Month: March 2014

Prim and Proper

Spoiler Alert! I talk about end of series events in this post.

I think a lot of people focus on Katniss, Peeta and Gale too much. What about Prim? Who was that little sister, and was she really an important character in the Hunger Games series?


I thought about doing a character sketch on the mother, but I don’t think there’s enough material there.

Prim. Primrose. Primmy Prim Prim. Primmerton. Primmethius. Say a word enough times and it loses its meaning.

Prim is an incredibly important part of who Katniss is. Prim is the driving force of Katniss – the reason to keep fighting another day. Without Prim, there really wouldn’t be a saving grace for Katniss’s character. And what I mean by that, is that Katniss is selfish. Throw the two boys in there, and she has no idea what she wants. There are times she treats them both like dirt because she knows she has them wrapped around her finger. She loves them both and doesn’t want to chose.

But with Prim, the opposite is true. Prim is the one in control of Katniss. What does Prim do with that power? She cultivates it. She loves her sister and does what is best for her. Throughout the series, Prim is a pillar of strength and gentleness. She does not allow her dire circumstances to sway her unending love of life. Not only her own, but for every living thing. Her mother, her classmates, her goat and cat. Prim is a healer, and it shows through her character.

Prim becomes a nurse in the final book. She looks death in the face and says, “Not today, sweetie.” The reader never questions if Prim is old enough to face the horrors of war, because it’s within her character to be intimately involved with the hurting patient. Prim is only 13 years old during the last book. Who in their right mind would send a child into a bloody war, regardless of how skilled she is at bringing life to the mangled?

She also loved her animals. She nursed her goat back to health when she first received it. Her cat was also near death when she first laid eyes on it. She always hated the fact that Katniss hunted due to her large heart for living creatures.

What about her faults? Was Prim the perfect character?

In some respects, yes. Prim doesn’t have any glaring character flaws that one hopes for in literature, but it fits her. She is only 13 by the end of series. She doesn’t have a lot of time to be jaded by the Capitol. Because of Prim’s strength and charm, Katniss has something worth fighting for. Katniss would never work that hard for her mother. Peeta and Gale are chop suey as far as Katniss is concerned (am I being unfair?). But Prim is something precious. Prim is fragile in Katniss’s eyes. Prim needs protecting.

Prim is also one of the few characters who can get away with telling Katniss how it is. Haymitch tries, and it usually ends in a fight. Prim rarely raises her voice to Katniss before she has Katniss’s undivided attention.

Prim doesn’t discriminate between Capitol people and District people when it comes time to heal. And that’s the best part about her. She doesn’t care who’s hurt, or whose side the patient is fighting on. She sees pain, and she does something about it. Unfortunately, that’s what takes her in the end. Her heart for the hurting. But I think it is worth it. For Prim, at least. She dies doing what she was made to do.


Developing a character is not a chore that most writers have to dig up from the bowels of the imagination. At least that’s what I’ve been told, and that’s what I’ve experienced. As long as I spend enough time with my characters, I get to know them. They tell me what things they’re going to say, or choices they’re going to make. As long as I’m listening closely enough to my characters, the job that really needs being done is to show up and type. Jackie Lea Sommers talks about “butt-in-seat, fingers-on-keyboard.” Just show up and write. Get to know your characters and listen to what they have to say.

If you decide to make the character do something because it would make the plot flow a little better, your reader is going to see a glaring point in which the character is out of character. Prim would never have allowed Katniss to drown her cat, even if Katniss had very logical reasons to do so. Prim would never have not dashed into the middle of a bombed square to keep herself safe. There were hurting people out there, and she needed to do something about it. If either of those examples had happened, Prim would have become a one-dimentional character. One that would not break our hearts.

It doesn’t matter if Prim was perfect or flawed. She was believable. Now go and write us a heartbreaking character with all the joy and sorrow of Prim.

Image Credit: The Hunger Games Wiki

Shitty First Drafts

Today was a shitty first drafts kind of day. 

That’s writerese for “write a bad first draft and edit it later.” Hemingway would put it simpler, “Write drunk, edit sober.” The term was coined by Anne Lamott. If you have any interest in writing at all, please read her book Bird by BirdIt’s a hilariously irreverent guidebook to the writer in all of us. 


