Writing Magic: What J.K. Did Right

The point is J.K. Rowling can do no wrong. We are reminded of this fact due to the recent publication of a Harry Potter update written by Rita Skeeter (which is confusingly written by Rowling herself, writing “inception”?) regarding our favorite wizards and witch. Somehow, Rowling is still able to draw veins of potential story lines and provoke meaningful questions through the eyes of one of the most pompous bystanders in the wizarding world. Somehow, Rowling captures our imaginations even years later. Put simply, the woman has a gift.

But if you’re not a HP fan, and you’re on the fence about her spell-binding hold on the literary world, check out this mentalfloss article. In it, you will see that Rowling is incredibly down-to-earth despite her stellar rise to stardom. Bookworms and philosophers alike can appreciate her for what she is: human. 

Of course, if you’re a writer, you will undoubtedly be compared to other writers, like Rowling. Perhaps you’ve even wondered how you will take your place in the YA fantasy genre without being constantly evaluated on Rowling’s credentials. Yet, no matter how great Rowling is, you’ll want to be your own writer. Write your own story and your own characters, without having to shorten your name to your initials; a recipe for instant fame. (Maybe I should sign all of my blogs B.B. Gunn…)

To do this, you will have to look at your favorite authors with an industrious eye. You may think J.K. was making it up as she went along, but not everyone has a vial of Felix Felicis hanging around their neck. 

So, what did J.K. Rowling do right when she wrote HP?

1. She created brands. Bernie Bott’s, Flourish and Blott’s, Diagon Alley, Gringott’s, you name it, the wizarding world has a store for you to buy it in. Rowling was a smart writer, but also a smart marketer. She specifically named every type of magical experience for the reader, not only to make the story come to life, but to truly bring it to life later. While she probably did not know that her books would inspire an entire theme park, she must have sensed that giving brand names to all of her products would be an intelligent marketing move. Now people wait in line to bring home a wand from Olivander’s or a Chocolate Frog.

Tip: So, when you are world building, try to make your products as specific and catchy as possible. The hard “C” sound is particularly pleasing: “Coca Cola, Kodak, Crocs, etc.”

2. She created her main character’s foil. A “foil” is a literary character who shares similar characteristics to another literary character and yet whose personality or circumstances differ in some way to enhance the qualities of the first character. Confused? Simply look to Harry Potter and Neville Longbottom. Both “orphans” and rather new to the wizarding world, Potter and Longbottom share a similar origin story. However, HP is decidedly “the boy who lived” and Neville is more like “the boy who simply exists.” There is no contest in deciding who the “foil” is. Neville is awkward in all of the wrong ways, while Harry Potter is subzero cool, due to his constant flirtation with death (every Halloween) along with his walking encyclopedia, Hermione Granger, and his morally supportive best friend, Ron Weasley. The point is, even the most minor characters can play a large part. And sometimes, they can even sssteal the show. (A terrible pun on behalf of Nagini.)

Tip: Make every character matter.

3. She wrote what she loved. This one isn’t a concrete tip, but that doesn’t make it any less important. J.K. has been quoted as saying that she didn’t really know that the books would be successful; she just wanted to write stories that she enjoyed. And she’s right. No matter what the outcome, Rowling knew that she would be happy with her final product. Luckily, we were too.

Tip: Writing is reputation building. If you want a “bad” reputation, write erotica. But if you want a bad reputation, write poorly.

And this is B.B. Gunn signing off. Methinks a butter beer is in order for a hard day’s work…

The Night-Blooming Cereus

night blooming cereus


And now, for a late night lesson in botany (my second love, directly after the written word.)

My favorite professor from college gifted me with a beautiful potted plant after we shared a farewell meal at his gorgeous house.”Her name is Stella, and we grew her from a seedling,” he told me as he plopped the green giant in my lap. Her leaves and branches sprawled and waved. I was fairly nervous that she was going to wrap one of her long “stabilizers,”AKA tentacles of death, around my pale neck and emit a foreboding “FEED ME” from deep within.

