Monday, December 30, 2013

A Recap of 2013

Hello, and happy... Monday. I can't even remember if today is the last day of December or the next-to-last day. Either way, I won't be posting another post on this blog until 2014. :)

I decided to go through my archives and pick out some of my favorite posts from this year, separated into categories. So, here you go:

My favorite re-read: I re-read The Warriors Saga by Erin Hunter over the summer, and it is every bit as amazing as I remember from middle school.  The Hobbit comes as a close second.

The Book That (Pleasantly) Surprised Me the Most: The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge, while expecting it to be the cumbersome, over-500-pages-long MG fantasy that it is, had the most fantastic worldbuilding and characters. The Apprentice's Masterpiece by Melanie Little comes as a close second.

The Book That (Unpleasantly) Surprised Me: Inside by Maria Snyder had a good premise, but the romance detracted from it for me. 

Literary Stuff:
I wrote on Strong Female Characters, and what they are, though I include many self-conscious "in my opinion..."s.

For the sake of Diversity! I talked about the diversity of characters and people.

I explained the difference between the fantasy and paranormal genres.

You can read my picking apart an argument of YA vs. Epic Fantasy.

And, ever important on my blog, my views on romance (and why I don't like it).

Other Stuff:
A selection of my music (without links; you'll have to look them up on Youtube yourself).

I explained my dealings with photography-- specifically, photograms. 

I watched a documentary on Ancient Japan.

Also, I watched a documentary on Lipizzaner horses. I watch a lot of documentaries.

This is my list in summary. I watch documentaries, listen to music, and read too many (but not enough) books. You can look at any or none of these posts, but they're my favorites of this year. If you have any comments, you can post them to this post!

Have a blessed end of the year! 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

It's Christmas.

Last night
"Ouch!" I yelp, as I take the chicken out of the toaster oven.
"You alright?" Mom asks, looking up from what she's doing. 
"I just didn't expect the juice to run out of the aluminum foil," I mutter, as I quickly pull the other packet onto a cookie sheet. I pull the one I dropped onto the sheet, as well. Now I can put the chicken slices (breasts? Pieces?) out of the way.
The Pillsbury crescents that I just rolled up wait on a paper plate. I place a fresh sheet of aluminum foil over the rack, spray liberally with butter spray, and place the clumsy rolls in four rows of two, trying to ignore the prickly I-suck-at-this feeling. My hands are greasy from rolling the store-bought dough triangles, and now they're even more gross as I stick them on the sheet. Spray the tops liberally, as well.
As Mom calls everyone to dinner, I help myself. A small portion of fresh-made mashed potatoes. A small bit of ham; a small bit of chicken. I have to wait for the crescents. I refuse to let the boiled bok-choy near my plate. I'm not even perfectly sure what it is, other than sort of smelly and white and green-leafy.
We don't even say prayer, even though my Pentacostal grandfather is right there. He had a heart attack recently. We make food without too much sodium for him. We just tuck in.
It's not much, what's on my plate. Everyone else -- my three sisters, two brothers, my mother and father and my father's father -- all pile their plate. My dinner doesn't even cover the paper plate. But I manage to eat most it, except for a small bit of the ham. I don't have ham often enough to really like the taste.

Christmas is one of everybody's favorite holidays. Am I sick of the commercialization, and how this is the corporations' and businesses' favorite holidays because they want to sell-sell-sell? Yes. Am I ranting about it today? No.

In fact, I am not sure what I want to say today, at all. I received a laptop, two things of chocolate, and this crocheted book-pillow, on which I can prop my book. (My mother is a very big arts-and-crafts sort of person.) I feel kind of scooped out, with the whole smiling and speaking a thanks, the whole Christmas charade ending, and the magic of December grinding to a halt. Cold, dry days from here through the early weeks of March, with little to look forward to.

Still, at the same time, I kind of hope -- as I do almost every year -- that I could extend such magic -- such happiness and snow-sparkled dreams and closeness-to-God feeling. Through the drudge of school and homework and writing and reading, no time for staring at the ceiling, for doing nothing. Late nights, turning the lights out with my glasses still on until I remember to take them off.

Do I have a definite plan this year for such an intangible goal? No. I never do. And if I did, I probably wouldn't stick to them. It's mostly read through the fifty-or-so books on my to-be-read list, try to do my homework on time, take the free online classes I signed up for for January.

I would like to make some time for clay working. I have about 25 lb of gray clay, found at my local Michaels store (conveniently located just a short walk from my local Barnes and Noble). To make my days a little easier to swallow, I would like to play with clay, like a little kid; no artsy goal in mind, just squish it in my hands and feel absurdly pleased at the lines of gray caking in the lines in my hands.

The trouble is, I like doing nothing. I like staring at the ceiling, doing nothing, almost more than I like playing with clay or paint like a little kid, which is why that clay has been sitting in its cardboard box container since September. I just don't have that quality nothing time; I hate cutting into it.

So, here's to an ending and a beginning. The ending of a deep, special season, and the beginnings of a bridge to holding to the feelings. I'm using clay and a time for nothing. What are you doing?

Have a blessed Christmas, a lovely Wednesday, and a very merry day.

This Morning 
I wake up very uncomfortable at 8:00 am. This is mostly due to my sister.
Since my grandfather gets my room while he stays the night, I have to share with the older of my two younger sisters. Cosmetics, half-empty soda bottles, and junk food wrappers lay scattered with the overwhelming amount of clothes. The whole room smells septic and close, like too much perfume and moldy food crammed together.
And, of course, this is not the worst part of sleeping in a strange, smelly, crowded-with-food-and-clothes room. My sister stays up until 1:00 am. On her phone. Laughing as she scrolls through facebook videos, which I can vaguely hear through her earphones. And because she's pulled the sheet away, I'm lying on the scratchy mattress, awake until too early.
But when I finally get up, it's a relief. A minuscule amount of presents are underneath the beach-themed Christmas tree. Ma, who was sick last night, asks me to wrap the last of the Christmas presents in her workroom. I do so gladly. It's too early to read my book or watch the crime documentary softly pontificating from the TV. 
When we're finally all gathered together -- 9:30 am -- Dad starts handing out presents, like he does every Christmas. A laptop; a card from Granddad, with a one-hundred dollar bill and a small box of Godiva chocolates. A leopard puzzle, a bag of mini Kit-Kats, wall stickers of butterflies. The Arabian Nights. 
Everyone's rustling the wrapping paper as they rip it away to reveal their gifts; they're joking, saying thanks, exclaiming if it's a good present. Our living room feels small with nine people unwrapping gifts in it.
Everything is over before 10:00 am. I smile, thank everyone, retreat to Rebecca's room, the kitchen table, Mom's workroom; all day, wherever there's fewest people, so I can get on the laptop or read my book or knit.
The season ends just like that -- with the opening of a few presents. With the ripping away of wrapping paper, which looked pretty when we couldn't see what was inside, but now looks just crumpled and throwaway.
I want to hold onto this. I don't want this to be it, over with the exposure of what's beneath the paper; but how do I hold mystery and excitement and magic when the paper's been torn away? I guess the closest I get is to hold onto something I know little about. Clay -- violin -- books I've never read, knitting that I am new at. The possibilities have to keep going, don't they?   

