From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Answers from a Book Reviewer: Interview with Lori Hettler

Hey guys! One thing that is incredibly important to us writers is getting reviews. Positive reviews, hopefully, but reviews. So today I thought I'd take the opportunity to ask one of the fabulous book bloggers around the interwebz a few questions about how to get buzz for our books, and making it good buzz.

So please give a warm welcome to the wonderful Lori Hettler.

1. First things first. What kind of books do you review and how does a writer get you to review theirs?

I prefer to read and review small press literature. The edgier, the better. I can’t seem to get enough of it. And it doesn’t help that there’s never enough time to read it all, either. It’s absolute torture.

Even still, I’ve been known to accept genre literature and self published novels for review if they are pitched well and catch my interest. A well pitched book will definitely get my attention. I’m more likely to take a chance on a book I wouldn’t have normally read if the author personalizes the pitch, something as simple as naming books I’ve reviewed that are similar to theirs in style or theme. It also helps to have links to the book, access to an excerpt… and I’m a bit of a goodreads snob. If the book isn’t listed on goodreads, I tend to turn it away or recommend that the author add it there.

2. What can a writer do to make themselves and their book stand out to you and to your readers?

Well, as I mentioned, a strong, personalized pitch certainly makes a book stand out.

If the author comes highly recommended from other authors I’ve read, that’ll definitely get me to look at it. The small press publishing world is so interconnected, and they’re passionate about each others books. They are incredibly supportive of each other, and I eat that shit up. If I read you and loved your book, and you recommend me to an author you’ve read and loved, I’m all over that.

But wait, I’m not sure that answers your question, does it, cause in that case, the writer is not the one pitching his book to me… Hmmm…

Other things that help a book stand out? A great cover. Nothing makes me cringe more than a crappy cover. And a well edited book, that’s a huge win in my eyes. If I’m reading your book, and catching grammatical errors, I’m eye-rolling myself through it. I’m no grammar expert, so if I’m noticing, it’s got to be baaaaad.

Making the book stand out to my readers would really fall on me… right? The way I review what I’ve read can influence my readers to either take a chance on it or run away from it. And I always keep my readers in mind when I review a book. I use a rating scale that rates a book by what I think others would like, not so much what I like. In the rating, I recommend the books to fans of XXXXX or people looking for XXXXX. I think that helps them make the decision for themselves, rather than me making it for them, you know?

3. Describe a writer who is the easiest possible person to work with.

You mean without naming names, right? Like, listing their personality traits? I love authors who don’t let my feelings about their book get in the way of our interaction with each other. Authors who don’t check in on whether or not I’ve read their book 20 times. Authors who jump at every opportunity to whip something up for my blog because they like the challenge and find my silly ideas fun and interesting. Basically, someone who’s not just a book-puppet, but an actual human being with an actual personality who can separate themselves from their writing and just be.

4. What is the difference between a book that gets a positive review and a book that sends you out into the streets screaming “You all must read this book!!!”

The difference between “This book was really good” versus “Oh my god, I would marry this book immediately if marrying inanimate objects were legal!”? That’s a tough one. I don’t know if I could describe the difference. It’s really just something I feel, something visceral. If I just instantly start crushing on the book and its author… it’s a run out into the streets screaming kind of book, or if I’m gulping it down in one sitting while freaking out because reading it fast means it’ll be over faster vs. meandering through it and enjoying it but not really concerning myself with the pace of it.

5. Any type of review is inherently subjective. Our moods change. What happens when you have to review when you’re just having a crappy day? Is there a way for authors to keep this from happening? Send you chocolate, maybe?

Ha! Bribe me with chocolate, boys! (Just kidding)

I used to review books immediately upon reading them. I felt I was able to channel my emotions and initial thoughts more clearly that way. My mood, bad or otherwise, at that point, was always based on my feelings towards the book and would dictate the tone of the review and I never felt apologetic for it.

Now, books linger weeks and sometimes months after I’ve read them before I attempt to review (mainly due to lack of time, not for any real conscious reason). I’m not as happy with my reviews this way, because I believe distance taints my views on them, and also makes them come off a bit more bland, but it is what it is.

