When Words Are Born on Book Birthdays


Used with the permission of Harris Synergy Press

December means birthday month in my family. My brother’s is three days before Christmas, my father’s is three days after Christmas, and my late grandmother’s was December 13 (and nothing horrible ever happened to her when it happened to land on a Friday).  This also requires members of our family to do a precarious etiquette dance every year. To cosset my brother via capitalism love, we had to make sure he didn’t feel cheated just because he was born in the “Christmas Week Window.”

We experimented—double presents, huge parties with close friends when he was younger, buying him the same amount of presents but splitting them, making one present more expensive than the other…the list went on. We still haven’t quite figured out how to do it right but finally settled on the tradition of family birthday dinners and a present.

Thankfully, my brother has grown up unscathed and we breathe a collective sigh of relief each year when he graciously accepts his gifts sans the entitled attitude so often found in the Children of Capitalism.

Seeing as December has already received the birthday month crown, I must have been out of my mind when I decided that I wanted to include squeeze in one more birthday—my first book birthday.

I was a proud parent when my literary baby finally went out into the world last Monday. He weighed a lovely 5.5 x 8.5 inches and his firm spine was shiny and smooth when I held him. He was dressed sharply in a bright colored cover, and contained the ink blood, sweat, and yes, tears, of a frantic mother who wanted to do the best she could for him. The save the dates and press releases had been sent, the book trailer announcement prepared, and everyone was waiting for this little guy to make an appearance.

The aftershock is still hitting me—I’ve published a book through my own imprint. People have asked after my emotions and autographs and I’m still unsure about the first part. Tired, relieved, sleep deprived, hopeful, and proud could all describe the first question. The second question made me scramble to perfect an appropriate John Hancock and wonder if there were any taboos of book signings.

Fortunately and unfortunately, the work doesn’t end there. My Gerber-like book marketing plan for the next couple of years should help him to grow into a healthy, adolescent. At least until his other siblings get here, then I have to worry about (and welcome) sibling rivalry.

As I’ve reflected on this, it is amazing to look at how far I’ve come since I was fifteen jotting down scribbles in my room and how far I still need to go. I am now a brand and the book is a part of that brand. Book marketing is a tricky business because you have to completely separate yourself from your writing persona. For the past three months, I’ve been in full marketing mode. I’ve made sure my branding images are corresponding with my message, networked, and scoured the Internet for tips and tricks of book marketing. For the most part, I’m ready with a multi-year plan to make sure I’m not a one-hit-wonder.

But as I prepare to start on the sequel to The Golden Ashfruit today, I brush all that to the back of my mind and sit down to a place of quiet peace.

I remember the way a pen feels in my hand, the way black ink makes waves on white open spaces, and the sharp and clean smell of paper. I remember where words come from and how they pour onto paper like rain just when I need relief.

I remember myself. And know deep down why I am a writer.

When Your Christmas Song Playlist Needs a Kick


Photo Credit: Cécile Graat

The answer is when you’re sick of listening to Christmas music. By now, you probably are. Radio stations have started playing it (some nonstop) since the day after Thanksgiving. Don’t get me wrong; Christmas music is great.

Most people like variety. Any song you could possibly ever want to hear has multiple versions by a plethora of artists. Traditional Christmas carols are awe-inspiring and spine chilling, but sometimes girls just want to have fun and rock out to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Michael Buble, or Mariah Carey. And by girls I mean anyone, unless you are a stickler for tradition.

But sometimes when you’re listening to the radio, the weird comes. The awkwardness sets in when the radio stations try to mix it up. It’s like if you are browsing YouTube and you ever end up in “the weird side of YouTube,” as it is most famously referred to. Radio-wise, you know what I’m talking about—the Christmas songs that probably should have never been considered Christmas songs.

For example, my family has a standing debate on Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby.” I can’t seem to listen to it without cringing. Mainly because Eartha’s voice, which sounds like a rendition of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday Mr. President.” It just seems like it should be in a 20’s nightclub somewhere instead of blasting from my speakers as I awkwardly sip hot chocolate.

