My Thoughts on “The Dark Archive” by Megan Rosenbloom

A few months ago I picked up The Dark Archive by Megan Rosenbloom. I’m a big fan of morbid medical histories, and when I saw its lovely cover I knew I had to borrow it from my local library. Like any good nonfiction book, it taught me things and got me thinking.

This book is a deep dive into the curious study of books bound in human skin or “anthropodermic bibliopegy.” It’s a fascinating book that goes into the methodology of distinguishing real human skin books from other animal leather books, the history of how these books came about, and the eccentric characters who made and collected them.

 What really resonates with me as a librarian and history nerd are the discussions around the ethics of preserving or destroying such controversial material. I fall into the camp of thinking all history is worth preserving. Destroying what we find distasteful is the same as trying to destroy the past. We can’t reckon with things that we no longer have evidence for. This is especially important to me a black woman living in these United States.

Human skin books bring up uncomfortable questions for the medical profession. Most collectors were physicians in the 19th century who also provided the material leather from the corpses they managed to (ahem) acquire. In most of these cases, they were deceased patients or cadavers dug up by the local resurrectionist through unsavory means. These bodies are often unnamed, forever unknown. Their DNA was processed and scraped out of what remained of them. But still they remain, these nameless people immortalized against their will, their skin viewed as simple material to increase the value of their own collection. Their value remains in the illicit nature of these acquisitions, not the life they lived or who they were.

I like books that make me think. Medical history and its adjacent studies tend to do it for me. They make me question how things are.

If you want a good history lesson on this morbid medical topic, I say you should definitely give this one a read.

Monday Musings: Daylight Savings and The Great Confusing

Daylight Savings was this Sunday. I feel like I’m in some bizarro world where time has lost all meaning.

The changing of clocks somehow snuck up on me. I knew it would happen. Had it marked on my calendar even, but I’m still confused by everything. I woke up from my alarm yesterday, bleary-eyed, and wondering why the clocks were all wrong. I’m used to seeing the sun at six and found myself wondering why it was still dark at 7 this morning.

It doesn’t necessarily help that this is a ‘long week’ for me. Seven days of work, Saturday to this Friday. It’s not as bad as it sounds. I’ll survive. I don’t even feel it yet but that may be because I woke up with coffee this morning and I’m always more hopeful on Mondays. Tuesday will be my real test.

 

Recently, I’ve been wanting to get back into history again. This is a noted change from the romance book binging I’ve indulged in for the last few weeks. The Noble Blood podcast has given me good doses of royal history and I began a book about the world of early Hollywood around the time Howard Hughes came on the scene in the late 1920s (also by another podcaster, Karina Longworth of You Must Remember This fame). I’ve queued up several books from my library to also feed this need. I find that learning about the past offers comfort in our present.

 

In other not-so-concrete news, I’ve been giving some thought about my blog here and the content I’d like to share with you all. I’m a planner (sometimes to a fault) but my blogging schedule has more of a frenzied pantser energy. I like to build a consistent habit out of it, but that requires talking about things.

Blogging forces me to be more thoughtful about what’s going on in my day to day. I don’t like looking back on the week and thinking that if I’m not writing then nothing was done. It’s good to celebrate the little things and the changes in season.

Monday Musings: My Problem with Romance Novels

I’m a hypocrite. Or, maybe I’m just growing up.

Talk to me ten years ago and I would tell you that out of all genres of literature, romance was my least favorite. High school me liked the dark, pretentious, and overall tragic elements of media–the more twisted the better. Romance was fluff and cute. High school me couldn’t stand that unless someone dies at the end. Or if it was an anime. Clannad was one of my favorite shows but if you know anything about Clannad, you know it gets pretty tragic, pretty quickly.

Talk to me five years ago and I’ll freely admit that I have soft spot for Victorian novels with sweeping romances (Wuthering Heights comes to mind) and Young Adult literature where a central theme is finding out who you are and the blossoming of first loves. But in the same breath, I would tell you that adult romances just weren’t for me. Have you seen those ridiculous book covers? You know, the ones with well-oiled bare-chested men embracing swooning damsels whose collars were suggestively askewed. How could you take those books seriously? I’ve never read one but I know what you’re about (I say as I eye the bookshelf and point accusingly). I don’t mind if romance is an element of literature, I says, it just can’t be the main thing.

