I’m Still Not Over Zootopia

So, I watched Zootopia last week and it totally blew me away. Then I watched it again at the end of this week and it continued to be a brilliant cinematic star. In my world, if it calls for more than one theater viewing, it really is that good. Correction: IT IS ACTUALLY GOLD ON A SILVER SCREEN.

And because I’m just super infatuated with this movie, lemme passionately blog about it—and if these ten reasons can’t tempt you into watching it, I don’t know what will.

1. The main character is basically Leslie Knope if she were a rabbit. And she is just so darn inspirational. Every obstacle she comes across, she conquers it with a smile and endless pep.

2. THERE IS A SLY FOX. AND I’M KIND OF IN LOVE WITH HIM…AND HIS CHARACTER ARC.

3. Scratch that, I’M IN LOVE WITH THEM TOGETHER. Their team dynamic made me squeal a lot.

4. Animals! Lots and lots of glorious animals!

5. The world is pretty freaking amazing and so cleverly built. For reals, I wish I could live in Zootopia.

6. Speaking of the amazing world, it allows for moments like this. Enough said.

7. The feels and humor are so on point. When I wasn’t crying, I was choking on popcorn from laughing.

8. Wonderful plot, teeming with rad sleuthing and detective work.

9. Most importantly, this movie is just so RELEVANT. Insanely smart, outrageously timely, and tackles so many of the serious issues in the world today in a way that makes this film kid-friendly, adult-friendly, and—hell, let’s be real—mankind-friendly. It’s mind-boggling to me that this movie is released now of all times, as we’re in the midst of a very controversial race for the presidency that’s raised the same fears and concerns touched upon in this movie. From this standpoint, watching Zootopia honestly felt like looking into a mirror and seeing a cautionary reflection of what is already happening, and what may worsen if we don’t stop it. To avoid spoilers, everyone should just watch Zootopia! I mean, can you really resist the promise of powerful underlying messages within this film, as well as the opportunity to see a fennec fox in an elephant costume?

10. Lastly, it’s impossible not to do a little happy dance to this inspirational jam right here 😀 *immediately adds to motivational playlist*

 

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It’s all in the cards, Moulin Rouge-style

Positive changes are afoot! Physically, I’m finally back at that point where I can run on the treadmill without dying. I’ve changed up my usual nail polish color (once purple-ish black, now a killer red). And I’ve been chugging along with my new WIP, Phantom Fantasy, and having so much fun. Honestly, there’s no better feeling than having all of the words just spill onto the page and suddenly getting stuck in the middle—

Oh wait, that’s not positive. In fact, that’s very not positive.

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But OF COURSE, when I encounter this stage, the eternal optimist in me automatically goes into survival mode and refuses to let the not-positives stand in the way.

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Hitting roadblocks in the middle of drafting is TOTALLY normal for writers. I mean, we all lose steam eventually. Everything does, and it is our job to recognize when we need a resting period. Think about it, when you’re driving and you see the signs that your car needs gas (i.e. the needle of death drops closer to the empty side, the dreaded gas warning light comes on, etc.), is that the green light for you to keep driving for miles on end, hoping for the best? HELL NO. Nobody wants to be driving on empty. Not you, not your precious automobile, not anybody.

Writing can be a lot like that. A LOT. Your creative tank is only so full for a certain amount of time before you need to stop and refuel—at least for me, this is true. For the people who are just endlessly creative and productive every single day of their lives without complaint, you are just straight up superhuman. Are you even real?

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I am definitely NOT superhuman like that. I started out drafting this shiny new WIP super strong; however, once the middle blues hit, they hit HARD. It’s inevitable, unavoidable, and all just a part of the process of cranking out a novel. Once you’ve made peace with that, the only thing you can do from there is to recover and rebound—give yourself the time you need to figure out your next game plan, and then jump back in.

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For some reason, I find that this problematic portion of the writing process brings out my creative “fight or flight” response where my quickest thinking comes in. Frustrating as feeling stuck is, not only does it force me to look back on what I have of the story, but it sort of commands my brain to figure out what the story needs. This time around with Phantom Fantasy, I realized that I needed to know more about the world .

Soooo, how do I discover what parts of the story world I need in order to keep moving forward? Plain and simple: I make a deck of cards, and design fun games to go along with it.

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Yeahhhh, when I type this out now, my method just seems so brutally unhelpful and maybe a complete waste of time. How will making some froofy cards possibly help me understand the intricacies of the world? The plot? The characters?