Another one is “I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” I get it—it’s supposed to be funny that the father is Santa Claus. But personally, if my mommy kissed Santa Claus, I would have bashed Santa Claus with the empty cookie plate.

So as I was browsing YouTube the other day, I decided to collect the weirdest and most interesting Christmas songs I’ve ever heard. The radio plays some of the songs, and they will never play others or the FCC might be after them. The winners are as follows:

1. “The Night Santa Went Crazy”-Weird Al Yankovic. REASON: Santa commits elf genocide and is a certified reindeer killer. This is definitely not one for the kids unless they realize Santa is already dead (not even then), or people who are still kids at heart.

2. “I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”- Gayla Peeve. REASON: Hippopotamuses are not in season. The child should have wanted a snow dog, a reindeer, or a small bear cub.

3. “The 8 Polish Foods of Christmas”- Veggie Tales Christmas Party. REASON: The Veggie Tales are basically eating vegetables (cannibalism) and meat.

4. “Oh Santa”- Veggie Tales (Silly Songs with Larry). REASON: The song description. A bank robber, a Viking, and an IRS agent visit Larry as he waits for Santa. It’s comic because two of the people want money and one might possibly murder him. Oh, and he’s a cucumber.

5. “Christmas Swag”-YTF. REASON: Enough said.

6. “A Very Steam Punk Christmas”- The Men That Will Be Blamed For Nothing. REASON: This is a retelling of ‘A Christmas Carol’ centering on Ebenezer Scrooge. If you turned this up really loud, you would wake someone up or potentially do damage to his or her eardrums.

7. “Christmas Sucks in San Francisco”-The Downer Party. REASON: This song was pretty relaxing. It was also catchy in a sweet way. It was about the lack of December holidays in general.

8. “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”-Elmo & Patsy. REASON: No one seems to lament the fact that the grandma was run over by a reindeer.

9. “Christmas Shoes”-New Song. REASON: Every time this comes on the radio, my family and I agree that this is the most depressing Christmas song we have ever heard. Touching message, but just really depressing.

10. “Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You”-Billy Squier. REASON: Questionable title, weird vocals, but interesting message and super catchy tune.

11. “Jingle Bells”-Brave Combo. REASON: This instrumental of “Jingle Bells” will make you dizzy even if you’re sitting down.

12. “Christmas Night in Harlem”-Louis Armstrong. REASON:  There is no spoon. Seriously, this is a great song. I love it and it’s not one you usually hear.

13. “Silver Bells”-Twisted Sister. REASON: This song actually hurt my ears and I couldn’t actually hear anything they were saying in the song, except for the chorus.

14. “Feliz Navidad”-Jose Feliciano. REASON: Merry Christmas in Spanish! The music is really catchy and if you wanted to go somewhere warm for Christmas but ended up staying in a snowy area, this song will make you feel like you are there. And you can get a mini work out in with dancing.

15. “I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas”-Bon Jovi. REASON: Christmas everyday would get ridiculous really fast. Not my favorite, but Bon Jovi does an admirable job here in terms of lyrics.

16. “Santa I’m Right Here”-Toby Keith. REASON: A song about a little boy living on the street and what he wants from Santa for Christmas. Unexpected and heartfelt song—I could barely finish it because it was really gripping.

17. “Winter Wonderland”-Ozzy Osbourne and Jessica Simpson. REASON: Ozzy sounded computer generated and this version is almost too syrupy.

18. “Catfish Christmas”-Steve Azar. REASON: I wanted to laugh the whole time. The music video was ridiculous.

I hope you’ve been able to find a break, a laugh, or a dancing queen in one of these songs. To recap, there is a song sung about a hippo, songs by vegetables about eating Polish foods, touching Christmas songs, possibly disturbing Christmas songs, a Christmas rap song, and a song about a specific place. Oh, and catfish in case you need some motivation to get down to your Friday Fish Fry.

NaNoWriMo Aftermath: Make a Killer Pot Roast

Photographed by Julia Freeman-Woolpert and Madaise, respectively. Used with permission.

