On Folktales, Playwriting, and My Shiny New Website

I keep taking these fun hiatuses for no reason. Apologies. (Or not, because I’m working two jobs and trying to do this whole writer-who-has-jobs-and-has-to-pay-for-grad-school-situation. Oy. Anyways.)

So onto the good stuff. I want to talk about folktales today, because I think they’re wonderful and important. Whenever I’m starting a new project, I start with folklore. I’m not gonna lie, I’m not good at new stories. Everything I’ve written that has grown into something more has some root in folklore. The book I’m working on now? Based on devil’s book mythology and biblical works. The book that my agent signed me for? A fairytale retelling. The next book on the docket? A retelling of Icelandic folklore. The play that is in a contest? A retelling of a German children’s story.

You get the point.

There’s this trap of telling the same story over and over again, and I totally feel the press of that. The trick is to take these old stories and breathe new life into them. A good example from the days of my youth (lol I’m still like, twelve) is Ella Enchanted. Gail Carson Levine completely revamped that and made it beautiful. Same with Beastly and Cinder. And there are many retellings of the same story that are so, so different. So what I’m trying to say is this: if you’re stuck, look back to mythology. Look back at folklore. It’s existed for so long for a reason.

So I briefly mentioned this, but I wrote a play. Shocking, right? I dunno, guys, I was shocked when it happened. I was even more shocked when it was chosen as a finalist in a contest. So, I’m now directing this play, which will hopefully be a blast.

It’s based on a short German folktale, Der Daumenlutscher. We can just say that German children’s tales are generally rather grisly, and this one is no exception. I’m so excited to see what my cast does with this production, and I’ll be sure to keep everyone posted about how it goes.

Since things are getting a little more real, I finally made an author website. You can see more of my trash fire of a life at www.toribovalino.com. Not gonna lie, imposter syndrome feels a little less terrible when the new website looks real.

Well, here’s to a long summer of (hopefully) actually blogging, because I have THINGS that I want to say and they’re now ORGANIZED. Maybe.

Thanks for stopping by, y’all.

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On Iceland

Last week, I traveled to Iceland for the celebratory graduation trip of my dreams with my best friend. I’m not going to lie – I’m not a stranger to international travel, but there were definitely some things that surprised me. I’ll try and share some tips, too, since Becca and I managed to do everything on a college kid’s budget.

We ended up going before tourist season, which starts in April. This was mostly because of Becca’s spring break, since I wanted to go at a time when we could potentially see the northern lights and not in the middle of tourist season. We did see the lights from the plane, and it was incredible! Since it wasn’t tourist season, the car and camping equipment was on the cheaper side – less competition and all that.

We arrived in Iceland early Monday morning. Bec and I rented a car Monday-Thursday and drove from Reykjavik to Hofn. If we would’ve done it straight, it would’ve been about 8 hours driving. Instead, we rented camping equipment and stretched the trip out, stopping to see basically everything we could. We started with the Golden Circle, then moved to the Ring Road. Everything was so brutally gorgeous.

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Camping on the off-season was kind of rough, but we managed. The hardest part was setting up the tent in the wind. If you’re camping, I recommend bringing earplugs – that was the only way I could sleep with the wind rustling the fabric of the tent. It wasn’t nearly as cold as I’d expected, though, so that was a plus! We had thermal sleeping bags and synthetic liners, so both of us were toasty overnight.

One thing that I kept hearing that turned out to be true: actually being in Iceland is EXPENSIVE. A meal is usually $25 at the low end. Instead of spending an arm and a leg on food, we rented a camping stove and got a few quick things from the grocery store. This means we ended up mostly eating bread and jelly, but we didn’t spend a ton of money on food! The other huge expense was gas, but it was definitely cheaper to rent the car and pay the gas rather than doing bus tours. We were able to do everything at our own pace, which I appreciated. Driving wasn’t bad, either. I was the driver, and the only spooky parts were the one-lane bridges that we came across periodically.

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I can’t even say what my favorite part of the trip was since everything was gorgeous. I was a huge fan of Diamond Beach and all of the waterfalls we stopped at. I have hundreds of pictures, but I’m trying to rein myself in and only share a few of my favorites.

If you’re thinking of traveling to Iceland and have questions about the trip, feel free to DM me on Twitter or Instagram or leave a comment! I’d be happy to share more info about costs and our experience. We used Lotus Car Rental, Iceland Camping Equipment Rentals, WOWAir, and stayed at Hlemmur Square hostel in Reykjavik. I did bring two guidebooks (which were immensely helpful): Iceland’s Ring Road Trips from Lonely Planet and the Frommer’s Easy Guide to Iceland. I couldn’t have asked for a better trip!

