How Harper Lee Helped Me Rediscover My Love of Reading

As a child, I was an avid reader. I gobbled up books like they were the last box of Girl Scout Cookies on the shelf. From an early age, I knew I wanted to do what these writers I admired did: I wanted to create characters that people fell in love with.

Before I was even in middle school, I was telling the world I was going to be a writer when I grew up.

So, I wrote.

And I read some more.

And I wrote some more after that.

Then, high school hit, and I was suddenly being compelled to read all these books for school, some of which I loved and some of which I hated. It didn’t really matter if I liked them or not, because the bottom line was I didn’t get to choose my reading material anymore. With so much homework, plus an after-school job and several school clubs, my personal reading time was drastically cut down for the first time in my life.

Once I got to college, life got even crazier and I quickly discovered that the hours I spent as a child absorbed in the pages of a novel were behind me. Perhaps forever. I didn’t have time to read the detective stories I loved so much, or the legal thrillers, or the romances. Any spare time I had was spent obsessively writing my first novel, which I completed over winter break my Freshman year of college.

I graduated from college and entered “The Real World” of job hunting and apartment finding, and for a few years it truly seemed to me that I would never be able to find enough time in a day to sit down with a cup of hot chocolate in front of a fire and just lose myself in a character I loved.

Until I picked up To Kill A Mocking Bird, mostly because it was on sale at a local bookstore.

Somehow, I had managed to get through both high school and college without being forced to read it for a class, and I cannot begin to tell you how glad I am that is the case. I didn’t have to worry about writing essays, answering test questions, and participating in forced discussions. I could just let the words wash over me like a comforting balm and absorb them at my own pace, in my own way.

And, I did just that.

I devoured it in a mere two days, a feat for me since I am normally a rather slow, methodical reader. I literally could not put it down. It wasn’t a page-turner in the way a mystery or a noir is, it was something more than that. I cared about Scout and her father and brother. I wanted to know what happened to them, but more than that, I wanted to help them. I wanted to reach into the pages of the book and just give then biggest hug in the world. I wanted to tell them everything was going to be okay. When it began to get hairy and danger was starting to close in around them, I wanted to protect them.

I had forgotten what that felt like.

I had forgotten how good it felt to be invested in fictional characters, to connect with an author in an authentic and passionate way, not because I was being forced to but because I wanted to. Down to my soul, I did not want that book to ever end.

Of course, it did end. All books must end sometime, but my love affair with reading had been rekindled, all thanks to a little girl named Jean Louise. I began to find ways to make time for reading for pleasure, as well as writing. I also discovered that the more I read, the better a writer I became. The two went together hand-in-hand.

So, thank you Scout.

Thank you, Atticus.

And, thank you, Harper Lee.

We will never forget you.

  • Sarah

What Frozen and Star Wars: TFA Taught Us About Love and Feminism

For years, it’s been a widely-held belief in Hollywood that a movie centered around women simply would not sell tickets. Well, Frozen and Star Wars: The Force Awakens both shattered that archaic notion. Both were not only incredible box office successes that shattered just about every record known to humankind, they also struck a chord with women and girl viewers in a way few films ever have. Elsa costumes still dominate at Halloween, and you can be sure next year Rey will be right there with her.

This is a great thing for feminism, not just because there are more prevalent female characters in popular cinema, but because these two movies offer three distinct, fully fleshed-out, and completely different role models for young girls to look up to in different ways.

Rey, the spunky and fiercely independent heroine of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is a strong and confident woman who has spent her life fending for herself. She is not sitting around waiting for anyone to make her life work, much less a man. When Finn shows up and turns her world upside-down, she is initially more attracted to the adventure he offers than she is smitten by the adorable hunk. As the movie progresses, her feelings for him deepen, but she never chooses to give up her sense of independence to pursue a relationship with him.

At the close of the movie, Finn is in bad shape. Perhaps even on the verge of death. In a lesser film, Rey would have decided to stay home and devote her life to caring for him and nursing him back to health. Not Rey. She says goodbye in a heartbreaking scene, that they will meet again if they are meant to be, and sets out to fulfill her destiny of becoming a Jedi. She refuses to be defined by him, even if she is growing to love him.

Anna, the adorable red-headed heroine of Frozen, is the polar opposite of Rey in almost every way, but she is no less a strong female role-model. She is a hopeless romantic who is immediately swept off her feet by the hot-but-ultimately-totally-evil prince, but even thinking she is in love doesn’t stop her from giving everything up to help her sister at the drop of a hat. When adventure and duty calls, Anna answers by setting out on her own and leaving her prince at home to tend the castle, in an awesome gender-role reversal from the normal fairy tale structure.

Of course, it turns out that trusting this particular prince was a big mistake, but who hasn’t had a bad relationship? Who hasn’t gotten caught up in the emotional rush of a new flame and perhaps overlooked the warning signs it wasn’t going to work out in the long run? Being a strong female role model doesn’t mean being flawless. It means learning from your mistakes and growing into a better person because of them. Anna does just that. She dumps the jerk and ends up in a solid, though imperfect, relationship with a guy who truly cherishes her and values her as a person. He doesn’t idealize her, but sees her as the broken, quirky, wonderful person she is and loves her completely. Anna doesn’t have to give up romance and swear-off all boyfriends to be a strong woman. She just has to be wise enough to hold out for the one truly worthy of her awesomeness.