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

A vulnerable young girl wins a dream assignment on a big-time New York fashion magazine and finds herself plunged into a nightmare. An autobiographical account of Sylvia Plath's own mental breakdown and suicide attempt, THE BELL JAR is more than a confessional novel, it is a comic but painful statement of what happens to a woman's aspirations in a society that refuses to take them seriously... a society that expects electroshock to cure the despair of a sensitive, questioning young artist whose search for identity becomes a terrifying descent toward madness.

~Print copy, 216 pages
Published: 1972 by Bantum Books (originally published 1971 by Harper & Row)

I picked this up because... well, I'm not sure why. I knew it was depressing -- it does have the words mental breakdown, suicide attempt, and despair in the summary -- but I checked it from the library and read it, on a whim.

It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. The suicide attempt isn't until farther in, past the halfway mark. It's sensitive and sad, not despairing, or overly gloomy, or angsty.

Where exactly do I start? The main character, Esther Greenwood, comes back from a glamorous New York assignment to her boring, suburban life, and becomes depressed. Not specifically because she came back from a city like New York to a "boring" life, mind you, like the summary suggests. But like real life, her depression doesn't need a reason. It just happens.

Depression, I feel, is a rather sensitive topic in fiction. I read many, many more books of character's angst, or their lovestruck woes, than I do about real mental illness. And it is a relief to see it here, displayed clearly, announcing, yes, this is what depression feels like and this is a way that I don't like it being treated. It shows the real fear and helplessness and lethargy of someone trying to understand this pale, restricted world with her pale, restricted senses, and honestly wanting to get out of it.

Now, I'm not going to say it's perfect. It's not always to my liking. But it's honest. Honest in an emotional way that you don't find often enough in fiction.

For example, her desire to lose her virginity. (This book's been out for 30 years. You can use some spoilers, if you haven't read it by now.) It isn't skipped over, it isn't smoothed over, because she's a girl. It's talked about.

And so is her depression. It's talked about. She tries to kill herself -- it's explained in detail how she tried (and failed) to do it, not just the attempt that landed her in the mental hospitals, but the ones before -- the ones her mother or her doctors didn't find out about, because she couldn't do it. It shows how she feels after the electroshock, both the first time with the guy doctor and the second time with the woman doctor. The feelings are acted out in subtle ways -- how she assumes everyone thinks terribly about her, how she feels "stuck under a bell jar." (I don't think that's a direct quote, but it is something similar.)

I don't like the jumps in topic. Sometimes, it is hard to follow. And I've never understood the whole "getting rid of your virginity" thing. (Obviously, that's not a quote at all.) Esther -- well, sometimes she is hard to connect with. She sort of makes it that way. She pushes everyone away, her neighbors, her family, and sometimes even the reader. But I don't consider that a fault with her, strangely enough, because it makes her that much realer.

In the end, I suppose, I don't mind this book. Not my favorite, maybe not something I'd reread, but certainly is thought-provoking and honest and sad. Sad books aren't thrown out of my books-to-read just because they're sad. But I suppose I would recommend this book to the sort of scholarly person who wants to ruminate on the sadder aspects of life, the ugly aspects like mental illness, that no one else seems to talk about -- especially in a 30-year-old book, about a woman in a very patriarchal world, who sticks out.

3.5 stars. (I'll round that to a 4.)
Have a blessed day.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

[Insert Interesting Title Here]

It's been an entire two weeks since I last posted. I do apologize for my impromptu hiatus. I would blame my midterm exams, and the review for them, but really it's that I'm too tired from all the review and exam-ing to post anything.

Yesterday was the last day of my exams. I only had one -- in photography. Which certainly doesn't sound terrible, but all of my pictures are awful, I had the most awful migraine, I barely got any sleep the night before. So I considered not posting anytime this week or weekend. Or even getting out of bed. But I'm a tough girl, I like to think; I took a couple painkillers and here I am.

Instead of a nice, relevant post centered on one topic, this post is sort of a hash-mash of what I've been doing these last couple of days. Starting with...

My knitting, my book, and my cup of tea.
  1. Knitting. This is one of the weirdest inventions of humankind, in my opinion. It's numbing; exhausting; difficult. But in the end, even the small amount I've managed in the past few days makes me absurdly pleased. Proud, even. It's just loops of yarn and a couple of aluminum needles -- but it looks complicated and amazing, and I made something with my hands. Created something, when I'm normally a passive reader and consumer.
  2. Reading Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. Anyone who looks through my archives will know that I'm generally not one for literary, popular, or classics -- but The Bell Jar is something different. Depressing, honest, with this sort of bruised, timid, recoiling-from-life sort of mood. Painfully close to heart. And I can't help but connect to it, like seeing a mirror that reflects a sadder, heavy-spirited version of myself.
  3. Research. I went to the library and checked out 18 books -- only nine of which were for-fun fiction reading. I'm pretty proud of myself. I don't typically wander into the nonfiction section. But I braved it out this time, trying not to think that the people around me are judging my lack of knowledge in all those numbers on the spines of the books. Of course, these books range from beekeeping to medicinal herbs to forensic sciences and clay techniques and jewels.*
  4. Orphan Black. Seriously. It's a Canadian series on BBC (I think). About this woman who sees a woman identical to her step in front of a train -- and so she decides to take this woman's identity. It's a bit graphic in places, but it's worth a watch. (My mother watches it, too. We have this long geek-fest about stuff like Orphan Black, BBC's Sherlock, and Once Upon a Time, which is another of my favorite shows.) My mother needs to stop recommending shows to me.
Yea, I'm not a complicated, dramatic person. But I love my little things.

So, have a blessed weekend. Read some books. Learn knitting. Watch a little TV. It's the holidays, after all. 

Did I mention it was the holidays?
Mary Shelley is helping us with our wrapping paper.

*Not forensic sciences and clay techniques and jewels in one book, obviously -- I mean I got three separate books on those three separate topics. But how awesome would it be to have a book that combined all three of those? It would be a fiction masterpiece, assuming it's even decently well-written.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Life, School, and Internet.

It's been a week. Already. Wow.

It's not that I'm not interested in keeping up with this blog. It's just... I have very little access to a computer. I'm sharing an old desktop computer with my little brother and his friends, my older brother, and one of my little sisters.

And, of course, Nanowrimo has ended. I officially managed to get to 50,000 words, despite a laptop crash, starting three free online classes -- and my regular school day, with its 3 AP (college level) classes, and a photography elective, and an honors Spanish 4 class -- AND my normal diet of internet articles on writing craft. I'm very proud, and very antsy as I try to find something other than editing that draft to do.

So, I've really thrown myself into my free online classes. I'm taking three of them, across two websites -- Coursera and Open2Study. Let me outline the pros and cons:

  • Coursera is a website that offers free college level classes. Pro: It goes really in depth -- the one class I have on here requires watching 15-20 minute long videos, has an archive (this is a class on historical fiction; it offers primary sources), and requires discussion in the forums, or at least one question asked of the guest authors he talks to. I have extensive notes on historical fiction now, almost more than I wanted to know. Con: it requires some work, and it's a bit of a struggle on a busy schedule.
  • Open2Study is a bit less strenuous. Pro: less work, and no requirement for discussion in the forums. Though, obviously, it's encouraged. Con: less work, and the classes can be kind of easy. I'm taking two classes on there, one on anthropology and one on sociology, and both have easy, 5-7 minute long videos with a one-question quiz after each.

