Book Review -The Female of the Species, Mindy McGinnis

My reading has slowed down a lot in recent years. I guess as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten slower, or maybe I just don’t have the time I used to. Point is, it’s been years since I read a  book in one sitting…possibly since undergrad, even. Then my former housemate Ashley, a teen programming librarian, suggested I check out The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis.

I picked this book up at the library on my way home from work. By 8:30 that night I’d finished it. I was left sitting in my bed unsure of what to do with myself until I decided to go to sleep. The Female of the Species follows three teens in a small Ohio town. There’s Alex, whose older sister Anna was murdered just a few years earlier; Big Man on Campus Jack, the boy all the other boys want to be; and Peekay, the preacher’s kid.

Anna’s violent death was Alex’s baptism by fire into a violent life.  It becomes almost all she knows – hurting, being hurt, avoiding being hurt. But there are cracks in the facade, and that’s where Peekay and Jack make their entrance. Peekay is introduced as the preacher’s sort of “wild child” daughter, though none of her behavior could really be called wild in today’s world. She drinks, she smokes, she fools around with her boyfriend, and she’s honestly a decent kid. The same could be said of Jack, who comes across as your average teenage guy. He’s good at sports, he has a decent relationship with his parents, and he has a somewhat tumultuous relationship with the school’s “easy” girl.

Alex and Peekay volunteer at the animal shelter, a job that’s presented with surprising realism. They don’t just get to play with cute puppies and kittens all day – they’re the ones who get called when someone dumps a bag of dead pups on the side of the road, and they have to watch as animals languish neglected and unwanted day after day. Meanwhile Jack, desperate to save up enough to get out of town, works at the local slaughterhouse. Our protagonists are thrown together their senior year with explosive consequences.

To quote Ashley,  I’ve never seen the idea of “boys will be boys” presented so elegantly. Mistakes are made, and it’s the young and vulnerable ones who are left struggling to choose to do the right thing when they’re not even sure they’re worth the trouble. The hardest part is, there’s no “big baddie” to hate. Even the villains, McGinnis takes pains to explain, are people who made bad choices. The end of this novel hit me like a punch to the gut and left me reeling. It was like taking a swig of good whiskey – satisfying, but oh did it burn on the way down. I can’t remember the last time I read anything like it. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I have before.

I give Mindy McGinnis’s The Female Species 5/5 stars, and welcome it into the Devastator’s Book Club, an arrangement by which myself and several friends attempt to outdo each other with heartbreaking fiction. Seriously, read this book! You won’t regret it.

Red Ink

Once upon a time, many moons ago, a chipper young college grad set off to teach English in South Korea. The experience that followed was one of the most draining, worldview-shattering years of her life, flipping her values upside down and forcing her to tap into reserves of energy she didn’t know she possessed. And it all started during training. Only it wasn’t really training – it was more like one of those reality shows where you have to impress the judges, and if you don’t, you’re SOL in a foreign country trying to find a way to get yourself home. Oh, and you didn’t know this until the first day.

So that was fun.

But this is about red ink. In Korean culture, we were told during training, you aren’t supposed to write anyone’s name in red ink – it’s bad luck. So with the company’s values being what they were, we were encouraged to write the names of our misbehaving students in red ink on the board to really shake them up. I never did this, because frankly that’s kind of fucked up. And while I occasionally use a red pen for journaling purposes, I stick to blue or green for editing. I told a writing group member once that I find it less threatening. He laughed, but you try handing someone a page covered in red ink and watch the face they make.

For the most part, I like the writing group I meet up with. It’s a little chaotic, like lots of things in my life are, but it makes for good company. I do wish we were a little more organized – group exercises would be fun, and a little more productive than 2+ hours of kvetching about what a pain writing can be. It’s up to members whether or not they’d like to share something with the group. So at the meeting  before last, I decided it was time to make good on one of my goals for the year: have a novel chapter completed by the end of March. I handed out copies of what I’d written thus far and patiently waited for the next meeting to roll around.

I got one copy back.