Elsa, her sister, on the other hand, doesn’t end up in a relationship. That’s okay, too. She has spent years literally and figuratively shutting out the world. She is a queen and has unlimited power, both politically and magically, but she still has to learn how to open herself up to love and to life. In a typical romantic comedy, she would learn how to do this by falling in love with the hot-but-slightly-goofy receptionist. In Frozen, however, Elsa learns this lesson by experiencing the sacrificial love of her sister. She’s not saved by the love of a good guy. She’s saved by the love of Anna. At the end, she seems completely happy to be on her own, and still the powerful woman she always was. Plus, of course, she gets to sing perhaps the most kick-ass Disney song of all time.

Of course, Hollywood is a long way from being perfect in their portrayal of women on screen. By no means have we reached the end of our struggle, but these two films are a great example that shows we as a society are headed in the right direction.

  • Sarah

How Long Do You Wait? by Amber Donahue

How long do you wait?

I haven’t exactly asked anyone, but nobody’s offering up advice. There aren’t any helpful Pinterest links or Buzzfeed articles. There’s no “7 Things You Must Do When Your Boyfriend is in a Coma (And 3 Things You Must NEVER Do).”

So I’ve been winging it. And it’s exhausting.

Work has been super accommodating, which is great but also makes me feel a little guilty that I’d been applying elsewhere. I’d never even got a callback, let alone an interview, and what had seemed like a bummer at the time turned out to be a blessing. I can’t even imagine having to process Percy’s accident with a new job where you’re learning new things and can’t take any days off. As it is, I’ve been able to change my schedule as needed, which has been a lifesaver, and I’m finally back into my regular hours.

I have a new routine, which is at once comforting and disturbing.I sleep at Percy’s during the week, and I walk Clarence in the morning and the evening. I visit the hospital before work and bring coffee for the nurses (at first because I had no idea how else to show my gratitude, but now it’s because we’ve become friendly), and I stop by again after work until visiting hours are over and I have to get home to walk the dog. On the weekends, I stay at my place, popping over to Percy’s only to walk and feed Clarence. Most of my clothes, my laptop, my slippers, my dirty laundry – most of my stuff is at Percy’s.

We weren’t at the living together stage – in fact, there’s a question as to the status of our relationship on that night – but I basically live there now. It helps that his apartment is nicer and that Clarence is fun and there are no roommates. Not that I hate my roommates or anything – they’ve been incredibly supportive throughout this whole thing, and even if they hadn’t liked Percy, who wouldn’t appreciate me paying rent and utilities and not living there much?

I am starting to wonder about the future, though.

How long do I pay for his apartment? His student loans? His cell phone? His car insurance? I mean, he wasn’t at fault for the accident, but I don’t want him to have a coverage gap. His car registration is up in two months. I’ve put his Netflix, his Hulu, his gym membership on hold. I’ve paid the minimums on his credit cards. I’ve spoken with his boss, Terry, and have monitored his online bank accounts, carefully watching his paychecks full of sick days roll in every other week. I don’t know how many sick days he has left, but I know at some point disability comes into play, at least I think it does. I haven’t done much research yet. And the other guy’s car insurance, that’s a whole mess I’ve been trying to sort through. I don’t know if that covers loss of income, too. I doubt it. It’ll probably barely cover hospitalization.

I’ve kept myself busy making spreadsheets and lists. I’ve reset passwords. I’ve written to utilities and talked with his landlord. It’s weird how quickly you can just sort of take over someone’s life.

His parents are dead (he lost his mother to cancer when he was ten, and his father died two years ago of a heart attack), but his friends and some co-workers visited the hospital at first. Especially because it was right around the holidays, and everyone was full of energy and kindness and high spirits. But as the days turned into weeks, then months, their visits slowed down and disappeared altogether.

I can’t blame them. There’s nothing more useless-feeling than visiting someone in a coma. You just sit there and talk to him, and he looks like he’s just pretending to sleep, but there are tubes and cords and IVs and beeping, and nobody’s that good of an actor. So you just have a crazy one-sided conversation about mundane, trivial shit that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

But what else are you supposed to talk about? How irresponsible it is that a 33 year old single adult with no children and no family didn’t have a living will? I mean, I don’t either. It’s not something you think about in your early thirties unless you’re diagnosed with a disease, or maybe if you have kids. Percy didn’t have either, so why would he have a plan for something as happens-to-other-people as a car accident leading to a coma?

He wouldn’t.

So I’m stuck trying to figure out what he would’ve wanted.

I visit the hospital every day. And every day, the doctors tell me nothing’s changed. I can easily read the subtext beneath their updates. ‘The longer things stay the same, the more likely it is that he’s not coming back.’ And then the follow up ‘and even if he does come back, he might not come all the way back. He might not be the same.’

But I don’t want to think about that, so I focus on reading Yahoo! News articles aloud to Percy. God, he hates Yahoo! News. It’s always been a thing with us. I’m not defending their journalistic integrity, but I find myself strangely drawn to their stories.

Growing up, my mom used to say that I marched to the beat of my own drum. Percy always jokes that it’s a drum machine. I never truly understand that joke, but it cracks Percy up so I play along.