Yes, I am stressed out. It is a self-imposed stress. There are three notebooks beside me, a pen, and the flash drive I use for taking notes in Word has gone missing. I prefer the Open2Study, over the school-week, but over the weekend I can really get back to work on this stuff.

Have a blessed weekend!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday Music

Yes, it's almost the end of November! (I'd add an extra exclamation point there, except I hate exclamation points on principle. So perky and self-satisfied. Only when I am truly meeping about something would I add another, and while the expected relief of December would certainly constitute a perky, self-satisfied feeling, it is not quite as meepful as, say, Doctor Who. Or BBC's Sherlock.)

That was an awfully long parenthetically enclosed aside. But I don't care. Every inch is true. And it's Friday -- I deserve a few long asides. Of course, here in the U.S. it's Black Friday, but I don't go anywhere on this day of the year, so it feels like a normal Friday.

And to demonstrate my normal Friday feeling, there is this song. A perky, almost meepful piano rendition by Michele Mclaughlin called "the Clurichaun".

(See also by Michele Mclaughlin: Across the Burren, the Eternal City, and Carrowkeel.)

Have a blessed Friday.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Trying New Things -- Or, Eating Healthier

Things change very slowly, sometimes.

To be honest, my diet and eating habits are poor. I'm a secretive, inverted person by nature, and that translates into the way I eat: I furtively grab whatever is on the kitchen shelves, whatever is ready to eat and doesn't involve asking about how to cook it.

A double rainbow outside my home.

My typical day, in fact, ends up something like this: school mornings, skip breakfast. My stomach begins bubbling with hunger by about 2nd period (on even days; on odd days, that's 3rd period). My lunch consists of two items grabbed that morning, usually a small bag of chips (Doritos or Lays) and cookies or something. Both are usually processed foods.

Wait until I get home, and by then (while not super-hungry), I browse my kitchen. More chips. Chicken nuggets and french fries, sprayed with too much butter spray and cooked in a microwave oven. Butter popcorn.

In fact, the only meal I eat that isn't processed is supper, and I don't eat that every night. My dad cooks supper himself -- chicken or roast beef, with rice or potatoes. Last night it was spaghetti. Depending on what's cooking, I might choose to skip it altogether.

But lately, I've tried to change. My stomach protests the lack of fiber, the lack of nutrients and proteins. We're learning macromolecules and the digestive system in AP (Advanced Placement, or college-level) Biology, and I take the idea from our project on testing foods to fit a particular diet. We chose the Paleo diet, and tested chips and cookies for proteins and carbohydrates.

To do those tests, you need to crush the food with water in a mortar and pestle. And man, does chocolate chip cookie look nasty when liquefied.

The workspace above Mom's computer, which I'm using now.
 And, if I'm going to keep being honest, it has part to do with my friend. I eat lunch with her every school day. She eats things like seaweed, unbuttered popcorn, apples. Healthy stuff. While I eat Doritos and Oreos.

My diet has been a thing of shame for me. It's not that I'm fond of wrecking my body; I know processed foods are bad for me, I learned that stupid Food Pyramid in elementary school. But after a lifetime of bad diet, I haven't any courage or energy.

While of course, I'm not a scientist, I do establish a correlation between my diet and my lack of energy, my lack of will, my lack of discipline. If I cannot even reach the minimum number servings of fruits and vegetables every day, how can I keep myself to doing homework? TO being on top of my writing? To exercise at least once a week?

The change has culminated over the past few weeks. I drink more fruit juice and less sweet tea. I've been avoiding soda and milk for years, but now I've made an effort to cut out milk more effectively, in the foods I eat. We went to Wal-Mart over the weekend, and I took a deep breath and asked for apples, for gluten-free granola bars, and for oatmeal, as well as bottles of water. 

Today, I dither. It's Thanksgiving Break; I have the day off from school, as well as tomorrow and Friday, and I know I should attempt breakfast. A decently healthy one. It's after noon before I try, though.

Today, I asked my sister to help me make an omelet. Something that I've always been told is healthy, since it's of eggs, and that I assume is more healthy than chips, at least. She showed me how to mix the eggs with oregano leaves and a tiny amount of salt, how to wait for it to look somewhat like an egg pancake before I flip it over and add cheese (still a dairy product, but it's one of the only omelet toppings I know), then fold it in half.

You could say my cats are inspiration, as well.

I take a glass of juice -- 100% cranberry-blueberry-blackberry juice -- and sit down to try a bite. It tastes different. Sort of rubbery and chewy in my mouth. Bland, with a hint of that boiled-egg taste that I somewhat remember from a childhood with hard boiled eggs on weekend mornings. My stomach begins a slow burn, as if now that I've so abruptly decided on healthy, it wants to purge the processed food immediately. I'm almost afraid to use the bathroom, because I know that stomachache will only get worse, and so I stay and eat a few more bites. I take sips of juice after every bite. The juice tastes weird, like artificial blueberry flavoring mixed with just a little bit of other-juice (I've never had cranberries or blackberries to know the taste). But at least it has the consistency of normal juice. The texture of the eggs in my mouth is so foreign.

Especially Za-Zoo, who steals anyone's food.
Is it one of those things where, if I eat it often enough, I'll acquire the taste? With sweet tea, I gagged it down every morning for two weeks before I grew to like the taste. Is that how it'll be with omelet? I just need to eat it more? Or do I truly not like the taste, and no matter how much I eat it, it will be too bland and rubbery for me to like it?

Those are the sorts of thoughts that run through my mind. My eating habits seem to take over my life sometimes, worrying about why I can't make myself eat healthy, or why healthy stuff has so many acquired tastes, and that always-insidious voice that tells me that, like every other time in my life, I will simply turn back to junk food within a few days. This is not a permanent change; I cannot keep anything up; I am too weak, too undisciplined to make a real change.

Sometimes, I wish my thoughts revolved around something else. Like my writing. Or school. Or some boyfriend/girlfriend. Something normal, that normal teenagers do. Normal teenagers tweet casually about what they eat for breakfast. I try to avoid letting anyone see me eat at all.

Even writing about it here is a stretch out of my comfort zone. I worry you'll post mean comments; I worry you won't post comments at all, truly uncaring about any of this. I mean, if you don't care, is it because I'm not communicating effectively, is my writing shoddy, or perhaps you'll think this really is my strange way of casually tweeting what I had for breakfast? My hands shake thinking about what other people about my eating. But I'm sick of staying silent, of furtively taking bites of ready-made food, and swallowing it because it looks like an unbreakable pattern from childhood.

So, I told you. Perhaps I shouldn't publicize the fact that despite my skinniness, I really am of poor diet. Perhaps I should be shamed into eating healthier. But perhaps I need to tell it to make it real.

Sincerely speaking,
JDM -- a girl who loves thinking words and hates thinking food.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Small Update

I am really busy with my writing. Currently at around 28,000 words -- 2k less than where I should be. On the other hand, I can't really regret my trip to the library today. (And I only got 10 books this time. That's a good step down from 15 books, when I'm trying to write instead of read!)