It was a little disappointing, but hey, it was something. Eventually, my writing buddy posted some comments to the Google Doc. So did one of my podcast collaborators. And finally, I had feedback to work with. It was no less intimidating than red ink. It takes a lot to share such a big part of yourself with other people, knowing that they’ll find you lacking in some way or another. But unless you’re willing to take the risk, how can you get any better? With the feedback I received, I’m on my way to making my goal. One chapter down, the rest of a novel to go. You have to start somewhere. For me, becoming part of my local writing community is a big step in the right direction. Who’s afraid of a little red ink?


Another day, another daily prompt from the kind folks at wordpress.

And it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that this post is, yet again, about the Alexandria Archives podcast.

Hey, the mommy bloggers get to blog about their children – why can’t I blog about mine? And it’s a special week for the Archives. For one thing, we were accepted to the Google Play store, which means we can be downloaded properly by Android users! Huzzah! It was a timely development, seeing as we went ahead and dropped our Halloween special early. My baby is officially two whole episodes old. I feel like such a proud…creator? I guess if this was anything like a mommy blog, I’d be more of a Dr. Frankenstein.

The Alexandria Archives was born from scraps of material shamelessly pilfered from projects coddled, then abandoned over the years. In its very earliest days it was just the Kings Library in a story I started back in undergrad, almost ten years ago now. Wow, I feel old. Alexandria University as an institution came tumbling along not long after, like Jaime Lannister clinging to Cersei’s ankle, only less gross and murderous. It’s carried me through two years of NaNoWriMo and countless nights spent scowling over a mug of lukewarm coffee. It’s the idea that wouldn’t be, but wouldn’t let me be.

I’m a novelist at heart, I say unironically, as if I’ve ever published a novel. Completed one, certainly, more than one! But I’m terrible at revising my own work. Which is to say, I tear it to shreds and bury it out back before anyone notices. This is getting a little gruesome, isn’t it? I write horror for a reason, folks. But the fact is, while I still hold out hope for finishing the AU novels (yes, novelS) someday, I had a story that needed to be told. It’s fitting that it became our secondary tagline – Have You Got a Story to Tell? – because we all did.

I had AU. Aaron had his beloved comic characters. And Uri is apparently a never-ending fount of ideas, each burning brighter than the last. Putting our ideas together into something admittedly monstrous but pleasantly functional was a means of survival. And wouldn’t you know, it worked? For all that the road to “Service Call” dragged, limping all the while, we got there. “House Painting on Halloween” came along nearly twice as quickly. I’d like to believe eventually we’ll have the formula locked down. Whether or not we achieve any real success or a solid listener base, we’ll have something we can point to without hesitation and say “We made this.” Piecing the building blocks of our ideas into something new and wonderful will become second nature.

But that’s a story that’s yet to be told, isn’t it?



The Corpus Christi Writers & Bloggers group is posting a word a day for those bloggers out there to gain some inspiration from. And wouldn’t you know it, this one really got me going.

“What’s your podcast about?”

I’ve never been good at describing my work. In fact, I prefer not to. I’ll waffle, hem and haw, before giving a not-quite-right answer with the hope that the person I’m talking  to will go away. The ones who question further earn my undying enmity. The podcast situation is much the same, because my initial not-answer is always met pretty predictably.

“Do you listen to WTNV/Limetown/The Black Tapes?”

The answer to this question is, of course, yes. If anything, I’d have to say that Limetown is what really got me thinking about this podcasting business. It was so different from anything I’d ever encountered before, so intense, so incredible. It was horror in a format I’d never considered. How did they do it, I wondered? I’ll never forget listening to Episode 4 while driving (DON’T DO IT) through Houston en route to Baton Rouge. I was so frightened that I had my first ever “Jesus, Take the Wheel!” moment. It left a hell of an impression.

“So your podcast is like those?”