If I’m in a bad mood, and it has nothing to do with the book, just a crap hand I was dealt that day? Well, in that case, I wouldn’t be in the mood to review, so there would be no worries about my non-book-related mood infiltrating the review.

And sadly, to date, when a bad mood strikes, no amount of chocolate or anything else for that matter, helps to move me through it. Unless I’m reading a kick-ass book. A great book is the cure for any and all bad moods!!
Lori Hettler is the founder and moderator of TNBBC. Her passion for supporting the small press and self publishing communities began when she birthed The Next Best Book Club on Goodreads back in 2007, a group which now boasts an unbelievable 11,500 members who are collectively, endlessly, searching for the next best book! She also puts her lit-loving heart to work for Chicago Center of Literature and Photography (CCLaP) as their Marketing Director. When she’s not curled up on the couch with a good book, you can find Lori on TwitterGoodreads, and Facebook.

Monday, July 29, 2013

5 Reasons my Short Story Collection is Better than Pie

This weekend I released a short story collection, Cross-Eyed. Why spend your time with this book instead of, say, a piece of pie? Well I'll tell you.

1. It's free. Until the end of the month, the short story collection is absolutely free. Get it now, and get it instantly, while you don't have to pay for it.

2. It is multi-flavored. Choosing flavors is hard. You want apple-pie. No, pumpkin. No, pecan. In this short story collection you can have them all! Because it's a collection, there are several stories, all with their own unique flavor, and you get to enjoy them all.

3. It won't make you fat. Calorie free! Can't say that for a piece of triple-berry. And you might even read it on the treadmill...

4. It will last long-term. A piece of pie, though enjoyable, is gone once you've eaten it. It's a one time thing. My short story collection is yours forever. You can come back to it, share it, and it will never be gone.

5. It won't go bad during a nine hour car drive or three hour layover. Hopefully most of us are able to take advantage of these weeks while summer begins to wind down. While you take your trips, a piece of lemon meringue won't last in the trunk. But Cross-Eyed will. It will last your whole trip and never sour. At least, I sure hope not.

So there you have it. Reasons why you should invest in my collection instead of a piece of pie. Or maybe you might as well have both. A couple other things, before I go. First, huge, huge thank you to Alex Cavanaugh for the blog shout-out today, and to everyone else whose taken the time to mention the collection on Facebook and Twitter. I really can't tell you how grateful I am for that support. And lastly, just a reminder, because I've been asked (ok, by my Grandma, but still...) that even if you don't have a Kindle you can still read Crosss-Eyed on a Kindle app on your iPad or iPhone, or get it on your computer desktop, and since for the next few days it's free, you might as well, right?

Anyway, thanks again for all your support. I am super excited to have something out there for you guys. I really do hope you enjoy it as much as you would a moist piece of pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top. Try it out, I would love to know what you think :)

And dang I'm hungry.

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Whats the Hardest Type of Character for You To Write?

I find this a really interesting question. I think it says a lot about the writer.

We all need to relate to our characters, and I think there are just people we relate to much more easily than others.

For me personally, the characters that I find hardest to write means that I will probably never be a very good classic romance writer. Classic in the sense of normal, traditional. Because those stories usually require confident, hunky people, and that is hard for me. The young, hot, popular guy who is the heart-throb of so many movies and books. In other words:

I can't decide if it would be harder for me to write the lead quarterback or his head cheerleader girlfriend. I am much more comfortable with quirk. Characters who aren't quite comfortable in their own skin, who feel weird, who maybe don't have too many friends. I'm not saying any type of character is inherently better than any other, I'm just saying certain characters come easier for certain writers. I just don't see Taylor Lautner fitting in one of my stories anytime soon. Mark Ruffalo maybe :)

So now what. I don't know about you guys, but when someone says I "don't do" something, even if that someone is myself, the contradictory wave rises in me and I think, "Oh yeah? Watch me." Who needs limitations, right? But if we're not going to let ourselves be restricted by these uncomfortable characters, how do we deal with them? I've thought of two ways:

First, work with them anyway. So Traditional Football Hero is my weak spot. I'll think up a short story for that character and try it out. You don't have to stay with the character for more than a day, but it could be a good way to stretch some creative muscles.

