Blog

Currently Reading… Saigon

Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 3.21.49 PM.png

On 9 March 2015 I walked into the Prince Edward Theatre in London to see the revival of Miss Saigon knowing hardly anything about Vietnam except that we’d fought a war there and many had disagreed with the decision that got the U.S. involved.

Since then, I’ve learned more. I’ve gone back to see Miss Saigon on Broadway where it’s running until 13 January 2018 and watched documentaries on Netflix and YouTube. After I saw the Broadway revival on 5 April, I was looking at Amazon and I discovered a book about the history of Vietnam from 1925-1975: Saigon by Anthony Grey. At that point I hadn’t learned anything about Vietnam by reading books it was all from documentaries. While documentaries are good sources of information, they do have a narrator’s bias attached. I jumped at the chance.

In some ways, the book is different than what I expected. I expected it to be a nonfiction book along the lines of Edward Rutherford. Instead, there’s a fictional element where you get to inside the heads of characters and see what the different sides were like. I’m not sure if it’s actually fictional or if it’s along the lines of what Philippa Gregory does where the characters are historical, but the reader is still going inside the heads of the characters.

Despite the way not lining up with my expectations it’s in no way diminished my enjoyment.

I was expecting to gain knowledge from this book, but as with the Chernow biography of Alexander Hamilton I recently read, I’m learning more than I thought I would. There were bits of Miss Saigon that were blurry in terms of my understanding, and by taking the time to read this book, I’m both enjoying it and getting those bits cleared up. Before, I understood the basic gist, but I didn’t understand how Vietnam moved from being a French colonial power to where they were in the 1960s when the U.S. got involved. While on some level it’s a depressing story because of the colonialism aspect of it, it’s also helped me to understand the perspectives that are on display throughout Miss Saigon.

Saigon, at its heart, is a book about the people, about their way of life, the way it’s changed because of Western influences from France and the U.S. as well as influences from Japan during and after World War II. It’s a story of the lives of families from different backgrounds, who end up on different sides of the story as their lives continue to overlap.

Currently Reading… Alexander Hamilton

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 2.15.27 PM.png

I will be the first to admit I don’t read a lot of American history. I’ve read bits and bobs throughout my life, but nothing major. The last thing I read was 1776 by David McCullough. I was fifteen, recovering from surgery, about to start a new school, and I had to read a book I wasn’t very keen on. I proceeded to not read very much about American history for eight years.

I am a writer from Massachusetts though, and I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a novel about the early days of the American Revolution in Boston. As I’ve said Massachusetts is known for three things: starting the American Revolution, the Kennedys, and whaling.

Fast forward to the summer of 2016.

I was home alone for a couple days because my parents were at a funeral and a burial. I was catching up on a TV series or reading or something, and I got to talking on Skype to a friend I met while I was studying abroad in London in early 2015. During that conversation, we talked about musicals, and I don’t remember how we got on the topic, but somehow Hamilton came up. I’d heard of it, but for whatever reason I’d been avoiding it. Maybe it was because of all the hoopla that was surrounding it, maybe it was because I usually avoid things are the major success stories of theatre. (Then again I’m obsessed with Les Miserables and that’s a huge deal in its own way.) For whatever reason, I had yet to listen to any of it.

My friend talked me into buying it, into listening to it, into having a dance party to it over Skype. I fell in love. I played the soundtrack on repeat for weeks. In August, I broke down and bought a copy of the book. Even before I had finished it, I was sitting in my dorm room at uni listening to it and watching interviews with the original cast and the creative team.

Now, I’m grateful to her. I’ve done a lot of crazy things. I’ve used the soundtrack to quench anger, to help clean, pack up my dorm room at Susquehanna University for the final time. I’ve watched another friend write out lines from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s acceptance speech at the Tonys across the sidewalk in chalk the day after the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. I’ve participated – and held – dance parties in my dorm room and outside the campus centre. I’ve sung “One Last Time” in the Starbucks on campus earning looks of glee and looks of outrage in equal measure. I’ve filmed my friends and I performing bits and fooling around.

I’m not sure if what I’ve discovered through Hamilton and Chernow’s biography could be called love. What I do know is that I have a new found appreciation for the history of my country. There are still moments where I think I was born in the wrong country. I still feel like I have a stronger connection with British history than American, but I know part of that comes from having more knowledge and time to learn about British history. I don’t know if it’s ever going to switch. I don’t think so, but now I have an appreciation for what has happened in my birth country.

Before I read this, I knew the basics. What’s interesting about this is at the heart it’s Hamilton’s story, but Chernow also works in what happened to the people who surrounded him for much of his life. As a reader I have an insight into what is happening even with people who are far away geographically. I found the way Chernow worked it in was interesting. I’m a writer, so when I read, I’m not only reading for fun or a course, I read to see if I can get anything out of the book that would help me in my own writing.