Now that I can finally see my feet because my distended belly from all the turkey and general holiday goodness has gone down, I have a chance to convey my mostly positive feelings about National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo.

They are summed up in three quotes* about writing:

“It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.” -C.J. Cherryh

“I firmly believe every book was meant to be written.” -Marchette Chute

“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”-Colette

This is also what I’ve come to judge my own writing by. I don’t know of anyone who simply tosses words on paper and serves them up to a publishing company ready to be signed, sealed, and delivered to readers. The movement itself is a fantastic idea, but any good thing can be—and sometimes definitely is—taken advantage of.

When I first heard of NaNoWriMo, I thought it was the name of an ancient Native American burial ground. Wisconsin is full of cities and towns based off of Native American names, so I had reason to believe it might be connected with one or the other. Try saying Waukesha, Oconomowoc, Wauwatosa, or my home city, Milwaukee. Maybe you can—they have a tendency to roll right off the tongue.

Before I was inducted into the secret society that is NaNoWriMo, I thought of book writing as something organic, like making a nice pot roast. Seasoning it (writing the words, taking a break), trimming any fat, putting it in a pot, browning it (revising, editing, taking another break), and finally finishing it with garnish and serving (prepping for publication or recreational reading after more revision, then selling).

Everyone has a different way of making pot roast, meaning you use vegetables or maybe you choose a different type of seasoning. But some of those steps are vital. If you skip putting it in the pot or trimming the fat, you’re going to end up with a hot (or cold) mess.

Sometimes this is what happens after NaNoWriMo—skipping the trimming and vital preparation to go straight to garnishing and serving. Instead, participants should see NaNoWriMo as a starting point and a huge head start to a wonderful book.

That said, NaNoWriMo is a movement that I am excited to join the ranks of again soon. Whether participants actually do finish their 50,000 words is one thing, but knowing that people across the globe are toiling the same way you are, pushing out pages like gasps between labor pushes, has a certain allure.

It is a source of fragile inspiration welded together with iron determination to reach a goal. I find myself wishing that I could fully devote myself to participating this year and anticipating next year when I’ll probably have a chance to.

According to the NaNoWriMo history on its website, which reads almost like a novel laughing at itself during the process, NaNoWriMo started in 1999.  It quickly took off and grew into a hugely successful movement.

I can admire the spirit of the twenty-one creators who quickly matured from idealists into entrepreneurs. If they hadn’t risen to the occasion, the movement would probably never have the momentum it does now.

Part of the reason why NaNoWriMo is so successful is that the movement continues to operate out of the same idealistic and creative spirit it started with. The history examines the trials, pitfalls and adjustments the creators had to make, but for the most part, the vision has remained relatively unscathed. That alone is commendable because it’s difficult for many movements to achieve.

However, the freedom, raw natural talent, and inclination to cast off limitations, albeit within a limited deadline, has continued to make NaNoWriMo a success. The trade-off has spawned thousands of novels, a few of which have been published by major companies.

If you participated in NaNoWriMo last month, invest in your literary pot roast. You will probably feel just as fulfilled as if you made an actual pot roast and ate it with family.

*quotes are used with the permission of logicalcreativity.com

Survival of the Savviest: Black Friday and Cyber Monday Edition

Photo Credit: Weliton Slima. Used with permission. 

As soon as Thanksgiving is over, many of you will immediately whip out a white board and start plotting your own Mission Impossible: THE BLACK FRIDAY.

But before you don your incognito gear and prepare to drown yourself in copious amounts of caffeine for that super-new-mega-big screen TV that will probably come down several hundred dollars in a few months, I have some advice.

My shopping style is defined in two words you would never expect to see in the same sentence—compulsive but economic. I believe you should never have to pay more for something if you don’t absolutely have to. A dirtier word for this would be a minimalist.

My grand advice is don’t do it, it meaning Black Friday. The reason is two phrases: Black Friday online and Cyber Monday.