Now that it’s been over three months and the initial craziness of the situation has faded slightly, it hits me how much I miss him. I mean, we’d been dating for five months, and we’d fallen pretty hard for each other. We’d even joked, on more than one occasion, that we should just elope in Atlantic City one weekend. And then at the office on Monday, it’d be like “What’d you do this weekend?” and you could be all, “Oh, not much. Did some laundry, got married, went to a movie.”

Percy even talked about our children. He used to say it so matter-of-factly, like they already existed in our future. The timeline was already written, a foregone conclusion. Three kids, two boys and a girl. We’d talked about what names would be good – growing up a “Percival” meant he was intensely passionate and defensive about names – and where we would want to raise them. We never came to any conclusions on either topic (no child of mine is going to be named Jeremy), but it was always fun to discuss.

I knew he wanted a future with me. But I wasn’t sure, until that fight – our first real, major argument and it was so stupid– I wasn’t sure I wanted that future until it was taken away from me.

I mean, I’d already been pretty miserable, playing out the different scenarios in my head well before I received the phone call about the accident. We hadn’t talked for two days and it felt so… wrong. I felt like a piece was missing, like I was just “off.” I tried to picture how the days and years would play out. Would I ever feel normal again without him? 

The phone call just cemented what I’d already known in my heart: I was head over heels in love with this man. He annoyed me to no end, he teased me, and sure, at times I hated him a little, but my God did I love him. I loved that he could tell how I was feeling and what I was thinking with just one glance. I loved how he would wake up early to make coffee for us, even though he could’ve just set the timer on the coffee pot, just because he liked to slip back into bed, all chilled, and have me warm him up. I loved the look of concentration on his face when he was hard at work – setting up the new Playstation, making a special recipe, wrapping a present.

I loved that he’d made me a little corner of the bathroom countertop. He was very attentive, much more than I ever was, and so he’d even stocked it with brands I actually used. I loved how he’d whisper corny jokes in my ear and dare me not to laugh. I loved that he was thoughtful in bed, and good, too. Thanks to my series of previous boyfriends, I already knew how rare that was. But he was thoughtful and caring in all aspects of his life. He was good with Jenna’s kids, and Clarence was like a member of the family (not in a creepy way, though. He’s a very sweet and well-behaved dog). I loved how long it took him to pick a movie to watch on Netflix. I loved how Percy would give me a little wink from across a crowded room. Or that look he’d give me when he wanted to know if I was okay. I loved…him.

It’s been three months, six days, seventeen hours, and a handful of minutes. It feels like a lifetime, and it feels like just a moment.

Now I’m lounging on Percy’s couch, Clarence curled up at my feet. The TV’s on, but I’m not watching it. Instead, I’m trying to think of the last time we spoke – before the fight, because sometimes the flight is the thing that I remember most clearly. Five months without a single disagreement, and then a yelling match right before a coma. It isn’t fair.

I can’t remember.

When I get like this, I call Percy’s phone (which of course is sitting, silenced, on the table next to me) and listen to his voicemail greeting. It’s not like it’s profound or funny or anything – just a simple “Hey, you’ve reached Percy. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.” But it’s a comfort to hear his voice. The friendly drawl. The flustered way he rushes the “as soon as I can.”

I also have a stupid video taken during a night out with his friends. That one hurts more than helps, so I don’t watch it much anymore. It’s just a stupid karaoke night, but his friend Kyle takes the phone for a minute, and he catches this shot of Percy and me, just the two of us, beaming at each other like drunken idiots, and Percy reaches over almost all the way to kiss me, and then I kind of have to hop up to complete the kiss (because Percy’s so much taller than I am), and he grabs me and holds me up, and I bust out laughing but we’re still kissing, and laughing, and it just hurts.

It seems so long ago. It seems impossible.

Clarence starts to whine at my feet, a clear indication that he needs to go outside, and I begrudgingly get up from the warmth of the couch. I check my phone, and it’s much colder outside than I thought. Figures. My only warm clothes here are my flannel pajamas, and there’s still in the dirty laundry pile.

I stand for a moment and stare at Percy’s coat rack. He has that nice warm peacoat, and it probably even still smells like him.

Gingerly, I lift it from the hook and slip it over my shoulders. It’s heavy, but comfortable. It comes down almost to my knees, but I’m instantly enveloped in warmth and Percy’s cologne and body wash and nothing else matters.

I shut off the TV, clip on Clarence’s leash, tie a clean waste bag around it, and grab the keys.

It’s cold out, cold enough that my breath is almost visible. I shove my hand holding the keys into the warm pocket of Percy’s coat, and I hit something. My fingers automatically release the keys in the pocket and grab the object, pulling it out.

Clarence trots along ahead of me, carefully maneuvering down the stairs to the sidewalk. He tugs at the leash when he realizes I’ve stopped on the third step down.

It’s a box.

The kind of box that cheesy Hollywood movies and jewelry store commercials have taught me all about.

I stand there a moment, Clarence tugging desperately at the leash in my one hand, and me holding an engagement ring in the other.

Do I dare open it?

I carefully wrap my hand around the box and shove both back into the pocket. I walk down the stairs behind the dog, feeling funny.