In a lot of weird ways, it’s somehow helping me understand the story WAY better than if I’d just sat down with a notebook and skimmed online article after article after article. Not that article-digging ISN’T fun (it definitely is), but creating these extra materials that exist in my world actually helped ground me in the story even more. It’s opening my brain to other possibilities, making me think about my story differently, and overall is giving me a physical tie to the world I’m writing about.

I was pretty stuck at one part during the week. But over the weekend, I sat myself down to fold sheets of paper, drew on them, and cut them out. It brought me back to first grade arts and craft time, and you bet I was enjoying every second of it. Someday I might post pics of them here when they’re not looking so rough and flimsy. To be honest, they’re really not the most sophisticated or well-crafted cards by any means, but they’re pretty dang awesome to me. Even more awesome, I forced my sister last night to help me do a trial-run of two games I’d invented to go along with the cards—and by some miracle, THEY ACTUALLY WORKED. Of course I need to fine-tune the rules a bit so that the games don’t last a thousand years, but the basics I have now are not a total disaster! Huzzah!

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The time I spent making these cards was so valuable because it also motivated me to hand-write backstories of the world and a certain wicked character of mine. I also finally watched a documentary DVR’d for story research that I hadn’t been able to get around to until now. Even though most of my work wasn’t drafting, this experience helped me understand that it’s okay. There are other ways you can add to your story that’s more than just typing out words on a document, and I honestly believe using the inevitable ohgodimcreativelystuck time to explore these routes is such an effective way to breathe more life into the story. It felt just as important to my writing process for this book, so in many ways, I’m immensely happy that I got stuck in my writing.

Yup, the eternal optimist in me prevails once more.

Now, back to work. Onward.

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Squad Love

Can I just say how much I LOVE the new Suicide Squad trailer!?? I’m absolutely crazy over everything that’s going on in it (villains, teamwork, insanity), and these glorious two and a half minutes of awesome mayhem are only making me even more pumped for the movie! Also, it’s getting me super excited to write—which is probably why I’m even more obsessed. Seriously. I feel like I’ve pretty much abused the repeat button and have watched it around a million times since the trailer released. Hopefully it will tide me over until the movie’s release date in August . . . which now just feels like an agonizing amount of forever. Sigh.

*sits back and views trailer once more with heart eyes*

If you haven’t watched it, WATCH IT NOW. IT’S BRILLIANT.

 

Star Wars and Childhood Movie Madness

Last Thursday was probably one of the most important events in recent cinematic history EVER. And that is not an exaggeration by any means. Long story short, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was finally released, and I am still processing and anticipating the next time I can watch it all over again. There were a lot of chills, feels, crying, movie score-induced eargasms, laughing—and the writer in me was also just hardcore appreciating the masterful storytelling in this film. Seriously. Mind is thoroughly BLOWN (and probably will be for the remainder of the month), and all I know is that I want more.

I also just want to go to more Star Wars movies where I can stand witness to wonderful moments like this:

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Kylo Ren in the wild, ordering refreshments (with Sabine Wren?)

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Spotted: Han Solo and an Ewok, waiting for their popcorn

Aside from being emotionally compromised by the movie, there’s just something so special about seeing the celebration of Star Wars everywhere. It brings back the nostalgia of movies that were so inspirational and significant throughout the formative years of growing up—those kinds of films that really took hold of your imagination as a child and somehow offers some insight into the inexplicable pathways of your imaginations as an adult(ish) now.

So in honor of the resurgence of Star Wars (though I’m pretty sure Star Wars will forever be around due to its timelessness), I wanted to give a shout out to the movies that were at the heart of my childhood aka the movies I would watch again and again and AGAIN until my eyes would fall out. I came from a pretty big movie party, so I’ll limit my count to top 20, though if I had it my way, this list would go on for DAYS.

And so, in no particular order:

20. Home Alone

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“KEVIN!!!!!!!”

19. Space Jam

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Tune Squad forever

18. Spy Kids

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The reason why I wanted to be a spy for most of my childhood

17. 3 Ninjas

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ALL OF THESE MOVIES WERE BRILLIANT

16. Grease

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One of the only movies at my grandparents’ house, so I watched this wayyyyy too many times in my youth

15. Cats Don’t Dance

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One of my all time FAVORITE animated movies ever. SO MUSICAL, SO INSPIRATIONAL.