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On Grad School, Ice Skating, and the Quarter-Life Crisis

Hello to all and welcome! It is another late night when I’m trying to write something effective and good and instead I’m procrastinating by posting here. Whoo!

So first and foremost on this special late-night edition, I want to talk about grad school. If you’ve been following me since day one (there are like 5 of you), then you know about my whole academic thing. I started at BU, went there for a semester, transferred to Pitt, and just graduated in December. Cool. It was always clear to me that I wanted to keep going to school. My mom has her Ph.D. and I think that’s one of the most admirable things ever, especially since 7-year-old me got to go see her defend her dissertation. From that time, I knew I wanted to pursue higher education, but it’s always been about what and how.

I also talked a while back about London. I studied there in the summer of 2016. Before this, I was never one of those people who wanted to live abroad. I was perfectly content to remain planted on American soil. Something shifted when I went overseas. I can’t say exactly what it was, but good God, I fell in love with the city. I absolutely dreaded coming home because it just felt like I was so unfinished in the U.K., like I had a million other things to see and do.

When I came back, I decided that I wanted to pursue my MA in London. A lot of you might be wondering why I’m not pursuing a MFA, and the answer is a little complicated. So eventually, I want to be a professor of English writing and maybe lit. An MFA is a terminal degree, usually a three-year program. Essentially, it doesn’t make sense to do an MFA and a Ph.D. and I really want a Ph.D. The route I’m going is probably not highly recommended, but it’s the way I want. There’s a lot more technical stuff – dissertations and the like – and it’s not all practice-based writing, but that’s what I’m looking for.

So really, I only applied to one school, in the end (and two after the fact but that’s a whole other ordeal that I’m not going into – mild anxiety attack). I applied to and was accepted to study at Royal Holloway, University of London. The creative writing MA is in central London, blocks from the British Museum, and I couldn’t be happier. George Eliot went to RHUL back before it was RHUL, which just feels like a wild coincidence because my main character in the book we’re dealing with now is named after a character from Middlemarch. Also, Jojo Moyes (ME BEFORE YOU) studied writing there, so that’s cool. Basically, I’m extremely happy and I can’t wait to write a book in London. The book is plotted and all, and I’m just waiting to hop on a plane and go write it.

So that’s fun. I’m officially jumping the pond at the end of August. If you happen to live in London or are familiar with the city, drop a comment or a Twitter DM and let me know some places I have to visit!

Now, shifting gears a little bit. There was a lot of excitement with everything going on at the end of the year, but so far, things have been pretty silent around here since January. And since I’m leaving in August, I’m having a hard time figuring out what to do with myself in the meantime. I’m working a lot and still doing an editorial internship and writing, but I’m kind of bored. So I’m trying to learn new things and yada yada yada. The boredom is the quarter-life crisis, which I was going to go into more, but it’s a little too depressing for right now so I’ll write about it when I’m in more of a thinkpiece mood. Tonight is for funny and happy times. Which brings us to our final story.

I don’t tell enough short things about my life, so here goes a pretty, uh, fun thing that happened to me today. If you follow me on Twitter, you already saw.

I want to preface this by saying that I’m obsessed with the Olympics. Winter and summer. So I spent half of February watching people zoom around on ice, thinking, “Huh. That looks fun.” I ice skated as a child, but I never really got the hang of it. So, 21-year-old, college graduate me decided to sign up for ice skating lessons. I signed up for a rink that specifically advertised adult lessons because, you know, that’s sort of what I am.

Those started tonight. I got to the rink, got my skates, and went to the rink the lady sent me to. Yeah. Everyone else with skates on was knee-height. I panicked a bit and asked the instructors, and apparently everyone skates in the same rink but is separated? But I was the only actual adult?

But I paid for this eight-week class and I wasn’t backing down. So I laced up my skates and, uh, took skating class with a bunch of eight-year-olds.

Right. I’m cool. Connecting with America’s youth.

So hopefully more adults show up next week. Or not. In the meantime, I’ll give all of the parents something to laugh about. And I’ll try not to break a hip.

On Updates and the Great Northeastern Roadtrip

Hello, hello, hello! So I disappeared for a hot second there to focus on my writing, complete my finals, and wrap up some other random stuff. I’m working with my agent (I’ll still never get used to saying that, tbh) on revisions before we go on submission for the book. I hope that I’ll be able to share it with all of you eventually!