Or else, quirk them up. As in, morph them into something your more comfortable with. Maybe I start with Traditional Football Hero but actually he's super shy and secretly hates sports. Or maybe he's a total jerk and ends up being the true antagonist, a la Doctor Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog. I'd be comfortable working with that :)

Your turn. What would be the hardest character type for you to write? Do you think trying them out in a short story or novella would be a valuable exercise?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Number One Key to Effectiveness in Social Media

I want to boil things down today.

There are so many posts about social media, obviously. But lately I feel like I've read some really excellent posts (not the least of which is this one by the ever-genius Anne R. Allen) about getting through all the passe, irrelevant-to-the-online-age advice to what really works in modern social media.

The great metaphor in Anne's post is in thinking of Twitter (and other social media sites) like a telephone. You pick up when you want to, to people you want to talk to. You call specific people with specific news, you don't randomly cold-call the entire phone book. (If you do...well, that's another blog post.) I think that's a perfect analogy. It highlights what I think all the best posts about social media marketing are telling us: it's all about relationships.

And I think it's clicked for me lately because it's been broken down even more. It's all well and good to say it's about relationships, but relationships can mean a wide variety of things, both positive and negative. What does it mean practically, for every day social media use in my writing career? The light-bulb moment happened for me when I put in a different word.

Effectiveness in social media is all about responses.

That's right. You responding to other people. Not you putting your book cover on Pinterest, not you carefully coordinating tweets about your latest release, not you getting more likes on your Facebook page. I'm not saying those aren't important, and I'm as obsessed about it all as anyone. But the number one strategy, the most effective thing, is your responses.

Your responses to tweets from writer friends. Your mentioning someone else's blog post on your Facebook page. Your repinning and commenting on your friends Pinterest boards. Your highlighting blog posts by other writers on your own blog. Someone sees you retweeted them, they remember a funny thing they saw on your blog last week, and they check out your book. Whatever platforms you use, you reaching out and responding to what other people are saying is what's really going to get you connections. Everyone likes to talk about themselves, everyone likes to be listened to. So if you make an effort to respond to people and give them that listening friend, they are much more likely, when the time comes, to return the favor.

Social media has never been the best for mass marketing, and anybody who tells you otherwise is an exception or wrong. Algorithms and luck will take you much farther than any social media platform can do. But what social media can do is get you those connections, those relationships, that will not only lend you wisdom and support, but might just be the crew that can get the ball rolling. This social media response thing is definitely a slow, brick-by-brick process, but I personally think it's worth the effort. This is one topic where I'm definitely thinking this through for myself, and hope/want to do much better, become much more involved, in the future.

Do you think social media is worth it in this sense? What is your favorite type of response to get on social media? Blog comments? Repins? Mentions on Twitter?

Sarah Allen

Monday, July 22, 2013

Top 10 Writerly Places to Beat the Heat

Has the heat been wearing on everyone else as much as it has me? Heat is not my favorite. And humidity is not fun for straight-haired people, let me tell you. Obviously the best thing for us to do is stay in an air-conditioned house and write. But as far as getting out of your air conditioned house, here is a quick list of places for us writers to go to get ideas, have fun, and keep cool.

  1. Movie Theaters. Anybody seen The Way Way Back? Oh my word go.
  2. Community Theatres. Fun to check out, great way to support your community. And stay inside.
  3. Museums. Most places have some really cool places. And often they're free.
  4. Library. Duh. Any better place? I don't think so :)
  5. Bookstores. Used or otherwise. Not only will keep you cool, but you never know what treasures you will find.
  6. Meetups. Use to find book groups or other writerly gatherings and join. Sometimes they even provide free food :)
  7. Literary Places. Go to the Poets and Writers Literary Places database and see if there are any near you.
  8. Cave hunting. I know not everywhere has caves, but if you have any around, they're sort of inside, right? And who knows what ideas you might inspire.
  9. Community classes. Check local libraries or universities and see if any community events are going on. What better time to take an underwater basket weaving class?
  10. Eventbrite. Use to find all sorts of lectures, exhibits, conferences, all sorts of things. This is one I want to start using more often, because there are seriously some great things going on out there. Many of them in the air conditioned indoors.
There you have it. Just a quick list of ideas for when you want to get out but keep cool. Hope your summer is going well despite the heat. And I hope you're writing.