But she didn’t. Although her long arms grabbed at the headrest in the backseat of my car, and I wondered briefly if I should put a seatbelt around her, she was surprisingly tame. I presented her as a gift to my mother, who has a greener thumb than someone crushing grasshoppers under their fingers, and she happily found Stella a place to grow, despite much pondering and scratching-of-chin about where she would fit another flower.

My professor had impressed upon me the gloriousness of the out-of-this-world smell that would soon waft from the blossom of our night-blooming cereus. What he failed to mention, or perhaps I failed to hear, is that the night-blooming cereus blooms on one night only. What night, you ask? Oh, just one night a year. That’s right. Just like birthdays and holidays, the night-blooming cereus blooms annually. My mother and I awaited Stella’s first blossom with as much anticipation. Our vigilance was only outmatched by the guards posted at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Because once a night-blooming cereus grows a blossom, you better hope you don’t miss it. As my mother and I had to find out the hard way, the cereus’s blossom will close and wilt the next morning. She’s the Cinderella of the flower world.

And so, we thought we were truly blessed last year. Stella brought us one blossom, and we took turns kneeling beside it to sniff its truly awesome scent. We pulled a similar stunt with some particularly fragrant moonflowers before that…

But you can imagine our delight when this year, after a rather risky “hack back,” we saw that Stella produced 4 blossoms. We are now patiently waiting for them to bloom. And when I say patiently waiting, I mean checking anxiously a few times every day, even though we know she only blooms at night.

So, why am I telling you about my weird, lazy flower that only blooms once a year?

Well, it’s rather simple. Rarely will life plop a metaphor so squarely in your lap. I’m sure you’ve already figured it out yourself: if you are going to do something, do it right, and do not worry about how long it takes. I don’t care what it is: a new job, a new relationship, an old friendship, a dream, a single day. If we could all be like the night-blooming cereus, if we could direct all of our energy towards doing something, even if it takes a year (or several), simply to create one glorious product, then we could be fulfilled. But that kind of dedication is rare.

So, how about another philosophical lesson from our cactus cousin? The night-blooming cereus blooms at night. I knew that one would knock you back on your heels. I’ll wait for you to get back up. Okay, ready? Here’s why that’s important: the night-blooming cereus does not bloom in the daytime. Thus, it does not get any recognition for its beauty by the shining sun, or the bees, or the green thumbs of the world. It does not compete with the other flowers. It opens at night, when no one is around to see it. It is a gift only to the light of the moon, who adorns an altar unto herself. And so, in its resplendent beauty, it blooms without distraction or inhibition. It does not try to be anything, it just is.

Now, there are a few metaphors inherent in that. Be more deliberate in your actions, and do not openly seek acclaim and fame are the two big ones that come to mind. But you can read in between the lines as much as you want. That’s the beauty of the night-blooming cereus: it’s full of potential.

And here’s another kicker: so are you.

There Are Two Kinds of People In This World…I’m One of Them

I don’t like labels.

They’re itchy, difficult to cut, and always a main feature of your favorite shirt.

I don’t like labels for people, either. And when applied to people, they are not much different than clothing labels: they’re annoying, difficult to get rid of, and somehow everyone has something to say about them. Which is more in line with the subject of this blog post.

We all know there are two types of people in this world. Cat people and dog people. Pepsi people and Coke people. Mac people and PC people. People who put mustard on their hotdogs, and people who slather on ketchup. People who loved Edward Cullen from Twilight, and people who wanted to see him dead…again.

For some reason, we are obsessed with polarizing, categorizing, and segregating ourselves from other people. Most of the time, this serves us no purpose but to pass judgment for frivolous reasons. But there are also some categories that may give us some insight into ourselves and our lives, if not simply a laugh.

So, I decided to poke some fun at both kinds of people in this world by making up some of my own polarizing divisions. Some of them are rather poignant, while others are decidedly silly.

Which side are you on?

