Tuesday Reads: Zoo by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

ZooAnd now for something completely different. This week, we’re looking at Zoo by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge. It’s a quick, exciting read about certain mammals turning against humanity. If that makes you think of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening and plants turning against humanity, you’re not the only one. Luckily, Patterson and Ledwidge are better writers and at least make an attempt to give plausible scientific reasoning for animals gone crazy.

(Let’s not talk about how The Happening is one of my big guilty pleasures, though.)

First I’m going to talk about a couple non-spoilery things, and then I’ll give some big spoiler warnings for the rest of the review.

Like I said, Zoo does a pretty good job at giving plausible scientific reasoning behind the plot. I’m not the best at science so I can’t say how accurate it really is, but they had some good hand waving. The characters used a lot of vocabulary that sounded awfully legit and Patterson and Ledwidge never gave me a reason not to trust them. Any stretches of science here can’t be any worse than what Doctor Who does every episode (bless their paradoxical hearts).

Once the secret animal uprising became very public, we got to see the people who were running from the threat, the people trying to solve it, and the people protesting any attempt to resist the new world order. Some just carried protest signs along the lines of, “Payback’s a bitch!”, but others were militant and joined the animals in attacking humanity, particularly government officials and scientists. I don’t find it unreasonable to think that the particularly wacky PETA people out there would react like that. Actually, I wish we’d gotten more than a couple pages with them. They probably would have pissed me off really quickly, but they were interesting and added a new layer to the chaotic, muddled character of the general public.

There were also several points where the environmental message kind of hits you over the head, but for the most part that didn’t bother me too much.

SPOILERS UNDER THE JUMP.

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Room for Error

It's okay. The sloths still love you.

It’s okay. The sloths still love you.

I don’t think I’m going to finish NaNoWriMo this year. That probably doesn’t seem like a big deal. Thousands of writers who go into the fray don’t come out on the other side of November with the desired 50,000 words.

Do you see the problem with how I worded that? I made it sound like a battle. Like the ones who don’t reach 50k died, or failed in some way, like it’s the end of the world to not finish NaNoWriMo. I look forward to NaNo every year and I genuinely enjoy it, but whenever there’s a year that looks like I might not make it I start beating myself up horribly. I feel like a huge failure.

But why do I do that, when I wouldn’t view anyone else who didn’t finish like that? If someone doesn’t finish NaNo I just think, “That sucks, but it’s awesome that you tried at all!” and I really believe that. I know so many people who look at NaNo or at wanting to write a novel and think, “Hm, that might be cool,” and then never do it. Sitting down and making a NaNo account or deciding to do it unofficially and even writing a few thousand words is pretty awesome. Thousands of people take that leap every year for the first or second or fifth or tenth time and if they’re at all like me they learn something new about themselves as people and writers every time. Maybe they learn that NaNo isn’t for them, or they figure out that they approached it in a way that didn’t work for them and decide to try again, or they figure out a way to make their win something better for themselves. Isn’t that kind of fantastic and, in a lot of ways, more important than meeting the 50k goal?

So, why do I beat myself up so much? It’s not like I have a perfect record. I just act like I do This is my seventh year. I lost my second year, and not since. I beat myself up every year thinking that it won’t be like my second year. I’ll win this year. Every year, I’ve made it happen. But some of those novels ended up abandoned for good and the win didn’t feel quite as nice.

I talked to a friend about this when it first hit me on November 24th that I had six days and over 26,000 words to write, as well as working on finishing out what has been an incredibly difficult semester. I told her that I don’t think I can finish NaNo this year and that it scares me.

She told me that I should allow myself room for error, and she’s right. I’m still going to go into NaNo probably every year with the goal to win, but I can’t start hating myself because it’s not going how I want it to. Some Novembers I might just have to write at a different pace. Maybe there will be a November when I’ll write 100,000 words. Maybe most I’ll only get to 30k. But it won’t be the end of the world.

I think this is it. I’m declaring this November a loss for me, and I’m going to be okay with it. I’m going to keep working on this novel and whatever pace works for me, and I’m going to turn my attention to my short stories for the Dell Awards. On the bright side, as of this post I have written 4730 words on the blog. That counts for something, right?

To the rest of NaNoLand, I wish you all the luck. Just remember that it’s okay to give yourself some room for error.

A Writer’s Thanksgiving

It's okay. The sloths still love you.

I’m thankful for Pilot G2 pens and notebooks of all kinds.

I’m thankful for the advent of the word processor that led to my MacBook and Scrivener. I’ve heard enough stories from my mother of what it was like to type papers up when she was in college. I can’t imagine doing a novel that way.

I’m thankful to live in a golden age of YA.

I’m thankful for Mrs. Litton and the 4th grade school assignment that made me realize I wanted to be a writer.

I’m thankful for the crappy old laptop my dad gave me when I was around 8-10 that couldn’t do much more than run Word, and that was the point of it.

I’m thankful for Mrs. Wetherald, the high school teacher that encouraged my writing from the time I had her in freshman English.

I’m thankful for all the teachers that believed in my writing.

I’m thankful for Alpha, which advanced my writing more in two weeks than all of high school managed to do.

I’m thankful for Alphans, because we always support each other even years later.

I’m thankful for Twitter, which lets me talk to some of my favorite writers.

I’m thankful for parents that read to me since birth and never censored me or my reading.

I’m thankful for parents who happily let me major in creative writing even though many would think it useless, because they know it’s what makes me happy.

I’m thankful for all of the amazing people in my life that believe in me.