In other news, I have trawled through many Wikipedia articles. Some of the ones I have up right now:

I do not consider this to be a waste of my time. It does, however, provide me with a lot of distraction and Shiny New Ideas. I mean, tell me -- which of the above could possibly not spark off an idea in the creative brain?!

There's not much else to tell. I've barely finished a book. Too busy writing. Too busy balancing schoolwork/homework with that writing. Not much else to tell.

Have a blessed Monday and Tuesday. :)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Confessions and Comfort

Yes, it's Saturday. I meant this post for yesterday, but my laptop is still out for the count. I'm using my mother's laptop, and she's getting her master's degree online from Liberty University. So, she's on pretty much... always. She's asleep right now.

As you might know from my previous couple posts, I'm participating in Nanowrimo. Or was, until 5k words were lost and I had to switch to using the laptop of a busy woman. But it's not just that, is it? I can't write very well.

Why not? One laptop is as good as another, right? That's the mindset of pretty much everyone around me. But I can't get the words out. At best, I've managed about 1,300 words a day. Closer to 1,000 words, or none at all. In Nano, your target word count per day is 1,667 words.

So, why can't I do it? Why won't the words come? Well, as you can tell from the title of this post, it has to do with my comfort spot.

Let me describe to you the very different rooms of my house in which I find myself:

  • My room is the size of a closet. In the corner, stuck between the door -- which actually hits the desk when opened far enough -- and a large, wooden dresser, is my desk. My bed, which takes up most of the room, is just far enough from the desk to make typing while sitting on it very difficult, so there's a small stool jammed between it and the desk, in order for me to not have to balance my laptop in my lap. Strewn across my desk are notebooks, embroidery thread, papers, and a couple of small bottles of paint.
  • My mother's workroom, which was my childhood room, has pink and yellow walls, with Winnie the Pooh stickers and crayon scribblings all over them. Probably your average-sized bedroom, and my mom has collected what looks like thousands of crochet magazines over her lifetime. They're everywhere. Her desk is stuck between a bookshelf of Mom's religious reference books and a side table. There's a fish bowl with one of those little beta fish* and a clean mug (also, coincidentally, Winnie the Pooh) that contains all of her pens and pencils, along with a couple of those green Barnes and Noble straws poking out of it. Oh, and let's not forget to mention the hundreds of crosses that now decorate the wall.

I realize that was a pretty solid chunk of description, so let's get down to the main point: the two rooms are as different as night and day. My small, messy room with the furniture looking too large, compared with Mom's very religious-looking room whose walls haven't changed much since I was five years old.

Of course, since Mom has her Master's classes and likes to have her laptop in the same room with all her reference books, I can't just pick it up and take it to my room. Which is a problem.

To put it bluntly, the hundreds of crosses staring at me make me uncomfortable. The many, many Bibles** do, as well. And the reference books, which all have names like How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart) and Martin Luther, the Bible, and the Jewish People (Schraam/Stjerna).

I told you -- A LOT of crosses.
It's not that I'm not religious. I am. Quite so. (Very hard not to be, especially when my former preschool doubles as my current baptist church.) It's just that... well, I'm too religious.

I know it's insane. Completely irrational. But during the summers of my childhood, I spent a week in the Pentecostal camp where my grandad lives. And they'd like to tell people that Harry Potter is evil, that fantasy is evil, because it worships magic and witchcraft or whatever.

And... even more beside the computer.
Which makes it kind of hard for me to write fantasy now, in front of an insane number of crosses. Even though I'm a Baptist and I believe that if God gave me the imagination, He probably wouldn't mind my fantasy. And anyways, evidence: C.S. Lewis and Tolkien were both Christian writers, who wrote fantasy, and their stuff is legendary. Pretty mainstream fiction, not the Christian fiction you find only in your typical Lifeway Christian store.

But I can't help feeling it. Feeling this irrational need to avoid fantasy, even though I love it, because when you put it that way...

I know God loves me. I know He wouldn't judge my fantasy writing -- sometimes I even get the hope that in Heaven, He has a giant library with every book in the world, and some of my books will be there, too. It's make-believe, imagination, a tool He gave humans for the purpose of imagining new worlds.

Perhaps, one day, I will write a book in which I suggest thematically that creating a real world, or at least one that feels real, should probably be left to God. Because right now, my world feels realer than the one around me, and I worry when I see those crosses. They remind me of the world around me, that my imagination is not everything here, and that, perhaps, magic needs to be subtler than spells and potions and spontaneous explosions, out here in the real world. I'm almost sad, at that. Like we've constrained something to a small box, to a subtle little area inside of our minds.

Perhaps this is why power goes to your head, when leaders create their own little world, their own society, when they rip down the old society and put up their own. 

This sort of commentary reels through my mind. I get antsy, can listen to music and swivel in the little swivel chair, and I can't write. Because it is truth unwrapped from its gauzy layer of fiction. And it doesn't make sense. Truth doesn't make sense. It makes feelings. And that's why it needs its little coating of fiction, because fiction does make sense, and it can keep the truth in its place.

I need my little comfort spot. I need the peace it brings, how it sets aside those antsy feelings and truth and lets my fingers stop shaking long enough to write.

And perhaps this all sounds a little out there, a little dreamy, like my mind's come untethered and I'm sending you images from the clouds. But I think a comfort spot is more than just comfort. It's a necessary break from the real world. The real world reminds me that there are people who think God wouldn't like my work. My comfort spot lets me know what I think in the matter.

I hope this makes sense to you.

Have a blessed day.

[EDIT: I hand-counted all of them. There are 113 crosses in my mother's workroom, give or take a couple. Still, a formidable number of crosses, wouldn't you agree?]

*Yea, his name is Jeffrey. After my Uncle Jeff, even though Uncle Jeff is from my Dad's side of the family.
**Let's put it this way: my aunts have seventy pairs of shoes and a Bible between them. My Mom has seventy Bibles and one pair of shoes.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Not Impressed.

Hi, guys. My laptop crashed. Not at all impressed.

What I lost by my laptop breaking:

  • The first 5,000 words or so of my nanowrimo project.
  • The first 10,000 words of my Spike novel (as I dub it. I keep switching between calling it that Spike novel and WR.)
  • My entire bookmarks tab on Google Chrome. I use the bookmarks tab as a sort of placeholder for all the articles and blog posts I haven't gotten around to reading. And for the articles I find helpful, such as the link to the Amazon collection of coloring books from the lovely, honest blog, A Little Dose of Keelium. 
  • Assorted poems, Microsoft word docs, and wordpad notes on everything from random names and plot devices to a dictionary of weird words (which I have since moved to a spiral notebook, which is in no danger of crashing and deleting itself.)

As you can probably tell, I am a bit upset. So, here is the song I've been listening to over and over. (If you're wondering how I'm writing this, the sad fact is I've borrowed my Mom's laptop. Which is a 2013 laptop and looks TOTALLY DIFFERENT from my laptop made in 2010.)