In the past five years, these two phrases have become my secret weapons during November. I no longer need to go out into the bitter cold and willingly become the poster child for walking pneumonia.

Pros:

  • You won’t need a tent.
  • You’ll be drinking something hot because you want to, not because you have to and out of a thermos the size of a five-gallon Gatorade bucket.
  • You won’t have to undergo months of rigorous training all so you can do the limbo or slide into home plate to get that last Bratz doll or Transformer for your little cousin.
  • You will not need the police.

You will need

  • A computer: $200-$3000
  • Some Internet:  $100 <
  • Your green friend Benjamin: As many of him as you’re willing to part with

Getting what you want on Black Friday without concussions or hospital visits: PRICELESS

Cons:

May be subjective according to shopper.

Even though Black Friday deals literally make people go crazy, the online deals are even more ridiculous. Which is probably why it’s a good thing that you can take care of it in the comfort of your own home—away from people.

Stores fully cater to the consumer. They want you to shop (which is why some stores are opening as early as eight o’ clock Thanksgiving Eve) and set aside inventory so that you beat the masses. Picture the lines on Black Friday, then picture yourself ahead of thousands of people. You are basically beating out hundreds of store shoppers by just clicking a few keys.

You can even set Google alerts on your computer for items you really can’t live without until the next Black Friday.

Online Black Friday happens the week of Black Friday, and you’ve probably already received emails and seen the TV ads. Sometimes Black Friday deals happen three or four days before the in-store event. It depends on the store.

Cyber Monday is like experiencing Christmas early. Some stores still have inventory to get rid of, so they lower the prices even more. It’s like Willy Wonka gave you a golden ticket and hid another one on the other side of the Wonka bar.

Companies like Overstock, Amazon, and Ebay also have too-good-to-be-true (but are) deals. They participate in Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals.

Mainstream stores are a little sour about this, so stores like Target and Best Buy are offering price matching, or even price beating, incentives. You win either way.

I am an advocate of stress-free shopping. We all have too much else to worry about. The holidays are a time for family, tranquility, and truck tons of good food. Black Friday has always been hectic because people are concerned about giving their loved ones exactly what they want. Which is truly heart-warming except when it turns into something on the five o’ clock news.

Now you can enjoy Black Friday (twice) as well as Cyber Monday. I realize some of you may have some nostalgia about that day, or maybe it’s a tradition for you. So if you miss the adrenaline rush, the drama, the crying, and the car chases, I have a few parting words:

  1. If you must go, for the love of your liver bring a life vest! It will protect you from elbows and gift-guarding dogs.
  2. Drive by all of the stores you plan to frequent the day before and plan an escape route. No seriously.
  3. If you pick something up, do it with all of your fingers and hold it as close to your chest as possible.
  4. If you take little ones into the melee, form a perimeter around them and equip them with walkie-talkies and GPS tracking.
  5. Do not, under any circumstances, separate.
  6. If you’re about to grab something and someone snatches it right when you’re grabbing it, do not engage. They will injure you (especially if it’s electronic).
  7. Remember the cardinal rule: All people are good at heart…except for today.
  8. Bring a few blankets and cover your purchases if you leave them in your car.
  9. That superpower you’ve always wanted but never had time to develop? Now is a great time.

I hope your next Black Friday is stress-free and that you do something fabulous with the extra time, like beat everyone to getting a great Christmas tree.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Alexandria Harris, known to the reading world as her alter ego A.L. Harris, lives in Wisconsin but secretly wishes her closet traveled to Narnia or Middle Earth. When she isn’t reading, drinking some kind of caffeine, or getting adrenaline rushes from online shopping, she serves as the Marketing Director for Harris Storefront Realty and writes for its Haus Rules blog. She also tweets regularly as @_ALHarris.

What’s in a Name?

By Alexandria Harris

Unlike Romeo, I’m going to cut right to the chase and tell you—everything. Before people even see your face, your name causes a certain bias. Your resume, business card, or direct mail piece might as well be your face. And this face can either say “Hello, I can see this is the beginning of something wonderful” or “Nice to meet you.” With the second option, I’m sure you’ve determined by now that it’s because the person has quickly moved past you to the next person with the normal-sounding name. Humans are creatures of comfort, if not anything. 