Any other ideas to add to this list?

Sarah Allen

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Why the J.K. Rowling Pseudonym Story is NOT Depressing News for Aspiring Writers

So we've all heard the news about J.K. Rowling publishing a book under a pseudonym, right? The Cuckoos Calling by "Robert Galbraith". Slash J.K. Rowling.

Anyway, ever since the news broke I've been seeing all these articles about what a terrible sign this is for newbie and aspiring authors. People saying stuff like OH MY WORD EVEN ROWLING CAN'T SELL BOOKS. People saying that if even Rowling can't have a hit, what's there for the rest of us?

I think this is totally bologna. Totally the wrong way of looking at it.

What I think this actually does is show how level is the playing field. Let's not use Harry Potter as the example for success for a second. Let's define writerly success as having a book accepted, published, be critically well-received and sell moderately well. We'd all be fine with a career made of that, right? So J.K. Rowling did that plus some with Harry Potter, obviously. And then she did it again.

As far as I know The Cuckoos Calling sold okay, and the critics liked it much more than Casual Vacancy. Honestly I think this is a brilliant move by Rowling, and a chance for her to get some unbiased response, some feedback without her name getting in the way. 

I think what this whole thing proves is that you don't have to be J.K. Rowling to be successful. Robert Galbraith is us, is a newbie author who worked hard and produced a good book, got it published, and had some people like it. But comparing it to Harry Potter of course makes it look like a failure.

All in all, I applaud Rowling for a smart move. So maybe the level of success for this book is not the same level as Harry Potter. Maybe it's not even enough to found a career. But its a great place to start one, and you don't have to be J.K. Rowling to do it.

Thoughts? What do you think about this new development?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Writing Lessons from Charlie Chaplin and City Lights

Am I a nerd for spending my Saturday night showing myself a silent movie? Maybe. But it was so worth it!

So City Lights, from 1931, is Charlie Chaplin's magnum opus. It was the end of the silent movie era and "talkies" had started popping up and Chaplin wanted to prove that silent films were just as powerful and effective as they had always been and I think he did just that. I thought this movie was full of heart and so fun and adorable and well-plotted that the 20s/30s quirkiness not only didn't bother me, but made it that much funner.

So what can we writers learn from Chaplin?

1. Be absolutely clear about what's going on. Maybe we have the advantage of dialog, but we need to make sure we're being as clear as Chaplin was without it. Maybe the action and reactions aren't exaggerated like they were in silent films, but that exaggeration made it crystal clear what was going on and we need to be less crisp.

2. Humor makes drama more poignant. I believe that almost any story, regardless of genre, can be elevated with a little dash of humor. Even if you're writing an uber-dramatic thriller, adding moments of humor can do several things for you. It gives the reader time to breathe and sort of register everything that's going on. I believe it can make your story feel less cheesy or cliche. And perhaps most important, it sets into beautiful relief the emotional moments of more heightened drama. One of the best examples of this in the world is the movie Life is Beautiful.

3. Role reversal is a very effective strategy. In this movie, Chaplin's tramp sees and falls in love with a beautiful, blind flowergirl. Through a string of intricate and slapsticktastic events he is able to basically be her benefactor, but at great cost to himself. Then at the end...well, I won't spoil the last scene, one that has been called one of the moments of highest drama in all of film. And for good reason. There is something so entirely satisfying about seeing a character receive true recompense.