These observations were so…wrong. Yes, wrong! I was wrong! These last two or three years especially have had me looking for comfort in my media. I like a good challenging novel, a thoughtful artistic movie, but lately, I’ve been craving media kinder on my nerves. Something that I could enjoy without thinking about themes or the implication of a narrative in a larger cultural conversation. Something that would just make me feel good.

And do you know what I turned to?

I turned to romance novels.

I turned to media about two people who fall in love and, by golly, may even get a happy ending.

Rereading Lore Olympus has done more to improve my serotonin levels than anything else these last two weeks. In between violent deaths in the Jenna Moreci Savior Series, I was rooting for those crazy kids to fall in love. I picked up Beverly Jenkin’s Rebel and saw how intricate and sexy a historical romance could be. Right now I’m reading Red, White and Royal Blue and wondering how Alex and Henry will make their romance work being two very high-profile and highly visible bachelors in the realm of US politics and the British monarchy. It’s the food I need. It’s giving!

My assumption about romance books was wrong. Assuming that all romance novels were just two people making out for a book’s entirety was spectacularly narrow-minded. I’m ashamed to admit that. Even though I grew more open to other genres once I started working at my library, I never thought to read a romance until about a year ago. I still ran on the thought that romances just weren’t for me after not bothering to read them.

Are there any genres you eventually came around to after being a naysayer for years? Let’s discuss!

Monday Musings: Writing on Empty

I love writing. It’s an essential part of my daily life and my life would be incomplete without it.

At the same time, it burns me out.

Starting in late September, I’ve experienced a writing high that I haven’t experienced in years. I had my mojo back. In between then and January, I completed two novel-length projects and started revisions on one.

That hasn’t been the case these last few weeks. There’s a frenetic energy that accompanies a first draft. You get caught up in a story first written, get excited by its potential, and it’s a precious thing that gives you purpose every day. The initial drafting is one of my favorite parts of the writing process.

With a revision, however, you’re forced to examine the flaws of the first draft up close and correct them. My process is rewriting whole chapters: expanding scenes, questioning dialogue and character motivation, throwing in more flashbacks, putting a little more effort in worldbuilding, and the like. It’s fun at times, soul-crushing at others.

And these last two weeks, I feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle with motivation. My work has taken a toll on my energy after an extra-long week and, with the news being the news, my emotional reserves have been uniquely depleted as well. I have a schedule I’m trying to keep to maintain momentum but I’ve fallen behind. But I’m trying to be gracious with myself. I’ve learned that burnout is the mind’s way of telling you that it needs a breather.

Rather than force the issue, I take a break. I try to relax.

It’s easier said than done though. I fear not being able to pick up the pen again. I fear losing the momentum. I haven’t written like this in years (plural with an s!). That fear is always there. Even though I know from experience that a break is the best thing I can do for my creativity. Even though I know some of my best ideas come when I’m not thinking about my story. I recently read a Joan Didion quote that an author’s greatest fear after writing their first book is that they can’t write another and that this fear remains after the second, third, or fortieth book. It was more talking about ideas but I think it’s applicable here as well.

Regardless of my mood, I still try to write. Even on days I wake up and think that writing is the absolute last thing I want to do that day.

So here is what I do. I stick to my routine. I get up to dedicate my weekend mornings to writing. I open my story and see where I left off. I tentatively start writing something, give myself 25 minutes to find a groove. If I get into a rhythm (like on Saturday), I write until 1 and manage to crank out 2000 words (a win!). If I find myself unable to concentrate and looking for distraction (like on Sunday), I put the story away and promise myself I will try a little later after giving my head a rest.

The important thing is I never try to force it anymore. It shows in the work when I’m writing on empty. It’s painful to read and a nightmare to edit.

I’m trying to emphasize being kind to yourself when you lack the motivation or stamina to do things, especially when it comes to things you love. Breaks are a necessary component of the creative process. Never be afraid to indulge in them.

Thank you. I’ll step off my soapbox now.

Monday Musings: Voice in Writing

I spent some time contemplating voice. More specifically, I spent a lot of time contemplating my own voice in writing.

