Christmas is….

Christmas is more than just December 25th.

Christmas is the unending songs about snow and Santa Claus on the radio. It’s the inflatable decorations, twinkling lights, and reindeer in front yards. It’s when Christmas cards are addressed and mailed. It’s letters addressed to the North Pole that are slipped into mailboxes.

There are the children screaming when they sit on Santa’s lap, and there are those who drag their parents across the mall to see Kris Kringle. There are glass ornaments and plastic ornaments and wood ornaments–some very old and other brand new–gingerly placed on branches. There are candy canes turned into reindeer with googly eyes and pipe cleaners.

Cookies are left out with a note and a class of milk. NORAD tracks a sleight with eight reindeer around the globe as young ears strain to hear hooves on the other side of the ceiling. And presents with crisp edges and those with wrinkled paper sit under Christmas trees, waiting to be unwrapped.

Christmas is family and friends and kindness. Sometimes it’s pain and heartache. But more often, Christmas is love. And it’s a kind of magic that comes but once a year.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays.

Gift Ideas for Writers

The holiday season is upon us. Christmas carols play on just about every radio station and buffet shoppers at stores in malls and shopping plazas. Lots of shoppers are missing out on the songs all together as they pop online for a bit of shopping there. Or all of it.

No matter where you shop, writers can be hard friends or family members to buy gifts for. So here are a few suggestions that might help find something for the writer in your life.

Gift Cards
I’m partial to Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million, but any gift card will do. One to a coffee shop will get them a drink and an excuse to claim one of the tables for a couple hours. Or a gift card to an office supply store since printer ink can be pretty expensive. Even a gift card for archery lessons or a dance classes can help fuel their muse.

Signed Books
Thanks to the internet, it’s never been easier to find an autographed book. Small bookstores–like the Poisoned Pen and FoxTale Book–typically carry them after authors visit for signings and offer them for sale online. Barnes & Noble also carries autographed copies for Black Friday, and Target has begun carrying them intermittently. Some authors even offer signed copies on their websites.

Convention Admission
Writing is typically a solitary endeavor. But when conventions come to town, it’s a  networking opportunity for writers in their own backyard. Plus writers get the  opportunity to listen to experts on panels and ask questions of industry professionals.

Time to Write
Everybody needs more time. Writers are no different and struggle to carve even thirty minutes out of their schedule to sit at the keyboard and write. So cook dinner on Thursdays or take the dog out for his nightly walk or entertain the kids at an arcade on Saturday morning. Anything that takes an item off the writer’s to-do list and frees up time for writing.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately…

I’ve gotten into the habit of always keeping a book in my purse, which means I’m getting a whole lot more reading done. Before work. During lunch. Even for an hour before bedtime. Here’s what I’ve read over the past few weeks.

30269117Inferno by Dan Brown
~Robert Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with no memory and a military force chasing him for a secret only he can unravel.
Short chapters, multiple points of view, and the premise made for an entertaining read. However I was pretty disappointed with the ending. For a book with so much promise, it felt like a cop out.

 

6979934

The Man from Hell by Barrie Roberts
~Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson must untangle a web of lies and tragedy to catch Lord Blackwater’s murderer.
This felt like a classic Sherlock Holmes story, written in the same style as the canon. And as a history nerd, I was hooked on the chapters depicting life penal colony Australia.

 

27983358In Too Deep by Sherry D. Ficklin
~Farris is willing to write off a classmate’s death as suicide until she gets a cryptic note that begs her to find the killer.
This book was an impulse buy on my Nook, even though I wasn’t necessarily interested in continuing with the #Hacker series after reading the first book earlier this year. I’m glad that I did since this book became very, very hard to put down.

 

15396970Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen
~Ruby has only been able to rely on herself through most of her life, but can she change now that her sister and brother-in-law are giving her a future?
I love every Dessen book that I’ve ever picked up, and this book wasn’t any different. In addition to making characters deal with pretty big issues, Ruby’s journey was engaging from the first page.

 

10869746Rise of the Governor (The Walking Dead #1) by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga
~Brian Blake knows that his brother, Phillip, is the only reason he’s survived so far, but he soon sees how the zombie apocalypse is changing his brother.
The Governor is my favorite Walking Dead character, despite being off-his-freaking-rocker. I loved seeing into both Brian’s and Phillip’s psyches, and the ending was fantastic.