4. Braid-style plotting. There are several stories going on throughout this film. The tramp still has the ultimate goal of winning the girl, but the movie moves between scenes. In the end, one plot thread effects another effects another until they all merge together into a dynamic conclusion that addresses all the different elements. Maybe this is a hard type of plotting to pull-off, but I don't know if much else can be as satisfying and jaw-dropping when it's done well.

5. Take it one step harder. For your characters, that is. The tramp finally gets a job around town cleaning up after carriage horses. Hard. We see him at an intersection watching a line of carriages drive by, a look of dismay on his face. Harder. But Chaplin doesn't leave it there. The tramp finally sees the last of the horses pass by. He turns to walk away. And there's an elephant. Make your characters deal with the biggest elephant you can find.

There you have it! If you can find this movie somewhere its definitely worth watching.

Any other Chaplin fans out there? What other lessons do you think he has for us?

One more thing. Today I am over at Scribbler's Sojourn, the blog of the beautiful, wise, and generous Terri Rochenksi, who is highlighting the Hitting the Wall post we had here a while ago. Head on over and show some love :)

Sarah Allen

Monday, July 15, 2013

5 Characters With Their Pets

Sometimes it's our relationships with our animals that say the most about us. That includes our characters. Here are five characters with a unique variety of pets. See if you can get any ideas from them.

Could you use any of these in a story? Which is your favorite?

Friday, July 12, 2013


Okay, so only two of those things are true. But guys. TWO OF THOSE THINGS ARE TRUE.

(Hint: I didn't win the lottery. But it kind of feels like it.)

I did finish the novel! My YA book, called, bababadum! Breathing Underwater, complete at 44,000 words. I know that's short, but maybe after editing it will end up a bit longer. I am so, so excited about this one. I'm going to give it a while to ruminate, then take it on the editing rounds, then send it off to readers.

This novel stars 14 year old Olivia who is on a road trip with some family friends and her big sister Ruth. Ruth, who has a TARDIS-blue faux-hawk and a stud in her nose. Needless to say, Ruth provides most of the drama of the story. Well, almost.

And I am moving to Vegas. Moving the first couple weeks of next month. I've just finalized with my two jobs, so now I can make it public. I am going back west. People give me the "that's random" look when I tell them I'm moving to Vegas, but its actually been very thought out. I'm moving with a bestie from college, which is making this all so much more possible than it would be otherwise. I know Vegas well, and I know I love it. It's also perfect distance from my Utah family, so that's another bonus. And to top it off, I've accepted a job teaching high school English :) I'm going to be a teacher!!! So, all in all, a little bit perfect.

Besides, VEGAS BABY!!!

Sarah Allen
[Image Source]

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Writing Challenge: Describing Eyes

The eyes are the window to the soul, right?

And they are one of the hardest things to describe and not make cliche.

Ugh. Can you tell I've been having cliche battles?

Eyes have been described so many times it feels like there's no way to talk about them without sounding completely trite. We all know the words: deep, haunting, piercing. But what do those words really mean? How do you really get the image into the readers mind?

The best way, I've been thinking, is to take the known and expand it as best you can. So, for example, rather than saying
He had clear, hazel eyes that made me shiver.
you could maybe say something like
He had clear eyes the color of sand, eyes that somehow always left me wondering if I'd seen them right, like I'd looked at the sun too long. Eyes that always left me wondering where he really went at night.
Better, right? Kind of? More interesting at least.

So now I put it to you. I'll give you a picture of a character with eyes that are...well, haunting, deep, piercing. Go all out. See what you can do.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Why I Think Submission Fees are (Sometimes) Worth It

We writers can't go far in the blogosphere without being warned against up front fees, and rightly so. There are too many scammers out there for us not to be careful. Especially any "agent" that wants to charge any kind of up front fee. Big red flag.

So what about writing competitions that charge submission fees? I've often heard people express hesitation, including in blog comments here, about those fees. I think it's wise to be cautious, absolutely, and writing competitions are by no means exempt from possible scams.