Oh, I also graduated from college. Casual. I have a lot to talk about regarding grad school, but I’m going to save that for the next post.

Since I’m a free agent for the next few months, I decided to go on a roadtrip from Pittsburgh to New York City to Boston and back home. I was alone for the driving bits, but I stayed with friends in the different cities. I was nervous because there was so much driving, but I had a great trip! So, here were my five favorite things:

1.) The audiobook of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races

I’m not an audiobook girl. Usually, they annoy me. But this audiobook (and The Raven Cycle ones – Maggie just has excellent audiobooks) gets me every time. I 10/10 recommend it. I listened to it twice with all of the driving I did.

2. Muji

I’d never heard of this stationery/random thing shop before, but my friend recommended I go when I was walking around Soho. I’m a bit of a stationery nerd, which shouldn’t be surprising, and I loved it. For less than $15, I bought two gel pens, a notebook, a pen case, and a canvas tote. Especially in NYC, that’s a lot for such a low cost, and it’s all great quality.

3. A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck

Guys. GUYS. I’d been wanting to read this book because it’s rep’d by my agency, and I knew it was going to be a gut punch, but oh. My. God. I legitimately sobbed from page 160 to the end. I’m not going to spoil it, but it’s the most heartwrenching book I’ve read in a long, long time. Buy this book. I’m not even kidding. I had been looking for it for weeks and I finally found it at The Strand, but you can get it on Amazon here.

4. La Summa

So this is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the North End of Boston. I went to school at BU for a second there, and I’m not even sure how I discovered this restaurant, but I HAVE to go there every time I go to Boston. Everything on the menu is absolutely incredible, and it’s not super expensive. It’s a block away from both Mike’s and Modern Pastry, so you can get dinner before satisfying your cannoli fix.

5. Public Libraries

Of course these are on the list, but just listen for a sec. Free bathrooms. A place to charge your phone. And since I was pretty much on my own during the days while my friends were at work/class, it was a nice way to decompress without spending any money. I’m a huge budget traveler – especially since I have, like, no money – and this is one of my biggest travel hacks. Plus, I love seeing gorgeous libraries, so I always have time to stop for a look.

So, that’s my roadtrip roundup. I like being a transient human being – and we’re going to talk about this more in my grad school post 😉 – so this was a fun time all around.

And now I’m going to focus on watching Mulan with my roommate, so I’m signing off. Read A Short History and let me know what y’all think. Oh, and if you haven’t seen it, The Last Jedi has some of the best villainous development I’ve seen on-screen lately, so I 10/10 recommend that, too. I’ll save my Star Wars rambling for another post.

On Simplification and Signing With My Agent

Last fall, I started running. It wasn’t like I wanted to change my life forever. I just wanted to de-stress in a healthy way, and I was always curious about running. I’d been a horrible runner for as long as I could remember but so many of my friends made it look easy. So I gave it a try. And to motivate myself, I registered to run a half marathon.

So I trained for months and completed the half marathon in my goal time.

But that’s a simplification, isn’t it? The process wasn’t, “I decided to run, I signed up for a half marathon, I ran it.” It was this: I trained for weeks and weeks on end. I gave up more than I succeeded. I was lonely and frustrated when I ran by myself, and I was too intimidated to run with other people. I ended up doing the half with my amazing mother, who had also never run a half marathon before, and it was a small miracle that we finished. And the only reason we finished in our goal time was because I was incredibly realistic when setting our goal time.

But what does that have to do with publishing?

Well, I am incredibly ecstatic to say that I got the call on Friday. I am now represented by Dr. Uwe Stender at TriadaUS, and I couldn’t be happier!

And I could tell it like this: I wrote a book, I edited the book, I queried, and I got an agent. But that barely covers half of the experience.

So here’s the real story: It took me a few months to write the book, and even then, I had something that just wasn’t working. Even though I had this shiny thing that had a beginning and an end and seemed to contain a solid plot, I was told that it had fatal flaws. Uwe is actually the one who pointed out most of these problems. He was a professor of mine and I knew he was an agent, so I went to him seeking his advice.

So I went back and spent three months revising it into something that I was proud to call my own. It was frustrating and exhausting and I wanted to cry half the time or burn it because there was no way that I could pull this manuscript off, but I finished it. And then I read it and found that it was actually decent.