There are two kinds of people in this world…

1. People who can float in a swimming pool, and people who can’t.

2. People who love sunsets, and people who love sunrises.

3. People who eat their french fries first, and people who are wrong.

4. People who think they can wear whatever they want, and people who are right. (These are the same people.)

5. People who raise their hand in school, and people that call out the answer (also known as the people who piss off the former group.)

6. People who love Harry Potter, and muggles.

7. People who drink black coffee, and people who have no soul. (These are also the same people.)

8. People who love thunderstorms, and people who are afraid of them.

9. People whose hair looks great all the time, and people who have sold their soul to the devil. (These are the same people, yet again.)

10. People who wear sunglasses to look cool, and people who wear sunglasses to keep the sun out of their eyes.

11. People who wear belts to keep their pants up, and people who wear belts to keep their fat in. (No hate, I’m included in this…)

12. People who think that WaWa is God’s gift to mankind, and people who have no idea what I’m talking about.

13. People who have a green thumb, and people who kill anything they touch.

14. People that pat your back slightly during a hug, and people that fiercely hug you back.

15. People who think you’re a neat person, and people who won’t. (Both of these people have valid points. Try to listen to the former as much as you can, but don’t block the latter out completely.)

16. People who want to lay in an enclosure full of puppies, and people who want to lay in an enclosure full of puppies AND ducklings.

17. People who agree with you, and people who don’t. (I wish I could say that there was a middle ground of people who don’t agree with you but respect your opinion, but this is largely unheard of on the Internet.)

18. People who can french-braid their own hair, and people who have mastered witchcraft. (These are the same people. I promise, this is the last one.)

19. People that will promise you the world, and people who will promise you the world but will not deliver. (Unfortunately, sometimes these are the same people too.)

20. People who believe in magic, and people who once did but need someone to remind them.

21. People who see shapes in clouds, and people who need to look a little longer and harder.

22. People who have everything color coded and filed away, and people who are thinking right now, “Did I leave the oven on?…”

23. People who believe the world will end by fire, and people who believe the world will end by ice. (Thanks, Frost.)

24. People who think blood is cool, and people who don’t think anything when they see blood; they’ve already fainted.

25. People who love, and people who need to be loved.

And of course, if you’re anything like me, there are also occasionally three kinds of people in this world: some who can do math and some who can’t.


On this July 4th, this most regal of holiday, with plenty of domestic beer and hot dog eating contests, I feel compelled to reflect on my country of origin. This is an incredibly difficult undertaking because it will take everything in my being not to fume (did I say fume? I mean explode.) over the decision made earlier this week by the Supreme Court  regarding women’s healthcare, namely contraceptives. No, I will not discuss the idiocy that courses through this country to have four men allowed to make a decision that does not affect their lives because they are, quite apparently, not female. And to be honest, this isn’t the first thing that America has done that is completely stupid in awhile, it’s just the most recent.

But isn’t this what makes the “home of the brave” great? We let everyone have a say and an opinion. We let even the most simple- and close-minded people freely speak, even though the rest of us want to tape their mouths shut. In the name of freedom, of course. 

But I wouldn’t have us any other way.

Sure, as a country, generally speaking, we are a bit too obsessed with food and a little behind in education. But I’ve never met more passionate people than Americans. And we’re passionate about everything. Media, beer, technology, food, fashion, art, etc. You name it, and we have someone who has absolutely dedicated their life to making the entire industry better.

And I’m not saying that other countries aren’t, uh, better than America. I’m going to say this slowly so I don’t get a million accusations of egocentrism in the comments. Plenty of countries are so much better than America, and we all know it. China is advancing as a society at an alarming rate. The Scandinavian countries have some of the best schools in the world. The Netherlands does everything, well, better than here. Including solar roadways. Hell, I lived in Ireland for several months, and I seriously question my sanity for coming back. I mean, they have beer AND a beautiful countryside? What more could you want?