Have a blessed Wednesday. And, here's hoping your laptop doesn't throw a fit and delete all of your stuff, along with preventing you from even turning it on! 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Happy Dia de Los Muertos, and Happy Nanoing!

Hi! It's Friday, it's the First of November, and you know what that means. It's Nanowrimo. It's the Day of the Dead. And it happens to the start of what hopefully is a great month.

First off, Nanowrimo -- writing a novel in a month. Yes, I'm participating. (Q: What should I be doing write right now? A: Not writing blog posts!) My idea is weird, and involves rebellions, other worlds, and Mozart. It's titled "The Wolfgang" for right now. I might be referring to it obsessively over the next month, and shall usually abbreviate it to WG.

Now, yea, I haven't finished my other draft. I'm decently sure I can keep up 3k words a day -- 2,000 words for WG, and 1,000 for WR. ("Wretched Roads". Mages, healers, and curses, if you care to know.)

As for Dia de los Muertos... It's a Mexican holiday celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, honoring dead loved ones. I've written about it before, a couple weeks ago. So instead of a long rant on something that has little relevance, here's a list of Spanish words:
  • Calaveras -- skulls. Also, there are calaveras de azucar (accent on the u), which are sugar skulls. 
  • Calacas -- skeletons.  From what I know, these are very popular, like Halloween skeletons are popular: toy skeletons on the altars or for the children, cloth/plastic ones on poles that they parade through the street, etc.
  • Altar -- well, an altar. Not too hard to figure out. The table on which they set offerings of food, flowers, and photographs to the dead loved one.
  • Cempachusil (accent on u) -- marigolds. They put these "flor de los muertos" (flowers of the dead) on the graves or altars of loved ones. 
  • El pan de los muertos -- bread of the dead. Literally, bread they leave on the altar for their loved ones.

November is a grand, brown-ish, most-definitely-autumn month. It generally means cold, lack of sleep, picking up the academic pace, and writing a novel for me. But it's also full of colorful leaves, and days off from school for Thanksgiving, and snuggling under five or six different blankets without feeling stifling-hot.

So, here's to dead people, writing too much too fast, and a brown month full of leaves and cold. Who says a little cold is bad for you, after all? It clears your lungs from all those words that scratch at your ribcage, ready to crawl out.

Have a blessed Friday and weekend!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Archery Mishaps

So, today, I decided that for-goodness'-sake if I want to learn archery, then I will. My little brother has a set of bow and arrows he used last year when he was on his elementary school's archery team, and the expensive thing's just taking up space anyways, and it's not fair that my little brother gets the archery set before I do.

So, I asked him politely and he let me use his bow and arrows. And laughed as he watched my pitiful aim, though not in a harsh, mean-spirited way; more of the way you laugh when a sibling does something like try archery without having any aim.

Anyways, the archery range-thing we have set up -- an old mattress leaning against our fence, surrounded by bags of dead leaves and with a paper bull's eye target skewered to it -- is... not the best, for beginners. Behind the fence, of course (this being the suburbs) is another house, and their backyard. And these people are not our next-door neighbors; they live a half a block away, literally behind our house. (Or we're behind them. Perspective, right?)

And, of course, when your aim resembles that of a small child's, you are bound to aim too high and watch as that arrow sails straight over the fence and into the backyard of a complete stranger.

I have learned the hard way if you want to learn archery, you must insist on a decent archery range. Perhaps I'll move it myself, to lean against the fence of a neighbor I actually know.

I have also learned not to walk barefoot half a block to retrieve said arrow. It roughens and burns the soles of of your feet. But, on the bright side, I've found out the stranger-neighbors are actually really nice; they didn't question a young boy and his older sister retrieving an arrow from their backyard. They just smiled and opened their back gate to us, and let us search for ten-fifteen minutes for that blasted, hard-to-find glorified stick arrow.

So, I'm taking it easy today. Tomorrow's Halloween, and I'll be puttering around my house, hoping to avoid the inevitable knock on the door, because someone in our house'll have to smile politely and tell little kids that we don't have candy. (And if we did, we would eat it ourselves, not hand it out to strange little kids.) Instead, today I've taken a nap, typed up this blog post, written an essay and worked on two projects during school, and the little archery I managed before having to walk half the block to retrieve my pride that arrow.

What about you? Plans for Halloween? Mishaps in life today?

Have a blessed Wednesday! (And Halloween, if you celebrate or not!)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Guess What? I'm Not Dead.

Sorry I haven't posted for, like, a week. Yay, look at this. I'm not dead.

Normally, I wouldn't post such an obvious sentence, but I stayed after school today for an early celebration of El Dia de Los Muertos. (I'm in the National Spanish Honor Society, by the way. I didn't just randomly decide to celebrate the dead with a group of friends.) Some quick facts:

  • This is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd. (We had ours early because the end of our 9 weeks is then, and everybody but the teachers are just relaxing. The 9 weeks is about half the semester, if you don't know.)
  • Yes, it literally stands for "The Day of the Dead." It's celebrated in Mexico.
  • What do they do? They put on skeleton masks, they buy these orange-y marigold-type flowers, they eat candy skulls (calaveras) and coffins. They leave food and flowers for their dead loved ones and celebrate their good memories of the person.
  • It's basically that. It's a celebration of the lives of the people who've passed on, and a sort of laugh in the face of death sort of thing.

Yea, so we painted glass jars and listened to music and ate popcorn and Pringles. It was pretty fun. Mine sucked, which is why I'm not taking pictures of it.

So, yea. You now know I do stuff in my spare time, extracurricular stuff so my college application won't read, "And... I do nothing but compose the occasional blog post and read books." That would look sort of pathetic, doing nothing but reading. Ahem. (Not like I did exactly that since pretty much sophomore year.)

Anyways, I've been thinking of future-y stuff ever since Saturday, when I attended an Open House at a local college. Now my guts are twisting as I think of traveling abroad before I go to college, or at least traveling up and down the East Coast, and think of what college to attend assuming they all accept me, and think of what sort of career I'll have besides writing. Big picture stuff I generally avoid, because it makes me anxious.

And will I travel to Mexico one day, and celebrate the Day of the Dead? Maybe one day. Maybe the day I stop getting over my fear of leaving my little county.

Have a blessed Wednesday.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Another Post on Nanowrimo

So, you've probably noticed (if you're a writer or reader who follows writing blogs) all the talk on Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, which starts November 1st. And here's my pitch-in about it.

Personally, I love Nanowrimo. I wrote the first full draft of my novel during nano -- you see off to the side, where there's a lovely little thing that declares, "2012 Nano Winner"? Yes, that was it. Writing 50,000 words in a month is difficult -- seemingly impossible in October 2012 -- but with the Nano group, I persevered for perhaps the first time in my life and managed to do it.

And now, a year later, I am struggling down a similar cliff of impossibility.

While it's technically cheating, I've been thinking of writing the 4th draft of my novel. I want to include undertones of Celtic Mythology into it, and the plot is so different, that in a way, it almost isn't cheating. I've jumped from kidnapping her brother to sort of banishing my MC to another dimension. Which is a pretty big jump.

On the other hand, I have other story ideas I want to get to, new novels to write and new things to plan. I've been working on my current novel -- which I've dubbed in my head "Wretched Roads," or WR -- since... oh gracious. Since middle school, four to five years ago.