And I’m thankful for you, readers.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thoughts on “The Yellow Wallpaper”

The Yellow Wallpaper

In the not so recent past, if a woman was acting in a way that her husband or society didn’t approve of, she could be diagnosed with an illness. Hysteria, possibly, or a case of nerves. That’s what happens to the unnamed woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. After the birth of her child, her husband diagnoses her with nervous depression and slight hysteria and takes her out to a house in the country and confines there. She’s not to work, or write, or have any sort of social visits. She’s to sleep as much as possible and rest.

She stays in a room that was once a nursery, which has an ugly and torn yellow wallpaper. She can abide everything else in the room, everything else in the house, even, but not that wallpaper. The patterns in it disturb her. Over the course of her three-month stay at the house, she becomes convinced that there’s a woman trapped behind the wallpaper. She begins to hallucinate that the woman creeps out during the day, and she sees her from the window. She decides that she must free the woman entirely and starts to strip off the wallpaper. Meanwhile, she becomes paranoid and thinks that her husband and sister-in-law would stop her from freeing the woman, and she gets nervous whenever either of them spend too long looking at the wallpaper. Driven insane by her intended cure, she locks herself in the room and is soon convinced that she, too, is trapped inside the yellow wallpaper.

You read “The Yellow Wallpaper” and think, “Wow, things were so crazy just a hundred years ago.” The story was written in 1892. I’m glad I’m not a woman in that world.

But while life may be better in many ways for women now, that husband’s attitude is still around and it’s not rare. In 1892, women who had, you know, emotions, were told that they were hysterical or had nervous depression. Now if a woman is angry or depressed or seems to act at all unreasonably, we’re still told that we’re crazy. How many times have you heard a man talk about his crazy ex-girlfriend? Are there really that many crazy women in the world? How many of those crazy ex-girlfriends were just displaying emotions other than constant happiness and agreeability? And if they can’t call us crazy, then of course we must be on our periods. God forbid we just get annoyed at something or cry. It’s our damn uteruses making us unreasonable.

In the case of the woman in the story, it seems that she’s locked up simply because she has an active imagination. She does something more than mindlessly take care of her husband and child, so surely she must be mentally ill. Is that something you have trouble believing could have happened, or could still happen? “The Yellow Wallpaper” is disturbing not just because of the time it portrays, but because it still rings so true.

NaNoWriMo and Procrastination

Today’s November 19th. To most of you, that probably doesn’t mean much. But to those out there participating in the annual insanity that is National Novel Writing Month, today is when we’re down to eleven days. Wherever we are in our word counts, we have eleven days to reach that magical 50,000 mark.

To those who don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, here’s a quick intro. During the month of November every year, tens of thousands of writers embark on a quest to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s roughly 1667 words a day. There are people who have no trouble with it and actually write upwards of 100,000 words during November, and those people are dead to me. I think I’m more on the median of people who survive November. This is my seventh year – yep, I’ve been doing this every year since I was 15 – and I intend for it to be my sixth win. I have to claw my way to the finish line every year, but I make it. Except for, you know, that one year, which we won’t talk about.

I actually had a strong start to this year’s NaNoWriMo. I hit 10k before the end of the first weekend. Then, somewhere around 16k, I started stalling out. I’ve struggled to get to the 20k mark, and as of posting this, have barely cracked it. (You can see my progress throughout November in the sidebar.) In the first week, the NaNo site told me I was on track to finish on November 17th. Now it predicts a grim December 13th. So what happened?

To be honest, I’m not sure yet, but I’m going to bet a big part of it is my inability to keep the Procrastination Monster at bay. I open up Scrivener, and then I open up SelfControl and think, “I should set this for 30 minutes. I could bang out at least 1500 words in that time, and, hey, that’s almost all of my words for the day.”

But before I click start, I inevitably slide my cursor over to Firefox and wind up on Tumblr. My ‘About’ page notes that I would get a lot more writing done if I wasn’t on Tumblr so much, and that’s true. I start scrolling through my dashboard and then think, “Okay, Sarah, go write.” But then my dash tells me I have 30 new posts to look at. That’s not that many! I should go check them out. Ahahaha, wow, Homestuck fandom, you so crazy. What is that guy doing? How do cats even exist they are just so cute [insert keyboard mashing here].

Before I know it, I’ve wasted two hours on Tumblr. You’d think I’d kick my own ass and go write, but instead I think, “The new day has probably started on FuneralQuest. It doesn’t take me that long to play my turns.” That then turns into, “Oh, better check my webcomics.” Then, “I wonder what’s going on on Facebook…” and “Oh, I should play my Triple Town turns!” At this point, there’s probably 100+ new posts on Tumblr, and where do you think I end up? Throughout this, I probably have my full series re-watch of West Wing going in the corner. (I’m watching episode 13 of season 7 while I write this post. Shit’s getting real, yo!)

Unfortunately, this post doesn’t have a grand lesson or any advice to other writers struggling with procrastination. I’m still trying to figure those things out myself. I know I have to figure it out. I want to be a writer. I know I have to kick my own ass and start writing every day. It’s turning out that’s a lot easier said than done for me, and it’s making this NaNoWriMo win a tricky one.

Do you have any advice? How do you make yourself stop procrastinating? Is it easy for you to write every day, or do you struggle? How’s NaNoWriMo going, if you’re doing it? If you’re not, does it interest you?

To make up for a post that is more rant than advice, later this week I’ll be posting about apps and programs for writers that I’ve found to be incredibly useful. Right now, I’m going to try to write. See you tomorrow for Tuesday Reads.