But it isn’t home. And I don’t consider America home because I grew up here. I call America home because it calls me home. I can’t find a place where I can be more myself. We are called the land of the free for a reason. We are free to live, and love, and be. And we may try to control each other’s lives but somehow, we return to our roots. And we remember that this country was created to escape persecution, not to embrace it. We are a haven for others, and despite certain, offensive individuals, we are an accepting and loving people. I don’t mean to get on my soapbox, and I’m not about to quote the Statue of Liberty, but I think we should all remember what our troops see in our country to want to fight for it. It’s not perfect, but it’s ours. I may not always live in America, but it will always hold a place in my heart.

So, I absolutely encourage you to travel the world. There’s some wonders out there that you should not miss. But if you ever want to be a competitive eater, you should come here. And seriously, if you want to find a true home for life, come to America. We’ll feed you (a lot) and keep you safe. We promise.

Take the Night Off

I’m taking the night off from blogging, but I will be back with a post tomorrow!

In the meantime, enjoy this beautiful graphic a friend of mine made. (Not her original picture, but she made the graphic herself. It’s perfect, if I do say so myself.)

You should recognize it from last night’s post! Thank you, Emy!

Remember to take some time for yourself tonight. I will be.

The Best (and Worst) Advice I’ve Ever Heard

Blogging is sort of like yelling random things at strangers. I’m not saying what you’re yelling is random; to you it sounds like a very well-thought out speech, with peaks and valleys and climaxes and falls. However, to everyone else it is just that: yelling. And you’re really not sure if you’re making an impact at all. Actually, you’re not even sure if anyone is listening. But you continue to yell in the hopes that someone is listening. And not only listening, but liking what you say.

You might argue that all writing is sort of like that. But your thoughts get bound and beautified when they are published. Blogging leaves them bare and vulnerable.

But maybe that’s just it. Maybe I feel like I’m yelling into the dark because I haven’t been vulnerable with anyone, not really. I can tell you what you should be doing with your life on this blog until I’m blue in the face and sore in my fingertips, but it doesn’t really matter until I can share something more substantial. I mean, how do you know what you should do “before your thirty,” anyway? Well, it’s easy. Figure out what works for you. To demonstrate, I’ll show you a few quotes that always work for me (and some that don’t at all), and you can decide. Let’s give the reader a little more utility, shall we?

The Best

1. “Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.”-Earl Nightingale

I couldn’t have said it better myself, Mr. Nightingale, which is why I often turn to this quote in my hour of need. I’m a perfectionist, and all writers have an absolute complex (that usually turns into alcoholism down the line) about rejection. I’m often paralyzed by the fear that I won’t succeed, and even if I do, it won’t be “perfect.” However, like Nightingale says, the time is going to pass anyway. You can’t stop it. But what you choose to do with time is up to you. I don’t know, there is something about being the “master of my fate, captain of my soul” that really lights me up. I also love the “why not” attitude of this quote. Like, do you want to sky dive with Danny Devito? Go for it!

2. “I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once.” – Ashleigh Brilliant

It’s not really advice, but it is something to think about. I think I love this quote because I see so much of myself in this, but it also applies to an entire generation. I think we are under the impression that we can “multitask,” in this day in age, by talking on phones while listening to music while driving our cars, but we simply can’t. The brain has been proven to only be able to fully handle one task at a time. We may feel like we’re balancing and juggling our priorities, but really, we’re just dividing ourselves up to work at a lower capacity. I think everyone needs this quote printed on a sign with a cute cat underneath it.

3. “Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.” -Nido Qubein

As a college student, I have not only heard every excuse in the book, but I’ve used them all, too. This is one of those excuses that I’ve heard time and time again, spoken with alarming fervor: “I can’t do that because I don’t have the money/support/education,” etc. However, everyone starts somewhere. Some people start higher on the ladder than you, some people lower. It just depends on how determined you are to reach the top. You shouldn’t use your financial situation, your support system, or your education as a crutch. If you really want to do something, you’ll stop making excuses, and you’ll do it. I know because I want to eat pizza more than I want to work out. Therefore, I am making an excuse to work out, and my excuse is pizza, which is a pretty good excuse, I’d say.

The Worst

(Notice these quotes are a bit more vague and ambiguous. Like they could be said by anyone, but especially by that really nosy relative that is always asking whether you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend yet, and then following up with, “but you’re so pretty, smart, talented, etc., as if that helps….)

