Saturday, December 31, 2011

Story vs. Words

There's a lot to be said about the feel of a book. The texture of the cover, the smell of the pages, etc, etc. When people find out I'm a writer and they catch me reading my Kindle, it often surprises them.
"Don't you love books?"
"Don't you just love words?"
Honestly, I've never been "in love" with either. Some books I've picked up have been rather disappointing or boring or forced on me. Everyone's favorite combination of "beautiful words"-- poetry -- has more often made me roll my eyes than wowed me.

Conclusion: I love stories.

To start off the new year, here are some stories I've enjoyed that are not in book form:

Granted, it's no longer running, but Lost is one of the best TV series I've ever seen. The mystery builds on itself through the seasons like a giant novel. Excellent cast and music!

The characters make this show work. Not only do you have a mystery to solve, you've got to put up with an OCD detective to get to the answer.

There's a lot going on with this series right now. While both incarnations deviate from the original (as TV and movies really have to do), they're so entertaining that the punching/explosions (movies ) and the modern era (BBC ) don't detract from the enjoyment of the story.

Want to share your favorites? I'm always looking for a good recommendation!

Year in Review

Magazines are good at this: recapping everything that happened during the year to make you feel nostalgic for something that's only just gone. I won't be doing that, but I will be saying goodbye to 2011 with a kind of bittersweetness that I don't often experience.

The bad could very well outweigh the good if I let it. My job as an office money finally got the better of me (and if any of my former coworkers are reading, I don't miss it), and I found myself hastily putting together the puzzle of what would ultimately make me happy. The answer wasn't in another office position or in nursing or in graphic art: it was hairdressing.

As a result of my hasty decision to go to one of the best schools in the country, I'm once again living alone (or rather, in a roommate situation), struggling to keep on top of my responsibilities while retaining everything I'm paying a small fortune to learn. New York is not the easiest city to live in, especially after having spent my life in spread-out places. On the other hand, it's freaking New York, and I've been having a great time exploring and getting to know the place that will be my home for the next chunk of time.

This year also brought me one of the greatest triumphs of my life: a publication for sale. Even as I form myself into the next great hairdresser, I've been furiously writing for whatever gets accepted next. It remains to be seen if my sales extend past my family and close friends -- but even if not, I'm PUBLISHED!

Next year will tell me a lot about the decisions I made in 2011. Maybe I'll have a job that doesn't make me want to kill myself. Maybe I'll garner a following in the writing world. Maybe my little family will be secure together, not to be separated again.

It's been a difficult year, but one that's (hopefully) been leading up to something great.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Morning After

One could say this is a dream come true. Today, I am a published writer who will be receiving royalty payments. For those of you who need last minute Christmas presents, look no further: The Morning After, by Melanie Surani

The Morning After

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas in the City II

So many gorgeous decorations in the city, I thought I'd share again! (uploaded these from my phone, so the quality is a bit crappy)

I've also added a new page to my blog: it's about hair. See photos of what I've done and commentary about what I think about it. Leave your comments, and hey--maybe give me a job!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas in NY

Christmas has almost been a sore point for me in the past few years. Either fatigue from commercialization hampered my mood, or the inability to see my family and participate in what made Christmas special in the first place made me more depressed than jolly. When you're married with no kids and the nearest family member is 1000 miles away, it's hard to have your standard under-the-tree present-ripping session on the 25th.

This year, I'm living in Queens with a roommate (several generations older than I) because of school, so it's like the one sliver of family I had is now living 2+ hours away (with my cat). Instead of moping, I've decided to continue the tradition my dad started twenty-some-odd years ago and go look at Christmas lights. Fortunately, Manhattan is a mere subway ride away, so I have access to all kinds of wonderful sights.

Near Rockefeller Center 
At Rockefeller Center

Skating rink at Rockefeller Center (spent an evening in the area, can you tell?)

Macy's at 34th Street

More to come... 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Not this year

Oh NaNoWriMo, how I love you. Last year, I compared the challenge to my version of Christmas (since I don't have the wherewithal to visit my family around the Holidays), but ended up failing to write 50,000 words because that story didn't want to be written. This year, as you all know, I'm in school, and won't have the time or energy to start a new story and bang out all those words in a month. November's going to be tricky for me anyway.

However, I can't stay away from writing, even if I'm not starting anything new. Since I've gotten to New York, I've been plugging away at editing Awake, my favorite, ever-changing mess of a novel. I have high hopes for it this go round, though.

