Tag Archives: novel

The Martian v. The Martian

The Martian novel, written by Andy Weir, is a self-publishing success. In 2011, he self-published the book and it got enough attention to garner him a contract with Crown Books. In 2014, The Martian was re-released with the help of Crown and became one of the top selling books on Amazon.Com. And then it became a movie.

I started reading The Martian last year and, between applying to graduate programs, moving (twice!), picking up a few side jobs (on top of my main jobs), and all the rest of life stuff that gets in the way of fun stuff, it took me a while to finish the book. Mind you, I really enjoyed the book as I was reading it and I even got students of mine to read it as well.

Now that I’ve finally finished reading and watching The Martian, I can compare and contrast the two different media used to tell Andy Weir’s story of an astronaut left behind on Mars for your (and more likely my) amusement and declare one better than the other (because all things must be ranked!).

If you haven’t read the book or watched the movie, this post contains spoilers. Though, if you’ve clicked on this blog because of the title, I’m assuming you kind of already knew that, but I thought I’d be nice and post a warning anyway.



Mashups are a popular thing, right?

Only if you watch this show.

Wait, let me try that again.

Has this ever happened to you?

You: Hey, I want to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), but I also want to participate in No Shave November for cancer awareness. I can’t do both at once, can I?

Me: Wait! You can! You CAN do two things at once.


Why yes, in this scenario, you are Bender from Futurama.


Bringing Readers Inside the Bedroom

Writing about sex is hard (no pun intended). While there are plenty of writers who have found their niche writing romance novels filled to the brim with sensual scenes, the majority of us do anything to avoid a sex scene. As my book editing professor has mentioned on more than one occasion, readers don’t need to be taken into the bedroom. In other words, describe your lovers ripping each other’s clothes off and passionately kissing, but let the reader’s imaginations fill in the rest.

But what if you don’t want to stop at the bedroom door? How do you write about sex without causing your reader to roll their eyes, skip ahead, or feel completely awkward (mostly for you). For one, understand that metaphors and sex work–up until a certain point, at which you lose readers. In Slate.com’s recent article “The Worst Sex Writing of the Year Features Statisticians, Superheroes, and Brie Cheese,” Amanda Hess gives readers one example of what she deems a “delusional” metaphor from Manil Suri’s The City of Devi:

We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.

I have absolutely no idea what’s going on here, but Hess’ astute observation, “Congratulations–you fucked,” pretty much sums it up. When metaphors are too complex, they seem unrealistic. For most of us, sex doesn’t equate to feeling like a superhero diving through atomic nuclei and causing statisticians to rejoice. Hess also offers other examples of “bad” sex writing.


Is There Such A Thing As “The Great American Novel”?

I used to joke a lot about the “great American novel,” about how I’d like to write it. This was when I was younger and still thought such a thing existed.

Growing up, I read books like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, and Catcher in the Rye without even fully understanding them, but for their greatness. The fact that we still read them at all was a testament to that. And later, in college, the reading lists in my American Lit courses grew even denser and long. I read Maya Angelou, Sandra Cisneros, Junot Diaz—a different sort of America I’d never seen up close.

How can one book represent all of those authors’ Americas? How can they represent my own?

Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, in a recent piece called “Why Are We Obsessed With the Great American Novel?”, wrote “America isn’t one story. It’s a layered and diverse array of identities, individual and collective, forged on contradictory realities that are imbued with and denied privilege and power.” In Strayed’s opinion, the “great American novel” is a collection of stories and voices, not just one shining emblem.

Lena Dunham’s “Not That Kind of Girl”: When A Writer’s Words Are Used Against Them

"Girls: Season 3" - UK Premiere - Red Carpet Arrivals

By now, most people have heard of Kevin D. Williamson’s accusation of “Lena Dunham’s sexual abuse, specifically, of her younger sister, Grace, the sort of thing that gets children taken away from non-millionaire families without Andover pedigrees and Manhattanite social connections.”

But in case you haven’t heard, Williamson is basing his accusation on passages Dunham wrote in her memoir Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”. Passages like:

One day, as I sat in our driveway in Long Island playing with blocks and buckets, my curiosity got the best of me. Grace was sitting up, babbling and smiling, and I leaned down between her legs and carefully spread open her vagina. She didn’t resist and when I saw what was inside I shrieked.
My mother came running. “Mama, Mama! Grace has something in there!”
My mother didn’t bother asking why I had opened Grace’s vagina. This was within the spectrum of things I did. She just got on her knees and looked for herself. It quickly became apparent that Grace had stuffed six or seven pebbles in there. My mother removed them patiently while Grace cackled, thrilled that her prank had been a success.

