Yesterday

Yesterday, my alarm went off at 4:30AM. I smashed the snooze button until 4:50, but it was technically my day off, so I wasn’t under much pressure to be on time to work.

I brewed my coffee into a “Do or do not, there is no try” travel mug emblazoned with Yoda on the side, grabbed a protein bar, donned lazy-day yoga pants and a sweatshirt, and climbed into my car as the sun began to break over the horizon. For about the fiftieth time since I bought it, I thanked the car gods (and the previous owner) for blessing me with a vehicle that was customized to have a seat warmer installed in the front seat. It will be a blessing on cold winter mornings.

I lamented that the Radio Classics station on XM Satellite Radio was playing a comedy, and not one of my favorite detectives, like Philip Marlowe, or a good creepy show like Suspense or the Witch’s Tale. So I settled for music on the long commute to work, hating the bits and scraps of poor, car-struck deer littering the sides of the highway.

I strolled into work, determined to fly under the radar, but still said hello to a few folks as I hastened by, though I reminded them that it was my day off – not to brag about my “dedication,” but to hopefully inspire them not to bother me too much with the usual day-to-day shenanigans since I was putting in my own time. For three and a half hours, I managed to get a good chunk of work done, but left before I could get too sucked into a project. Also, my supervisor told me I looked terrible when I walked by, so I figured I should leave and hopefully alleviate some of the haggard-ness from my face.

I nabbed Starbucks breakfast – the spicy chorizo sandwich and a caramel cloud macchiato – and made the long drive home. This time, Gunsmoke was on the Radio Classics channel, and though I normally shy away from Westerns, I decided to give it a go, and was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it. Not as much as my favorite detectives, but my ears have been opened to a new genre, at the very least.

Once home, I made a couple of phone calls – endured the tedious wait times and horrible hold music – and set up my utilities for my new apartment, feeling proud to see new account numbers written down in my name. Then my mom and I went to the gym, where I was able to knock out a few chapters of my latest read, and reached the first few pages of the final installment in Claire Farrell’s Chaos series, which I am absolutely loving. It makes me look forward to the tiring treadmill sessions, as all great books should.

After a quick drive home and an even quicker shower, my mom and I drove over to the movie theater for an afternoon showing of Harriet, the biopic starring Cynthia Erivo. Though I yet again cursed the inefficient way the theater conducts their concessions lines, especially on $6 Tuesdays, I was thrilled to see that the female-driven movie about a heroic black woman was showing in theater #1, which is the largest and often reserved for the hotly-anticipated blockbusters, even though it came out the same day as Terminator: Dark Fate. Despite some audience annoyances, we were both thoroughly engrossed in the film and enthralled by the powerful performances.

Still pondering the messages of the movie, we ran a couple of errands, grabbed another Starbucks (don’t judge me) – me a venti pink drink, her a pumpkin cream cold brew – and then, before returning home, we decided to do our duty and vote in the local elections. I am personally a long way from being fully informed, but I made my choices and cast them, and felt proud to receive the little “I voted!” sticker at the end of the line. The sun was going down as we drove home – the curse of the dreaded daylight savings – and I started the first of what would be three loads of laundry in an effort to get a few chores finished before the close of the day.

After a salmon dinner, I scrolled through my FB feed, rife with “Remember, remember, the fifth of November” posts, and just as many posts lambasting them – and then my mom and I tuned in for The Little Mermaid Live! on ABC, while my dad left the room to watch NCIS upstairs. I was charmed, watching one of my favorite Disney movies come to life onscreen, and I was personally pleased by the performances and the production value. Still humming the familiar tunes, I turned in to my bedroom for the night, watched a few Youtube videos, then drifted off to sleep.

Yesterday felt like a simple day – not a waste, per se, but maybe a little dull, not too jam-packed, nothing to sneeze at. An average November day. But when I write it out… sometimes, even the simple things can have more meaning than we first believe.

 

 

Outside Looking In

I feel like every generation has some “fandoms” that, although they can transcend time and appeal to various age groups, are seen almost as a “staple.” But, of course, it’s impossible to involve yourself in all of them. So here are the ones I missed out on, as a millenial growing up in the nineties/2000’s!