Naming your work, especially if it’s a book, is like naming a child. You want to take care with what you’ve put a lot of tears, sweat, and face palms into. Having your baby judged like a Harlequin romance when it isn’t is embarrassing.

I messed up and got it wrong.

Thankfully, naming your work can be easily remedied while naming your child…well let’s just say the first time for everything in this instance should be your last.

 I have no shame spending hours on baby name websites and name meaning generators to find the perfect name for my characters. They are going to breathe life into your story, so they definitely deserve a lot of time. Spending that time to make them all they can be is essential. 


My original book title was FORBIDDEN FRUIT. Besides the fact that at least seven other books have that title, my other hesitation was guiding my mainly young adult-intended audience to topics that may seem reprehensible by the title.

I had to go back to the drawing board and to square three. Square one was out because I’d already established a theme. My sequel is called GARDEN OF SOULS, and the third THE GRAPES OF RAGNAROK, so the title of the first book was especially important. It couldn’t just be anything. 

Some authors go through their book and pick a phrase they think was especially clever of them to write and pick that as a title. Others pick a concept or intricate detail. There is no rule of thumb. It actually depends on how much you can get the person reading your title to wonder about it or be awed. Your title should have a similar effect to pouring a bucket of ice water on someone.

I wracked my brain. I was in a bit of a pinch–I had to have my cover design updated and all the associated marketing materials by the next day. I suppose that’s what you get when you decide to change your title and you’re three months away from publishing your work.

After five hours of thinking, my brain felt like a sweat-caked marathon runner. 

The problem is that every title needs to be unique. Besides the cover design (and the back cover copy), it’s the most important thing that will influence people to buy your book (or other work). I hadn’t done my research, and that’s why I was in this conundrum. 

The good news is that little sisters can be accommodating when you promise to do their make-up for Homecoming. 

Going through the dictionary, thesaurus, and reading back through the book stressed me out—panicking, trying not to get it wrong. The fate of the world, or fate of how well this book will do, depended on how well I could command the English language. 

No pressure.  

So like Frodo looking for Mount Doom with Sam for back-up, I went with my sister Morgan through the paths of knowledge and memory to find a suitable title. It had to go where no title had gone before. An epic story demands an epic title.

I also had a little mystical help along the way—the Everchanging Book of Names, which sounds like it should be in a Harry Potter book or at least an epic fantasy novel. The software is amazing, featuring names for characters and locations in different languages. Some are old languages and some are new, but it will help you if you’re stuck under the villainous writer’s block. 

But in the end, how epic something becomes is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes simplicity can pack a larger punch than all of the long-winded, epic sounding names we can come up with. 

After two days of heavy thinking, I decided on THE GOLDEN ASHFRUIT for my title. With another month to go before publication, I’m banking on the title hold its weight and do some of the marketing for me.

 

Finally, I have some advice on naming. Do the research. If you do a web search and your current title is already being used for twenty other books, don’t use it. No matter how tempted you are, it isn’t worth starting from the bottom and trying to fight your way to the top of all the SEO madness. Also, Google Keywords is your best friend. The kind of best friend you want to hang out with all the time and consult for all your naming decisions. Lastly, be clever but not crazy.

 

Take your name where no name has gone before, but remember not to go wild and have it resent you for the rest of its (hopefully) long-lived life.

Lingerie and Football


By Alexandria Harris

As Boromir would probably say “One does not call an interception a touchdown. It is folly.”

I couldn’t resist this. 1) because Boromir is only foretelling what is to come 2)  because it’s the Packers  and I have an excuse to talk about Wisconsin. My state can’t stay away from drama–it just follows her. The pri madonna is at it again!

But first, I did promise you that I’d explain what memes were when I showed you the first Packers meme.