However. I think if there's any area where you're going to fork up some cash to invest in your writing career, I think the many awesome legit competitions that go on year-round are a great place to do it. Short of logistical costs for self-publishers (cover designers, editors, publicists, etc.) it may be the best place for writers to put their money.

Why? I'll tell you why.

There are limited ways for us writers to invest in our careers. We're putting in all this work, but there are only so many ways for us to put our writing out there, get it in front of people. If we're serious about our careers, then we want to take every chance we can, don't we?

Think of it from a purely financial standpoint. The chances of winning any of these competitions is very slight, right? That's true. So say you spend, over a year long period, maybe two hundred dollars on entrance fees and win one contest, where you win five hundred. That's three hundred, right? So say its not even that. Say you barely brake even when you finally win a competition. Say that puts you in a magazine that maybe three hundred people read, and ten of those people buy your book. That's ten more people who buy your book, who tell your friends. Profit gained. And because its hard to gauge something so exponential, it just all keeps building and building into a larger career. Bam. Win.

And then there's the people you're submitting to directly. They're members of the literary world. You never know when you're going to get your work in front of the exactly right pair of eyes. Plus building up that list of credits only helps you when you're querying agents and writing bylines.

The end. That's why I think many writing competitions are worth the entrance fees. I'm not suggesting you need to spend half your paycheck on it. I am suggesting it might be worth it to, every so often, stay in for dinner instead, and use the money to put some writing where it might be seen.

Thoughts? Agree? Disagree?


Monday, July 8, 2013

Top Ten Underrated Movies

There are some spectacular movies out there that have received very little attention. Not everyone will agree with my list, obviously, but these are some of the movies that I feel deserve way more acclaim then they've gotten. And so, in no particular order:

Sarah's Top Ten Underrated Movies:

1. Dan In Real Life: So sweet, so adorable, and the music is awesome. Maybe I have a thing for Steve Carrel, but how can you resist the adorableness? He is perfect as flawed and very real Dan, and with Juliet Binoche as his romantic interest, you know why she's worth the drama.

2. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: This movie does have a bit of a cult following, but fewer people have watched it than should have. Such a genius conglomeration of literary awesomeness, and maybe my favorite action movie (competition being, of course, Red.) And besides. Sean Connery.

3. The Painted Veil: I don't know why this movie didn't win more awards. For its scope and historical intensity, it is a deeply personal and emotional movie. You will feel changed by it. And there is this odd combination of the sinister and the pleading in Edward Norton that adds up to something utterly haunting.

4. The Visitor: So I can basically sum up why I fell head over heals at this movie when I saw it at BYU's International Cinema in two words: Richard Jenkins. Talk about underrated. We all know I'm an obnoxious and predictable sucker for lonely, broken old men, and this movie/character was no exception. Totally real, totally heart-wrenching.

5. Another Year: Everybody has their thing(s) they particularly notice when they watch a movie, and for me it's the script and the acting. I don't typically notice the score or the cinematography or even the plot arc. That said, it means something that this movie made Mike Leigh my official favorite director, except for maybe Pete Docter. The style is very slow, almost documentorial (is that a word?). But his story, his message, for some reason sat super, super well with me, and I have thought about it ever since.

6. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: I'm sorry, okay, I will just never get over pining old people. So of course this movie was basically made for me. I acknowledge that, and acknowledge I might have an inordinate love for it, but the writing is spectacular and the performances by the all-star cast are, of course, goosebump incredible. (Oh my good heavens Bill Nighy.) Do yourself a favor, watch this movie, give yourself a smile.

7. Babe: This movie might be one of the more well-known ones, but it saddens me that most people know it as "that pig movie." There is an underrated stroke of genius in this movie, and it is called James Cromwell (Another adorable old man, I know, I'm sorry.) Farmer Hogget just goes straight to my heart. It's not just that, though, that is fabulous about this movie. There are so many genius little pieces, like the fabulous voice-work of Christine Cavenaugh, the hilarious singing mice, the storybook style, and of course, Jim Henson's fabulous puppet work. Every kid (and adult) needs to see this movie.

