Tag Archives: Pittsburgh

Not So Trivial Pursuit of the Perfect Book: Pop Culture Edition

Hello, my minions!

I mean lovely blog readers and internet surfers!

I mean lovely blog readers and internet surfers!

Welcome one and all to the first ever edition of Not So Trivial Pursuit, a series of blog posts dedicated to the finer points in making a novel truly loved by its readers. Anything from what I’m struggling with in my current work in progress to what excites me about my favorite series.

The further I get into Dollhouse Daughter, the more I discover the complications of writing a novel set in modern day United States. While the novel began with an even more complicated setting (Revolutionary War era London), the ultimate debate dawned on me:


That is the question, so to speak. It may be an issue for the rewriting/editing process, but in the midst of my creative flow the question kept popping up. Is a pop culture reference a good choice here? Will readers understand  or even care that the yellow umbrella  in chapter 3 is a vague reference to How I Met Your Mother?

Some of the best novels that I’ve read over the years have used pop culture both to enhance the novel and add a distinction to the characters. One of the most recent examples is The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare, where the “mundanes” use pop culture references that characterize the Mundanes and Shadowhunters as two groups of young adults coming from different worlds. It makes it easy to distinguish the characters with the use of pop culture, and it sometimes gives insight into the author.

While I can’t say much for Cassandra Clare’s love of pop culture, I know the author of one of my favorite series brings pop culture in from his own life. Kevin Hearne is a self-titled comic book collector and nerd, which makes him one of the most qualified authors to use pop culture in his writing. His book series, The Iron Druid Chronicles, is graciously populated with so many pop culture references that in any other setting it may be overwhelming. However, Hearne uses them in a purposeful and entertaining way.

Atticus O’ Sullivan is the 2100-year-old Druid that the series is based on and he has had plenty of time to acquire the knowledge of popular culture during his stay in the United States. From The Big Lebowski to Shakespearean insults, Hearne holds nothing back, and as a fan girl I appreciate his efforts. I have tried to space out my reading of the reading; well, space it out as well as my paltry willpower goes.

At the same time, Hearne is the prime example of how pop culture can add layers to a character. Atticus is 2,00o years old, and to conceal his identity he must blend in with the times. In this case, he must blend in with the nerdy subculture most 20-something’s hold near and dear to our hearts. It also makes it easy for us, as readers, to dive into a story rich with mythology and Celtic lore.

So, for my novel, I thought that it would help my readers to get to know me as a person as well as my characters. Cassie, my MC, is a Japanophile (new word, learned while watching King of the Nerds on TBS). In other words, she loves all things Japanese or about Japan. This ranges from anime, manga, food, and even an unhealthy obsession with Hello Kitty. It’s something a general audience is familiar with and the sub-culture can relate.

Although there is a heart-wrenching fear whenever I think of how badly this whole pop culture reference thing could go, I think of one of my newest and most favorite authors. Fiona Skye is a rising star in a sea of urban fantasy. Her novel, Faerie Tales, follows a modern day exhibition of the magical world to humanity. Skye’s MC, Riley O’ Rourke is a fierce, in-the-know reporter, who just happens to be a werejaguar. Skye and Riley are the perfect example of a blossoming author using pop culture references to reinforce the strength of her characters and the intelligence of her audience.

I caught on fairly quickly with Skye’s light use of pop culture. It was just enough for me to get Riley (who is from Pittsburgh, so I felt especially close to her when she mentioned the Penguins) and the world in which she was living.

Ultimately, it was the help of Skye’s recently published book that convinced me pop culture was the best option for my novel. It doesn’t have to scream 2011 with the top 40 hits and the latest model of cell phone used, but I do think that my readers will benefit from the little easter eggs. I mean, who doesn’t want to get a line from Doctor Who in the middle of the book they’re reading. I know the geek inside me does!

So, we’ve established that using pop culture can be both beneficial and potentially hazardous if used too much or without purpose. I think I can place references in there, like the yellow umbrella, without it ruining the entire piece. It makes sense that someone who is immersed in the geek culture would transfer that love into their work. Why else would authors like George R.R. Martin be selling millions of books if his love of Tolkein didn’t show through his writing?

I don’t have to commit to everything or nothing right now. It’s not the “revise until my brain falls out phase” of editing or the part where I change out the crappy words in my book for much better choices. Right now it’s just establishing who I am as an author and how that voice should show through in my writing.

At this moment, the trivial use of pop culture is important to how I weave my story because without it, I lose the fundamental quirks that make my characters and my world different from the hundreds of books being published as we speak. In that sense, this could be a life changing decision for me and my manuscript.