It feels like snooping. My first month or so “living” at Percy’s, I felt like I was snooping all the time. We’d been dating for five months, but I hadn’t had any need to dig through his drawers or under his bed or in his nightstand. Not until the coma. It still felt like snooping, when I was trying to find his little notepad with his passwords, or change his bedsheets, or find his landlord’s address, but it felt like necessary snooping. Did I find some things that he probably never wanted me to see? Definitely. But he’d understand.

But this, this is something different.

As we round the block and Clarence stops to do his business, I wonder briefly if maybe the ring isn’t for me after all. Maybe a previous girlfriend? Maybe he’s holding it for a friend.

But we’d had the exes talk, and there was no mention of a recent relationship serious enough to warrant a ring in a winter coat. And any friend he was holding it for would’ve asked me about it when Percy went into the coma.

No, it had to be for me.

In the many hours since the accident, I’d wondered thousands of times whether he had wanted to get back together. Whether we were even “broken up” or were just giving each other time to cool down. Whether we would’ve realized how stupid it was to fight about where to go on vacation, and who always gets to pick what we do.

Whether we’d just be happy that we get to go anywhere and do anything together.

I like to think so. And it looks like Percy did, too.

Now, more than ever, I want to talk to him. I want him to wake up so I can tell him everything that’s been going on, and how sorry I am, and how much I’ve missed him.

By the time Clarence and I walk up the stairs back to Percy’s apartment, I’ve made up my mind. I’m not going to open the box. I’m not going to look at the ring he bought for me. It’s going to sit in the pocket of his peacoat. Waiting.

Because I want to be surprised. I want to hear him ask the question. I want to wait for him.

But how long do you wait when you realize you would’ve said yes?

The Five Elements of Great Query Letters

We here at UpWrite Ladies are proud to partner with other writers. I mean, it’s kinda what we’re all about. So please enjoy this helpful article from guest blogger Odelia Emmanuel.


The Five Elements of Great Query Letters 

If you’re reading this it means you’re probably getting ready to send your novel or other project out on submission.  There are certain characteristics every query letter should have to make it stand out in the slush pile:

  • Clarity.  I have critiqued many a query (just last week in fact) and a lot of the times after reading one I’m not sure what the story is about.  If your query is confusing to critique partners it will be confusing to agents.  Agents don’t want to keep track of seven named characters or try and connect points A, B, and X to figure out what you meant or what the point of your story is.  They want a succinct preview of the plot (i.e. book jacket copy) that makes them want to keep reading.  One thing you can do to avoid a confusing query is to write it before you even start your novel.  I do this to help myself stay on track and so I have a clear idea of where the story is headed.  A query is your first chance to impress an agent.  You don’t want to blow your shot because you confused them.
  • An original premise.  This is easier said than done and somewhat subjective, but as a writer you should read enough to know what is or isn’t being written about and whether your manuscript fills a hole in the marketplace.  If your query involves a vampire love triangle that’s a problem.  Maybe somewhere there are still agents who are on the hunt for these types of novels, but I wouldn’t bet on it.  If you don’t have enough time to read as much as you should, check out Publisher’s Weekly or Kirkus.  Reading book reviews is faster than reading an entire book and is a quick way to know if your story has already been done.
  • Interesting, relatable characters. The setting of your story is important.  Plot is important.  But characters are what suck readers in.  If you don’t paint a picture of an intriguing character the rest of your story doesn’t matter.  Make sure an agent can immediately identify with your main character.  Details about who they are and what they want/what goal they are trying to achieve should be included in the query.  Also, it needs to be clear that there are stakes for your character.  Something has to happen to them.  Whether it is external conflict, internal, or both, agents need to be assured that something exciting is going to happen when they read your manuscript. A query letter is your chance to convince an agent to come along for whatever ride your character is on.
  • A short, movie-like pitch. The best queries can be boiled down to one sentence.  To be able to sell your book you need to be so familiar with it that you can summarize it in a single statement.  If you can’t sell it, how can you convince an agent he or she can sell it?
  • The basics. Include the genre, word-count, and title of your work.  Tell the agent why you are querying him or her.  Refer to the agent by name, not “Dear Agent.”  Mention any relevant bio information (awards won, conferences attended, education, some nugget about what makes you the ideal person to write this story).  Do not tell the agent about your favorite band or that you own three dogs unless it is completely relevant to your work.

Following the above advice will help you refine your query and get it into the best shape possible for submission.

Happy writing!

About the Blogger:

Odelia Emmanuel is a contemporary young adult fiction author.  She has worked in radio, television, and magazine publishing, but her greatest passion is writing. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a Master’s degree from Northern Illinois University.  She writes from wherever she happens to be, but the majority of her writing is done from Chicago.

When she isn’t writing she enjoys traveling and spending time with her husband and family.

To get updates on Odelia and her books sign up here or visit her site.

5 Podcasts That Were Killing It Before Serial

We all know that Serial came along and changed the podcasting game forever. Believe me, no one is a bigger fan of Serial than me, and I don’t begrudge it any of its success. I live and die by those now bi-weekly updates to my podcast feed. However, what a lot of people don’t seem to know is that Serial was not the first podcast to ever exist.

Shocking, right?

The truth is that before Serial burned up the iTunes chart, there were hundreds of podcasts that had been around for years, killing it every week with brilliant hosts and amazing guests. If your podcasting knowledge begins and ends with Sarah Koenig, these are some shows you need to check out as soon as possible.