1.) The Legend of Zelda
I have, in my twenty seven years on this planet, never played a Zelda game. I was a Sony girl, so I had Playstations growing up – the only Nintendo consoles I owned were the hand-held ones, and I only played them for Pokemon and the occasional KH game or FF remaster. So as far as the fandom goes, I only have basic knowledge, which is one of my greatest shames as a gamer. I do know that the hero is Link, though. I am similarly a novice at most Mario games, but I am a beast at Mario Kart.

2.) A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
I read about 10 million books in my youth and somehow missed out on this book series. It is the kind of series that is 100% up my alley, so I’m not sure how it flew below my radar. I have since made it a goal to read all of them, because I don’t want to watch the show without having read the books.

3.) Anything on the Disney Channel
Honestly, I didn’t know that Disney Channel was even a thing during my childhood. I was more into Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, and only discovered Disney Channel when I stumbled upon a That’s So Raven rerun on TV one day while scrolling through the channels. So, I didn’t know that there were show versions of my favorite Disney movies, like Hercules and Aladdin. I was too busy scaring the pants off of myself watching Are You Afraid of the Dark? By the time I discovered it, I was basically too old to be watching…. though I snuck in a couple of episodes of Suite Life from time to time.

4.) Naruto (and other popular anime)
I was a pretty big weeaboo back in the day, but never got into such titles as Naruto, Death Note, Bleach, or One Piece, just to name a few. This is not to say that I didn’t like these shows – I just didn’t really watch them. I did watch a bit of Naruto and Bleach, and I enjoyed what I saw, but I tend to drop off from titles when they are super long and I’m not completely enthralled by them. This was the era when folks were wearing Naruto headbands to school, so being an anime fan who didn’t watch Naruto was a bit of a stigma. The exception is Death Note, which I did watch in its entirety but I did not quite get the hype as much as some of my friends did. The perfect anime length for me is 26-52 episodes, or 13 episodes, depending on the series. Anything longer tends to be too much for me, though I was hugely into Inuyasha and Sailor Moon.

Reader’s Delight

As a birthday treat to myself, I bought a grab bag from Out of Print. I had previously bought a sweatshirt and some socks from them over Christmas and was super impressed with the quality, so when the grab bags came back in stock I jumped on the opportunity to buy one. And I thought I’d share the results with you guys!

20190413_112258.jpgBasically, with their t-shirt grab bags, you get 4 shirts for $40 (+shipping), but it’s a blind selection and all sales are final. To be on the safe size with the sizing, I picked a unisex medium bag. I’m usually a women’s medium, but I really didn’t want to run the risk of them being too small. The unisex medium is a bit big on me, but not unbearable. The unisex small might have been too snug in the shoulders, so I think I picked well. But they have a lot of cool stuff on their site aside from grab bags, so I highly suggest you check them out if you love books as much as I do!

 

20190413_112111.jpgAlice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll! A true classic, and a favorite story of mine. Though it’s been retold and reimagined in countless ways across all sorts of media, the original tale of Alice stumbling into the perilous beauty of Wonderland remains timeless. I love this print – the tea-party scene with the Mad Hatter, Dormouse, and March Hare – and it’s grey, so it will go with anything!

20190413_112200.jpgThe Raven by Edgar Allen Poe! This is my all-time FAVORITE piece from the king of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe. I had to memorize it in eighth grade, and it inspired me to write this poem. I love his short stories too, but this poem – with it’s repetition, and rhyme pattern, and imagery – has stuck with me the most of all his writing through the years. And it’s grey, so it goes with anything!

20190413_112222.jpgHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling! Somehow, I managed to get a shirt of my favorite book in the Harry Potter series. GoF is the pivotal turning point in the series, where the plot thickens and the themes darken, and the Triwizard Tournament story is my favorite part of the whole saga. I love the drama, the action, the riddles – all of it. And it’s grey, so it goes with anything!

20190413_112142.jpgLe Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry! It has been a long time since I read this story, so I’ll need a refresher sometime soon, but I remember that it’s beautiful, rife with symbolism, and it contains powerful themes transcendent for a novel often considered to be a children’s book. I look forward to rereading it soon and seeing how my views of it may have evolved since I was younger, and how it will touch my heart as an adult. And, it’s grey, so it goes with anything!

 

But that’s not all I got in my package – they threw in a tote bag, too! With a message I wholeheartedly agree with!

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So, I got super lucky with my grab bag because I got shirts featuring books/poems I’m familiar with. Others might not get quite so lucky, since it’s all left up to chance, but I’d say it’s worth checking out if you want some literary swag!