For those of you writers out there with a setting of Earth, modern times, what do you think about pop culture references. Important or Trivial? A lot or A little?
I would love to hear what you think, so please comment below. Of course, that is after you check out my cute kitty pictures.

Who doesn't love a kitty reading a book!

Who doesn’t love a kitty reading a book!

Had enough of my super cute cat yet?

Had enough of my super cute cat yet?

Happy Reading and Writing!


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Old Friends and New Places: Part 2

Continuing my journey through Pittsburgh, I landed at the Cathedral of Learning. You’re thinking, a church of learning? What the hell is that? It is a historic landmark for Pittsburgh and one hell of a sight.

For those who have never heard, seen, or imagined let me describe the history to you. Well, actually Wikipedia is going to tell you:

“The Cathedral of Learning, a Pittsburgh landmark listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is the centerpiece of the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus in theOakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States. Standing at 535 feet (>163 m), the 42-story Late Gothic Revival Cathedral is the tallest educational building in the Western hemisphere and the second tallest university building (fourth tallest educationally-purposed building) in the world…The Cathedral is a steel frame structure overlaid with Indiana limestone and contains more than 2,000 rooms and windows. The building is often used by the University in photographs, postcards, and other advertisements” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathedral_of_Learning).

Just inside the doors of the first floor Commons

So, now that you know a little bit more about this building let me tell you about my experience in it. Just walking up to the building is magnificent in itself. If you’re like me and aren’t used to huge buildings you forget that there are dozens of stories above. I forgot to look up while walking in and only until I left did I realize how truly astounding the Cathedral was.

In the first three floors, it is called the Commons Room, which is typically used for classrooms and housing the internationally acclaimed Nationality Rooms. The tall ceilings and Gothic furniture take you into a different time. As my friend so humorously put, “It’s like if you stepped into Hogwarts, I can’t get any work done because I just spend the entire time looking around.”

Aerial view of first floor Commons

But what are these Nationality Rooms. Well, upon visiting this Cathedral, there are several rooms, which are created to represent different nationalities. These 27 rooms display accurate architecture and decorations from African heritage to Yugoslavia. The rooms are beautiful that some are off limits to enter. You can only peek inside when the room is unlocked.


The fun doesn’t stop there. High back Gothic chairs and ornate benches scatter the room as Pittsburgh’s college students and the public gather to study in this astounding piece of history. There are huge stone fireplaces, heavy, decorated doors, and even stone staircases that make you think you’re in a castle.

A set of stairs. There's my wonderful high school friend I was visiting!

All in all, the experience was amazing. I wish I could have spent hours in this huge building, which also houses: a ball room, auditorium, the Dept. of Humanities, the Dept. of Philosophy (one of top 5 in the U.S.), Dept. of English, Religious Studies, and the School of Social Work. It also is home to many memorial rooms from benefactors, Studio Theater, and the University Honors College complete with full library. It is a treasure hidden in plain sight among the many tall buildings of Pittsburgh. A place of history, nationality, and inspiration for all who enter its revolving doors. I know I was affected by a short ten minute visit. So, if you’re in the area, please check it out!


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Old Friends and New Places: Part 1

Today, I traveled on a short trip to downtown Pittsburgh to meet my high school for a short tour of the town. I hadn’t seen my friend Megan in years and I was excited to get out of the apartment to do something fun. We decided to walk to a cute bookstore nearby, then to a coffee shop afterward.

Side view of the special edition case

Walking down past the University of Pittsburgh, we stepped into Caliban Bookstore. In a previous post, I described my wish to find a bookstore close to me that I would be able to find awesome books at a good price. I walked into a little piece of book heaven. Shelves from the floor to the ceiling stacked with books! There was a glass case by the register full of rare first or odd editions of books. I walked around with my friend and discovered the world I had been missing.

Loved seeing this many books!It's like a candy store that never cures my sweet tooth for reading

As I browsed the  books available, I marveled at the time it took to acquire all of these amazing and interesting reads.

We went downstairs to the fiction section and I was right at home. I combed through the the shelves looking for books that I would benefit from owning.

I settled on two books from Issac Asimov, who will help me to understand science fiction. Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation  are now sitting at home with me along with a book I will need for my trip to Ireland. James Joyce’s Ulysses by Stuart Gilbert will be my guide to James Joyce after the horror of my Irish short fiction class.  I hope that I can return to the store soon because it was such a rewarding experience. It reminded me of the joy that comes with searching for a book and the love of carrying it home with you.  Below are some more pictures from our tour of the bookstore.

My wonderful finds

They even have a cabinet for tiny books

A look inside the cabinet 🙂

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Inside the Life of A Grad Student

I have stated before that I am currently seeking my M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Carlow University. Pittsburgh is my setting for the next two years and it is an under rated place for writers.