Like, when you’re done reading this, start listening to these shows.

For real.

1 – The Flop House

Ostensibly a “bad movie podcast”, where the hosts watch a bad movie every other week and then talk about it, The Flop House transcends all labels and confounds all attempts to explain it.

Daily Show writer Dan McCoy and his two co-hosts, former Daily Show head writer Elliott Kalan and ultimate too-cool-to-define-party-dude Stuart Wellington, try to work their way through the inane and often incomprehensible plot of a bad movie and poke fun at it, but they rarely get more than a sentence or two in before being derailed by insane tangents, goofy songs, words that sound like other words, and, of course, correcting the way Dan pronounces just about everything that comes out of his mouth.

Every episode is a roller coaster ride of laughs where the movie being discussed is the least important part of the show.

It’s difficult to point to what makes this format work, because it’s a combination of everything. It’s a perfect storm of personalities, wit, self-deprecation, stupidity, brilliance, and an incredibly deep and encyclopedic knowledge of film history.

In short, it’s amazing.

2 – My Brother, My Brother And Me

Okay, full disclosure: I am a loyal Maximumfun.org donor (the podcasting empire started by NPR’s Bullseye host, Jesse Thorn), so if it seems like this list skews heavily towards MaxFun shows, it probably does.

My Brother, My Brother and Me is among the best this network has to offer. Started by real-life brothers Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy, who are now podcast magnates in their own right, this show is pure comedy under the guise of offering advice, a la Dear Abby.

If Dear Abby was on crack, and also a great comedian.

The Brothers pull from listener’s questions and Yahoo Answers and then riff on them, creating unforgettable bits in the process, and even spawning their own holiday. With three very different points of view, but a common desire to be decent human beings, you never know where an episode is going to take you. It’s a journey through madness, and as listeners we are merely along for the ride.

The Brothers also use their considerable influence to encourage their fans to give to worthy charities, and their fans respond in a big way. It’s heartening and inspiring to see so much good being done in the world by something that on its face seems so goofy.

3 – Answer Me This!

Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann, along with Martin the Sound Man, host this British podcast that goes beyond simply giving advice. Listeners use e-mail or Skype to submit questions on any topic, from word or phrase origins, to historical origins of traditions that make no sense, as well as advice about sex, and everything in between. Helen and Olly are then duty-bound to provide well-researched and hilarious answers to these queries.

Which, of course, they do. Time after time. It’s amazing how consistently witty and bright these hosts are, even after years of doing the show. It feels just as fresh as ever.

The show hums along at a brisk pace, without lingering too long on one question or bit. There is also a lot of original interstitial music that adds to the comedy, as well as gives the entire show a unique, jaunty feel.

Overall, it’s just a very professional sounding, well-produced, and funny podcast with extremely likable and charming hosts. They just began a three month hiatus, so now is a perfect time to get caught up!

4 – Black on Black Cinema

As a white girl originally from one of the whitest states in the Union, Vermont, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to admit I listen to this show. I know I’m not the intended demographic, but I love it. Unlike bad movie podcasts, which limit themselves to painful movies, Black on Black Cinema explores the good, the bad, and the ugly of Black films. They also dive into issues of Civil Rights, current events and politics, American history, and film history. My personal favorite episodes are the Tyler Perry movie episodes, which leave the hosts so befuddled and angry they can barely form coherent sentences.

I love hearing a point of view I’m not used to hearing in popular culture. I love hearing smart, articulate, passionate people debate the merits of a film they either loved or hated. And I love hosts that constantly insult and needle each other like best friends. It’s entertaining, enlightening, and just a lot of fun. Jay, Rob, Micah, and Ter-Bear (hopefully he doesn’t violently murder me for calling him that) mix serious social commentary and humor perfectly.

Full episodes come out every other week, but this is one show where the “mini” episodes are worth taking a look at, too. The shorter episodes feature debates and conversations about a specific issue.

5 – We Hate Movies

We Hate Movies takes bad movies personally. They seem to see each horrible frame as a personal assault on their souls, and that’s what makes this podcast work. Their righteous indignation at being subjected to crap, as well their joy and exuberance at finding hidden treasure amidst the dung heap, is infectious. They are definitely the angriest of the bad movie podcasts, but in a totally funny way.

Of all the bad movie podcasts I listen to, this one has the most deep cuts into obscure horror and titles I’ve simply never even heard of. Their depth of knowledge belies their ironic title. They don’t just not hate movies, they love them more than is perhaps, strictly speaking, healthy.

This love makes them extremely accessible, to the point you will even grow to love their bad celebrity impressions.

I could go on and on with this list. So many podcasts out there are absolutely amazing, and have been for years. I have been an avid podcast consumer for over five years now, and I’m no where near done yet. If you’re just starting your podcast journey, welcome to the madness. We’ve been waiting for you.

  • Sarah

Movie Review: Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Movie Review: Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Written by: Joel and Ethan Coen, Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Starring: George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson

Letter Grade: B-

Hollywood in the early 1950’s was a place of glitz, glamor, and spin. The studios carefully guarded the reputations of their stars and measured every move they made to maximize appeal and profits. It was also an industry overcome by the Red Scare. Somehow, Hail, Caesar!, the newest entry in the Coen Brother’s illustrious oeuvre, is somehow simultaneously about all of this, and none of this.