 

Don’t Judge…

How often have we been told not to judge a book by its cover? In general, I abide by this – in life, and when it comes to actual books. As a reader, I’m more likely to be drawn in by a powerful synopsis than by a cover.

But, undeniably, a gorgeous cover is super effective when it comes to snaring attention, and I’ll admit that if I pass a stunning cover in a book store, I’ll at least stop to look at it. I’m a sucker for a pretty cover, even if it isn’t the main allure.

And so, for this Friday’s post, I thought I’d share my collection of books with beautiful covers! AKA, books I primarily bought because they have lovely covers.

20190314_121100.jpgEven if their covers were the main draw, many of these books are special to me. I’ve mentioned Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass many times before, which is my favorite poetry collection and had a profound impact on me as a young adult. I loved the cover of this edition, so I bought it even though I have a well-word edition of the same collection already. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett are both big influences from my childhood. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is an old favorite, as is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I bought these pretty versions to honor these books, which have all influenced me as a reader and a writer.

The others, though, are for me to experience some new/old stories. I’m familiar with some of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, some of Hans Christian Anderson’s stories, including The Little Mermaid, and the general story of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. But my familiarity with them is based on Disney films or more saccharine versions of the original tales, ones that strip all the darkness away. I know that the original versions are different,  more gritty, and though I am familiar with some grim snippets, I want to read them in their true form. But I only bought these books because their covers drew my eye, and thus sparked further interest.

So maybe, sometimes, it is okay to judge a book by its cover. At least a little.

 

 

 

The Things We Connect With

When you read a book, what are the things you connect with? Are there certain factors that stand out to you more than others?

I read mostly YA, but I don’t shy away from any particular genre, and do stray into adult literature on occasion. For me, there are a couple of elements that leap off the page, and make it easier for me to connect with the story and characters. In regards to the latter, give me a good sarcastic sidekick any day. One who has more purpose than to crack jokes, but still excels at being a master of wit with a cutting edge. I like a best friend or ally who is not afraid to call the hero out on their problematic behavior, and has a whole, well-developed personality all on their own aside from being a sidekick. I especially love strong friendships in YA of any genre. I don’t want a romance story where a relationship becomes the protagonists’ sole focus/purpose, so friendships with a solid foundation are often a favorable complement to that.

When it comes to protagonists, I connect with their flaws. Give me a hero or heroine who is not always likeable, who makes questionable calls, or who makes mistakes that possibly inspire various degrees of calamity. When they have distinct, relatable, or plot-affecting flaws, I am more likely to connect with them. I don’t want to see a female protagonist whose only flaw is that she’s a bit clumsy, or is “too nice,” or some cop-out like that. Give me drama. Give me reasonable self-doubt.  I like it because it gives them more room for growth, as well. I especially like it when a hero/heroine has to fix a major problem that they cause, whether by accident or on purpose. Don’t get me wrong, I like heroines who kick ass and are amazing with a sword… but because I don’t kick ass, I find it harder to personally connect to them.

Villain-wise, I need an antagonist who is more than just their bad deeds. Someone who actually has a point, but is going about it the wrong way. I mean, some villains are just evil to be evil, and that’s fine – but I prefer it when there’s a reason, and the reason has a solid explanation behind it. Or, sometimes I don’t even want a villain – it all depends on the story. Don’t give me an antagonist for the sake of it.

For example, some of my favorite series are The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot, The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, and The Charmed Life series by Jenny B. Jones. They contain some of my favorite characters, and ones I have connected with the most. As much as I love a good serious drama/fantasy, it’s stories with humor that I am drawn into the most – hence Meg Cabot being my favorite YA author.

It’s a similar experience with films, though the things I connect with tends to differ. I’m drawn in by the typical things, like basic plot, genre, and acting prowess. But when I’m actually in the theater, it’s different things that snare my attention. Don’t get me wrong, I still like snarky sidekick characters, occasionally-unlikeable protagonists, and conflicted antagonists. However, the things I connect with the most are more on a visual and auditory level.

I am compelled by strong cinematography/set design/production design. If a film is aesthetically pleasing to me, it has a higher change of connecting. Recent visually-inspiring films on my list include First Man, Darkest Hour, The Shape of Water, and The Favourite. It’s also part of the reason why I will see any film directed by Guillermo del Toro, Joseph Kosinski, and Zack Snyder. All-time favorites in the visual department include Tron: Legacy, Man of Steel, Crimson Peak, and Oblivion.