Writing through characters has always been easy for me. When coming up with a story, a character’s voice is the first that comes, then the premise, then how that premise might be executed. It develops the more I write it and evolves in ways I don’t expect. It’s very involved play-acting. The characters are my costumes and I interact with the world as they do.

As I describe this, my mind is brought back to the childhood stories I acted out with my sister. We spent countless hours in the day playing as our favorite Disney characters and inventing wacky scenarios that they had to puzzle their way out of. Writing helped fill that gap when we both grew out of it.

Writing as myself has always been a struggle. I’m a (near) daily diarist but when I push that voice to the public eye, it sounds awkward…not quite right. I’m not used to talking as me or the invented, highly polished version of me that I want to present to the world. Hence, why blogging is such a struggle. The voice stutters and falls flat.

I’ve had the idea, not for the first time, that I should come up with a character for this version of me. Surely, putting some artifice between myself and my writing persona would help me write as myself. It’s already there. After the retooling and editing, it’s baked in. The very act of effortless articulation a façade in its own right. You see that sentence before. I would never say that in real life.

It’s also possible I’m overthinking this like I do with most things. But a fair bit of practice goes into crafting a voice. It’s a patient endeavor. Historically, I’m not a very patient person but I can learn!

Creative Quarterly Goals: First Quarter

Yep! I’m going quarterly!

I wrote a lot in the last few months of 2021. I finished the first draft of a very old project given new life and nearly completed another. As of writing this, I’ll be finishing up the last chapter of the latter. Needless to say, I’ve been a writing speed demon. I’ve scared myself in how many words I’ve managed to throw on a page compared to the creative nadir that was 2019-2020. Guess I was storing it up.

But I’ll be honest. First drafts are easy for me, second only to the initial outlining phases. It’s during the revision process where writing projects lose a lot of steam. I’m determined to be more thoughtful in how to approach it this time around so that doesn’t happen. To do that, I’m putting the infrastructure in place to keep my mind focused on the task.

There are three major writing projects in the works and they’re all related to each other. The first is the still vaguely titled “Story 1” which is a young adult urban? fantasy novel and it is supposed to be the first in a series of indeterminate length. The latter is called “Divided Loyalties” (a better title than the former but I still kind of hate it) which is a dark fantasy that’s more adult in its leanings. It’s a prequel to Story 1. “Divided Loyalties” is getting two parts. I’m nearly finished with the first draft of part 1 and I want to begin the initial drafting stages of part 2. It’s the project that I’m focusing on currently.

I made a list of what I hope to tackle before my March 31st deadline. Not all of them are novel-related. I won’t finish all of these in 3 months but I hope to make significant progress. This will hopefully keep me on track!

  1. Finishing Part 1 of Divided Loyalties and begin drafting Part 2
  2. Starting the first round of revisions for both Story 1 and Divided Loyalties Part 1
    1. Come up with a better book title than Story 1
    1. Make a Wordbuilding rag for Divided Loyalties.
  3. Some sort of outline for Story 1 Part 2
  4. Having a consistent schedule of 2 blog posts per week (1 for writing, 1 for fun!)
  5. Maintaining an active social media presence for WordPress and Twitter
  6. Come up with 1 short story every 2 months
  7. Study your favorite books for why you like them and research writing genres
    1. Writing Genres:
      1. Dark Fantasy*
      1. Science Fiction/Speculative Fiction
      1. Young Adult

Ringing in the New Year: Better Late than Never

Hello 2022!

I hope the New Year has been treating you all well! On my end, it’s already had its fair share of twists and turns thanks to that ol’ pandemic strain that’s been plaguing us these last 2 years. A lot of people close to me have come down with it but they’ve all been mild cases luckily. I’ve been extremely lucky to dodge it (so far).

Every turn of the year makes me thoughtful. I reflect back on 2021 as a year that I grew more into myself; a year where I became more conscious of my needs and became a better advocate for them. It’s an ongoing process that I’m still learning each day.

I have mixed feelings about New Year’s resolutions. I’m more of the opinion that an intention can be made whenever you want to make it: at every change of the season, every morning after breakfast, whenever. Yet still, I make plans, I set goals and they’ll change and evolve as time marches forward. I used the great flip of the calendar year to solidify and write some personal goals I want to carry over from last year.

