Perhaps it comes from insecurities almost everyone has about their futures. When someone works so hard at school and they still face an uncertain future, maybe it feels unfair that someone who didn’t “work as hard” could be completely fine.

Others are jealous and wish they had a lifestyle like that. I know I do. I could easily see myself working at a dive shop in the Caribbean for minimum wage. But this stigma our culture has about education makes me stay in college. (Ok, maybe I really like learning through books and classes as well).

Does every person have a deep-seated need for adventure? Surely the ski-bums are living an adventurous life on the border, rebelling against society norms. Sitting in chemistry class three days a week doesn’t always get the blood rushing. The SCUBA diver in Costa Rica is probably marching through a jungle and discovering great things. Having an adventure.

Some talk about those people and say this: “It’s fine, I mean do whatever you want, but what are you DOING with your life?” And then they huff, pout, and sigh about people who have no drive or sense of future. That’s a lot of energy to put into someone else’s life, especially someone you might not even know.

In truth, at least to me, these people are neither here to be admired nor disliked. They do not want nor need the approval or opinion of those they do not know. They simply are living the best way they know how, and perhaps they have the right idea when it comes to life paths. Who knows? Instead of worrying so much about the future, perhaps we shouldn’t worry about anything at all for a bit. And if that means chilling out for a bit in Africa, it’s really none of my business.

“You do you, and don’t forget to go slow,” as they say on Caye Caulker, Belize.

Like what your read? We'll make it easy for you to share....

Taking on book snobs: A manifesto for readers

By Claire W. Staley

In my literary exploits, I have been confronted with many people who disagree with the kind of books I read. This is a wonderful thing. However, I sometimes find that they transfer this distaste to me as a person, and I suddenly find myself placed in a small box and dismissed.

You, my good sir or m’am, are a book snob.

And the fact is, no kind of book is better or worse than any other, and here is why:

  1.   That person you just placed judgment upon? They are buying books, which benefits authors and publishers alike, and thus benefits readers. More buyers, more books. It’s simple.
  2.   You never know what someone is getting out of a book. Stop expecting everyone that reads 50 Shades of Grey to be desperate and unimaginative. Plenty of smart, intelligent, well-rounded people read those books, and plenty of not so smart, intelligent, and well-rounded people read them as well. Just like with every book, every reader finds something different in a book. If someone connects with the characters of 50 Shades of Grey, crushing that connection not only undermines the book industry, but you as well.
  3.   Others might not enjoy the kinds of books you enjoy. How would it feel if someone put you down for that? The Golden Rule from kindergarten still applies in reading and book loving social etiquette.
  4.   Most people who get made fun of for what they read really don’t care what your opinion is. I adore Harry Potter, but do I force anyone else to join me on my fangirling? I do not. And yet people still scoff and make fun of me for loving it. But I can assure you that your opinion of me doesn’t change my love for it, because I gained a better understanding of myself and the world through reading those books.
  5.   You are basing an entire person on one choice they make. For instance, I love fantasy and sci-fi. I am immediately grouped with the nerds and the wallflowers–happily grouped with them , I might add–and others look down on me for it. That is not my entire personality, and while I recognize that I have many facets to my personality, being placed in a box and dismissed can cause some frustration.
  6.   I am a Twilight fan. I read all the books and loved them. I’ve read them multiple times, actually. I have people telling me in real life and on the Internet that they are stupid and vapid and anti-feminist, and by extension everyone who reads them are as well. But something about Bella helped me feel not so alone in the world. To degrade something like that, and make me embarrassed about it, is to make someone else feel more alone in the world and destroys the connections and discussion that can come from books.
  7.   You take away magic when you degrade books and those who read them. The stories we believe in and the characters we love are invaluable. If someone said that your boyfriend or girlfriend was stupid or embarrassing, you would probably punch them, right? Well that’s how lots of people, including myself, feel about books and characters. We have found something to love in them, and just because others cannot see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Just because I don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t true for you and vice versa. There may be value, even when it isn’t obvious.

8.   You’re missing out on valuable discussions. Try “I’ve never really gotten into that genre of books. What do you like about it?” or “I’m not familiar with that story.” Then share what you like to read. But don’t snub others because of their choices in books. They most likely love to talk about books, no matter what kind, and that’s a wonderful thing. They are expanding their minds. They are traveling to other places with incredible people. Maybe, if you’re nice, they’ll bring you along with them. Wouldn’t that be a treat?

Like what your read? We'll make it easy for you to share....

The unrocognized depth of the Divergent Triology

By Claire W. Staley

Popular books often become the target of criticism simply because they are popular. The dystopian, young adult novel Divergent by Veronica Roth seems to have fallen into this camp. Now that Roth’s books have become popular movies, earning more than $300 million worldwide, they seem to be the subject of even more criticism: Some say it’s just a story about a boy and girl who fall in love while they fight an oppressive regime. Some say it is too violent.

However, before denouncing Divergent and shoving it aside, perhaps it is more important than previously believed. This young adult novel taught me many things about life, and understanding this might change a society that looks down upon YA fiction novels. Here are just a few of my “takeaways” from these novels:

  1. Tris and Four, the lead characters, are equals. They support, love, and challenge each other in equal measures and they stand side-by-side. There is no love triangle (though I have nothing against these if done properly), and their relationship problems come from within themselves. This gives this particular book diversity from many other books.
  2. The enemy is constantly moving from one person to the next, from one group to the next, and from the good guys to the bad guys. Everyone is up for game and no one is completely innocent. Everything expands and retracts, gets larger and smaller, until you have no idea who is the actual problem and who is the solution. It challenges your critical thinking and frustrates you to no end- helping you realize that nothing in life is secure. Things and people change, and people aren’t always who you want them to be.
  3. Both Tris and Four are incredibly strong and real. They are role models because they make the hard decisions. They make the choices they must, and they learn how to deal with that and move on. They learn for to forgive-each other and themselves. And sometimes they have to put aside their personal ethics to do what has to be done. And it never gets easier. They do not get used to killing others. They understand and accept that they must make choices with no good outcome. When they are allowed to make choices that protect their hearts, they do. That makes them strong.
  4. People can change. And anyone can influence one to do so in positive or negative ways. Once you believe that no one can change, that no one can make different choices than those they made in the past, hope is lost, as is compassion. Love and understanding thread through the characters, even between enemies, and that makes a difference.
  5. People in power do not always make the right choices, and it’s okay to forgive them for making mistakes, but they are not always virtuous. They do not always make the right choices for the right reasons. They can be bad. They can be good. And the people are stronger than the government for a reason. Because the people are mostly good, and they thus are expected to uphold that. Everyone has an honor to themselves and to the people they live with. That honor must be upheld or chaos reigns.

Perhaps Divergent is really an educational novel, capable of teaching readers about, love, life, and people, and perhaps it is not just another book to read for fun. Divergent, like many YA books published these days, can be much more than light entertainment if readers give them the space to fulfill those aspirations.

Like what your read? We'll make it easy for you to share....