1. “Land your dream job.”

For a very long time, I put a lot of pressure on myself to get a job in my dream career. I haven’t lowered my standards or accepted my expectations as “realistic,” I’ve simply joined the workforce only to realize that I have far too many interests to be satisfied by one industry. I love what I do right now because there is a diverse amount of things to keep my attention in numerous subjects, and so, I’ve landed my “dream” job, but not in the way you or I expected. Would I love to make a living writing novels? Absolutely, and I know I will one day. But some people just can’t work at their “dream job,” and we need to stop pretending that this is the only way to become self-actualized or successful. As I see it, it’s simply the difference between people who can write “on the side” and people who have “to write for a living.” Right now, I do both, but I do it in two very different ways, which makes me feel fulfilled. Remember, you do you, no matter what anyone else says.

2. “Follow your dreams.”

This is fine advice when you add to it a little bit: “Follow your dreams, and if you can, set goals and deadlines for your dreams. And talk to people who share your dreams, and ask them how they achieved their dreams. But remember you don’t have to follow their exact path, and…” Well, you get it. Dreams are wonderful things to have, but if you don’t plan out how you will achieve them, then they will remain dreams. Try setting little hurdles and then work your way up to taller buildings that you can leap over like Superman. Starting small is always a good idea, except when you go shopping for clothes…doing that will end in a panic attack about caloric intake, if you’re anything like me.

3. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” or any variation of optimistic nonsense when you are grieving.

When people tell me they are an optimist, I worry for their health. I tend to believe the people that hold themselves to the sunny side of things may actually crack like the shell of a sunny side up egg. Don’t forget to engage with your darker emotions, or they may rip you apart. If you have to cry, cry. Everyone needs to face their feelings head on once in awhile to engage in catharsis. However, try not to dwell. Place a band-aid over the wound for it to heal, then rip it off all at once in a day or two. Doctor’s orders.


Oh, and one more thing. Never take unsolicited advice. Thus, I have invalidated this entire post. You’re welcome.

8 Songs You Probably Wouldn’t Put On a Workout Playlist (But Should)

I’m slowly, almost imperceptibly, renewing my efforts to get healthy and lose weight. This week I’ll be joining up at the gym and cutting out the junk food I love so dearly. I’ve had enough, and it’s obvious my body has, too. I lost my gallbladder one year ago to a horrible nutella overdose (I wish I was kidding), and there is simply something about sitting in a chair all day that makes me want to remind my legs what it feels like to move out from under me. It’ll be an incredibly painstaking progress, but it will be progress nonetheless.

However, if you’re anything like me, you’re gonna need a lot more motivation than the possibility of losing another organ (I AM kidding now). We’ve all attempted to do it on our own. We’ve bought new sneakers, a new water bottle, new workout clothes, new headphones, and we get to the gym only to spend the entire time lifting weights in front of the mirror, staring at our body and hoping the weight will melt off sweat drop by sweat drop. I’ve counted calories in my head and on my phone. I’ve danced with ladies 20 years my senior to music that is 10 years my junior in a Zumba class. I’ve been a tree, a warrior, and a child in yoga, and I have counted my breaths more times than I can count.

In the past, I may not have been consistent with my workout routines, but music has always been a motivational tool for me. The problem for me is that the only songs that truly help me keep going have repetitive beats and monotonous, empty lyrics. Isn’t there a perfect blend of captivating lyrics with an up-tempo bass line? I had to ask. But whether you’re walking or running, don’t sweat it. I’ve got you covered.

8. Float On – Modest Mouse

A combination of positive lyrics and a beat you can get into, you’ll be power-walking through the entire song before you even realize the burn in your legs.

7. Babel – Mumford and Sons

Any Mumford and Son song can help to pump you up, but the guys’ sophomore album really hits the spot. Especially their title track, Babel, which has plenty of raging banjo to keep you going.

6. Come With Me Now – Kongos

It’s a little bit slow to run to, but it’s constant beat and infectious accordion will keep you surprisingly rejuvenated.