Being Thankful

The world doesn’t feel like the nicest place right now given the state of American politics. And that’s exactly why it’s important to reflect on the positives. To find the good amidst the darkness and uncertainty.

I’m thankful that I have a fulltime job and that said job pays my bills. I’m thankful that I’ll be heading to Massachusetts one week from tomorrow to see my parents, my dogs, and my friends. I’m thankful that there’s food in my freezer. I’m thankful that moving to North Carolina has worked out for me so far.  And I’m thankful that I don’t have to work on Black Friday.

I’ll be spending my Thanksgiving curled up under a blanket, eating Cinnamon Rolls for breakfast, and enjoying my favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner: potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce.

Here’s to a Happy Thanksgiving and giving thanks for the good.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

I doubt there’s anyone in the US of A who hasn’t heard that phrase. It simply advises (or warns) that our actions resonate with other far more than our words ever could. It’s one thing to offer help in painting a friend’s house, and it’s another thing to show up with a paintbrush in-hand.

There is no question that Donald Trump is a vile human being. Even if you disbelieve the news articles and segments on him, just take a look at his Twitter account.  He’s xenophobic, Islamophobic, misogynistic,  homophobic, and racist. He’s bragged about sexual assault, shown himself to be a terrible businessman, lied without any remorse, and bullied others both online and in-person.

He’s also the president-elect of the good o’l US of A.

Americans who voted for Trump are offended when they hear other accuse them of being bigots and racists and mysogynists just because of who they voted for. If you are an American who voted Donald Trump into the Oval Office, then I’ll admit that you very well might not be any of those things.

You might not be a racist, but you voted for a man who installed a white supremacist as his chief strategist. And the Ku Klux Klan will be holding a victory parade in Trump’s honor in North Carolina.

You might not be homophobic, but you vote for a man whose running mate believes in conversion therapy and “praying the gay away.” The vice president-elect also made it legal for businesses to discriminate against LGTBQ persons in Indiana when he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015.

You might not be xenophobic, but you voted for a man who has called for building a wall on the border between the United States and Mexico. He also called for a large-scale deportation force and said that Mexico was sending rapists and other criminals over the border.

You might not be Islamophobic, but you voted for a man who wanted to ban all Muslims from entering the country. He bullied the parents of a fallen Muslim-American soldier after they spoke out against him.

You might not be misogynistic, but you voted for a man who has bragged about committing sexual assault in what he later called “locker room talk.” He has been accused by numerous women of assault and defended himself by attacking their looks.

I will give you that you may not be a person who believes in any of those things. I hope that you don’t. But you voted for a man who does.

The President of the United States has a monumental impact on culture. When he promotes hatred, then there are millions of Americans who feel validated. Who feel that it’s acceptable to require Muslims to register with the government and to verbally and physically assault men and women who disagree politically with them.

You voted for a man who is normalizing hatred. Him and his supporters are going to make life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness difficult–if not impossible–for millions of Americans.

Now you may not be a bad person. Maybe you volunteer at a soup kitchen or donate to Toys for Tots or bring elderly neighbors homemade cookies during the holidays. But you voted for someone who is going to make life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness difficult–if not impossible–for millions of Americans.

Donald Trump is a bad person. And you voted for him.

What I’ve been reading…

I haven’t read nearly as much as I would’ve liked over the past few months. Sure, I’ve added plenty of books to my bookshelf through trips to Books-a-Million and orders from Barnes & Noble’s website. But the book-buying has far outpaced the reading side of the equation.

Even though I haven’t read as much as I would’ve liked, I’ve still been reading. Plugging along through books. This is what I’ve been reading:

26792189The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
~A collection of feminist essays dealing with writing, the science fiction and fantasy genres, and life itself.
I loved, loved, loved this book. It spoke to me not only as a writer but as someone who writes female characters. I’ll be rereading select essays–if not the whole book–in the near future.

1702013 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
~Ginny’s eccentric aunt has given her strict instructions that the 13 blue envelopes are her only road-map during a European adventure.
Despite the premise, this wasn’t as lighthearted of a book as I’d hoped. But it delivered on the reality of being sent through Europe by a family member you haven’t seen in years.