14. Matilda

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Oh man, Matilda was my home girl

13. Harriet the Spy

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Ditto with Harriet

12. Jumanji

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Equally loved/terrified of this movie

11. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

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Candy and creepiness all day errr day

10. Now and Then

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This movie will forever be timeless to me

9. Halloweentown

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I WANTED TO BE IN THIS WORLD SO BADLY

8. Casper

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The most adorable ghost ever (also, I wanted to own this cool haunted house)

7. Back to the Future

 

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“Make like a tree, and get outta here”

6. Homeward Bound

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So. Many. Animal. Feels.

5. The Little Rascals

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I’ve watched this movie so many times, I could probably recite it

4. Adventures in Babysitting

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Babysitting Goals

3. Fievel: An American Tail, and Fievel Goes West

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This mouse’s adventures gave me all the feels

2. The Mummy

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OBVIOUSLY. THIS MOVIE WAS EVERYTHING TO ME.

1. Disney movies

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I know I’m cheating, but ALL OF THEM. Disney has always been my magical place.

 

No Rest For The Wicked

Dramatic confession: I CAN’T sleep.

Actual truth: I haven’t been sleeping well for the past couple of weeks and it has been driving me BONKERS.

Clearly, it is Sleepless in Janella Land, but after some thinking, I’ve finally discovered why this is happening. I’ll go to bed at a semi-decent time (even settling down at a grandma-approved hour doesn’t do me any good), indulge in a bit of shameless Pinning or read for a bit, then it’s lights off and all is silent.

Except it’s not—because I hear MUSIC.

And no, no one is playing it. And no, my iPod isn’t going nuts. I just hear music, ALL THE TIME.

Mostly Phantom of the Opera.

And no, I’m not going crazy. (At least I don’t think so.)

For anyone who knows me, music is such an important part of my life, as well as my writing process. I listen to my music when I’m writing, when I’m driving, when I’m at the gym, when I’m just sitting down to think. Heck, sometimes I listen to music while I’m playing music on the piano. All in all, I’ve got to be listening to something. Music helps me coax out those ideas and bridge scenes together like nothing else. But with all of that constant music-listening and daydreaming each day, I think my head just becomes a little too full, and my ideas a bit too loud.

Weirdly enough, closing my eyes when I sleep is just as bad as opening them. When closed, I see my characters and my worlds kind of fireworking all together, with whatever song I listened to the most that day on a constant loop in the back of my mind. To the average person, this probably sounds enormously torturous, but I guess it’s normal for writers. Certainly becoming normal for me with all the ideas bursting in my mind, looking for a way out.

Now that I think about it, this sort of antsiness was exactly what happened to me before I started writing my pirate fantasy. I was super restless, always distracted with the the scenes flashing through my mind, and most times not paying attention in class because I just needed to jot down lines in the margins of my notes. So I guess with NaNo coming up, and with my new project plans tentatively solidified, I should’ve been expecting this. When my story ideas are so loud that I can barely sleep at night, I know that it’s just their way of begging to be written.

Okay, crazy Janella is done talking. But seriously people, please tell me this isn’t just me!!

Also, talk about how much this classic just speaks to my current dilemma.

A Long Travel Montage of CP Shenanigans, Books, and the Boston Teen Author Festival

After over a week of fun, bookish, authorly, writerly, and CP-ly fun, it’s finally back to reality. BUT, for the sake of this recap, I’m still in the fun zone remembering all the good times that went down when my fabulous CPs Maddy and Akshaya came to visit me! Obviously, chaos ensued—in the best way possible.

Our hijinks included a lot of eating (naturally), wining & cheesing, working side by side, being distracted whilst working side by side, bookstores, and a much appreciated PotC rewatchathon.

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The most gorgeous breakfast that ever was eaten

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BROOMSTICKS IN BOOKSTORES, I REPEAT. BROOMSTICKS IN BOOKSTORES.

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our usual spread

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Gold star to whoever can guess this Oscar-worthy scene from PotC

And of course, many more misadventures happened in my humble little Shoveltown (yes, apparently this is what my town is known as;  yes, this was actually news to me; and yes, this is kind of creepy), but we also ventured into Boston for author-y events like the Boston Teen Author Festival which was SUCH a blast! Getting to partake in some volunteering tasks, meeting the authors, hearing them talk on panels, and getting all the books signed was ridiculously fun amidst the chaos. But with all the reader and writer enthusiasm just swirling all around, you seriously can’t help but enjoy the crazy atmosphere celebrating YA . . . as well as pretty much going bankrupt after buying all of the books. My bank account is still weeping from all of the abuse. Tip for everyone to remember: festivals and conferences WILL suck all of your money from you. It’s unavoidable.