8. Miss Potter: This one comes with a warning. Definitely watch with a box of tissue, or twelve. Renee Zellweger is fabulous as Beatrix Potter, but I think the heart-string-pluckingness of this movie can be best explained by what happened when I first saw it in theaters. There was a row of girls in front of us and there's a scene where a music box plays and Ewan Macgregor says "I know this song," and the girls in front of me were like "OH MY GOSH HE'S GOING TO SING." Yes. He sings. And then you melt.

9. Phoebe In Wonderland: So, Elle Fanning may be an even better actress than her big sister. In this movie, at least, she is remarkable. This is a unique, strange, difficult, almost uncomfortable movie. In the end it really feels weird to come back to reality, which is important once you know what the movie is about. You feel your brain stretched, in a very good and refreshing way.

10. Shadowlands: Not just a pining old man movie, but a C. S. Lewis as a pining old man movie. I almost don't need to say anything more, but I will, because oh my heart Anthony Hopkins. How he didn't get an Academy Award for this movie I don't know. And since it's Anthony Hopkins saying things written by Lewis himself it is just pure heart brimming all over the place. With all the ache and tears and joyful pain that that entails.

Well there you have it. Have you seen any of these movies? What is your favorite "underrated" movie?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Story Gathering at the Smithsonian

We've got some relatives in town, which means we're doing all the fun touristy DC things we wouldn't normally do. Like the National Air and Space Museum. I'm not talking about the normal one in DC, I'm talking about the extension, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at the Dulles airport in Chantilly, Virginia.

A few things about this center. First, I thought it was way cooler than the main museum, and if you're in this area, this is the one you should go to. Not only that, but I thought this was one of the most well-designed museum's I've ever been to. The railings had built-in seats and there were genius old guys like everywhere just standing there waiting to answer all your questions and listening to them talk, describe how the shuttle lands like a helicopter crashing, was the best part.

Anway, there's my plug. On to my point.

So I did something while we were at this museum that I've never done before, but that I plan on doing at every museum I ever visit from here on out. I feel like museums can be super intimidating, and even if you have good intentions and want to learn there's just too much and you can come out barely remembering anything at all. This time I approached it as a story hunter.

One of my favorite things at this museum (although it was all freaking awesome) was the collection of WWII planes from Germany. So many of the plaques said that they were the last plane of it's type in the world, and talked about how it had been captured and restored and the process of it ending up with the Smithsonian Institute. Can you say fascinating story?

(sorry for the small font and crappy phone pictures)

What about the guy in charge of getting the plane back from Germany? What about the guy who gave it back to Germany? What about the guys who restored it? There are some characters and stories for you. Even just for background history.

So yeah, I was the dufus taking pictures of the plaques with my phone. And it was so much fun! Like I said, this story hunting approach is the one I'm going to take at museums from now on.

 The space plane shuttle thing, that the pilots apparently say lands like a cinderblock. All the outside is made entirely of pure glass. Except for the nose-tip and wing-fronts, which get hotter than the glass melting point. Those spots are coated with an extra layer of a special substance that includes the bodies of dead carpenter ants. Yeah. 

You can't quite tell, but there is a swastika on the tail fin back there.

Anybody else a museum nerd?

Sarah Allen

Monday, July 1, 2013

Top 5 Strangest Animals to See Before You Die

So there are a ton of weird animals out there, but these are just some of the ones I want to see, at some point, in real life.

1. Bald Uakari: A monkey with a red face? How cool is that! Native to Brazil and Peru, these monkeys are listed as "vulnerable" on the endangered species list.

2. Barreleye Fish: So, um, this fish has a transparent head. Nuff said.

3. Pink Fairy Armadillo: These are just adorable. Less than five inches long, nocturnal, and found mostly in Argentina.

4. Helmeted Hornbill: This bird averages, get this, about 3 1/2 feet in length, not including tail feathers. It eats mostly figs and is found in Sumatra and Borneo.

5. Tube-nosed Fruit Bat: Okay, I just think these are cute too. Endangered, and native to the Philippines.

What other animals would you add to this list? 

Sarah Allen
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