And this:

As she grew, I took to bribing her time and affection: one dollar in quarters if I could do her makeup like a “motorcycle chick.” Three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds. Whatever she wanted to watch on TV if she would just “relax on me.” Basically, anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl, I was trying.

In an exclusive statement to TIME, Dunham apologized to her fans, saying “If the situations described in my book have been painful or triggering for people to read, I am sorry, as that was never my intention. I am also aware that the comic use of the term ‘sexual predator’ was insensitive, and I’m sorry for that as well.”

Dunham is no stranger to controversy or criticism. On a recent appearance on The Daily Show, the actress and screenwriter admitted that “It can definitely be challenging. It’s not something when you’re writing in your room and dreaming of this career, you’re necessarily like, ‘I’m going to have a TV show and I’m going to write a book and everyone’s going to hate me on the Internet!'” But that, when criticism inevitably happens, she responds with a little bit of “class and sass.” (Below, one can only assume, is the sass.)


Why NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo has gained a plethora of participants. Hundreds of thousands, in fact. A quick look around Twitter, typing in keywords like #NaNoWriMo2014 or #amwriting will pull up a ton of tweets from writers updating their followers with their word counts, struggles, and achievements. But as with any event or cause, there will always be the naysayers.

In this case, the naysayers of NaNoWriMo believe that if you were a real writer, you wouldn’t need a month dedicated to writing to meet a word count. Or that it’s impossible to write something of quality—of substance—in thirty days.

Before I get too deep into my defense of NaNoWriMo, I think it’s fair to mention that what a writer actually is is a fuzzy distinction. “Real” writers get paid for their work; they get published. But if you’re still new to the craft, if you’re still aspiring and finding your voice, does that mean you’re not a “real” writer?

I think it’s also fair to mention that, in a way, the naysayers are partly correct. “Real” writers don’t need a month; at least, they shouldn’t. NaNoWriMo, however, is aimed at newer writers. Writers who still need proof that they can actually do it—that they can write a novel-length story, that they can meet a deadline, that they can fight through writer’s block.

To Keep The Ideas Flowing

The thing is, when a writer isn’t writing, things can get dark fast. We start having depressing thoughts about the meaning of our very own existence, or that we will never become the voice of our generation. Writing is a muscle. When we don’t stretch it, we lose the ability to use it effectively. The ideas don’t come as easily, and when we do finally find the time to write, we find the words don’t come easily either. Something I noticed during last year’s NaNoWriMo was that, as soon as I started writing, I couldn’t stop the ideas from coming. Sure, more often than not, these ideas had nothing to do with the project I was actually working on. But you write them down, you tuck them away, and then later, when you can, you come back to them.

Getting to Know Yourself

Believe it or not, not all writers are daunted by the task of completing 50,000 words. Some participants find that they need far less than thirty days (this one only needed nine). You wont know what you can achieve until you try. Participating in the NaNoWriMo challenge allows you to discover your quirks—your areas of strengths and weaknesses. If you’re like me, you might discover that, yes, writing 2,000 plus words each day is a piece of cake. That it can be done by sparing only a few hours of your day, but that it’s also much easier with the help of an outline. That diving into the unknown might work for the first 10,000 words, but then your mind starts drawing blanks.

NaNoWriMo also helps you develop your routine, because each of ours will be different. Maybe you can’t write on an empty stomach. Or without a candle. Or without Jurassic Park playing in the background (hey, we’re not judging). There’s nothing like a month of intense writing to help you get in touch with, well, yourself.


Literary Paraphernalia: Bookish Halloween Costumes

With only two weeks left before Halloween, it’s time for people like me—people who can’t even decide what to eat for lunch, let alone who to dress up as on one night every year—to quit procrastinating and choose a costume.

As cosplayers can attest to, Halloween is the one time of year it’s socially acceptable for us book nerds to dress up as our favorite characters. For us to go beyond our imaginations and don a new personality and new look for a night. I scoured the Internet (a.k.a used my googling powers) to find some literary costumes for this week’s Literary Paraphernalia—for little ones and adults, from the highly-detailed to the seriously-lazy. It’s all here.