Nevertheless, I am still super pumped for next year’s BTAF because with the fabulous list of authors who came, it can only get bigger and better from here. Here’s a look at this year’s event:

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All of the wonderful authors this year! Photo credit: Boston Teen Author Festival

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Meet the Author panel, in which rapid fire questions and hilarity ensued

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A closer pic! Credit: Boston Teen Author Festival

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The fearless Director/Ringleader of BTAF, Renee! aka fellow Emerson alum 😀

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“The Craft” panel, which touched upon topics like magic and the process of crafting other worlds

It was such a joy to sit in on the first panel which introduced the authors in attendance! All of them had a great dynamic with each other, wonderful personalities, and spot on comedic timing with the questions fired at them. When the authors were asked “Who would you ship your MC with?”  it was so interesting to see how many of them referred to other book characters from the authors present on the stage. Talk about potential crossover/fanfic kernels?

Another panel my CPs and I got to sit in on was “The Craft” panel, which included Sara Raasch, Melissa Grey, Kim Liggett, Kendal Kulper, A.C. Gaughen, Leigh Bardugo, and Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. Some of the really interesting discussion focused on the magical elements and systems within the stories, as well as the differences between “hard” and “soft” magic (the former being more rule-based, and the latter gearing toward the elemental side). It was definitely a fascinating panel to listen to for anyone writing or interested in fantasy or just stories with some complex, magical worldbuilding.

While shenanigans happened in between (ranging from a historical tour of Sharvard to observing some maybe/maybe not ritualistic behavior on the library lawn), the huge signing at the end had to be the most chaotic part because lines went on for DAYS. Leigh Bardugo’s, for example, lasted forever, but I refused to leave the premises without telling her how much I love her Grisha trilogy, how it’s influenced my writing, and then having her sign all of my copies while trying not to freak out.

And I did—and pretty much lost ALL of my chill when I went up to her and we started chatting about writing, how fantastic her books are, and my pirate fantasy. After hearing all of her words of encouragement, then realizing what she’d actually written in my copy, that’s definitely the moment when I lost all ability to function.

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*forever inserting cat head with heart-eyes emoji*

For me, one of the most rewarding parts of a signing is having the opportunity to tell the author either how excited I am to read their book, or (if I’ve already read it) how much their book has touched me/gotten me out or a writing or reading slump/influenced me/made me feel all the feels. Even though I wasn’t able to read all of the books on the BTAF roster this year (there were a TON), I’m glad I got to read many beforehand and had the chance to tell the authors how amazing they are in person.

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Probably the nicest pic of all three of us—oh yeah, and there’s Adam Silvera too, I guess . . .

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Just kidding! Adam is kind of cool, when he’s not forgetful/trying to bully me or steal my Six of Crows ARC

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Classic Shivy League fam pic with awesome punmaster, Sara Raasch

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All the lines, so little time

And so, after the chaotic battlefield of book signings and purchasing, here are my spoils of war:

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Left = ALREADY MINE pile: The Duff by Kody Keplinger, The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, and and ARC of The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh; Right = NEWLY MINE pile: This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger, The Wrath and the Dawn Hardcover by Renee Ahdieh, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, and an ARC of Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

This is a mighty fine haul, and I’m so excited to dive into all of them! I was practically heaving when I received a Six of Crows ARC, even though it was only two days before its actual release—BUT STILL. Huge deal. Now that I’ve got that ARC and an actual hardcover (still drooling over those black-stained pages), it’s safe to say that I’m sufficiently Six of Crowed for the year. Also, missing from this pile is the eagerly-anticipated sequel Ice Like Fire by Sara Raasch, which should be coming in the mail sometime soon, hopefully complete with illustrations, puns galore, and a pirate if she can manage to fit one into the package for me.

And so, after the day-long, fantastic circus that was BTAF, it was onto the next adventure for my CPs and me: WRITING RETREAT!