Reading this made me want to read 1776 again. I know there will still be some details I still won’t care about, but I think in general I will enjoy it more now than I did at fifteen. The thing about the way Chernow wrote the book is that there was never a point where I was bored or thought it was getting into too many details the way McCullough does in 1776. The reason why it took me so long to read it was because I loved it, I wanted to savour it. I didn’t want to rush through it and be done with it. I wanted to take my time, soaking in a story and a history I don’t know much about.

It made me realise American history isn’t what I thought. There were interesting bits and stories in there and that I’ve learned through watching interviews, that I never would’ve learned otherwise. I’m glad I took the leap. It was something I had ignored for so long, but I did it. And now I can say that I am not only the American girl who knows very little about her own history and a lot about Britain’s. I have expanded my historical knowledge into other countries, and it’s something I hope to continue doing.

March Book Haul

IMG_0072

I’m a book nerd.

There, I said it. It’s out in the world, and there’s no going back.

Aside from buying books for university, March 2017 is probably the month I’ve bought the most books in a couple years. I received Throne of Glass and A Court of Thrones and Roses as gifts back in December. I read them both in about three days and decided I had to buy the rest of both series.

I was going to buy them all from Amazon, but then through social media I discovered a website called Book Outlet. It’s a Canadian company, but they have a warehouse in Buffalo, New York. They have many different genres, they stock is always changing and the books are priced well. The only two books from either series were Queen of Shadows and Empire of Storms. So I added those to my cart, then I made the discovery that they were having a sale on women’s novels because International Women’s Day is in March. So I also bought Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff and An American in Kabul: A Memoir by Phyllis Chesler.

I will be the first to admit that I don’t read of a lot of memoirs nor do I read a lot about history that isn’t British. I’ve been fascinated by the story of Cleopatra since I saw a production of Antony and Cleopatra in 2007 when I was fourteen. I’ve never read a biography of her though. I know her basic life story, but the details one gets about historical people and events from biographies is something that I’m lacking about a woman who had children by two of the most powerful men in the Roman Empire and who killed herself rather than be dragged through Rome as a prisoner.

I was drawn to An American in Kabul because of reading The Taliban Shuffle by Kim Barker and through getting to know a group of Saudi Arabian students at my university the last two and a half years I was there. I like learning about different cultures, and Chesler’s memoir sounded like an interesting way to continue learning about the culture of the Middle East.

I hadn’t heard about the novels of Sarah J Maas until I started watching Sasha Alsberg’s YouTube videos – she’s known as abookutopia on there – and she kept talking about them. They sounded interesting to me, so I did a bit of research on Goodreads and Amazon and they still sounded appealing. It took me a couple months after reading Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses to decide to bite the bullet and purchase the rest. I bought Crown of Midnight, Heir of Fire, The Assassin’s Blade and A Court of Mist and Fury from Amazon because of Book Outlet’s limited stock.

I’m currently re-reading Throne of Glass, so I can continue with the series.

 

 

 

2017 Writing Plans

Originally posted on Blogger on 3 February 2017

If you’ve been reading this blog for the last few months, then you’ll know that 2016 was my sixth year doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and that I “won”. I got 60,000+ words.

I didn’t come anywhere near to finishing the novel though, so my current writing project is finishing it. I hope to be done with the first draft at the end of March, but I’m also realistic when it comes to writing, and I know there are going to be days where it doesn’t happen. Hence, continuing into April – or longer – wouldn’t be the end of the world. I’m still going to be aiming for 31 March as a finishing date. We’ll see how that goes. I also might aim to get a first round of edits done, but I think I’m going to take a break from it after I finish the first draft.

Hopefully I’ll be able to finish it and finally get around to working on the backlog of writing projects I have this year.

On the other hand, I’m enjoying the story I’m writing and I don’t want to rush it, but I’m also looking forward to getting back to some of the writing projects I’ve started and haven’t worked on any of them in at least a year. I have bunch of started works and a bunch of planned works on my laptop, so maybe I can make a dent in those as well. Not sure what I’m going to work on after I’ve finished my first draft of my project from NaNo 2016, but being that I’m still several chapters away from the ending – I have a vision of what I want the last scene to be – I have time to figure out what I want to continue/start writing.

Recently Read… Something in Between

Originally posted on Blogger on 3 February 2017

Screen Shot 2016-12-26 at 12.54.23 PM.png

I’m privileged. I’m female. White. Middle class. A college graduate.

Most of my friends are in a similar boat. So are many of the people who surround me.