My shitty first draft day included zero writing. It was full of job searching and disappointing responses. I got an email right away in the morning saying that I had been passed up for a job I was really looking forward to interviewing for. Then I got another email saying I’m not qualified for a different job and another call saying that this wouldn’t be a good fit for the company. 

I’m not completely unemployable, but days like today make me question that. 

So that’s my shitty first draft. Tomorrow (or perhaps Monday; I don’t want to work on the weekend!) I will do better. I won’t be a complete pessimist and I will try to sell myself another day. 

But that brings me to another first draft. 

A friend told me the other day that he is good at telling stories, but he’s not good at writing them. “How do I get better at that aspect?” 

Good question. How does one get good at writing? 

It goes back to the shitty first draft. Write the story as you think of it, and then go back to it. I always try to reread my work the moment I’m finished with it, but for whatever reason, I cannot concentrate on the story. As I reread it my mind thinks, “You just wrote this. You don’t need to read it again.” So I end up skimming it and missing all of the grammatical errors and sentences that don’t make sense. I completely rely on my editor to do that for me. Yes, for those who asked, my editor moonlights as my wife. 

The other issue I run into is missing essential aspects of the story that I didn’t write down. I tell a story about running away from thugs in Calais, France, but I miss the part where a dog starts chasing the thieves. “How did you get away?!” Oh yeah. The dog…

But that’s the beauty of writing. I can tell and retell and embellish as many times as I want before anyone reads the story. But it always begins with a first draft. Until that first sentence is written out, I don’t have anything to work on. 

So writer friends, write it down. If you go back a week later and hate it, trash it. Try again. Try a different story. But remember, it’s your story. No one else is going to tell it for you. 

Throwback Thursday – City of Mirrors

I am thinking of warm sunny places as a wintry mix surrounds my home. Here is a post from August 2012 about volunteering in Albania in 2009.

City of Mirrors

I spent some time working at a hostel in Berat, Albania. Berat Backpackers is a fantastic little hostel, which I recommend you visit. If not the hostel, at least the website. There are some beautiful photos of the city and surrounding areas which will enhance this story for your imaginative pleasure.


I was volunteering at the hostel. I did some landscaping, cleaning, registering guests and a little shopping for the kitchen.

It was the end of the season, so the hostel was closing up. We helped board up doors and harvest some veggies from the garden and deplete the left overs from the kitchen.

The locals would come hang out with us in the evenings. We found some speakers and had dance parties every night. The bar was full at the beginning of the week. We did well at “depleting the leftovers.”

When the week started wrapping up, we went out to celebrate a successful season, though my friends and I had just arrived. We went to a local bar and had dinner. Then we stayed until 5 am drinking delicious wine that stained our teeth purple and dancing to whatever pop music the make-shift DJ put on.

The next afternoon, my travel companions and I decided to go for a walk through the city. As you can see from the pictures, it’s a gorgeous city with a lot of things to see: castles, mosques, orthodox churches, white washed houses with a wall of windows, cobblestone streets that only people and donkeys can pass.

As we strolled through the city, it was completely silent. We went during the afternoon call to prayer. I could hear it being sung from the speakers on top of the mosque. Our shoes clacked on the cobblestones, reminiscent of an old movie; the ominous clapping of shoes in a large corridor. Suspense.

But this was not suspenseful. It was peaceful. The birds welcomed and sang to us. The white walls seemed to warm as we approached. The flowers sitting in their pots turned their faces towards us to say, “Hello! So glad you came to visit!”

It was warm and sunny. The singing from the mosque came to a close, and people started appearing, smiling to us, asking us questions that we couldn’t understand. We visited the orthodox church. The doors were open and the sanctuary was empty. The carpet and pews were bright red like a rose. There were golden ropes guiding people where to sit and worship. Dried flowers sprinkled every ledge giving off the faintest hint of a garden aroma. The ceilings were high and intricately adorned mostly in gold. The crucifix looked down on us in mournful solemnity.

We stopped at a cafe for lunch. We had sandwiches and coffee. People came to talk to us. Some left because we couldn’t speak Albanian. Others wanted to practice their English with us. Most were friendly. Some were creepy.