Akshaya, Maddy, and I ventured to Vermont for a few days where we frolicked in nature and lived out our dream of a cabin-in-the-woods style writing retreat. It was the first time I’ve ever been to Vermont (I know, the life-long New Englander in me is thoroughly shamed), but now I want to go back ASAP and FOREVER. Not only was the scenery breathtakingly gorgeous (with COWS!), but the atmosphere was just so perfect for getting into the writing zone mentality. After coming off the inspirational high from BTAF, it’s no surprise that we all were super set to just write, write, write, write, and carving out this time to work was so necessary. Surprisingly, when you put us in a house together, we actually do have the ability to be quite productive for long periods of time—and of course, add in those shorter periods in between filled with our usual distracting randomness. Let’s do it again, guys? Getaway forever, this time?

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werk it, great green pastures

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heavenly morning work station

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HOW IS THIS REAL LIFE?

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And then there were ALL THE COWS

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HOW IS THIS REAL LIFE? Part 2: A Magical Moment with a Unicorn Named Shamrock

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the sky that can’t stop, won’t stop

All in all, everything about our CP reunion was super magical, as always. Words were written/edited, books were bought, events were attended, (too much) food was eaten, and random fun was to be had.  While we drove home blasting all the Disney, failing at psychic iTunes, and making up travel montages, it was so surreal just thinking how fast the time went (and now how much I already miss my CPs). And even though the trip was over way too soon, I’m already gearing up for the next time we’re going to reunite because it shall be EPIC.

Now, back to being productive . . .

 

Weekend Watching

In between reading/editing my manuscript for the 294746339th time, and actually acting like a human for two seconds to go out for a night (where I hugged the living crap out of friends I had not seen in forever), this was also a weekend of television for me.

I LOVE television. Seriously. My idea of a perfect night is watching Netflix for however long until it starts getting embarrassing. Which happens. A lot.

But beside the point, when I get into my creative bursts and corner myself into the writing cave, I tend to neglect a TON of shows and get super sad because the internet is a raging minefield of spoilers. And for those who don’t know me, I HATE spoilers with a burning passion. It ranks among the top five of my random hatred list along with foolish mortals, mayonnaise, raisins, and selfies that try too hard.

Again, more to the point, this weekend I was able to hunker down and catch up on some television that I’ve been waiting to dive back into (and avoiding pesky internet spoilers like the plague). Here are some of the random gems:

BLACK SAILS

This is technically my “writing research” show (snort), and it doesn’t hurt that it’s RIDICULOUSLY good and all sorts of amazing. I’ve loved it since the first season aired last year and was so frustrated when I finally reached the second season’s close this weekend. So epic, bloody, and vulgar in the best way only a killer pirate show can be. Ugh, and so the waiting game begins. Between now and then, I’ll have to find another show to fill that pirate-y void. Or probably just rewatch Black Sails until my eyes bleed. It’s a toss up, really.

UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT

This show is, again, EVERYTHING. I’ve already watched the whole season (literally, in two days after Netflix released it), and had the pleasure of rewatching most of the episodes with my sister this weekend. It’s so funny, random, and empowering–aka my favorite combination of words.

OUTLANDER

This is yet another favorite of mine from Starz (they are really cranking out some amazing shows). I was always meaning to read the book before the show (still have it unopened in a bag somewhere in my room from when I went on a very ambitious book-buying trip), but it is seriously gigantic. As in, it-could-double-as-a-weapon gigantic. And not that I don’t love huge books, but I just know I’m going to have to reserve a good amount of free time to immerse myself in the story because it is just so good. The show is amazing (ahem, Jamie is amazing), and watching it has only made me want to read the books that much more.

DAREDEVIL

And here is yet another Netflix show (also, very impressed with the stuff they’re putting out there as well). I’m a fan of superhero stories, so the newly released Daredevil was right up my alley. Since I’ve only just started it, I have to say I like it a lot better than the Ben Affleck version (which, the general consensus seems to agree, was a bit blah). I love the way it filters in the backstory in relation to the action. However, I’m still in that watching early stage where I’m waiting for it to become more ohmygodcan’tstopwatchingsoundthealarm. After a few more episodes, I’m sure I’ll get there.

Such a random variety, but these perfectly illustrate my tastes for movies and television (let’s be real, pretty much life in general). So those were all of my weekend watches, which I’m sure will only increase more because I devour television like junk food when my writer mind just needs the freedom to have fun/be mush for a while. But the weekend is over, and now I have to put my writer helmet on and say goodbye to the television for this week’s sake.