Letter to the Fiction Writer

Thud!

“Ow…” My forehead is regretting my decision to slam it into the desk, but I don’t particularly care. The monitor in front of me continues to glow, heedless of my disgust, displaying one blank word document with a blinking line at the very top. It’s waiting for me to do something. But what?

“I don’t know,” I groan aloud. The pieces of some vague plot are scattered in my brain, but they simply refuse to come together for long enough to get a good look at it. I can think of nothing to make those pieces sound interesting or compelling. Are they interesting or compelling? Am I fooling myself just by sitting here? Can I really write fiction?

I turn my head a little in an attempt to avoid a bruise in the middle of my forehead, and I happen to glance at the door to my room, which has been shut to the world for hours. I blink when I notice something white on the floor; a second glance confirms that I have never seen this object before. It’s a slip of paper, folded in half.

I rise from my chair and stoop to pick up the paper, half expecting to recognize the content as I unfold it, but no such luck awaits me. Someone has written in Sharpie, in handwriting I am unfamiliar with, “Inspiration awaits you out of doors.”

I stare at the words for a few seconds, turn the paper over a couple of times, and stand up again. Any normal person would wonder who had written the note, or what such cryptic words could be referring to. Those thoughts briefly flit through my head, but ultimately, the one I debate over is the one I ask out loud; “Where outside?”

Willing to suffer whatever consequences could await depending on this mystery writer’s intentions, I open the bedroom door for the first time all day, pass a glance at my fish tank on the kitchen counter as I strut through the house, and throw open the front door, squinting into the sun’s harsh, midday glare. All I can do is look at the ground for a few seconds. On the doorstep, just as if my guest predicted my actions, there is another piece of paper, this one sporting an arrow that points down the porch stairs. I spy another one on the tree, pointing left. Without stopping, I follow the arrows, only vaguely aware that I am being lured into the woods like some character in a horror movie. More arrows appear on trees as I go deeper and deeper into the woods. My only companions are the birds and squirrels I’m scaring away as I power through the brush.

Finally, the arrows stop. I wander helplessly for a moment before I notice a clearing. When I shove aside the last bush, I gasp: the ground is covered in wildflowers of every color imaginable, and the only thing to break the sea of sweet-smelling pops of color is the most inviting tree I’ve ever seen. It’s big and strong, its branches are thick with leaves, and there’s an alcove naturally set into the base of the trunk. Careful to shuffle through the flowers, I gingerly approach the tree to find a red spiral-bound notebook resting in the alcove. I weigh the stack of pages in my hand for a moment before daring to open it. There, in the same handwriting as that first note, is a letter.

Dear Fiction Writer,

Hello, you brave soul!

So you have dreams of becoming the next great American novelist. Or maybe you want to see your short story published in a magazine. Or maybe you just want to write down that plot bunny that’s been hopping around in your head for who-knows-how-long. Congratulations on breaking the bubble of academia and going for creative writing! You have chosen one of the most thrilling and most challenging modes of writing that exist.

I hope my little surprise helps you feel less like writing is a dull, thankless task. Sometimes, all it takes is a change of locale to get the creative juices flowing. Everybody’s “writing spot” is a little different, so I hope you like mine.

I took you on this adventure to make you feel an adventure. The emotions and physical sensations you just felt—those are what make fiction come alive. The crunching of dead leaves, the scampering of the squirrels, and the sensation of your heart pounding all come together to create one story—the story of how you recklessly followed a mysterious trail into the woods. The big story is the main focus, but the details make it worth reading.

Write what you want to read. I promise, there is someone out there who will read it. Maybe you’ll become famous in your lifetime, like C. S. Lewis. Maybe you’ll become famous later, like Emily Dickinson. Maybe you never will, and you think that’s just fine. Be happy in any case, because you’re going to write for yourself—no one else.

Before you give up, try it my way. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding beyond measure.

Happy writing!

I take a deep breath; the scent of hundreds of flowers fills my nose. I rip the pen out of the spiral and, for the first time, I write without boundaries.

Written by Catherine

Image credit

“Around the World in 80 Days” in One Afternoon

One of the best ways to relax after a long day of class is to read a good book, and Around the World in 80 Days is a delightful way to see the world from the comfort of your own home. Written by Jules Verne, this work has been beloved by many ever since its original publication in 1873. So here are a few quick reasons why you should definitely check it out:

Nostalgia. If reading Around the World doesn’t bring you back to your childhood love of adventure and imagination, I don’t know what will. Follow the stuffy, indubitably British Phileas Fogg as he bets his club members that he can travel all the way around the world within precisely eighty days. Joining Mr. Fogg are his French manservant, Passepartout, and a dogged but at times misguided agent of Scotland Yard.

It’s short. Clocking in at 159 pages, Verne portrays an infinitely charming and intriguing story without overwhelming the reader. You can knock it out in an evening or two!

Adventure. Duh. How can you say no to travel, especially on such glorious sources of transportation such as elephants and wind-powered sledges, or merry chases involving Sioux Indians, India Indians, angry Japanese circus masters, and a stuffy British detective? You can’t, I tell you.

Jules Verne’s one-liners. “Moreover, it is safe to say that, when Americans, so casual as a rule, show signs of caution, it would be the height of folly not to be cautious too.” Or “Passepartout stuck on the animal’s back and, receiving directly the full force of every jolt, was all the time trying to remember his master’s recommendation and to keep his tongue from getting between his teeth, as in that position it would have been bitten in two.”  Verne’s dry sense of humor gets better and better.

Delightful stereotypes. The antics of a certain hot-blooded Frenchman contrasted with cool, calm, and collected Phileas Fogg are incredibly entertaining, and the ensuing chaos from such a decided clash of cultures is hilarious. (Sidenote: is there anything Passepartout can’t do?)

Also: how do you pronounce “Passepartout,” you ask?

…Good question.

Phileas Fogg’s thought processes. “Oh, you don’t believe I can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days, old chap? Allow me to bet my entire fortune on the fact that I can, and knowing you have nothing better to do with your life and your money, you’ll take my bet.” He is literally surprised at nothing; unless of course his latest manservant in a long line of manservants brings his shaving water to him at 82 degrees instead of 84 – truly shocking.

Finally, Verne’s love for travel, technology, and other cultures comes to life in such a delightful and humorous way that one can’t help but laugh, smile, and go along for the ride. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Written by Carilee

Image credit: Featured Image, Middle Image