In those simple adjectives, there’s not much Jasmine de los Santos – the protagonist – and I have in common. I’ve never been to Asia. I’ve never had to worry about immigration laws in the States except as a citizen. The worst thing that happened to me senior year of high school was arguments with students and the Dean of Students. There wasn’t any question about whether I was an U.S. citizen. Nothing has stopped me from going to college. But Jasmine and I also share something. We both try to keep what’s going on from the people around us, even if they care about us. Jasmine tries to hide her illegal immigration status from everyone at her school and I hide important things from the people I care about. Nothing I’ve ever tried to hide would have the same effect as being deported would have on the de los Santos family.

Melissa de la Cruz opened my eyes to an issue that’s going to continue to be an issue for the next four days, considering what’s been happening in the States throughout 2017. There was no telling the outcome of this election when this book was released a month before Election Day in the States. There was no telling what the effect of what Trump has done banning people from seven – now six – majority Muslim nations from the U.S. His presidency has – and will continue – to effect the rest of the world. I don’t care if you’re not a U.S. citizen, it’s going to effect your country too.

Not only was this book enjoyable. but I learned more about immigration than I had in the past. There were bits like the competitive cheerleading and the parties that I didn’t one hundred per cent understand because I’ve never done either, but I did find ways into those from my theatre experience and parties in my friends’ basements. Ours weren’t the normal high school parties, though. They were five girls sitting on couches and the floor watching films, anime, and playing video games.

There were moments of this novel that were distinctly high school. The way the characters spoke and interacted, the occasional eruption of anger or another emotion. Then there were the moments where the novel turned to the immigration issue. While the main characters are in high school, there’s also an adult way they all go about it. Jasmine especially faces the immigration issue head on and tries to solve it. She doesn’t ignore it and submit to the law. She’s eighteen and she fights back.

That’s the kind of courage I want to see in the version of the U.S. I want to live in. I want to live in a country where people have the kind of courage Jasmine displays. The people who stand up for what’s right and don’t become sheep. I want to live in a place where there’s respect and acceptance for all kinds of people. Jasmine’s situation may be different, but I think anyone who’s a minority whether it’s because of race, gender or sexual orientation can take something from what Jasmine does.

When I started reading the book, I thought Jasmine de los Santos and I, Essy S Dean, were different. And we are, but our belief systems aren’t. When people who have the same belief systems come together, that’s when change can happen.

The End of 2016

Originally posted on Blogger on 31 December 2016

Well, here it is. The last day of 2016.

There wasn’t much shitty stuff that happened to me. Stuff happened that I was angry about. Stuff like Alan Rickman dying and Donald Trump becoming president-elect of the United States.

There were also some amazing things, though.

I graduated from Susquehanna University with a B.A. in Creative Writing and a minor in History.

I saw productions of Pericles and Hamlet.

I saw Les Miserables for a third and fourth time.

I introduced my mum to Something Rotten!

I saw the original Roger Davis in RENT, Adam Pascal, as William Shakespeare in Something Rotten!

I don’t understand the people who said the new cast of Something Rotten! wasn’t as good as the original. Of course it’s going to be different. The new cast has different interpretations of those roles. Get over it!

I took a poetry class and explored different ways of writing poetry.

I fell in love with my home state of Massachusetts. Most of it has to do with the whaling culture of the 19th century.

I’m grateful that I moved out of Pennsylvania. This goes back to the Trump thing, but Selinsgrove is very much a typical uni town in that there’s a pocket of liberalism around the school in a mostly conservative area of the state.

I’m making plans for nights at the theatre for 2017. Excited Miss Saigon is coming back to Broadway with a lot of the same cast I saw nearly two years ago in London.

I jumped on the Hamilton bandwagon and had a dance party to it over Skype.

I watched David Tennant, Catherine Tate, and much of British acting royalty celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th deathday.

 

Here’s to 2017 being full of theatre, writing, reading, history.

The End of Undergrad

Originally posted on Blogger on 31 December 2016

Well…

It’s here. It’s happened. I haven’t been through commencement or gotten my diploma yet, but I did it. I’ve graduated. Undergrad is behind me.

Six years ago I was sitting in about the same spot I am right now, not knowing all the unis I was going to apply to, let alone where I would spend four years. The squishy green chair in front of the TV. The Christmas tree behind me.

Now, I’m watching a TV show that wasn’t even out yet. I’m drinking wine which I ignored for over a year. I’m wearing a shirt from the uni I graduated from.

Undergrad was crazy, but I don’t regret going to Susquehanna University at all. I don’t regret getting a B.A. in creative writing. People can tell me how useless a degree it is, that you don’t need a degree to do it. On some level, that’s true, but I’ve grown as a writer and as a person over the last four and a half years. To me, it was worth it.