If you are not familiar, a meme is basically an image or a video that has the potential to go viral. A common one is to have a picture of a cat and with text, like the following:

You can make memes out of anything and for any reason. Politicians, cartoons, McKayla Maroney’s frown at the Olympics have been fairly popular memes. Possibly my favorite one is of the President and First Lady with hilarious facial expressions.

But this is really about the Packers. 

You’re probably wondering, “Ok Alex, but what does lingerie have to do with football? Get to the point already!”

Hold on grasshopper, we’re almost there.

Anyone who watched NFL Football this week knows about the upset between the Packers and Seahawks. I’m not going to rag on the Seahawks because everyone watching knows it wasn’t their fault.

They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The real culprits, who are already being burned at the metaphysical stake of media, are the replacement refs.

Wisconsin is in full Hulk-SMASH mode. Seriously, scratch the green and yellow, we’re all just seeing green.

From the alleged $1 billion lost in game bets, to talks of the replacement refs ruining the NFL’s brand, these men in black (and white) have caused quite a stir.

But who are they, where did they come from, and why are they here *ahem* being used in the first place? Typically questions you would ask during an alien invasion.

But while the conspiracy theory of refs being taken over by aliens is wrong, there is something far more sinister at work here.

I almost died laughing when I read it.

Fox News had an article about the origin of these replacement refs. And they didn’t come from a planet far, far away.

No, they came from Planet Lingerie, located right under the earth’s crust. That’s right, there is a Lingerie Football League. I’m not going to go into too much detail (because you either know about it or that link is to the omniscient Wikipedia for your convenience). However, I do feel like these women are like a Powderpuff league on botox about to bust into a rendition of “Oops, I Did It Again.”

The article goes on to say that the LFL fired five to six replacement refs due to poor calls and bad officiating.  Mitch Mortaza, commissioner of the LFL, even threw down the gauntlet at the NFL, saying “At our level, being in our infancy, we appreciate our credibility and the integrity of the game is on the line,” he said. “If we appreciate it, I’m not sure why the NFL can’t appreciate it.”

However, the LFL clearly had a ref takeover also, so our origin story does not start there. Normally referees make about $150,000 a year for their services in the NFL. According to the article, most have full-time jobs on top of that.

The aspect of the dispute that I find interesting is that no one is budging. Yes, there are talks about how the owners are making concessions and want to rapidly bring the lockout to an end. However, I have a feeling that we’re going to be seeing a few more games with the replacement refs.

Safety is a big issue, (I stopped counting how many times poor Aaron Rodgers got sacked) and the question now is will other teams start to take bigger risks just to see what they can get away with? Hopefully, however long the reign of the replacement refs lasts, everyone stays safe.

Or we will cry alien invasion and not be held responsible for our actions in self defense.

Alexandria Harris is a writer and former reporter on WSUM 91.7. When she isn’t watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on repeat, she tweets regularly as @_ALHarris. Alexandria lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Movie Monday: The Hours

By Alexandria Harris

Premise: Three different generations of women are interconnected by the novel Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.

Best Quotes:

“A woman’s whole life in a single day, and in that day her whole life-” Virginia Woolf, writing Mrs. Dalloway

“Today, sort of like black fire. Sort of light and dark at the same time. There was one like an electrified jellyfish. They were singing. It might have been Greek,”-Richard describing how his guests looked.

“We shall publish no more new authors. I have to tell you I found ten errors in the first proof.”-Leonard, Woolf’s husband.

“Because I wanted to be a writer, that’s all. I wanted to write about it all; everything that happens in a moment, the way the flowers looked when you carried them in your arms in this towel, how it smells, how it feels, this thread. All our feelings, yours and mine. The history of who we once were. Everything in the world. Everything all mixed up, like it’s all mixed up now. And I failed–I failed. No matter what you start with, it ends up being so much less-” Richard, explaining why he didn’t want to be honored.

“I think I’m only staying alive to satisfy you-” Richard.

Pause: All right, basically anything said by Richard is quotable gold.

