New York (Specifically, New York City)

I took a creative writing class awhile back (this might have been as far back as seventh grade), and one of the tips for writing was something like “don’t use New York City as a setting; it’s been done to death.”

When I was in seventh grade, I hadn’t read enough to recognize that that is very true. Seems like every book published has New York as the setting or uses a setting based on New York. You’d think I would appreciate that. My parents were born in New York City and lived there their whole lives before moving upstate and having my brother and me. So my roots are in New York. My family’s roots (on both sides) are in New York.

I came to North Carolina in 1995, when I was 7, so I remember very little about upstate and even less about the city. In 2014, my dad and I took a trip back there, mainly for old times’ sake. We saw the city, the house upstate where we lived, and several other places that had meaning to me at one point.

After that visit, I could completely understand why someone would choose New York City as a setting for a book. The place is endlessly fascinating and filled with history and excitement. If I lived there (and for a long time, after graduating from college, I actually wanted to move back to the city and start my career in the publishing world), I would most likely set stories and books there.

But I have no real connection to New York. When I went up there in 2014, I felt like some alien hick from North Carolina, not classy or special enough to be in what was technically my homeland, even though that is the beauty of the city: If you want to stand out, you can. If you want to blend into the shadows, you can do that, too.

Whenever I read a book set in New York (or a city that might as well be New York), I remember the cliche and roll my eyes. It is annoying to always be reading about the Big Apple, but like all cliches, it’s a cliche for a reason: it’s true. New York is the place where dreams are made, even though I know that only in an anecdotal way.

Do you like reading about New York as a setting?

Day Designer

Beginning-of-post apology: I should have written this post at the beginning of this year. Oh, well. Time got away from me.

Planners. Boy, am I picky about choosing a planner, partly because I have to look at it and use it for an entire year and partly because I am a huge fan of stationery in general.

A planner can’t be too big because it would be too bulky to fit in my purse (or diaper bag). It can’t be too small because I combine my work and personal stuff into a single planner and that can sometimes take up a lot of room. It can’t be too flimsy because, as I said, it’s got to last the entire year. It has to go from Monday to Sunday, not Sunday to Saturday, because I’ll get confused and write stuff on the wrong day. The planner also has to lie flat when open or be spiral bound so I can fold it over (the better to write things with one hand).

It’s helpful if the planner has room in the back for general notes, and it’s extremely helpful if the planner has a pocket in the front (or somewhere). It’s nice if the planner looks pretty, but I choose functionality over looks all the time. Last year’s planner was plain old black, but I covered it with stickers to make it look more exciting. (No, you’re never too old to cover things with stickers.)

So anyway, all my nitpicking nonsense aside, I found the Day Designer planner at Target at the end of last year, and it checks all the boxes. Bright and colorful? Yes. Spiral bound? Yes. Not too big and not too small? Yes. Durable? Yes. Inside pocket? Yes. Blank pages for notes? Yes. Week starts on Monday? Yes. Enough room to write without having to make my handwriting too tiny? Yes.

My only issue with the Day Designer is the name. When I first heard it, I thought, Ah, the best-laid plans… You can “design” your day all you want, but days have a way of getting away from you. Calling it a “planner” doesn’t sound quite as ambitious, so that doesn’t rub me the wrong way. I suppose “agenda” is an even better term (that’s what we called it in middle school), but it always makes me think of ulterior motives and hidden agendas.

*brace yourself or click away; this post is about to get religious* I’ve come to realize, after years of fighting this reality, that God is the ultimate Day Designer. Humans can plan all they want, but in the end, God decides and designs your future. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make plans at all, but be mindful of the fact that your plans could change at any time. I am still so bad at accepting this, but having a child has made it easier.

So I covered up the “Day Designer” text on the cover of my planner with a sticky label and wrote “God makes all things new” on it. That reminder is good enough.

Artificial Writing

Anthony Lee Collins briefly mentioned this article in one of his blog posts, and I was intrigued. Now computers can help you write your fiction using artificial intelligence. The very notion of this gets me really pissed off because I’m already annoyed by Gmail’s new feature that tries to write your emails for you.

Supposedly, the software mentioned in the article won’t write the entire story for you. You have to give it some kind of jumping-off point, and it will suggest phrases. Still… seems like cheating to me. Or a weird kind of “found poetry,” where you didn’t write the words but really just reorganized them into something that makes sense.

This was the scariest line in the article: “Megasellers like John Grisham and Stephen King could relatively easily market programs that used their many published works to assist fans in producing authorized imitations.”

I suppose “authorized” is the key word, but even so, the whole thing sounds like fanfiction at best and plagiarism at worst. If I was a well-known author, I would not allow my work to be copied like that, even though imitation is the highest form of flattery.

What do you think of AI helping with writing?