I want something new. But I'm pretty sure this next draft of WR is it. I can't give up on it now.

So, I'm beginning to play on the idea of writing two novels at once -- WR and another draft I like to think of as TW, "The Wolfgang." And, of course, that idea is almost more terrifying than moving on.

Write two novels at once, with the help of Nanowrimo? Or focus on one? I can't give up on WR, even though I'm sorely tempted. It's grown quite close to my heart, and seems almost done. But I can't keep writing it without exercising creative prowess in other works. My heart will wither if there's no more imagination but the same played-out characters and settings.

I think, since WR is going to be serious, and around 80k words, that I will start it now, in October. I have plenty of it mapped out already; it's just plot and how I write character, description, and action that needs to be worked out. And come November 1st, I will have over 25k words written for it. Then I can decelerate to about 1k a day, and write 2k of TW during Nanowrimo...

I've easily written 3k words a day every day. I've also easily written only 1k a day for a month. And easily written 2k when I need somewhere in between. Nanowrimo requires 1600 words a day... and that leaves 1400 more I can write.I might lose a little sleep, but the best works are born out of late nights.

(Listen to me, puzzling out the factors and word counts. My math teacher would be proud.)

The idea is beginning to grow on me. Nanowrimo certainly has its benefits -- or hindrance, whichever you think. It's given me the temptation to write two novels, yes. And given me the confidence (which may or not be false) to think I can do it. But it's also given me the option of not failing. Even if I don't finish 50k on one novel during the month of November, then I will have written 50k between two novels.

And while I'm intimidated, I think I can split my time -- especially since I'm starting one of them half a month early.

Have a blessed Wednesday. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Music Monday: Meav

Here's an interesting song for you to contemplate:

"One I Love" by Meav.  (Meav has an accent over the e, but I have no clue how to manage that in a blog post.)

This is a rather strange, strong song. I just randomly found it on youtube (I love Meav's version of "Maid in Bedlam" and "Wicked Sister"), and listening to it just gives me this sense of something deep and pure. I bet it's that high soprano voice and those echoey harmonies during the chorus. It's beautiful.

About Meav -- a quick Google search reveals she is both an Irish singer and a lawyer. At one point (2004), she was part of Celtic Woman (who sell millions, even today), but left in 2008 to resume a solo career.

I know I said I would post more personal stuffs on the blog, but technically, this is rather personal -- this song is the latest in my favorite music. (Not as in, it was composed recently; rather, this recently became my favorite song ever.)

So, have a blessed Monday (if there is such a thing)! Hope you enjoy this random sampling of Irish music.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Declaration of Personality

I didn't mention it Monday, in midst of my book review, but I am still quite happy from last weekend.

Why? Our library was having a book sale. You know, where they attempt to get rid of some of those discards, the obscure books, the ones no one wants to read. Imagine a room filled with books, books you've never read: hardcovers, paperbacks, nonfiction, fiction, YA, adult, cookbooks and magazines and classics, all laid out like desserts, on those rickety tables used by schools, libraries, and community events.

(Oh, yea. And did I mention the free Bibles outside the door, in a crate? My mother already owns like, 70 Bibles. And now she owns five more.)

My mother and I went there with $21. We bought around 60 books. THAT IS ABSOLUTELY AWESOME. One normal YA book costs between $7-10. The library was selling 10 YA discards for $1. The adult discards were 5 for $1. It took three boxes to carry them all home.

So, here's a list of some of the books we bought:

  • The Qur'an -- the holy book of Islam. Not one of the discards -- my mother dug it out of one of the piles and bought it, because she's studying for a Master's degree in Religion. She needs it to connect between Islam and Christianity.*
  • Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo -- a book about a boy who is "endowed" with the ability to see photographs moving. It used to be one of my favorite series as a kid, but my copy had a few pages missing, so I bought this one.
  • Culture and Value: A Study of the Humanities -- a culture-history textbook, complete with highlighted passages. For those who don't read this blog often, I LOVE history, especially the sort of cultural things they don't teach you in high school level classes.
  • Arabian Nights/Aesop's Fables -- this was a 2-in-1 book of both. You probably can't tell, since I don't believe in using exclamation points! and ALL CAPS!! to show emotion, but I am really geeked out about this.
  • Savvy by Ingrid Law -- a book about a girl who can hear your thoughts through any ink on your skin. I remember reading it a couple years ago. Pretty cool.
  • *Insert 30 more books, most of them fantasy and/or about other cultures*

As I said, pretty amazing weekend. That Saturday book sale goes under my list of "Best Days Ever." Why am I telling you this? What is the point of this post -- is it to give me a sense of power, as I condescendingly smile at your meager attempts to save a lot of money for fewer books? Is it to give some subliminal message about how older books are better than new books? Am I rubbing my hands together while plotting to build my own library, where all of those conservatives who only read white men will be forced to read more diversely with my diverse selection of diversity?**

No. Well, maybe the last one. But that can wait a few decades, when I'm rich and famous and those conservatives are kissing my proverbial boots. (Ha. Ha. I can dream, can't I?) No, this post is simply because I think my blog is suffering from impersonal-itis.

Impersonal-itis: (n.) When a blog, facebook, twitter, or other personal platform becomes cluttered with posts that are not diary-style confession time on opinions of various topics. Or, you know, at least not as personal as the author would like.
Ex.: My blog's last two posts are book reviews. Which are semi-personal, but in a way, they're my way of skirting around the bushes. They're recommending you books, based on my subjective-yet-hopefully-qualified-as-valid assertions about technical aspects like characterization and plot.

So, I want to begin posting more events from my real life, chronicling the (not-so) exciting life of a suburbs girl in the Southeast United States. And perhaps write a few more short spiffs, which I haven't done in awhile.

It's seems odd, posting this on a Wednesday, this Declaration of Personality, to declare and so promise to uphold my duty as a blogger to blog about the life that literally means everything to me. (More on nature vs. nurture some other time.) I feel like this should be posted on a first day of a month, or the last day, or on some holiday or other some other such day that has some importance to it. A plain old Wednesday, middle-of-the-week day, doesn't seem to have any power behind it, but I think I want to stop giving so much importance to the day and more on actually holding to my promise.

So, here's a start: a good Saturday and three boxes of books.

Have a blessed day.

 *I had to edit one of my mother's papers once, because she's so exhausted from six kids and taking online courses that she can barely maintain grammar. And my mother is an over-achiever, so she had me fine-comb it for any tiny errors. We are officially never going over differences between Christianity and Islam on this blog. I've never read the Qur'an, or even really comprehensively read the Bible, so I am not going to write a post that looks quite like my mother's paper pointing out weaknesses in Islam and strengths in Christianity.

**These two links lead to vastly different places: the first leads to Gilmore's words, and the second to a challenge to his words. I think the average, mild reader will prefer the latter. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

If an entire nation could seek its freedom, why not a girl?
As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight... for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.
From acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson comes this compelling, impeccably researched novel that shows the lengths we can go to cast off our chains, both physical and spiritual.

~Print copy (library), 300 pages
Published: 2008 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Yes, I saw Laurie Halse Anderson's name and picked this up. I am a fan of her Speak and Wintergirls, as well.