Another thing I connect with the most is the music. I need a soundtrack that is part of the film, not just the background. Composers who excel at this are Alexandre Desplat, Ennio Morricone, the Gregson-Williams brothers, and Ramin Djawadi. Also, who can forget John Williams? He’s the perfect example. You know the themes to Jaws, Star Wars, and Jurassic Park because they are so interwoven with and indicative of the film itself. When the score really suits the film, I am more likely to connect with it.

So, I have to ask – what are the things you connect with, whether it be in books or film?

Five Life-Changing Reads

Every avid reader has a favorite book or two… or seventy-six. But some of those notable or obscure titles can be life-changing. So, here’s a list of some of the books that have changed my life – not only as a reader, but as a person!

1.) Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – Most folks probably think of the classic Disney movie when they hear the name ‘Peter Pan,’  but my first thought is always the book. This book was my first foray into a magical, multi-faceted fantasy world that explores joy and sorrow, light and shadow, happiness and fear. It captures both the wonder – and terror – of eternal childhood, of being terrified of losing something, and the bittersweet nature of fleeting youth against the inevitability of growing up. I realized, the first time reading this book, that the “never” in “Neverland” can be interpreted either as wondrous and whimsical, or grim and dour – or maybe a mix of both. I love a fairytale-esque story with a twist of something dark, and Peter Pan was the gateway book for me. The dual-nature of this book is encompassed in one of its most iconic lines, as said by the titular character himself: “To die would be an awfully big adventure.”

20190121_104043.jpg2.) Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman – I’ve never been a poetry person… rather, I wasn’t until I took a Major Authors course on Walt Whitman my second year of college. I immediately connected with his poems, especially the titular “Leaves of Grass,” “O Captain! My Captain!,” and “Great are the Myths.” Whitman’s poetry, though written in the mid-late 1800’s, has a universality to it, a timeless quality that can be applied to scenarios and events throughout history and around the world, not only those that occurred in his lifetime.. His poems and the themes he presents are personal and profound, passionate and playful, perceptive and piercing. His poems make me think and feel, to apply his words to my own experiences, and I could pore over this book for hours pondering the meanings of his poems and imagining what his life was like. I recently bought a beautiful copy of this collection (pictured) and it’s got a place of honor on my shelf.

3.) The Jungle by Upton Sinclair – I’ve mentioned this one before, but I’m going more in-depth this time around. This is the first book I ever read (followed a few years later by Native Son by Richard Wright) that made me realize why people were drawn to communism/socialism/unions during the Industrial Revolution in America. It was jarring to read about what conditions were like for workers, especially immigrant workers, in the meatpacking industry in the early 20th century, as researched by muckraker author Sinclair. If you have a rosy view of what America was like during that time, building itself up from fields to cities and growing into the capital giant we are today, prepare to have your image shattered by The Jungle. I was assigned to read it for a class and put it off until the last minute, then plowed through the whole thing in one sitting because I was so engrossed. This was my first real wake-up call that American History wasn’t always blue skies and valiant victories… there are plenty of dark clouds and shameful secrets that, though hard to acknowledge, are important to our nation’s identity.

4.) Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid – I read this book for my senior seminar class in college, which focused on Caribbean literature. The entire class was an eye-opening experience, but I had to do a presentation on this novel, so I got to dive a bit deeper into it than the others we read. This book was my first time reading a coming-of-age novel about a girl from a background/life/place so completely different from my own. Growing up on Antigua is nothing like growing up in a rural town in Pennsylvania. And yet, it’s still possible to find universal threads woven into the unique, deftly-told narrative. At times, my heart swelled for Annie – and, at times, my heart shattered for her. Themes of depression, separation, mother/daughter relationships, growing up, and colonization are all expressed in a timeless and powerful fashion, centered around Annie, a complex and beautiful character. If you’ve never read a book like this, I HIGHLY recommend it.

5.) The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – I mean… this book/series has probably changed every fantasy writer’s life, right? It’s THE pinnacle of high fantasy, and will never be topped. It’s just so, so… brilliant. Sure, the language and descriptions can be burdensome, at times… but it’s worth the journey, all the way from Bilbo’s first fateful meeting with Gollum in the bowels of the Misty Mountain to Galdalf’s epic “You cannot pass,” to Sam’s final line of “Well, I’m back,” as he greets his daughter and wife. LotR is the reason I want to write fantasy, and so, it has changed my life for the better.