I cried over this manuscript. I dreamt about this manuscript. I drove four hours to see my best friend because all I could think about was this manuscript and I needed someone else’s advice, in person. And then, when it was finished and polished, I started querying.

And to my surprise, people requested it. Some agents rejected it, of course, but some actually wanted to read it, and I couldn’t believe it. All of my hard work was paying off. So I went back to the agent who suggested all of the revisions in the first place and asked if he would like to see it again. And he did. And now he’s my agent!

And here we are. There are about a million things to do before this book is anything more than a Word document. Still, I am thrilled to be represented by someone who doesn’t just believe in this story, but in me as a writer. I’m not sure exactly what will happen with this manuscript moving forward, but I truly believe that it couldn’t be in better hands.

So I’ll leave you with one last simplification: Writing a book is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. As someone who has rushed both the writing process and the running process, I can say from experience that the best thing to do is to take your time. As my dad says, never put time limits on your dreams.

 

On NaNoWriMo

It’s my favorite time of year: National Novel Writing Month! For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is an annual writing even that happens during the month of November. The goal is to write 50,000 words in a month. It is a great time to focus less on editing and more on writing.

NaNo and I go wayyyyy back. I did my first NaNo in 2009, which, looking back, is kind of crazy. In November 2009, I was thirteen. I was in eighth grade.

This is going to turn more into a nostalgic post than anything else. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Did anyone else have to do those questionnaire things in preschool and kindergarten, where you wrote down what you wanted to be when you grew up? I always wrote that I wanted to be an author (or a Jedi). I’ve loved writing as long as I can remember.

But back to NaNo. Before NaNo, I was just a kid with a computer and a dream. I didn’t have any direction. After I joined NaNo, I had access to all of the forums, which was the first time I was able to interact with other writers. I loved to browse through and see how supportive everyone was. Back then, I didn’t know anything about agents or the industry. It was just creating. I didn’t know how to edit anything and my ideas were kind of terrible, but I was doing something.

I miss that a lot, now that I have to write things for school, and not usually for my own enjoyment. November is the month that I can take off those shackles and just produce. I don’t have to think. I don’t have to make magic or worry about agents or think about whether or not something will sell. I just have to put words down. All of the magic happens in editing, really, but I can’t do any of that until I have a draft.

It’s not too late to start now. Check out the NaNo website and poke around the forums. You don’t have to write anything spectacular. The goal is to just sit down and write, which honestly is the hardest part sometimes.

 

On Fountain Pens

Wow wow wow, it looks like I’m back again. In the time I’ve been away, I’ve written 3 short stories, read 4 books, started 2 new manuscripts (I can’t ever just work on one project at a time), finished my first month of my last semester (!!!), started a new internship, and become obsessed with fountain pens. We’re only going to talk about that last point in this post.

If you weren’t already aware, I write a lot. Like a lot, a lot. I type most of my work but I always start out by handwriting scenes/character details/random junky things in the multiple journals that I always carry with me. During my handwriting binges, it isn’t uncommon for my wrist to cramp up. I was looking into solutions for this and I read somewhere that fountain pens put less stress on your hand. So I did some more research, and I bought my first pen.

WOW. It was like I transcended to a new level of writing nirvana.

I started with the Noodler’s Nib Creaper Flex, which is a very fussy, fiddly pen. I like it a lot because I can customize the ink flow and the line is fine enough that it doesn’t bother me. My handwriting is small and cramped, so this suits my style perfectly. My only problem with it is that if I don’t have it adjusted jussssttttt right, the ink sometimes drips, which ruins whatever I’m writing on. It’s been a lot better since I figured out how to adjust it to my liking.

I wasn’t going to buy any more pens just yet, but then Goulet Pens (phenomenal company, 10/10 recommend) was running a BOGO sale on Jinhao 159 pens. Yes, I ended up buying 2. Everything is fine. I have no restraint.

My Jinhaos are a lot heavier and thicker than the Noodler’s. Both are good, cheap starter pens. The Jinhao nib is medium, though, so the line isn’t nearly as fine. I ended up getting an extra fine Goulet nib for one of the Jinhao’s, since I liked the weight of the pen itself but not the thickness of the line. The combination is perfect for my writing style. I also bought a bunch of sample inks, so all 3 of my pens have different colors in them.

And that’s the story of how I joined the dark side. Has anyone else switched to fountain pens? What kind of pens do you recommend? I’m still very new to them, so I’d love to hear your recommendations!