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) has a busy life between his days and nights as head of production for Capitol Studios and being the“fixer” of his celebrity’s missteps, all while trying to hide his smoking from his patient wife and going to confession every 27 hours or so. He gets more than he bargained for, however, when one of his starlets (Scarlett Johansson) gets pregnant while unmarried, and the biggest star in Hollywood (George Clooney) is kidnapped off the set of his latest film by a group of Communists, who demand an exorbitant ransom. What follows is a madcap romp through the Golden Age of Hollywood, complete with a dance number that, while silly, would make Gene Kelly himself proud.

At its best moments, Hail, Caesar! is a fun, smart satire of Hollywood and the mentality of the 1950’s. The dialogue sparkles and the one-liners fly quick and land perfectly. The best example of this is the amazing Ralph Fiennes, whose part is small but hilarious. He is easily the best part of the film, even when he is making you question your pronunciation of even the most mundane words.

There is also a charming, laugh-out-loud funny scene where Mannix interrogates a diverse group of religious leaders about the portrayal of Jesus on screen to make sure they will not offend any group.

If these scenes represented the film as a whole, this would be a solid A+ Coen Brothers comedy, and I would be able to wholeheartedly recommend it. Unfortunately, that is not the case. There’s very little drama in this film, and even less depth or actual stakes. This film is so light you can practically see it float. And therein lies the problem. Large chunks of the movie drag between jokes, or anything interesting happening. It’s slightly bloated and over-long for what it is, and this means the ending feels like it’s supposed to mean something to you as an audience member, but it’s impossible to decide what you’re supposed to feel or learn.

There is also annoying voice over narration that adds nothing to your understanding of the plot, and overall just seems tacked-on and pointless. If the writing quality was a little more consistent and sharper throughout, rather than just in brilliant patches, it wouldn’t have been deemed necessary.

Of course, the acting on all levels is great. Everyone nails their roles beautifully, they just don’t add up to anything worthwhile. It feels like a film that wants to say something, but doesn’t quite know what that something is.

If you love old Hollywood, the Coen Brothers, or snappy dialogue, Hail, Caesar! is worth checking out. It’s enjoyable and beautiful to look at, and much of the comedy is genuinely hilarious. But, the jokes is where it stops. It doesn’t go for the throat. It pulls its punches, and never really seems to skewer or pay homage but finds some odd, unsatisfying middle ground. There is no question it is the work of great filmmakers, it just isn’t the best work of the masters. Perhaps from less capable hands, we wouldn’t expect as much and would be willing to accept Hail, Caesar! on its face. But when you are Joel and Ethan Coen, for better or worse, we as an audience demand… just more than this.

Light Year by Sarah Hohman

It had been too damn long.

The thought kept pounding through Jill Silver’s mind as she struggled up the small but surprisingly steep hill. The ground was frozen solid beneath her feet, but there was no snow yet to blanket the gray world in a layer of soothing white.

As she reached the summit of her own private Mt. Kilimanjaro, she paused for a moment to look around and take in the natural beauty of the valley she was now master over. Stretched out beneath her, almost to the ends of the known world, was an ocean of barren brown trees mixed in with sporadic explosions of dark evergreens, their bare branches reaching for her like hundreds of eager servants bowing to her every command.

Growing up, she used to pretend this hill overlooked Narnia itself, where the White Witch had made it always winter but never Christmas. Or sometimes, she would imagine it was Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, or King Arthur’s Camelot. She would spend hours up here alone, having grand adventures no one else would understand, not as a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued by the hero, but as an equal and a warrior in her own right.

Today, that same feeling came swelling back in full force.

No question about it, she decided firmly, contentment settling over her body down to her blood and bones. It had simply been too damn long since she had been home.

Since they had been home, she realized, for some reason suddenly remembering she wasn’t alone on the journey this time.

Pulling her coat tighter around her body, Jill turned around to see what was keeping her sister. Maggie was just coming up over the crest of the hill, looking miserable.

“I just fell fifty times coming up this stupid hill,” Maggie grumbled as she drew closer, shouting to be heard over the howl of the wind. “No big deal.”

Maggie wiped her now mud-encrusted gloves off on her jeans while also taking in the view, though she was clearly far less awed and impressed by it than was her sister. Jill’s eyes fell on a good-sized fallen tree branch on the ground nearby, a perfect sword. It took every ounce of her will to not pick it up and start slaying dragons right then and there.

“At least Chicago has proper heat,” Maggie muttered. “And public transportation. And Uber.”

“Come on. Let’s go, Complain-y Pants,” Jill teased gently, nodding towards their destination just a few yards beyond. “It’s right over there.”

Maggie looked where she was indicating, the frown deepening on her face. “I know where it is. And I’m not a Complain-y Pants.”

“That’s what Mom used to call you when we were kids.”

“No, that’s what Mom used to call you!”

“Either way,” Jill shrugged, pushing ahead towards the large slab of granite marking the spot on the ground. “Would her majesty like to clean herself in a royal finger bowl before we continue? There is a dress code for this event, after all. ‘Formal Attire’, I believe the invitation said.”

Maggie immediately stopped fussing with her gloves, frowning sternly at her younger sister. “You’re not funny.”