There’s so much I took from being a part of the creative writing programme. I was opened up to many new and different opportunities. I was sure about my decision from the end of the accepted students day in March 2012. I’ve had no regrets. Maybe some things would be different. I wouldn’t have spent so much time in cars and buses, but the five hour drive was always worth it.

I chose the uni that was the furthest away. I chose the uni I didn’t visit until accepted students day, but I don’t regret any of it because I know I made the right decision.

Two Weeks More

Edited from a blog originally posted on Blogger on 15 November 2016

It’s crazy.

In two weeks I’ll be home. I would’ve come home from a semester of undergrad for the last time.

It’s freaky, but I’m also very much ready for this to happen. Seeing most of my friends graduate in May 2016 made me on one hand wish I had graduated with them, but on the other hand, I also know what I’m like under pressure and if I could do it, I was going to stay an extra semester.

Ultimately, I’m glad I made the decision to stay. Financially, it was an option, and it’s made my senior year more relaxed. The last three semesters have all had their crazy moments as is without overloading.

I’m not exactly sure what I’ll be doing. I’m probably going to cobble together some internship/volunteer stuff, then apply for grad school for autumn 2018. I’m excited to explore what’s going on in the area where I grew up in terms of opportunities like this without having to deal with the constraints of trying to do something that would work for being a creative writing major and acceptable to the programme.

I’m definitely excited to see where this is going to take me. I don’t know many of the details right now, but I’m okay with that. I’ll figure all that out little by little and I’ll figure out some good stuff to do and I’ll also working on my writing.

A friend of my mum’s told her I should keep doing what I’m doing if I’m going to take a break from school. That if I don’t I’ll find it harder to get back in. I’ve also heard that from my professors at Susquehanna University. Since I’ve added the extra semester, I’ve always sort of had this plan in mind, not always knowing exactly when I was going to be applying to go to grad school. I always knew I was never going to leave my writing behind. I need to work on having time most days to write, but that’s a scheduling matter more than something I have to make a decision about.

I have two weeks left including final exam week. Emotionally, I’m done. Have been since mid-November. I’m done with the semester. I need a break from my uni even though it was the best choice for me. I’m so glad I chose Susquehanna, but at the same time, I desperately want to get out of here for a couple months.

On the other hand, I’m grateful to this school and to everyone who’s helped me, so it’s definitely a push and pull situation. I think though, I can be looking forward to graduating while still knowing there are going to a be a few things I’m going to miss.

How Was It?

Originally posted on Blogger on 2 December 2016

If you’ve read the last few blogs I’ve written, or if you’re in the community, then you’ll know that NaNoWriMo 2016 has ended.

This year was a little weird for me. The last couple years I’ve been able to write nearly everyday and be able to write at all sorts of strange times: in between lectures, right when I wake up in the morning, etc. This year, it didn’t happen for me, and I’m not sure why I was able to reach 50k and I even got a bit over. I genuinely love the story I’m writing, so I’m going to finish it because I didn’t get anywhere near done. I’ve figured out the point at which I want the story to end, but I have a few more years and approximately one and a half more parts to write. I have no idea how many chapters that’s going to be, though. Currently, I’m about to start chapter 20.

I am well aware of all the people who think we writers are crazy for taking this on, but I’ve decided that for me it’s worth being called that because NaNo really is an amazing thing and through it I’ve become a part of a beautiful community of people who come from all over the world. Every December I miss it like crazy and every September and October I’m impatient for it to come. Even though it’s only been two days, I feel like I’m well on my way to missing it this year. I love the community that’s been created out of this so much. It’s all very well being a creative writing major as an undergrad and having a bunch of people to talk about writing and editing with at Susquehanna, but not all of them do or understand NaNo. They have other commitments that stop them from participating and I admire them for that, but that’s why this NaNo is so good.

Even though I didn’t get as far a word count as I thought I might, I’m going to put that out of my mind. I’m probably going to write a chapter or two in the next couple weeks, but after 15 December when my final term of undergrad ends, then I’ll be able to put more focus into this unfinished project. I’ve also realised I’ve forgotten my initial premise, so I’m going to have to find a way to work that into the story for a couple moments. I have a lot of stuff going one way and not going the other way, and I think I need to balance the main relationship more. I wanted it to be mainly about Owen Chase and Thomas Nickerson, but I seem to be branching out and making it about the survivors of the Essex as a whole, and while that’s an interesting take, I want to see if I can rope the rest of it – and the chapters I’ve already written – back into that.

I’m excited to partially leave it while I finished coursework for undergrad, and then throw much of my energy into finishing my 2016 NaNo project. A couple chapters will probably be written to try and keep myself from going crazy. With all the crazy U.S. election stuff and the fact I’m in my final term, I’m pretty chuffed with all the work I’ve done.

Thanks NaNo community, I’ll see you next year.

 

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