My master’s program is unique because it is low residency in addition to studying abroad. It leaves me with a lot of time to write and amazing places to see. My first residency began almost a month ago and ended 11 intense days later. The low residency allows me to absorb a lot of information in a short amount of time.

Eight hours of seminars, workshops, and guest speakers with little time to breathe. I learned so much I can’t even write down the enormous amounts of knowledge I have now. You might not think 11 days can teach you a lot, but when you get a group of energetic, lonely writers together knowledge flows like a fountain of wine. I can tell you that already I have made life long friends in under two weeks. It is astounding what can happen when you put people with a common interest in the same room.

As the residency came to a close, I felt sad knowing I would have to go out into the world alone and use my new knowledge to write. It was so comforting to share my ideas with people who truly cared about giving constructive comments to improve my work.

From the end of the residency until June, I have some assignments and a lot of writing to do. Hopefully, though, I can count on the comments from my readers on here to help me with my fiction and guide me until my next residency.  Tomorrow I will have to e-mail 10 pages of my fiction to my mentor and in another two weeks I will have to  prepare a critical essay from a book I’ve read. Seems pretty simple for a graduate program, huh? Well, the easy part may seem to be the lack of work. In reality, the freedom and self-motivation become the difficult parts. Lucky for me I am a page away from my assignment due tomorrow.

The book I will start to read is The Gathering by Anne Enright, which is fitting because in four months I will be getting on a plane to Dublin, Ireland. My next residency is at Trinity College in IRELAND?! Since I am not a well-traveled young woman, this trip will be the first of many adventures I will have the pleasure of taking. Thanks to Carlow’s required study abroad aspect of the program, I get to visit a country I have dreamed of seeing for my entire life.

Only 11 days of class, four books, four papers, and then  trip to Ireland. How can life get any better? Let me tell you, I am one lucky girl that I can spend my days writing my heart away and my nights comfortable in my bed dreaming of four leaf clovers and Irish pubs.

I truly am grateful for the opportunities given by this program and enjoy every second of my new life as a full-time writer. My friends, colleagues, and family get to read what I do every day and see the happiness writing can bring a person.

Besides, how can a writer not be happy with this library to look forward to?


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My Love/Hate Relationship with Moving

As I stated in a previous post, I was in the process of moving to Pittsburgh and it’s done! Well, I’m on Mcdonald, PA, but still only a half hour from downtown 🙂 It takes a special person to enjoy moving and most people hate it. I am a hybrid of the two. I love the new place I move to and the organizing and packing part. What I hate is the actual moving of all my crap and in this case the crap of two people into the new place.

I know that there are people you can pay to move your stuff from the old place to the new, but I wish I could pay them to move it all inside, unpack it for me, and arrange it in the order I tell them. That would be well worth the money because after a long day of running up and down steps and carrying heavy things (not even furniture) I’m beat.

I do want to express how cool this apartment building is, though. There is a key card you must swipe to get into the building BUT you can also call my phone (using a keypad outside of the door) and I press a number on my phone and I can unlock the door. So now if I’m expecting company or forget my key card I can simply call or have a guest call and unlock the door remotely. How cool is that? It’s not super new technology, but it is sooo convenient!

All in all, no matter how much work goes in to moving my stuff and unpacking it is worth it. I can now start a new chapter of my life in a new city with my lovely other half. He’s supportive of my craft and always there to help me with the computer problems that always seem to pop up. So, raise a glass (cherry coke for me) to a new year and a new opportunity to succeed.

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I’m Moving!

On a personal note, today’s post is a confirmation that I am moving from tiny little Johnstown, PA to the wonderful city of Pittsburgh! Yes Steel City is going to be my new home. I’ll be living only 30 minutes from Carlow University where I am getting my M.F.A. in fiction writing.

As excited as I am to move away from home and spread my wings, I must take this post to a serious place. The idea that a writer/artist should struggle and live in a dump until they get their big break is a constant picture in every creative mind. It is difficult to expect anything else from a society who thrives on a constant income to support a person/family.

Although I love to work and know the important of making money, I wish I had a magic money tree to clear my mind of earthly troubles. But that is a dream for another time. Now that I am moving to Pittsburgh and have rent/utilities to pay I have to suit up and get to work. It’s comforting to know that in the midst of inner conflict for all writers, we are versatile. We are quick to learn and adjust our lives to the next paying job and a new story idea.

In addition to an update on my life, this is a tribute to writers and artists everywhere. Our struggle isn’t just with trying to find the perfect word or the perfect note. It’s finding a place in the corporate world and still honing our craft to show the world what we have to offer. 

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