Links to heal your heart

It’s been a hard week after the events in Charlottesville, and I’ve been having a really hard time processing. And while I definitely believe it’s vital to pay attention and stay aware of what is happening surrounding the white supremacist movement and the removal of Confederate statues, I’ve been letting it consume me to the point that my mental health has been suffering.

If your heart is hurting as much as mine, here are some things I’ve been turning to recently that have made me feel a little better:

  • Watch Zootopia. It’s a big, beautiful metaphor that addresses the harmfulness of racism, and is painfully relevant to today. But it’s so clever and will restore the sliver of hope you still have in humanity.
  • Vanity Fair filmed a celeb interview parody video with Jennifer Lawrence and it’s incredible.
  • The New York Times built an interactive matrix where you can plot each Game of Thrones character’s goodness and beauty. I spent an ungodly amount of time filling it out.
  • Entertainment Weekly‘s “The United States of Movies” combines two of my favorite things – maps and movies – and also reminds me of a man I met in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, who immediately brought up Gone Girl when I told him I’m from Missouri.
  • My boyfriend says I can’t listen to Lorde’s new album Melodrama anymore because it makes me sad, but I can’t resist watching her music video for “Perfect Places” again and again.
  • Speaking of new music, Kesha’s new comeback album is her best yet – especially “Bastards” and “Learn to Let Go.” Blast it on your drive.
  • Liz Climo. I know I’ve posted about her cartoons before, but they can’t not make your heart smile.
  • Melissa Broder’s So Sad Today column at Vice. Hey fellow sad people, you aren’t alone!
  • The “Great American Eclipse” is this Monday and Columbia is in the line of totality. I was already super excited, but now I’m practically bursting because Bonnie Tyler is going to sing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” during it.

How Stephen King taught me to write

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No writer has influenced me more than Stephen King. In seventh grade I read my first King novel, Pet Sematary, and chased it with Salem’s LotThe ShiningCarrie and Christine. King was my segue from children’s and young adult fiction into adult fiction and, more than even the J School, King taught me how to write.

Vox recently published a story on Stephen King’s extensive cultural influence – after all, without him we wouldn’t fear Pennywise the Dancing Clown living in our sewers or ironically name our shih tzus Cujo. Much of this article discusses King’s writing style – namely, his exceptional ability to make the reader empathize with characters.

As the article’s author Aja Romano writes, “every characterization, even a minor one, is rich with detail; even if you just met a new character, you can bet that by the time he or she meets a grisly ending a few pages later, you’ll have a deep understanding of who that character is.” King is a master of writing in rich detail, building worlds and understanding people – key elements I work to emulate in my own writing, both in fiction and in journalism.

I’m a features writer and have always tended to steer clear of hard news. I became a writer because I want to meet people and learn about them. My favorite stories to work on are ones where I’ve attempted to capture a person’s essence to make the reader understand them as I have come to.

Take, for example, a story I did in October 2015 about Mark Chambers, a Rocky Horror Picture Show super fan and emcee. I conducted multiple interviews and spent a lot of time texting, calling and just hanging out with Mark as he worked on his show. I had to understand the love this man had for this movie and make sure readers understood him as well.

With each story I work on, I try to exercise my ability to build scenes and create characters. It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to write a long form feature such as the one on Mark, but even with shorter articles I take every opportunity I can to make it more rich with detail, such as in a Q&A with a baker in Columbia, Missouri, and a Missouri music icon. My focus on detail comes from King, much to the chagrin of my former journalism professors who would cringe when I couldn’t name one long form journalist I admired, but raved about the horror author.

Though King is my favorite author and I’ve read many of his novels, I have barely put a dent in his expansive list of works. I’m ashamed to say some of his most famous stories, such as The Stand and Misery, are still resting, unread, on my bookshelf. But here are some characters who have stuck with me because of the great care King put into them.

The Losers’ Club in It

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It, my favorite King novel, lacks a central character in exchange for a core cast of six – The Losers. It begins with extensive delves into each character’s life as adults before returning to their childhoods, and jumps back and forth in time throughout the 1,100+ pages. As you see them in childhood and adulthood, cross-cut together, you develop a deep understanding of who they are and what motivates them, making It’s threat all the more terrifying.

Dolores Claiborne

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Stephen King is the reason I will be thinking of nothing but Kathy Bates and husbands pushed down wells during the Aug. 21 eclipse. Dolores Claiborne is interesting to me because the novel is told entirely through Dolores’ confession to the police about her involvement in a murder. On the surface, Dolores and Vera Donovan, an old woman Dolores is employed by, are cold, hard and in some cases cruel. But King masterfully peels back the layers of their complicated relationship through the conflict between Dolores and her abusive husband Joe. He writes Dolores in such a powerful way as she reclaims power and ends her years of living under domestic abuse, though through her own act of violence. King, to me, is Shakespearean in his understanding of women.

Big Jim in Under the Dome

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It might be strange to say that Big Jim is one of my favorite King villains. After all, he is just a used car salesman and King has written vampires, killer clowns and whatever the hell the Langoliers are. But Jim being human is what makes him so terrifying as he rises to power when Chester’s Mill is cut off from the outside world by an unseen force. One line that still sticks with me, four years after reading the novel, is from Big Jim himself: “Murder is like potato chips; you can’t stop with just one.”