27272506The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead
~A countess escapes her suffocating life in the old aristocracy for a new world in the frontier.
This book covered a lot of time in a short amount of pages. I would’ve liked to have seen more of the Glittering Court itself, but I did like the characters. And I’ll be picking up the sequel when it comes out in April.

32145Stiff by Mary Roach
~A non-fiction book about human cadavers.
There were chapters that fascinated me, like the ones about car crash tests and grave robbing. Others didn’t hold my attention as well. But overall it struck me as an informative book that provided a few plot ideas.

24819482Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen
~Nettie Lonesome wants nothing more than to be a horse wrangler, but her whole life is turned upside down by a man who can only be killed by a stick to the heart.
This western made me itch to get on horseback and start hunting monsters myself. It has just the right mix of fantastic elements in a realistic setting. I’ll be buying book 2 soon enough.

What have you been reading?

Enough with the Love Triangles

Love triangles are the SwissArmy Knife of plot devices. Need a bit of comedy? That character just spilled chocolate sauce all over themselves while trying to flirt with their crush. Need some drama? The main character has to choose between bad boys from opposing packs of werewolves. And they’re just built for romance. I mean, “love” is in the title.

But there comes a point where enough’s enough. Not every story needs a love triangle. There’s been plenty of Edward-Jacob-Bella, Ron-Hermione-Victor Krum, and Katinss-Peeta-Gale to last readers a lifetime. (It happens outside the Young Adult genre, but those triangles tend to be amplified the most.)

I’m not saying they should be struck from every book past, present, and future. I’m just asking that authors think about writing a book or two without them. Like, does that girl who just moved to a new school really need to have two equally attractive boys fall head over heels for her? Or is fighting over a guy really the best way for those two former best friends to reconnect?

Why not add drama to the story by having the new girl be the only one who can see that her new high school is haunted? Or what if the two former best friends are forced to team up because they learn the suave, handsome stranger is actually a con-artist targeting war widows. Honestly, I’d like to read those stories more than about another love triangle.

I have nothing against romances or love triangles. I just prefer them in moderation.

What’s your opinion on love triangles? Love them? Hate them? Don’t care either way?

Life as it is… an update

Next week marks the end of my third month in Charlotte. It’s been quite a ride so far. I’m working full-time at an insurance company and sit in traffic far too long during my commute twice a day. I’ve been spending that time in the car listening to old episodes of DitchDiggers along with soundtracks for Broadway shows like The Addams FamilyYoung FrankensteinInto the Woods, and Legally Blonde. I often wonder what other drivers think of my singing. Not that they hear it. I hope.

My writing plugged along at a pretty steady pace before I got my current job. Part-time work is great for creativity (but not so much for the bank account) while full-time work leaves me drained at the end of my day. It’s just under eleven hours from the time I lock up my apartment in the morning until I get back in the evening. All I want to do then is binge on Netflix until bedtime. Not write. Not at all.

I’d like to carve myself a routine where I write on weekends and a couple nights a week. Maybe do a Monday-Wednesday-Saturday-Sunday kind of deal. It’d be nice to do NaNoWriMo next month, but I’m not confident I’d be able to achieve the word count every night. Or even come close.

I am happy with the writing I’ve done. There’s a short story I just finished that needs some serious work, but it’s got a solid enough skeleton that I feel could translate into multiple stories with the main character. Like the Sherlock Holmes stories, though she’s more of a nice-Jack Reacher at the moment. I’ve already got plenty of ideas to play with during the editing process.

What else? I’ve kept myself busy decorating my apartment with finds from antique and consignment shops. And Ikea, of course. Because what’s a home without Ikea furniture? Or Ikea decking. Speaking of decking, the patio is going to be a cozy little area when it’s finally done. I’ll be building a couple free-standing shelves over the next few weeks and putting plants and lawn ornaments on them. My neighbors are going to think I’m weird, but oh well.

That’s pretty much the big update on my life. I’m plugging along day by day as weeks slip through my fingers. But I like it.

How’s your fall going?

The Book Rules

Rule 1
Never regret staying up late to read a book. Call it a bad decision in the morning when you’re struggling against a sleep-fogged brain, but never regret it. Because if reading makes you happy, then you should never regret a moment of it.