“Oh, I am hilarious.” Jill waved her sister’s glare off carelessly, turning back to face the onslaught of icy wind. “Keep moving. Mom will appreciate my jokes.”

“She never did when she was alive.” Maggie’s words were almost lost, carried away by the infinite howling around them.

Jill simply snorted in reply, unperturbed by the mild jab. “That’s just a lie, and you know it.”

Now Maggie was smiling, too, as the shared memories began coming back.

Cold days, colder nights.

Sledding.

Hot chocolate.

Snowmen.

Typical Vermont childhood, almost idyllic in its simplicity.

The women pressed on towards their goal: an old elm tree, standing tall and stark against the barren world around it. Beneath the tree, under the protective branches that seemed to reach out to embrace it, was a single gravestone.

Jill reached it first, but Maggie was only a step or two behind. She slipped her gloved hand into her sister’s as she came alongside her, both of their eyes locked on the name on the grave before them.

MARGO GRACE SILVER

For an endless moment, neither of them spoke. Their lips parted in silence, but nothing needed to be said. Jill squeezed Maggie’s hand reassuringly. Maggie smiled and returned the gesture.

It would be obvious to anyone watching the scene that the two were sisters, even through the disguise of winter attire. They both shared the same soft blond hair sticking out from under their hats and the same sparkling brown eyes that wrinkled in the corners when they laughed and flashed with the fury of Hell itself when they were angry. They both shared their father’s thoughtful expressions and their mother’s surprisingly husky laugh and sharp wit. And in this moment, they both shared the same look of utter loss and heartbreak.

Jill spoke first, addressing the tombstone directly.

“Hi, Mom,” she whispered, finally dropping Maggie’s hand and giving a small wave. “We’re here. Sorry it’s been a while since we’ve stopped by.”

“A year,” Maggie corrected her without any real malice in her tone. As always, she simply had to keep the record straight. “It’s been a year since we’ve stopped by. To be exact.”

“It’s been a year for you,” Jill countered instinctively, that old knee-jerk argumentative streak rearing its head. “I’ve been home almost every weekend.”

“Yeah, to help Dad out. You haven’t been up here to see Mom in a year. Since we came together last time. Dad told me he hasn’t been since then, and I know you wouldn’t come here alone. None of us would.”

Jill opened her mouth to argue further, but closed it again when she realized her sister was right.

Damn her.

“Sorry it’s been a year,” Jill amended begrudgingly, turning back to their mother’s grave. “Dad’s going to come later to see you, don’t worry. We demanded he let us come first. Alone. You know, girl time.”

“We miss you,” Maggie added quickly, as if she had to get the thought off her chest before she exploded. “You’ve been gone for three years today, and that’s just too long, Mom.”

“Too damn long,” Jill murmured in agreement.

Both of their voices were beginning to crack, though neither of them acknowledged it. Inhaling deeply, Jill searched her mind and heart for everything she had kept bottled up for 365 excruciatingly long days.

“There’s so much going on I want to tell you about,” she said finally. “I’m going to be graduating soon, and I can’t believe you won’t be there to see it. God, I can’t tell you how many times I reach for my phone to call you, and sometimes I even dial–”

“You still dial her?” Maggie asked, surprised. “I thought I was the only one.”

“Every once in a while I will,” Jill admitted, wiping a frozen tear from her cheek. “I’ll scroll through my contacts and see her picture and click on it… I don’t know if I forget, or if I just want to forget… but I always drop the call before it connects. I don’t want to know who has the number now. If anyone does.”

“Don’t worry about it. I do the same thing.”

The women smiled at each other, a moment of sisterly bonding passing between them. Jill relished it. They hadn’t bonded like this in so long. After all, it hadn’t just been a year since she had been back home. It had been a year since she had seen her sister or her father.

Even as she had the realization, she couldn’t believe it.

There was ten years of age difference between them, Jill was twenty-one and Maggie was thirty-one, but that had just always made Maggie seem like a second younger, cooler mother to Jill. Growing up, they were inseparable until Maggie went away college. Even though they had their moments of petty sisterly squabbling, the love had always run deep between them. But now, Maggie lived in Chicago with her husband and new baby, and Jill attended college in Boston. There was a world between them, or at least half a continent. And now their mother was also gone, which somehow meant staying close was harder than ever. They had lost the adhesive that bound them together as a family.

“I’m sorry I didn’t keep in touch this year,” Jill murmured. “School is crazy. And then I had that internship over the summer–”

“I understand,” Maggie cut her off, refusing to shuffle all the blame to her younger sister. “You’re not the only one capable of making a phone call. I could have made more of an effort… I should have made more of an effort. But, with Kyle and now Sienna… well, you know how it goes.”

Maggie sighed quietly and let the thought just drift off into the ether, regret bridging the distance between them.

“Yeah, I know how it goes,” Jill finally agreed without much enthusiasm. Her eyes were drawn away from the tombstone for a brief moment, resting instead on the bare branches. In a few months, they would be covered in buds and fresh green life, but for now there was nothing around them but gray, cold death.

Finally, she looked back at her sister. “Remember when you would get me into R-rated movies?”

Maggie laughed. “Of course I remember. Mom and Dad freaked out when they found out. Tried to ban us both from all movies for the rest of our lives.”

Jill laughed, too, and for a moment they both could hear their mother echoing through their voices. “Yeah, that worked out real well.”