And, also... well, I do like psychological, kidnap/slave/people-as-property stories, where the protagonist emerges from that situation and deals with the aftereffects. Which sounds wrong, but I swear, I don't get off on suffering -- I just enjoy observing psychological effects. And stories where I'm really punched in the gut by the protag's suffering. It keeps the mind empathetic.

Chains, in essence, is a historical fiction, of course, not a psychological horror/thriller story. But as I read through, I loved the metaphor, the easily-grasped way of looking at the psychology. Isabel, a slave from Rhode Island whose owner's will granted her freedom, is taken anyways to New York, where she and her sister are sold to -- well, really, the only bidders.

Through the beginnings of the war -- the signing of the Declaration of Independence, through the British occupation, to a great fire in New York City during this time -- Isabel wants nothing to do with it. All she knows are the newspaper stories, as her last owner had taught her to read, and the oppression under the Locktons. 

I don't doubt that Isabel would've considered the Locktons' treatment of her to be normal. Completely UN-oppressive. IF it hadn't been for the way Madam Lockton treated Ruth.

Because, you see, Ruth is described as simple-minded. She's five years old, has fits/seizures, and from what I gather, can't say much. Madam Lockton thinks she's possessed by the Devil, and the little girl ends up crying and in the kitchen.

Isabel, when serving Sir Lockton in his library with some of his Loyalist companions, stands in the corner and cannot help overhearing details of Loyalist plans. Because she is just a slave, and has no ears at all as far as the men are concerned.

Curzon, a slave under a Patriot, offers her a chance in a lifetime to help the Patriots by passing such information on: the Patriots will track down that lawyer with her late owner's will, giving her freedom. Freedom to go back to Rhode Island, where her mother is buried. Freedom to leave the beatings, the cold, the rags, and the humiliation of serving the Locktons. And best yet, the freedom for Ruth not to be beaten.

The characterization of this novel really brings the convoluted American Revolution to life. Even though, yes, I'm American, and I'm glad I have liberty and freedom and all that, the plight of these two slave girls -- even if they're fictional -- brings home the complicated philosophy behind an event in American history I don't pay much mind to.

There is, first of all, the issue of slavery at all. The North, contrary to some people's beliefs, DID have slavery. Despite getting riled up over liberty and equality, slavery still held strong. and the British, on the other side, weren't fond of giving these colonists liberty and equality, but they did offer some slaves their freedom, on the condition they help the British.

Except, of course, the British only offer that deal to the slaves of Patriots, to sort of undermine their economy. Slaves were still property of their owners, and there are several parts of this book where Isabel -- though clearly in the right, or at least the understandable -- is still punished for defying the Locktons, once by being branded in the face with a letter I.

And what's a really, really good part of this novel for me? There is no romance. Curzon is a friend, who helps save her life, and she's indebted to him -- but they don't fall in love. It's so rare for me to find such a book, one without romance or romantic subplots or tropes. I feel a little lighter, knowing that not all my precious YA books are filled with romance, romance, romance.

What else? ... Did I make my opinion of Isabel clear? She's a pretty strong girl. She bears the weight of lifetimes on her shoulders, and still gets up every morning for a day of hard, back-breaking work. Her suffering, repeatedly, is referred to as "ashes" and "bees" under her skin, choking her throat, buzzing in her brain and pushing her thoughts out. She is and should be, by all rights, miserable. (I won't name specifics. Read the book.) But it doesn't leave her staring passively out a window like a certain vampire's wife we know in a muddle on the cellar floor.

It's not just her strength to stand up, though. It's her strength to stand up for her freedom. Like I mentioned, she got branded in the face for her "insolence." She visits the prison where hundreds/thousands of rebel soldiers were captured and imprisoned, to feed them scraps and "conversate," as she puts it. (Did I mention voice? This has unique antiquated-American dialect here, but not enough to make the book obscure or difficult to read.) Madam could have her sold, beaten, branded, or hung on a whim, if she finds out.

Even the ending -- a part of the novel I usually dislike -- was pretty good. I didn't realize it had a sequel until pretty much the last page (Forge), but it didn't just, like, let off. It ended with enough closure to satisfy me.

Overall, while it's not catch-my-spark material (It's not Doctor Who, Artemis Fowl, and Harry Potter all rolled into one), it is a lovely read. I enjoyed it. I would recommend it to anyone who loves a good, unique, strong voice, with no romance and good setting. 4 stars.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, and Its Related Fairytale

Would you risk everything for a fairytale?
When Cassie was a little girl, her grandmother told her a fairy tale about her mother, who made a deal with the Polar Bear King and was swept away to the ends of the earth. Now that Cassie is older, she knows the story was a nice way of saying her mother had died. Cassie lives with her father at an Arctic research station, is determined to become a scientist, and has no time for make-believe.

Then, on her eighteenth birthday, Cassie comes face-to-face with a polar bear who speaks to her. He tells her that her mother is alive, imprisoned at the ends of the earth. And he can bring her back -- if Cassie will agree to be his bride. 
That is the beginning of Cassie's real-life fairy tale, one that sends her on an unbelievable journey across the brutal Arctic, through the Canadian boreal forest, and on the back of the North Wind to the land east of the sun and west of the moon. Before it is over, the world she knows will be swept away, and everything she holds dear will be taken from her -- until she discovers the true meaning of love and family in the magical realm of Ice.

~Print copy (library), 308 pages
Published: 2009 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

Yes, I know I promised I'd have this book review Wednesday, but I... well, this was a weird book, and not an entirely in my favorite way.

First of all, look at those words in the summary: fairy tale, magical realm. It makes this seems like fantasy-fantasy, the sort I'm used to, where people in the book admit that magic exists, as a force of nature, and that these bizarre happenings are because of this.

This book has more of a supernatural-y feel to it, with the Polar Bear King a "guardian of souls." He knows when a birth or death of a polar bear is happening, and goes out to collect the soul from a dying bear or give a soul to those being born. And he explains that he keeps his magical ice castle up with some theory on "rearranging molecules."

Perhaps it would be best to understand why I picked up this novel, and the fairytale behind it. Here is (somewhat) how the original tale -- the one I happen to love -- goes:

  1. A girl is born in icy land, in a poor family. (In some versions, this girl was born with no name, because the girl's mother didn't want a girl.)
  2. She meets a magical animal -- I think a bear, though possibly some other Arctic-icy-style animal -- and he asks her to marriage. In return, her family is helped with food and money and such things. Given the wretchedness of home, the pure-hearted maiden agrees. 
  3. He takes her to his magical castle made of ice. On their wedding night, though, he turns into a human and sleeps beside her. He refuses to let her see his face, though. 
  4. In the morning, he is back to talking animal form, and they spend an indeterminate amount of time laughing, joking, talking, and discussing intellectual stuffs. Maiden falls in love with him.
  5. HOWEVER... *dun dun dun* She gets curious about what his face looks like, and one night, she takes out a candle and sneaks a peek at his human face while he's sleeping. He wakes up and gets upset.
  6. It's revealed that he's under a spell from a Troll Queen, and if he married his true love, she couldn't see his face. Woe is me, he cries. The Troll Queen takes him away to be her husband, as part of his curse. (Honestly, I'm a bit fuzzy on this part. It was either a deal or a curse, or something like that.)
  7. The Troll's castle is east of the sun and west of the moon, so far away that Maiden couldn't possibly get there. But she sneaks to a place where the Four Winds (North, South, East, West) meet, and she receives help from them. (And then there's something about getting help from an underground population of dwarves, or something like that -- or possibly I'm confusing another tale with this one).
  8. She manages to get to the castle, rescue her husband, and the curse is broken. Yay! He's human again, and a prince to boot! Her family never suffers, she lives happily in love with her prince as the queen, and The End.

