Music Monday: Astoria by Marianas Trench

Welcome to Music Monday, where I tell you about music I love and how it relates to storytelling, or maybe just spam you with music videos.  And fair warning, I don’t care if an album is old–in this case, two years old.

Here, from the Marianas Trench album Astoria:


Astoria is a concept album, and I love a good concept album.  Josh Ramsay (the cutie with the blue hair and the Tolkien rune tattoo) was going through a difficult time, which he decided to process through the album–but he knew he needed to include something to make himself feel better.  What he hit on was the 1980s, which is the era that he (and I) were kids.  The video above is loosely based on the so-bad-it’s-good movie The Warriors, for example.

So in Astoria you get a really interesting mix of dark, heavy lyrics paired with pop-heavy, dancy tunes.  I found it by accident when writing the novel that’s currently out on sub, and I stumbled across one of the more serious songs, One Love:


As I see it the album Astoria is the story of grieving a relationship.  It starts with denial and moves through the stages of grief until you get to acceptance and moving on at the end.

I picked out specific songs, though, as I was working on my novel.  My couple gets their happily ever after, even though their relationship gets strained almost to the breaking point.  For that the anguished hope of several of the tracks (One Love, Wildfire, While We’re Young) put me in the perfect headspace as I wrote.

Plus, it’s just fun to sing along.

What’s are you all singing along to these days?

Four Ways to More Writing Willpower

How was your holiday?  Mine was spent with my family and my sister’s family.  Behind her house is a lovely trail, shadowed by trees and full of birds and bunnies and frogs and so on, and I was reminded of one of the best tools for writing: walking.

Writers tend to be people who mostly live in our heads.  Don’t get me wrong, I like my head.  It’s well-furnished.  But the downside of spending a lot of time inside your own skull is that you forget to inhabit your body, and that cuts you off from a lot of experience that (practically speaking) can enrich your writing and (spiritually speaking) your life.

Walking is a good way out of the rumination loop, and also has a way of untangling mental knots and reconnecting with your senses.  At least once per week I get stuck writing–I start a scene in the wrong place, or include the wrong characters, or something else that is obvious in retrospect.  But I usually bash myself against the problem for a while before I realize that there’s something wrong.  When I finally catch on to what’s happening, I know I need to step away from the computer and do a few laps around my neighborhood.  Often the movement enables me to solve the problem before I’m even back to the house.

How can writers go about beginning a walking practice?  Katy Bowman is one of my favorite movement teachers and she has a lot of resources on her website.  But here is my advice, speaking as someone who isn’t at ALL a fitness person:

  1. Make it simple enough and quick enough that you won’t put off doing it.  I know that if I have to stop writing, go put on exercise clothes, and dedicate forty minutes to my movement, then I simply will not move around.  I will instead wander to the kitchen and get a snack, which is not nearly as good for my writing productivity as a ten or fifteen minute walk.  Walking around your neighborhood counts.  Walking around your house counts.  Walking on the treadmill for a little while counts.  Just move.
  2. Other movement can work if walking isn’t possible.  This winter, the town where I live got massive and unusual amounts of snow.  I had to schedule in a couple of hours every day of shoveling the stuff, making sure our roof wouldn’t collapse, and chopping firewood.  We chop wood with an eight-pound maul.  There’s a rhythm to chopping wood and a satisfying amount of exertion that will clear your head just as well as a walk (which wasn’t happening, since the snow was up to my hips and I don’t have snowshoes).
  3. Make it easy enough that it won’t utterly deplete your willpower.  This falls under the floss one tooth school of habit management.  You begin each day with a finite amount of willpower, and sometimes the ability to focus and keep writing takes ALL of it.  If your movement strategy requires you to exert willpower too, you’ll wind up shorting either the writing or the walking.  Ideally, your movement strategy will increase your willpower, not decrease it. I like walking around my neighborhood because the route is short and familiar enough that I don’t have to think about it.  It’s automatic, and I can just think about my writing problem while my body drums up a little serotonin.
  4. Make it an automatic yes.  I’m the kind of person who generally treats things as an automatic no as a default setting.  This works out okay as long as my no is only to clear the way for me to say yes to the things that make my life better.  Walking is one thing that makes my life better, so I have set it to be an automatic yes.  If someone says “wanna go for a walk?” I say yes unless there’s a compelling reason to say no (dinner’s on the stove, for example).  Incidentally, this strategy works with anything that you know adds value to your life, but that tends to get crowded out.

What sorts of things do you like to do to support yourself physically so that you can continue to create great writing?

Good Couples, Bad Movies

Note: this is my new writing blog.  I find posts talking about “reasons why I have writing blog” to be super boring, so I’m just diving right in with something interesting.  Thanks for understanding.  I’ll write you a boring post about why I should have a blog, though, if you really want me to.)

Approximately six million years behind the rest of the world, I recently discovered the first volume of the graphic novel Saga.  (Note for my readers with tender ears/eyes: this is a grownup comic and rated very-R.  Be warned and don’t buy it for your 10-year-old nephew.)  I started reading it, even though I don’t often do graphic novels, because I liked the gorgeous cover–that horned dad and be-winged mom, breastfeeding a baby while holding a raygun, appealed to my sense of storytelling.  It turned out to be as great as I’d hoped.  I’m a sucker for a well-written couple, not to mention ghost babysitters and rocketships that grow on trees.

I was also recently reminded of the movie Krull, and I got to thinking about why I like the movies so much but I also put it in the category of Bad Movies.  I love it, but I love it in the same way that I still secretly love Hanson’s Middle of Nowhere album: because I liked it when I was 12, before I had been part of an actual couple.

In Krull we have to believe that the prince and princess love each other.  We believe it because they tell us they do–they have to, because in the grand tradition of fantasy princesses everywhere, the one in Krull is kidnapped about two minutes into the movie, from her wedding, no less.  The prince then takes his Deadly Fidget Spinner and goes looking for her, accompanied by a shapeshifter, a cyclops, and Young Liam Neesen the Bandit.  We see all of the manly men interacting with each other as they go about the quest/fight giant spiders/nearly get possessed by big eel creatures/get squished by rocks.  But pretty much all we see the princess do is say, “No! I won’t marry you, space villain!”  It’s hard to show a relationship when you’ve only got one half of the couple’s point of view to work with.

In Saga, the couple is already together at the beginning of the story.  You know they love each other because they almost immediately risk their lives to save each other and their newborn baby.  There’s a little bit of exposition, but most of the subtext lies in the superb drawing of the main characters’ expressions, and in their actions.

Now, movies and graphic novels are not novels–they are both a lot more visual, for one thing, and can tell a story with no words at all–but I think both of them can inform how novels are put together.

What do you guys think?  What makes a good couple in a story?