Later that day, I sat on the patio at the hostel reading Dostoevsky’s The Idiot while smoking a pipe. I was enjoying the scenery that spilled out in front of me. We were on the side of a hill facing a small valley. There was another hill opposing us. The houses crawled up the side of that hill. Every wall was made of large windows (see photo above). The sun was setting behind me and the windows were singing her beauty. I was getting a little hungry. I leaned back in my chair and picked a pomegranate the size of my head. I cracked it open and thought, “I will never leave Albania.”

I truly believed, as I still do today, that I had found a magical world not of this planet.

Image credit: Johnny Ward

Testing the Limits

My groomsmen took me paint balling for my bachelor party. Dana allowed it on the condition that it was at least a month before the wedding – she wanted me to have time to heal from the thousands of welts that were bound to incur.


One of the guys chose to wear old pants that he didn’t care if they got ruined. That means they were too tight, which proved troublesome when running away from the enemy, dodging stumps and jumping over fallen trees. It was at that point when the pants had had enough and tripped him up. I watched as he flung his upper body in the air while his legs stayed planted on the ground. I raced over screaming “Go for broke!” covering him while he tried to upright himself.

As he was brushing the dirt and leaves off his now ripped pants, something red kept showing up with each swipe. Upon further inspection, we found a huge gash under his thumb that was too gruesome to describe here.

“Benjamin’s Party!” I shouted to whomever could hear, “The game is over for us. We need to take this guy to the hospital.”

Being that my friend didn’t know anyone else present, it was my duty to drive him to the ER while the rest of the guys went back to the best man’s house to continue the party.

We sat in the ER for three hours. He was sewn up with fewer than 8 stitches. He asked the nurse about playing softball because he had a game the following day.

“As long as you wear a batting glove, the stitches should be fine.”

I called the guys to have them save us some food; we’re on our way back. Of course when we got there, the food was gone. Thanks guys.

The next day I got a call from my tall friend. He was calling me from the ER.

At the game, he had been playing center field while his brother played left. There was a pop fly right between them and they both went running. They are brothers, mind you, so the communication aspect of their relationship may not have been as developed as their competitiveness. They collided. His brother’s nose moved from the center of his face to just below his right eye, and needed reconstructive surgery two days later.

My accident-prone pal sustained gashes on his eyebrow, cheek and arm, a black eye and a spiral fracture on his left femur.

But thankfully, the stitches on his hand were just fine.

Image Credit: Big L’s Paintball

Car Troubles

I’m at the shop right now with my car, Ingrid. She wasn’t feeling well enough to take Dana to work, so we found another way. I’m reminded of another time I had car troubles.

I had just returned to the US after a ten week tour of Europe. I moved in with a friend in Coon Rapids, MN and was working for a small company that provided cares to people with disabilities.

When I moved in with my friend there wasn’t a building manager, so I couldn’t get on the lease. For three months. “Oh well,” though I, “I’ll get on the lease when a new manager is appointed.”

Meanwhile, my paychecks started bouncing. I kept going back to the main office demanding my money in cash with interest and overdraft fees on top of what they owed me. They were pretty obliging.

The last time this happened, I was driving to the bank to deposit my wad of bills. My car started making funny noises which were certainly not funny. It died as I pulled into the nearest gas station.

Great. Now what? I called my roommate for a ride.

“Hey, I’m glad you called. We got a new building manager and she’s not very happy that you’ve been living here without a signed lease.”
“Yeah?” I questioned, having a bad feeling of where this was going.
“Yeah. We’ve gotta be out by the end of the month.”
“Damn. Ok. We’ll figure something — wait a minute. My boss is calling on the other line.” I say as I swap phone calls.

“Hi, this is Benjamin.”
“Hey Benjamin, I have some bad news.” Good grief! “The company has gone bankrupt, and none of us have jobs anymore. Don’t bother going to work tomorrow.”

I sat back in my lifeless car and started laughing. Did that seriously just happen?! I lost my car, I lost my home and I lost my job all in the span of two hours.

I was trying to take it all in when my brother called me. Oh no. Now what?!