Mary Poppins

Alice in Wonderland

Emily Elizabeth


Literary Paraphernalia: 10 Bookish Scarves for Winter

Winter is around the corner, and, in the Northwest at least, the temperature is starting to drop, rain clouds are filling the sky, and people like me are restocking their closets with some warm clothes to get them through the season. Here are ten literary scarves you can purchase on Etsy to help you bundle up! Don’t forget to check out our Pinterest board for more literary finds.

Marvel Comic Book Scarf

Jane Eyre “I Am No Bird” Scarf

Where The Wild Things Are Infinity Scarf


Literary Paraphernalia: 10 Must-Have Bookmarks

I’ve noticed over the years that there are two types of book lovers, the kind whose books become like an old shoe—worn and lived in—and the kind who treat their books like precious artifacts—careful not to crease a single page.

Of the two, I’ve always found myself to associate more with the latter. I’m a fan of hardcover books. I never dog-ear pages and, until recently, I almost never highlighted or wrote in the margins—only making an exception for textbooks. As a writer, I’m slowly coming around to the idea of highlighting and marking a text. After all, the greats say you have to read everything to be a writer. They say you have to soak it all in, and as any student whose every researched good study habits will know, marking up a text helps you retain that information more easily. Plus, it’s also an easy way to find your favorite passages later on.

Yet, I still don’t think I can sum up the will to dog-ear pages. My father instilled in me, at a very young age, the need to keep my things “nice.” To take care of them. Books are a privilege, and as one, creasing pages somehow seems like a violation to me. So instead, I use bookmarks. Sometimes these bookmarks are old receipts I dig up from the bottom of my bag. Sometimes they’re flimsy paper bookmarks I grab off bookstore counters. But one of my favorite bookmarks looks like a thin persian rug. My father picked it up in Europe during his last trip, and it’s now pressed between the pages of a short story collection by Stephen King—fitting, since he’s one of my father’s favorite authors.

I decided to dig around Etsy for some more unique bookmarks, and while I found many, I think one of my favorites (and I’m cheating because it’s not simply a bookmark) is the wooden bookrack below. This bookrack is a little bit pricer than the rest of the items in today’s post. It’s a piece of furniture, not just a page marker. The rack is a modern take on a bookcase, suspending your books in air with pins that double as a bookmark. And the designer of the rack really gets us multitasking readers, because, generally, I’m not reading one book at a time. Instead, I might read quite a few over a span of several months, switching back and forth when my moods change.

But without further ado, check out this list of must-have bookmarks. And don’t forget to visit our Pinterest boards for some more literary stuff and inspiration!

Wooden Bookrack and Bookmark Pins

Hold My Spot Hand-Stamped Copper Bookmark

Once Upon A Time Stamped Bronze Bookmark

Wicked Witch Bookmark


Four Literary Desserts You Can Sink Your Teeth Into

My significant other is a cook, and over the past few years, I’ve had the luxury of watching his talent grow—and my waistline when he’s on a roll. As a writer, I find the intersection of our two careers to be interesting. A good writer can describe food so well it will make your stomach grumble. And great food, like certain books or poems, stay with us. They fill us with nostalgia for our mother’s cooking and bring memories with them. Like how spaghetti makes me think of the time my father demanded I sit at the dining table all night and finish my bowl of pasta because there were children in Africa who didn’t have that luxury—but that’s another story.

The act of cooking can be meditative. I once read somewhere that our mind’s default mode is daydreaming, which is why you can drive from point A to point B without having any recollection of how you arrived there. And when you’re cooking or baking, I imagine the same thing happens. Your mind turns off while you chop, mix, and pour, and while it’s off, your imagination wanders. And it’s during these moments that inspiration can strike.

Besides writing poetry, baking inspired Emily Dickinson. She’d often send cakes and other sweets to friends along with her letters, or lower gingerbread down to the neighborhood children through her window with the help of a basket. She did this during a time in her life when she had become a complete recluse. But while baking, she would sometimes jot down a poem on the back of a recipe. She wrote “The Things that never can come back, are several” on the back of a coconut cake recipe (the original recipe can be found here).

However, the beautiful cake below was made by Cara Nicoletti, a writer, butcher, and former pastry chef living in Brooklyn, who created the blog Yummy Books. Little, Brown will be publishing a book about her love affair with reading and cooking next year.

Emily Dickinson Coconut Cake