A Glimpse….

It’s been two years since my YA novel  I’m With You came out, and though I hope to have my next YA/Fantasy novel out soon, I feel like I haven’t shared anything about my next project other than some vague comments. So, here’s an excerpt from the MS in its current state – obviously, since I’m querying and going through the next phases, nothing is set in stone and it is subject to change.

Not providing any context, though. Enjoy this little glimpse!

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“Okay.” I draw a deep breath and stand. “Let’s go.”

Vigo grins, but Lark’s mouth falls open. “You can’t be serious, Evie!” she shrieks, following me out of the room and down the hall. Vigo pads along behind us, his claws clicking on the hardwood. “You can’t go off to some other world—the otter just said it’s dangerous!”

“Which is why I can’t leave Becca there.” I throw the door to my bedroom open. Vigo scampers between my legs while I dump the contents of my schoolbag on my bed and start dashing between my bedroom and bathroom, grabbing whatever items might be useful on an expedition to another world. Somehow, I doubt I’ll need my hairdryer…

“But…but…” Lark watches as I fling drawers open, yanking clothes out and chucking them in the direction of my bed, though most miss the mark. “You wouldn’t even go camping with Reo and me when we were kids! This is like, a thousand times riskier!”

“Far greater than that, I would wager,” Vigo says, which is comforting.

Lark sticks her chin out. “Then I’m coming too.”

Vigo grimaces. “I cannot allow it, Miss Lark. Otherworlders are mistrusted where I come from—even more than mages. The fewer who pass through the portal, the better.”

Lark grants him a death glare that sends him scuttling beneath my desk.

“But… how am I going to know if you’re okay?” Lark’s tough-girl façade begins to crack, revealing genuine concern. “You can barely navigate your way around a mall!”

In my defense, it was only one time, and Victoria’s Secret was difficult to find.

“Lark, what choice do I have? Becca is my sister!” Storming emotions rattle my voice, but my resolve is galvanized. I shove some toiletries into my bag, which is now so bloated I doubt I’ll be able to carry it for long. “Besides—it’s my fault she got taken in the first place.”

“Evie, this is ridiculous! You can’t do this by yourself. What if you need help?”

“I’ll call if I get into trouble, Lark.”

“You think you’re going to have reception in an alternate world?”

Vigo emerges from his safe haven. “I will ensure that Evie is able to contact you. I have never attempted inter-world magic, but a sertio spell should work.”

“A serti-what?” Lark asks.

“A communication spell,” Vigo elaborates, as though the answer is obvious. “Quite simple. Even a novice can perform one.”

“Yeah, Lark. Even a novice can perform one.” My pitiful attempt at humor inspires no laughs.

“But…” Lark’s insistence flounders. “But…”

I take a break from my frantic packing to place firm hands on Lark’s shoulders. If the roles were reversed, and she was the one barreling down some unknown and unsafe path, I’d feel the same way. Although, I’m not sure she’d even attempt to save Reo from otherworldly peril.

“Lark, you need to trust me. Please.”

She stares at me, hard, determining whether or not to believe my bravado. After a moment of strained silence, her shoulders sag. I must look more confident than I feel.

“Fine, I get it—but swear to me, Princess.” Lark’s voice is steel. “The next time you go off on an adventure to another world, I get to come along.”

“Deal,” I agree, only because I assume one “adventure” will last me a lifetime.

Her eyes narrow. “Swear it.”

“I swear!”

“Swear it on Lea Salonga’s voice!”

I raise one hand. “I swear on Lea Salonga’s voice.”

“Good.” She sticks her nose in the air. “You have my blessing.”

I throw my arms around her, and she squeezes me with an urgency that nearly brings me to tears, partly because she’s crushing my spleen.

“Cover for me?” At least with fall break, we don’t have to worry about school for the time being. This little sojourn to another world likely won’t qualify as an excused absence in the eyes of school administration.

“Give me some credit, Evie.” Lark snorts. “What are best friends for?”

“I mean it, Lark—you can’t tell anybody. Especially not Reo.”

“Oh, please. Reo is the last person I’d tell. I’ll cook up a story, don’t worry.”

It’s reassuring to know that I can always depend on Lark, no matter how absurd the request is. This one has definitely rocketed to number one on the top ten list, and I doubt anything will ever top it.

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Thanks for reading!