God, I wish. And while no one wants to be accused of being a copycat, I’d be lying if I said the media I consumed didn’t have a significant impact on my work. WTNV inspired the radio element, though my love of college radio played as much a role in that decision, and of course there’s the whole “weird, spooky little town” thing, colored by the whole team’s experiences in academia and university communities. Limetown made me want to write something scary. The literary aspect of The Alexandria Archives tends to invite questions about Drabble or nosleep, though without having listened to those, I’d compare it more to knifepoint horror. My point is, sometimes I wonder if what we’re doing can be called original when…well, it’s not. Other people did it first. Other people did it better.

“Haha so you want to be a famous podcaster, huh?”

Well…no. That would be a bit silly. I’m not about to quit my day job – which, incidentally, I rather like. When it comes down to it, what we wanted to do was make something. For one of the guys, the idea was to remake something rather important to him. The Alexandria Archives has got a lot in common with bigger, better things, but it’s got a lot of us in it, too. And that makes it original. No one’s done exactly what we’ve done, because no one’s experienced exactly what we’ve experienced. And at the end of the day, even if we do hope people are liking what we’re doing, damn, we’re having fun! That’s the part that matters.

Fun with Milestones

Last night, The Alexandria Archives website officially launched! With it went our contact information, access to episodes, and submission guidelines for horror shorts and weird fiction. It’s still hard to believe that we did The Thing. It went from being a vague concept joked about in a D&D thread to a real podcast! It’s officially too late to chicken out.

On Friday night, I attended a meetup for a local writing group, Corpus Christi Writers & Bloggers. There were about 10 writers present, mostly fiction with a couple bloggers, and I had a much better time than I thought I would. Everyone had their own motivation for their work, their own Best Tips and Tricks, their own way of looking at the process. I stayed longer than I thought I would, connected with some folks and hopefully made some new friends. I’ve been in my current city for a little over a year now, and I feel like I’m still just getting to know it.

When I got home, I made myself hold still for about an hour or so and finished recording my tracks for Episode 2. It’s in Uri’s hands now as he edits and mixes the tracks, after which Aaron gives it a second go. I’m especially happy with how spectacularly well our guest VA’s tracks turned out, and I think listeners will enjoy them as much as I did.

300-odd likes on FB, a few visits to the site, and the news that the folks at home have been listening – it’s been a curious weekend. If it’s a sign of things to come, I think I can handle it. There’s nowhere to go but forward, now, and see where this thing takes us!

Podcasting in Paradise

How long does it take to get a podcast off the ground, anyway? Probably a couple weeks, I figured at the outset. It started as a running joke.

Then halfway through October, a running joke became a long joke fueled by excitement and maybe more than a few beers. And suddenly, a website domain was purchased. A Facebook page set up. An argument ensued over a Twitter handle. Then we were off, careening down a seriously bumpy road. Also, the road was flooded, and there were piranhas in it. I would’ve at least liked to have anticipated the flooding.

The Facebook page was set up August 19th. The first episode of the podcast launched October 5th. About a month and a half from inception to release. It was a month and a half of commissioning artwork, disagreeing about editing decisions, writing and rewriting and rewriting again. I learned how to use a proper mic. I learned that I still really didn’t know how to use a proper mic, and also that the AC unit downstairs was a lot louder than I’d ever noticed, as was the jingle bell on my cat’s collar. I learned that it’s hard to get in the spooky, weird fiction mood when you’re mere weeks out from Halloween but the weather is balmy at most and the palm trees are thriving under a blue sky. Deadlines loomed and friendships strained. I got home from my day job and schlumped upstairs to try, yet again, to record passable audio. Then came the endless rounds of mixing and editing, all while work and social commitments loomed over head. Family travels, conventions, homework, internships. It started to feel like the damned thing would never be finished.

Then, unexpectedly, it was.

Episode 1 of The Alexandria Archives, Service Call, is by no means perfect. I won’t lie to myself about that. I might have started tearing my own hair out again over it. But it’s done – we made a thing, our team, and we sent it out into the world to see how it would fare. And that was something.

Now it’s a waiting game: waiting for results, for feedback, for some more energy so we can keep this thing rolling before it rolls right back down over us. It’s a little scary, but also pretty exciting. We’re ready for the flooding. The piranhas are probably going to take a little more work. But we’ll get there, or so I’d like to think. And that really is something.