Sometimes writing is the only thing that keeps me sane. I'm learning something completely new (and a bit foreign), living in a new (big and very crowded) city, with some ... interesting roommates. When asked why I write mysteries, why I focus on kidnappings and murders and dark things like that, I tell them I have to write it down so I don't do it in real life. That usually gets me a laugh ... but sometimes I wonder if it's not completely true.

Living away from my husband and with someone who seems to only find fault in what I do, writing is the one thing that stays exactly the same in either place. Sure, the characters and plot are always being tweaked, but Sophia always loves Josh, and they all want to know just how the hell to get home.

Another thing to keep my sanity in place is re-watching old TV shows I used to love. Because my internet connection is crap for crap and I can't watch new TV, I've been either watching DVDs or patiently waiting for something to load on Netflix. The two shows I've gotten (re)hooked on are The Young Ones, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. ... Better than focusing on not having a husband or a cat in my room, and blocking out my roommate's conversations about poop.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wait, what?

Barbie was one of my favorite dolls when I was growing up. Granted, I didn't have as many as my friend across the street, but my collection was plenty big.

The only problem was Ken. He was boring, but kind of necessary (because otherwise, Barbie's wedding dress would be useless). The plastic hair, the stupid, goofy expression ... and he only had one outfit because it was too embarrassing to change his clothes.

Here we go: the 90's version of a cool guy. He's got the street signs on his shirt, the baggy, high-waisted jeans, and the rad, rockin' neon shoes. He's just ... that guy who friggin calls too much.

Since I've been under the weather today (have to use that preface for my time-wasting activities you're currently reading about), I looked up what Ken looks like today. Um... yeah. Kind of makes me wish I hadn't missed the gap by 20 years.

Reminds me a little of Tarkan
Now, I might have still been leery of taking those pants off, but if I'd had a Ken like this, he might not have gone to work so much during playtime. Maybe my invisible 10 year old will be getting a present.

Ten Years

The towers on 9/11/11
With the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 just behind us, I've been thinking about how far I've come in that decade. What started out with me working at Blockbuster Video watching the news from New York on a TV we kept behind the counter, has ended with me going to school within walking distance from where it happened.

It struck me as odd on the 11th this year as I walked toward the new WTC that ten years ago, people were rushing away from the site, and this year people crowded toward it.

Also ten years ago, I was working on a version of a story that would become Awake. Today it barely resembles that story (because it kind of sucked), but has been stuck in a perpetual mode of "first draft" ever since. Maybe in another ten years I'll look back on today and think, "wow, I hung onto that piece of crap for that long?" Who knows. Maybe I'll be watching it in the theater by then, reading in forums about how so-and-so actor sucks in it.

To supplement my writing in 2001, since for some reason literature that was written 100 years ago was the only thing with merit in my eyes, I was obsessively reading Oscar Wilde. While enjoyable, all this did was make my writing as pretentious as possible, which is why the whole thing has been thrown out except for the single concept I'm using now. 

Discussion time: how has your life changed in the past 10 years? Any surprises you didn't see coming?


Time for some fantasy in my reading now ... just kind of happened that way.

Interview With the Vampire - Anne Rice

I started this book years ago and put it down for whatever reason. Now that I'm trying to broaden my literary horizons somewhat, and because I didn't feel quite up to reading Twilight, I went with Anne Rice again.

The story was nice, but I recognized some things in her writing style as things I've been told not to do -- like being too wordy. As I got into the book, I wanted to yell, "get on with it! I KNOW!" I read somewhere that she doesn't use an editor, but that her writing would be much better with one. I agree.

The Princess Bride - William Goldman

This book was a bit of a surprise for me. After having seen the movie about a million times (as we all have), for some reason I wasn't expecting the book to be funny. Because I read primarily on public transportation, I try to keep my reactions to myself, but I laughed aloud several times.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling

My husband and I have been watching the Harry Potter movies lately, but since I've been spending too much time away from home, our DVD watching time has been seriously compromised. I wanted to find out what happened next (since I didn't get on board when I was younger), so I pulled out the books.

Maybe it's just me, but Rowling gets a bit wordy too. Granted, I'm not in her target age group. Something that bugged me a lot was how angry and stubborn Harry is. He gets an idea and sticks with it till the bitter end, despite what anyone else tells him. Maybe we can chalk that up to what this character has been through (which is a lot for someone that age), or just his own character traits (because at least one of the other characters calls him out on it).