Rule 2
Avoid starting a new book after 8 PM. Stories are supposed to get their claws in and not let you go, and it’s 2 AM before you know it. Feel free to ignore this rule on weekends or holidays. Or whenever.

Rule 3
When the price of an eBook and a paperback are close–and you can afford it–spring for the paperback. There are few things better in this world than being the first person to crack open a brand new book and stick your nose between the freshly printed pages.

Rule 4
Carry a book at all times: in a purse, on a phone, etc. You never know when you could be stuck waiting, and the articles in magazines left on waiting room tables are never as interesting as they seem.

Rule 5
Anything flat–or mostly flat–can be used as a bookmark. Those old Pokemon cards lying around, that receipt tucked into the bottom of a plastic bag, and the decal that never made it onto your car.

Rule 6
Bookmarks bought at bookstores or in souvenir shops never actually get used in books. Your inclination with something so pretty and shiny is to keep it in its plastic so that the edges don’t fray and the cardstock doesn’t bend. Metal bookmarks are the exception.

Rule 7
Splurge on autographed editions. With signed books becoming a new norm in bookstores and other retailers, they’ve never been easier to find. Far easier than hoping the author will be doing a signing within a reasonable distance from home.

On Canon & Fanfiction: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Canon [noun]: the authentic works of a writer;  a sanctioned or accepted group or body of related works

Miriam Webster Dictionary

 

Every reader knows the frustration that comes from being ready for the next book in a series NOW only to have to wait years for it to be published. I hit that point between Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix. The books had been coming out at a rate of one a year up until that point, so it was a massive shift. Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter movies only fueled my impatience, making me turn to the internet for my HP-fix.

I don’t remember how I found FanFiction.net. One of my friends might have turned me on to it, or I might have stumbled upon it while looking at anime-related websites. Either way, I began devouring the fan-written stories. And it became increasingly clear that fanfiction was a way for me to get more of my favorite characters. Was I disappointed that there wasn’t much Lupin outside Prisoner of Azkaban? Or did I want to see a human side of Snape? There’s a story for that.

My brain drew a line between the fanfiction and J.K. Rowling’s books. It was fun reading stories that explored what might happen next in the series, to see the relationships between the Marauders, and even the distinctly non-canon romances. However those stories were just that: fun stories. They were not a part of the official Harry Potter universe.

That brings me to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. As far as I’m concerned, the Harry Potter series ended with the epilogue in Deathly Hallows. It’s a clean ending, broadly addressing what happened to Harry, Ron, and Hermione after Hogwarts without getting too specific.

The HP-universe had already been set in my mind for the nine years between the last book and this new script, and it’s tough to change a belief that’s been held for so long. So even if Rowling wrote Cursed Child herself, I probably wouldn’t have thought of it as part of the canon.

What hit me as I zipped through Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was how much the story reminded me of the fanfiction that I read as a teenager. It was just another fun story with an off-the-wall plot that sometimes made sense and other times came out of left field.

I finished Cursed Child about a month ago, and the feeling that it’s just a professionally written fanfiction hasn’t left me. Though I’ve realized over the past weeks that Harry Potter is becoming like Sherlock Holmes.

Let me unpack that a bit. I first read the original Sherlock Holmes stories when I was ten years old, and I picked up any book that I found in the bookstore with Sherlock Holmes in the title. Sherlock Holmes and the Red DemonSherlock Holmes versus Dracula, and eventually the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. These books fit the most basic definition of fanfiction: work written by fans of the original series. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is long dead, so there aren’t going to be anymore Holmes stories sprouting from his pen. But the world’s most famous consulting detective continues to live on through the imaginations of other writers and new readers.

That’s what’s happening with Harry Potter. The explosion of fanfiction online during the early 2000’s allowed fans to keep the characters casting spells and battling with each other during the years between book releases. And now–nearly a decade after Rowling published her last Harry Potter book–writers and readers get to experience new adventures of Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more Potter books released in the next decade or two. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the movies are remade in my lifetime. To be honest, I’m actually looking forward to all of it. Because while these characters will live forever in my imagination, I love seeing the stories other fans write for them.