“I haven’t been to a movie since.”

“Me, neither.”

Maggie rubbed her gloved hands together rapidly, trying to produce some warmth. Her breath spread in a white cloud before them, reminding them of how cold they were, as if they could possibly forget.

“Let’s get back home,” Maggie suggested. “Mom will understand. She always said we’d catch our death of cold if we stayed up on the hill too long.”

“Okay,” Jill agreed, though she hesitated before actually moving. “I don’t want it to be another year before we see each other, Mags,” she said finally, her voice hushed and serious. “I don’t want it to be a year before we talk again.”

Maggie had already turned back to go down the hill again, but she paused when she heard her sister’s words. She slowly turned back around, unsure of what to say.

“Of course it won’t be another year,” she assured Jill, without much confidence.

“We said that last year at Christmas.”

“Did we?”

“You know we did. We promised to Skype, to Facebook, to see each other over the summer.”

“I know, I know,” Maggie agreed sadly. “We suck.”

“I don’t want to suck,” Jill told her firmly. “I want to be sisters. Like we used to be. I still need you, Mags. I don’t care if you’re thirty and old and you have a kid or whatever. I still need you to hug me sometimes and tell me everything is going to be okay. Okay?”

Maggie opened her mouth to speak, but no words came. She finally grabbed her sister up in a warm hug, a hug that could make them forget winter for that brief moment.

“You will always be my sister,” she whispered through the wind. “And I will always be here for you. And it won’t be another year. It can’t be another year, because that’s just too damn long.”

Jill nodded in agreement, burying her face in her sister’s shoulder. “Too damn long.”

What is an UpWrite Lady, Anyway?

You’ve heard the term now, you’ve seen the title of our website, maybe you’ve seen the hashtag on Twitter.

UpWriteLadies.

So, at this point, you might be asking yourself what, exactly, is an UpWrite Lady?

It’s a perfectly logical question, one I’ve spent the better part of the last few months thinking about.

Finally, I’ve come to some conclusions.

In short, the answer is… you.

You, just the way you are right in this moment, embody everything that is the philosophy of UpWriteLadies.

You’re here, at this silly little website that’s the result of years of work and toil of two women who are writers, and you’re not here because we’re so amazing.

You’re here because you’re amazing.

Even if I’ve never met you, I know you’re amazing because you’re a writer.

And being a writer is hard. On every level, it’s hard. It’s hard to start something new, it’s hard to finish something old, it’s hard to edit, hard to revise, hard to know when it’s the best it can possibly be.

You’re a writer, not because it’s always fun or enjoyable or easy, but because you’re compelled on some level to write.

Even if no one ever sees it.

Even if you’ll never be satisfied with it.

Even if it’s inconvenient and painful sometimes.

Still, you write.

Perhaps you write scribbling on a notebook during your lunch break from a retail job you hate.

Perhaps you write on a laptop in a coffee shop, the smells and sounds of the busy world around fading into nothing as you lose yourself in your keyboard.

Perhaps you write only in your mind, outlining your great novel that will never be completed.

The point is, you write.

Wherever, however, whenever, you write.

You don’t give up.

You don’t turn it off.

You don’t think it’s silly or pointless, because even if no one reads it just the act of writing itself is cathartic and healing.

You write for the joy of finding just the right word, just the right sentence, just the right description. You write because you can express yourself so much more eloquently on the page than you can in person, when you don’t have the opportunity for endless edits to get it just so.

And that’s why UpWriteLadies exists.

Writing is one of the most solitary things in the world you can do. Unless you’re in writer’s room on a sitcom or working with other reclusive, introverted people on a project, writing is all internal. It’s quiet. It’s lonely.

It doesn’t have to be lonely!

We at UpWriteLadies exist because Amber and I understand everything you’re going through. We understand what it’s like to procrastinate and put off writing because it’s just so much easier sometimes. We understand that all the good things in this world, family and friends and beauty and pain and everything in between, needs to be talked about. It needs to be expressed, and you are the one who needs to express it.

And we want to give you a place to express it.

We want to give you a place to be honored and encouraged, to be praised and lauded, and to praise and laud others who so richly deserve it.

There isn’t enough positivity and enough joy in this world. Maybe we can’t change the world, but we can change this corner of the Internet.

Our corner of the Internet.

Your corner of the Internet.

We can’t do it without you.

Because you’re amazing.

  • Sarah

Short Story Submissions Now Open!

Great news! UpWriteLadies is now accepting short story and non-fiction submissions for our first submission period.

We will accept all submissions for March publication up until 11:59 pm PST on February 25. We will contact the winners for a profile, and Sarah will publish her pick for winning story (along with review and profile of the author) on the FIRST FRIDAY in March. Amber will post her winning pick (along with review and profile) on the THIRD FRIDAY in March. We will open the contest again for April, so if your story is not selected this time around, do not fret! Resubmit! We encourage it!

Please review our updated submission guidelines for more information. All submissions should be emailed to Upwriteladies@gmail.com.

Please share and forward this page to all women writers you know! We’re hoping for an amazing turn out!

Also, don’t worry! This Friday, Sarah will publish a short story she wrote on this site to give you an idea of the quality of writing we are looking for. Amber will publish one at a later date, as well.

Thanks!

– Sarah