Anyway, I liked it well enough that I went straight into the last in the series, and even at the beginning of the book, I'm holding my breath thinking, "oh no... oh NO!"

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Changes for Melanie pt. 2

As it turns out, when I don't update for a while, lots of stuff happens. Perhaps this is an accumulation, or maybe so much is going on that I don't have time to write. (My poor novel knows all about that!)

Bollywood themed entry
At school, I participated in an up-do competition and lost. But it got a lot of positive attention, which I enjoyed.

Additionally, learning more cuts and color theory is making my head explode, so I decided to stop commuting from Philly to NY every day and rented a room. It sucks very much being away from home, but the extra hours of sleep I get are making it worthwhile (I think). Not sure if I'll ever get used to the sheer volume of people in New York (I've never liked crowds).

The long weekend is the perfect time to get some writing done since I've promised myself not to think about hair in these three days (except for the little bit I wrote in the paragraphs above).

Still no release date for The Morning After (with Untreed Reads), so I'll continue to keep you updated as I learn more. Meanwhile, I'm trying to get some work done on Awake, which is taking forever. This is either going to be my best story every, or I'll waste so much time on it I'll fail to get anything else written and ruin my career before it gets started. In the meantime, though, I'm taking notes on all the crazy city behavior I'm witnessing on a daily basis and saving it up for something spectacular. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

For my lovely German readers...

Eichstätt changed something in me. Everyone I've ever known who spent time in Europe came back in love. Though it's now been 8 years since I was there, I still think about that little town as the ideal place to live--the place against which I compare every city.

I recently acquired German citizenship, and some people are more excited about it than others. Some don't understand why it's important to me at all. I like the laid-back lifestyle and the friendliness of the people. The streets aren't littered with trash and don't reek of urine. The trains are clean, well lit, and connect everywhere.  Not to mention, everywhere in Europe is easily accessible for a nice weekend vacation!

So if people don't share my enthusiasm, it's their own business. I love my new country, and can't wait to move there.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cosmetology, Publishing, and other Stuff

So, jeez, where to begin?

It's been a crazy month or so. Started cosmetology school at Arrojo in New York -- commuting every day from Philly. It's a lot, but about a fourth of the people on the bus every day are regulars, so I'm not the only one doing this. Cosmetology just kind of happened all of a sudden. I couldn't be in the cubicle any more (they say office work is soul-crushing--I found that to be horrifyingly true).

Some things have been more challenging than others (getting the blow-dry right, for example), but for the most part, I love going to school, and I'm so glad I made this decision! The teachers are extremely knowledgable and helpful, always telling us why something is important rather than saying, "Oh, don't worry about it, just do it." Genuinely nice, too.

In the Writing World...
Can't give any specifics yet, but one of my short stories is about to see the light of day! The Morning After, the "little novella that could", finally piqued someone's interest when I chopped a few thousand words out. Not sure if the title will stay the same after it's gone through the final edit. Super excited! My first real foot in the door! Rest assured I'll keep you all updated on the release date once I have one. Until then, share in my happiness.

Awake is getting such a big overhaul that it's almost not the same story it was when I started. Granted, that's not all bad, but it's always disheartening when someone doesn't like your characters or doesn't enjoy a particular plot point (particularly when someone says a decision your character has made was stupid ... because really, it was me making the decision for him ... ouch). Nevertheless, all the comments and critiques I've gotten so far have helped develop both the characters and the plot. Every time I rewrite this story, I think it's finally the last time, but now I'll just let it go where it needs to. Each time it gets better, so in 50 more drafts, it'll be quite okay. Reassigning a few character traits, adding some backstory and suspense. Yeah, it'll be fine.

Other Creative Stuff
Because I can't leave well enough alone, I've decided to make and sell some jewelry and amigurumi. I've always enjoyed making things, and now I'm pushing them on you fine people! I mean, look at that bear in my hand. She's practically begging you to take her home. Don't make her cry!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Idea for a show ...

My dad used to have a go-to boring TV suggestion when I was little: The History of Asphalt. At the time, my sister and I laughed at him because, obviously, a documentary like that would be ridiculous!