“Hey Benj, what are you doing with your life?”
I may have been a little emotional at the time, but my response still wasn’t justified. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?! I’m doing my best ok?! I can’t control whether or not my job goes under, or if my car breaks down!”
“Dude, calm. down. Have you had a bad day?” And this is the point where I realize that he had no idea what had been happening.
“I’m sorry. Yes.” And I spill it.
“That’s great!” He responded to my calamities.
“What.” -_-
“No, I mean, ‘dude! That sucks.’ But there’s a reason I called today…”

So that week I moved in with my brother. In a homeless shelter.

He worked overnight security for the shelter and they had an unexpected opening. Free rent and food. It was perfect. Except that it was an hour and a half away from Dana.

While I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong with old Ingrid, I have to remind myself that whatever it is will not land me in a homeless shelter.

Fred Phelps

The outspoken founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps, died this week. As a gay-rights supporter, I am trying to figure out how I feel about this. I am tempted to rejoice in his passing. A man who spewed so many lies and so much hate deserves to die, right?

Fred Phelps

Image Credit: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Well, maybe not.

I am forced to consider why I support gay rights. It’s because if God is supposed to love everyone, that means everyone. Regardless of what strand of diversity he/she brings to the table. Also because I don’t think religion and politics play well together.

Let’s talk about the first one, though – God loves everyone. Therefore, I can’t pass judgement on anyone. I’m not a perfect person, but I like to think I’m included in that deal. So how can I rejoice in this man’s death? Whether or not I agree with him, I don’t think he’s out of the realm of grace. Yes, it’s the same grace that he believed extended solely to his family, but I can’t say he got to heaven and God said, “Yeah, probs not, Freddy. You were a jerk.” Maybe God did, but I won’t say that.

“But he was an evil man! You can pass judgement on Hitler, so you can pass judgement on Phelps,” you might say.

No. No I can’t. Hitler was an evil man, but it’s not my job to condemn him. I don’t want that job and I won’t accept it if offered. So I won’t do it to Phelps, either.

“If you can’t stand up to Hitler,” you may further question, “what do you stand for?”

I stand for justice for the oppressed. Whether the oppression comes for racial injustice, economic disparities, or any other form, I want justice for people.

I also stand for mercy. Oppressors must come to justice, but in no way do I think justice must be unmerciful.

And mostly, I stand for love. If we can’t love each other, we have no business hating each other.

I sat down to write this post thinking of all the awful stories and libel I would say against Fred Phelps. I didn’t for two reasons. First, there’s not a lot I can say about him that he hasn’t said already. And second, I don’t want to be known for my hatred. I want to be better than Phelps. I can’t play on his level.

I will say this, though: Fred Phelps would be an interesting character on which to base a villain.

Throwback Thursday – Week Stomach

Here’s a story I posted while I was working a customer service job. Enjoy!

Week Stomach – August 2012

I woke up this morning with a song stuck in my head.

I stumbled out of bed singing “Fixin’ to Die.” I was singing in the shower. Singing as I drank my coffee. Singing as I put on my shoes and gathered my lunch.

Then Dana told me that I am not going to die, it’s just Monday.

Fine. I’ll go to work then.

I used to think people who complained about Monday were whiny. They were stuck in a job they didn’t like. If they just tried to find some enjoyment in their job and the people they worked with, Monday would actually be a good day! “Hey! I get to go to work this morning!” I was sure they would sing as they crawled out of bed. And not the way I was singing this morning. Something more along the lines of “Oh Happy Day”.

I don’t know if I completely agree with that anymore. I don’t hate my job. I actually rather enjoy it. It’s painfully boring, but I get to do things while I sit in my cube. I write, read, listen to music. Things that I would be doing at home, but here I get paid for it.

I’d rather be home, though. I’d rather be sitting on my couch, in my unders, with a bowl of chips. I wouldn’t rather this every day of the week, but I do on Monday mornings when the thought of getting out of bed makes me sick to my stomach. Like someone who walks past wearing far too much cologne. And not good cologne, either. Something like Bod. That’s what it’s like Monday morning. Bod cologne.

Tuesday, though, seems like a completely different story. The days aren’t nearly as busy at work. Getting out of bed isn’t half as difficult (though my wife may disagree with that statement), and I feel as though the weekend is just around the corner. My co-workers don’t seem to appreciate it when I say, “The week’s almost over!” on a Tuesday. I don’t know why…

I’m not convinced Wednesdays exist. I never remember anything that happens on a Wednesday. My supervisor told me I shouldn’t put so much Bailey’s in my coffee on those days, either, but I don’t think the two statements are related.