5. Dog Days Are Over – Florence + The Machine

Another song with beautiful lyrics and an uplifting melody, Flo’s hit “Dog Days Are Over” will keep you moving and grooving. Besides, it tells you right in the lyrics to “run fast…” Don’t you love encouragement from a disembodied voice?

4. Intro – The XX

This tune is so steady and winding that you’re not really sure when it will finish, and you’re not really sure you want it to. This will keep your mind off the clock and off the pain in your legs.

3. Lazy Eye – Silversun Pickups

When the beat drops on this one, your feet will be flying. It is just continuous enough to match your footsteps but not enough to bore you. Give it a listen, and you’ll see what I mean.

2. Mountain Sound – Of Monsters and Men

Of Monsters and Men are one of those bands that are entirely underrated, especially in providing the soundtrack to your workout. Pick any song of theirs and you won’t be disappointed, but this is a favorite of mine.

1. Rag Doll – Aerosmith

Go figure, right? But the alternating drums on this track will keep your knees and heart rate high.

There you have it. Now, get up and jam out!


It’s About Time


My boyfriend and I had one of those rare weekends where we caught up on everything we’ve been meaning to do. We went places we wanted to go, we ate food we wanted to try, and we spent time with people we wanted to spend time with (mostly each other, but also ourselves.)

In a rare twist of events, we even had time to watch a movie. Of course, we had to watch it in two parts because you can’t survive a two hour movie when your bedtime during the week is an hour before sunset. But, somehow, with plenty of caffeine, we made it through the sci-fi/rom-com About Time, a movie we had been wanting to see since it was in theatres. Incredibly and ironically, we hadn’t had time to watch it before then. Even more ironically, it definitely was about time we watched it; it was very good.

We settled in for Rachel McAdams’s girl-next-door charm and Bill Nighy’s typically convincing but also rather creepy performance. I was drawn in by the quirky romance, while my boyfriend, I suspect, was waiting for the banana peel to fall and the romantic part to fade away into the comedy aspect.

The plot centers around a young man, played by Domhnall Gleeson, who is told quite unceremoniously about 15 minutes into the movie that all of the men in his family can travel in time. Suddenly, he has the gift that every dorky, quiet person (which he portrays) has ever dreamed of: the ability to start over at any point in a conversation. He keeps the memory of what has happened previously, but no one else has any idea, except his father. As a romantic comedy, you can guess the hilarity that ensues. Boy meets girl, boy messes up his one-liner to girl, boy runs away only to come back to suavely pose the one-liner again to girl with much better results.

But, being as vague as possible, the ending surprised us. Towards the last half hour, the movie did not bear any resemblance to the goofy rom-com we signed up for. It turned strangely dark, albeit with a purpose.

To sum up its concluding moral: you should live every day like you have to relive that day tomorrow. Confused?

Then let’s explore this for a moment. What do most of us do? We trudge along. We put our heads down. We tell ourselves this mantra, “It’s Monday. Tomorrow is Tuesday. And if I can get through Tuesday, I can get through Wednesday. And if I can get through Wednesday, I can drink four Starbucks coffees to get me through Thursday and Friday. And then it’s the weekend. And I’ll be blissfully happy for two days.”

But what if you had to relive today? Would you moan and whine about the coffee you spilled on yourself, the traffic you experienced, and the absolute rushed madness of your life? Or would you already be expecting all of those difficult parts of your day, and so you would be able to take the time to slow down and relish the finer points?

Essentially, we congratulate ourselves for the days we can get through instead of the days we can enjoy. So, I have a challenge for you. Try living tomorrow like you have to relive the whole day again. What would you do differently to ensure that you had a pleasant experience the first and second time? Would you slow down to appreciate more things? Or would you speed up to get to all of the good parts? We can’t time travel (yet), so we can’t undo or redo all of those embarrassing and difficult moments we may experience. But we can learn from them.

And it’s about time we all started to do exactly that.

Because what is life?

It’s all about time and what we do with it.