Here are a few taken from the journal:

Physical:

Listen to your body uncritically and nurture accordingly. If you’re upset, listen without judgment. If you’re hungry, eat. If you feel sluggish, move around.

Mental:

Laziness is a blessing. It is the feeling that comes over you when your mind needs a break. Listen to it. Indulge in some unproductivity so you can better tackle the things you want to do.

Social:

Being social is really hard right now. It’s okay if you feel drained from your efforts. More okay if you make mistakes. Trying is what matters most and you shouldn’t be afraid to be seen trying.

Financial:

Be conscious of your impulse food purchases. Be conscious of anything you’re tempted to buy on impulse for that temporary dopamine hit.

Creative:

Creativity can’t thrive if you aren’t kind to yourself. Moments of growth and productivity need rest to nurture your mind. You can’t have one without the other. Burning yourself out will only make you hate the end result, whether or not it’s good. (Anything you put the time in is good. Tending to it makes it great).

Music Appreciation: “Hey Moon” by John Maus

I’m 10 years late to the John Maus train but there is something so enchanting about this song. I credit it in planting the first seeds of my “Divided Loyalties” WIP, which has expanded into a hefty fantasy enterprise.

The synth beats that underpin this track are hypnotizing. John Maus’ vocals echo and lull the listener into a trance as he sings his ode to the moon. I like to think of it as a love song. A love song to the night, to dreams, to the slow and sweet passage of time.

A moment bottled and forever relished.

Favorite Lyrics:

Hey moon, it’s just you and me tonight
Everyone else is asleep
Hey moon, if I was to fall
I won’t fall so deep
Though I doubt I’m gonna
You can wake me up if you wanna

I learned while routing for info that this is a cover! Sounds like I got some more music to listen to!

Monday, Monday

I know that it’s been a minute since I’ve done anything here. Lots have been happening behind the scenes these last eight months. Most good but it’s been keeping me busy on the life side of things.

So what’s changed since June 2019?

Well, I have a new job for one.

Throughout most of 2017 to last June, I’ve been working multiple jobs and internships. My head was on a swivel as I jumped from one to another. I’m pretty sure if I look through my output throughout this time, it’ll look very scattershot. Lots in a month or two, nil for two or three others.

I’m now working in a higher position at my local library and it’s a dream! I’m surrounded by books and people who like books. What could be better?

This also means I have a little more downtime than I’ve had these last couple of years which is really nice! No complaints there!

I’ve also suffered the apex of an ongoing identity crisis with this blog.

I’ve been debating what I want this space to be. I’m an avowed overthinker so while I toiled on this question, I found myself stuck idea-wise. I had loads of them but put myself in a tizzy trying to figure out if it should go here. I ultimately decided to just go with the flow on this one.

Again, still an ongoing crisis.

Fiction wise, I’ve been doing a lot of work behind the scenes. I’m on a writing high. I’ve managed to finish drafts for a couple of projects while sussing out the ideas of others. I’ll go more into detail about those in a separate post but things are coming down the pipe.

A good deal of those will be on a new blog I’m starting called Our Hollow Times. Most of the fiction there will be centered on the town of Hollow Grove. Some of you may already be familiar with that world. For others, it’s a universe I’ve been developing for the last oh…close to four years now. It’s a little out of the way American town filled with ghosts, supernatural creatures and other unfathomable beasts coexisting with a mortal population. It has many story timelines and other stuff that I’ll be far better explained by the people who live there. Their stories will be found on this site when it officially starts rolling next week.

That’s about it for me! I’m going to work to update this more consistently in the future. Blogging is supposed to be fun and I want to go forth in that spirit!

I hope you all have a lovely Monday.

Thanks for reading!

Helpful Writerly Links

Happy Monday, everyone!

It’s a fresh week and a fresh start. And starting today, I’ll be sharing helpful links to writing, history, and other things I found interesting throughout the week. Hopefully, they’ll be as informative and/or entertaining to you as I found them.

Enjoy!

How To Structure A Premise for Stronger Stories by Jeff Lyon (writermag.com)

7 Steps to Creating a Flexible Outline for Any Story by K. M. Weiland (Writers’ Digest)

Better Blogging Topics for Writers by Wendy van Camp (The Writing Cooperative)

Easy Budgeting for Writers (or anyone else) by Jenna Moreci (Video)