Thursdays are slow. Not painful like a Monday, but it’s the day before the day before the weekend. It’s the armpit of the week. If Monday through Friday were a set of bathrooms, Thursday would be the dingy outhouse that no one wants to go to because a spider might crawl up his or her nether parts. There’s not a lot one can do to spruce up a Thursday. It should probably just be burned.

Then the glorious Friday. The day that gets far too much credit. The day that is grossly overestimated. The day that holds her power over the other days of the week like an older sister with her first set of car keys. With her first un-shared bedroom. With her cute little sundress that mommy and daddy bought her. Everyone adores her and she knows it. She’s a diva. She would be the bathroom with a clawfoot tub in the middle of the room. Just because she can.

I feed right into Fridays. I love Fridays. I try not to, but I can’t help it. I get to go home and veg out for the next two days. Or go out of town. Or whatever I want. How is this a bad thing? And sometimes I get paid on a Friday. Those are the Fridays worth working for.

But, for every Friday comes a Monday. And these are the mornings that I wake up to face death. Or phone calls. Whichever comes first. I couldn’t tell you which would be worse.

Baking Frenzy

This is not a food blog, but I’m going to tell you about my experience last night in the kitchen.

It was my friend’s birthday, so I thought I’d make him a cake. I used to bake when I was a kid, but since I discovered my wife’s abilities, I left the kitchen in her capable hands. She’s a wizard when it comes to cooking. I was going to say “she’s a witch when it comes to cooking,” but that has awful connotations.

So I start baking the cake. Dana sent me a link to the recipe. Then we found out it needed to be gluten free. And dairy free. And chocolate with frosting. So she sent me another link.

It had been a long time since I’ve baked a cake, so Dana also sent me a list of instructions. Which was simultaneously helpful and daunting. I had forgotten how many steps go into this.

So I begin. I listened to two hour-long podcasts during this feat, mostly because I was afraid of doing something wrong. I had to check the recipe three times for each ingredient because I just knew that I would miss something important. I was also listening to stories on The Moth podcast and TED Talks, which were probably more distracting than entertaining.

So I go through the steps. I read the paragraph of instructions at the end of the recipe (does anyone actually read this stuff?!), and I read the extra notes Dana sent. That was to do with how much white sugar I should put with the coconut sugar. I read and added Dana’s notes before I read the recipe notes. The recipe called for half a cup of sugar, but Dana’s notes said “Half a cup of coconut sugar and 1/4 cup of white sugar.”

OH NO! I’ve already ruined it. I’ve put in 3/4 cup of sugar, and I’m about to add a bunch of honey, too. This is going to be a sweet cake.

“Don’t worry about it, sweetheart. It wasn’t a typo,” she reassured me.

FINALLY the cake is in the oven. I was so proud of myself at this point. As long as I don’t burn it, I will have made my first gluten-free cake!

Now to start on the frosting.

I was going to make the frosting on the recipe, but the coconut milk I had chilling was moldy. So I made a different frosting. Just as delicious, but not as coconut-y.

I was told that this must be done in the KitchenAid because it does wonders for frosting. I’m putting in the ingredients for a vegan frosting recipe that was also sent to me by my darling wife thinking, “What a guy. I’m so cool.”

“Add 1.5-2 tbsp of non-dairy milk, depending on desired consistency.” 

I’m so close to being done. I can almost taste it!

Well, I had been tasting it throughout the whole process. Whatever.

I decide to start off with small amounts. I add half a cup of almond milk to my delicious concoction and turn on the beaters.

And that’s when it all fell apart.

The somewhat stiff frosting now looked more like the milk I just added, and it was not firming up. Of course I immediately go to my chef-on-call.

“Dana! What happened?! I added a QUARTER of the milk I was supposed to, and now it’s just slush. What happened?!”

And in her wisdom she replied, “Are you sure it said ‘cups’ and not ‘tablespoons’?”

Nope. I misread it.

It was time to pick her up from work at this point, so she came home and fixed the frosting for me. The cake turned out deliciously, and my friend had a good birthday.

I did learn my lesson, though: Let the witch work her magic, and try not to interfere.