Suicide. That is how the story begins, which immediately pulls its audience in because now we need to know how and why the story ends from this. Set in the 1900s with flashes forward to 2001, this film boasted an all-star cast. I was hoping it would live up to the way I’d already hyped it up in my head.

It did.

Seriously, five seconds into the actors scrolling past, I was thinking in amazement to myself “Who ISN’T in this movie??”

The film continues with the kiss of death for a writer–starting a story where the character is waking in bed. In spite of this, it was interesting. At the beginning, I became confused with the multiple perspectives of the three women: Virginia Woolf in 1923, Laura Brown in the 1951, and Clarissa Vaughn in 2001.

Laura Brown, in 1951, is unhappy with her marriage. You know something is wrong when a man gives a woman flowers on his birthday, and she walks on eggshells like he is an axe murderer.

Vaughn is the energizer bunny book editor, running around and making preparations for her friend, Richard. He is to receive a lifetime achievement award for poetry, and he is very ill from AIDS.

Richard has a dry, self-deprecating humor and refers to Vaughn as “Mrs. Dalloway.” He is fascinating to watch. He has a controlled craziness about him, although I think a writer has to have a little craziness in them if they are touched in the head by the stroke of genius.

Ed Harris played him well–I didn’t know what he was going to do next. Richard wonders if he got the poetry prize because his work was good or because he’s sick.

Woolf is basically put on house arrest by her husband, who runs a publishing company out of their house just to be near her. She has a passive-aggressive show-down with her cooks, which was really impressive, considering the fact that she didn’t look up from the floor.

Meanwhile, Brown is making her husband a birthday cake with her young son, Richie. He asks to sift the flour and tells her that making a cake isn’t difficult. She tells him that they are making the cake to show Daddy they love him. Richie asks–in that sweetly innocent ‘leave-it-to-Beaver voice’ that all movie children have–“Otherwise he won’t know?” And Julianne Moore’s character is undeniably but unintentionally chilling when she answers yes.

The cake failed. Epically.

Apparently the audience needs to know that it’s ridiculously easy to make a cake, and Brown just can’t do it. This probably has more to do with the relationship with her husband and not whether or not she can actually make a cake.

It actually hurt to watch the women in 1951. Exhibit A: “You can’t call yourself a woman until you’re a mother.” I know it was a different time period, with a different set of values, but I had an urge to reach inside the screen and drag those women off to a women’s shelter. It was a cross between the Stepford wives (creepy, fakely bright happiness) and the mentality of a POW.

Kidman (who was barely recognizable as Woolf) spoke in a soft monotone the whole movie. This woman had genius inside her brand of madness. Woolf’s sister visits with her children and they find a dead bird. The sister asks if Woolf is better, if she is listening to her doctors.

The bird funeral, and corresponding conversation between Woolf and her niece is hauntingly beautiful. I got the sense that the suicide scene wasn’t far off, and the stakes started to raise for all of the women.

The film contained many references to reading, the writing craft, and death. Lots of quirky sayings about death. These women all seem trapped in their respective time periods. One by illness, another by convention, and another by fear and denial.

I am definitely watching this movie again, if not solely for Richard’s character. This movie was exactly what a movie about writing should capture. The score was beautiful, cinematography was excellent, the dialogue was amazing, it kept me engaged, and the acting was convincing. And there is a twist!

The film gives the sense that writers are in this world, but barely of it. Both Richard and Woolf seem to be empty of life as they imbue life into their characters, almost as if they are pouring their life force into their work. Brown wants escapism into someone else’s life to hide from her own by reading. And Vaughn doesn’t need a book, she uses Richard and staying busy to hide from her own.

The film also gives a wonderful commentary on why we read and write. I loved the underlying meaning. The only complaint I had is that the beginning sequences seem a little chaotic and rushed. Also, the fact that the women were all depressed and repressed. I don’t want to completely spoil the movie, so you’ll have to watch to see if and how they rise above those issues. I would give this movie a 9/10 for that.

Alexandria Harris is a writer and former reporter on WSUM 91.7. When she isn’t watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on repeat, she tweets regularly as @_ALHarris. Alexandria lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.