Watching paint dry, anyone?
Of course, making a movie or TV show has everything to do with talent and having a phenomenal idea that'll rivet the audience to their seats. Right? I mean, that's clearly why I don't have my own TV show. No one would spend good money and waste everyone's time with crap like Hogs Gone Wild or not one, but two programs about pawn shops.

I feel like Alan Partridge is pitching all our TV shows.

What about all these books I'm reading?

Since I've been at home for the last two weeks or so, I've been reading a lot -- to make my writing better and to ease the boredom.

A few quick reviews:

 I, Spy by Kate Johnson

This was quite an enjoyable book. Granted, some parts challenged my suspension of disbelief, but not enough to keep me from reading. The characters were likable and relatable -- and Sophie, the main character's boycraziness was fun. Let's face it: I'm a girl. I like the cartoon-y pink covers. I had fun with this book. Looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
And best of all, the Kindle version is FREE on Amazon for a little while (the month of June, I think).

This is a Book by Demetri Martin

I love Demetri Martin. His standup is funny, as was his short-lived TV show, Important Things with Demetri Martin, so I was excited about this book. About half was what I was expecting -- unexpected wordings, and very silly, yet somehow obvious things you've never thought of before. The other half consisted of longish stories that were kind of boring and skippable.

Check out this video of Demetri performing.

 Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

There was nothing I didn't like about this book. Bridget Jones is a wonderfully "real" character with all the excitement and worry of your average woman. I never stopped rooting for her, and had a hard time putting the book down.

Hello Kitty Must Die by Angela S. Choi

This book definitely gets an R rating (sex and violence both). Interesting story about a woman who's tired of having to be everyone's ideal (and tired of being set up on dates by her parents). After running into an old friend from school, she develops a new ... uh... hobby? Killing.
Funny in parts, uncomfortable in parts ... enjoyable if not taken too seriously.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Elusive Dream

Ah, the feeling. Opening my email to what I'm sure is another rejection letter (after a while, you only have to read the first few words: Thank you for your query. Unfortunately ... ), and finding the words, "may we send you a contract?" instead is nothing short of stunning.

The work in question is a short story called The Morning After. It's about two vacationers joining their friends in a wooded cabin, only to find one friend brutally attacked and everyone else missing. Like most of my stories, this one went through a multitude of changes before finally settling into its final form (and after the editors at the publisher get finished, it could very well change again). My critique buddies helped me tremendously with this piece--from telling me which sentences didn't flow well, to which whole pages ruined the suspense. Forever grateful!

After a few days feeling like I kind of suck at writing, this was the ego boost I needed to get back to work.

On a roll ...

Just posted my long-overdue story to Generations, the blog where my Papaw, my Dad, my sister, and I tackle a central topic and write something about it.

Yeah, I played a little with Photoshop.
The story I posted, Do Not Spoil the Ending, uses a familiar setting (Toronto) and a familiar situation (uhh.. spoiler), and makes something completely fictional out of it. I also used Kat and Bridget, characters from the mystery novel I'm trying to sell, and learned more about their personalities and background.

Something which I have no experience with, but find really interesting, is urban exploration. The story touches on it when the characters wander into the long-closed Lower Bay subway station (which is real -- read about it toward the end of this page: Infiltration: Toronto Subways). Creepy and exciting, huh? 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Changes for Melanie

So my view has changed somewhat. I have a window now, a cat for a boss, and work that better suits my personality. The only drawback? NO PAY!

I've also enrolled in cosmetology school, which will start at the end of June (and this will include a daily commute to New York City, which could be a good chance to catch up on reading/writing, or it might suck. We'll have to see). I am extremely excited about cosmetology, though! It's artistic, I'll be working with my hands, and best of all: no math paperwork! Play with makeup and shiny tools all day--what's not to love?

Pleasant Company

And yes, on the corner of my desk is a doll I've had for about 20 years. Seems like times of stress, I revert to my 10 year old self and get her out again. Oddly enough, when I was in New York the other day getting my enrollment sorted out, I went to the American Girl Place (formerly Pleasant Company), and discovered they have a doll hair salon in the store. ...And here I am about to start with the haircutting. And so, Felicity came out of storage, hairbrushing commenced, and hubby laughed at me. That's okay.

Josephina, the smaller doll, used to keep me company in my former cubicle -- kind of a bright spot where the numbers and jargon couldn't go. Now both of them watch me procrastinate while I'm supposed to be writing.

So, I've got a month to myself. If I don't get my current project edited and ready for agents to fight over, I'm an idiot.