For the cake recipe I used, click here.

For the frosting recipe, ask my wife.

Dangerous Dolores

How about a little BuzzFeed for your Tuesday? Think of it as a beginning of the week distraction/present.

This BuzzFeed talks about all the baddest badasses of Harry Potter. I’m a big fan of badasses and Harry Potter, who isn’t much of a badass in my opinion. Bellatrix, on the other hand, is.


Photo credit: Harry Potter Fans

Yes, we’ll play with BuzzFeed today, but let’s make this productive, too. Let’s talk about villains in literature and see what makes one particular villain so awful.

We start with Snape at 17 and work our way to the Number 1 evilest character in the whole series: Voldemort.

No wait, he got second place. Dolores Umbridge beat him out. By a long shot, by the looks of it. And I completely agree! The author of the BuzzFeed article put it so quaintly by saying, “We have all met an Umbridge in real life, and that’s honestly what makes her the most evil character in Harry Potter – the fact that she actually exists.”

Look at our society. We can name all of the Doloreses out there. How many people discriminate others because they are different? Or because the he/she will gain something? Or (and probably more accurate) just because he/she can?

And this is why the world loves to hate Dolores Umbridge. Because she represents “The Man” that we all struggle against. Or feed into, depending on which half of the 1%/99% you land.

Dolores Umbridge is an interesting character because she almost outshines the main villain. She does it in such a subtle way that posts like the BuzzFeed above turn out to be funny, relatable and surprisingly accurate. She sneaks up on you at the end of the series when you realize that you hate her more than Voldemort.

Umbridge sets herself up to be the “good guy” by saying she is looking out for the greater good. She does this by upholding the letter of the law rather than the meaning. She is outspoken on the rights of “pure” witches and wizards, but claims that she’s not a Death Eater. That argument falls apart when Voldemort comes to power and she is one of his righthand gals. Even while she’s working at Hogwarts, she is against magical creatures who are not of a pure race (Hagrid is part giant, Firenze is part human part horse [centaur]). She seems to be OK with house elves because they are pure and because they enable her living habits.

She loves the law of the Ministry of Magic. She almost had Harry expelled from Hogwarts because of minor issues and punished him on several occasions because he was never good at keeping his mouth shut. That set her up to be an asset to the Dark Lord’s rule. But what about the meaning of the law? The law was set up to keep witches and wizards safe from each other and Muggles and makes exceptions for extreme cases. But Dolores doesn’t want exceptions, period.

In Christian terms, she doesn’t like Grace. Grace makes allowances for wizards who mess up. It allows for forgiveness. It allows for “guilty” parties to get off scotch free. And Dolores doesn’t like that. Where’s the justice? Maybe that’s why Voldemort was such an attractive leader to Umbridge. Someone who followed through with the rules he set up. Granted, the rules he set up were ridiculous and unrealistic, but at least she knew who was going to be punished and who was going to be rewarded.

She was set up in a Spanish Inquisition-esque office where she tried and condemned witches and wizards who came from less-than-pure backgrounds. If a witch had one magical parent and one Muggle parent, she was punished for stealing a magical wand from a pure witch or wizard. No defense was heard for the witch. Just punishment. And all she can do after a day of this is offer her pink, self-satisfied giggle.

It is very satisfying for the reader when Ms. Umbridge is taken away by the centaurs and when she is sentenced to Azkaban for her crimes against the magical community. But does that satisfaction make us any better than her? Was she so far from grace that a little rehab couldn’t have shown her the errors of her ways?

You tell me.

Original photo credit:


I am trying to become a serious blogger. I don’t really know what that means, but I’m researching it. If you have any tips, please let me know! 

I find myself looking at a blog about blogging, get bored and jump onto another blog about blogging. There should be a one stop shop for all this stuff. 

On another note, I decided today was my off day. As in, I’m going to do minimal job searching, minimal housekeeping, and minimal getting-off-my-butt-ing.

Why so little motivation? 

Because it looks like a gray comforter is covering Minneapolis right now, but less comforting. It looks like there will be no sunshine and no warmth. And when I took my wife to work today, it was sleeting. 

Motivation = drained. 

I have talked about what happens to my productivity when I don’t leave the house, and this post is proof. 

How do you stay motivated when the universe is exhausting you?