Yea, I'm a little fuzzy in some places, but that's the basic original tale. I really love this tale, and there aren't that many novels based off it (or at least not that many available to me). Notice no mention of souls, death-and-birth, and no research stations or poor families living in a wooden shack during the winter.

Cassie, while a decent main character, didn't... click with me. I wanted her to be like Emily Strange (Rob Reger, Emily the Strange quartet), or Jennifer Strange (Jasper Fforde, The Last Dragonslayer), but I kind of felt she had a life at the little research station she lived in. She should've stayed there, instead of proposing the deal for the Polar Bear King to rescue her mother.

Really, I felt like she was a smart, realistic girl who wasn't a daydreamy sort, like I am. And while there are mentions of how she takes research from her station and tries to predict the births of polar bears so her husband isn't so sad after stillbirths (described as Bear not getting there fast enough to give the baby a soul), she buys into this magical-realism thing pretty easily, like a daydreamer (like me) would.

Also, there's a little matter of the second half of the book the ending, which I won't mention. I will say that she's not exactly in a good spot to go traipsing off after Bear when she looks at his face. At the very least, she could've left sooner to find the North Wind, and that the passage of months in-between was used merely for conflict shock, not because she couldn't find an excuse to get away from Father Forest, a sexist overseer of a forest, who kept her a basic prisoner to do his chores.  Seriously, how can he portray himself as being a kindly figure and then make her do chores in such a condition? (Read the book, if you're curious about my outburst.)

The good things, though: it's a good fairytale. I like it. I'm not fond of romance, but this fairytale, like most fairy tales, draw me in. I don't know why. In this book, the romance made me press my lips together in an unidentifiable emotion -- disapproval, perhaps? -- but the hints of the fairytale were enough for me to not set the book down.

Also, the writing is good. None of that too-descriptive junk you see in Tolkien-knockoff fantasies, but enough description balanced with action to really the ice castle. It even includes description of an icy topiary garden out back.

Cassie, while I did like her, wasn't what I expected her to be. Yea, that's a better way of putting it. And while oftentimes I'm happy when a character doesn't meet my expectations, this time I was a little disappointed. Bear, while not really a main focus in this story -- he's more of a conflict-starter, and then as a goal to be reached when the Troll Queen captures him -- was a decent enough character. He seems to exist both to love Cassie and to start conflict with her, and didn't stand out as a flesh-and-blood character, or at least not like Cassie.

Still, overall this book isn't terrible. The fairytale that is this novel's bare bones is lovely, and I'm glad I came across it. But I'm not really fond of the mixing in of reality. I felt Cassie was too... modern, or academic, a girl to be pulled in by such things. The writing is good, and for people that love romance and only a little dash of magic that is explained away, it's certainly recommended. But I put it at about 3.25 stars, rounded down to an "okay."


Monday, September 30, 2013

Monday Music

Since I'm in the middle of reading my book, instead of having a book review ready for you -- I know, I'm awful at organization -- I decided to recommend a song that fits with the book I'm reading.

(And while I'm at it, hope you had a lovely September! It's the last day of a month, which is significant to me for some reason. Looking forward to October, though.)

I should have a review for you by Wednesday, which is why I'm not telling the title of the book. Suffice to say, it's a fairytale retelling. Not your typical Cinderella retelling, though. A fairytale I know because I'm a reader who loves these sorts of tales, but that I would assume the majority of America doesn't know, because America is obsessed with its own tales.

And so: Across the Burren, a piano piece by Michele McLaughlin. A very pretty piece.

Friday, September 27, 2013

So, Life.

Some of the things that have happened in my life this week --

  • I finished reading The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango. I don't want to put a review of it up, though. It's a sort-of memoir, about the indigenous Ecuadorian (and part-author of this tale) Virginia Farinango's childhood as an indentured servant to mestizos, the white people. A very, very interesting read, which is mainly fact with some imaginings and details on Resau's part. I don't want to review it because I feel uncomfortable reviewing something near nonfiction, because... well, it's real. fiction is easier to judge, if you will.
  • My little sister Nicole, who has down syndrome, walked into some practically-stranger's backyard and started jumping on their trampoline. They weren't home, thankfully, but I've never met these people. I'm pretty sure they're like, the son of one of my neighbors. And it took almost fifteen nerve-wracking minutes to both find and convince Nicole to come back to our house.
  • I found a baby snake in my house, brown scales, 8-9 inches long. Not something I see every day. Actually, I've only seen snakes in parks and the biology-lab-place in the Science Museum. And this one was in my house -- wriggling about on our floor -- and... and... *shudders* Snake.  
  • Okay, I wasn't that freaked out about it. I found a sort of curiosity in my heart that let me peer at the snake and want to observe how it startled when I stomped my feet. Mom just wanted to trap it in something and put it outside, and then to check for any family members it might be hiding.

So, that's my Friday. How about you? Know what sort of snakes are indigenous to Virginia? Read the sort-of memoir about a girl named Virginia? Have you had strange encounters with animals?

Have a blessed Friday and weekend! 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Photography, Colds, and Writing

Thank goodness it's Friday. Truly.

Do you know that annoying person who doesn't cover their mouth when they cough? And not just once or twice, accidentally; people who cough into the air of their room, go upstairs and cough in your living room, and in your kitchen, all over your food...

Yea, I'm talking about a member of my family. My youngest brother -- who just started 6th grade -- never covers his mouth when he coughs, and now the rest of the family has it. Mostly me at this point -- he's had it several days, then my mom and sister fell sick, and my dad, and now me, the girl whose time spent happily locked up in her room serves a useful purpose.

Except now I've been sneezing and my nose dripping; I've been covertly wiping liquid snot-stuff over the sleeves of my jacket all school day. (Yes, and I am one of those people who goes to school even when she's sick, and so gets everyone else sick. We all have our flaws.) My throat
feels like sand has gritted the inside of that tube that leads from your mouth to your lungs. My eyes are sore and sticky, and I haven't slept or showered since Wednesday. Or Tuesday. But I've finally caught up on most of the school stuff I needed doing.

Thankfully, in spite of the Cold from Dante's Inferno,* I have not had a terrible time. I made my first primitive photograph in photography class. Here's the process:

  • First, you have to expose a sheet of photo (light sensitive) paper to white light in the dark room. This means positioning it under a machine that looks sort of like a microscope, except it shines down light on the thing you're doing instead of observing it closely. And it means adjusting that machine to the right setting of intensity, making sure the light is focused, making sure the frame of light is big enough to cover the entire sheet of photo paper...
  • Exposing takes about five seconds. You position the photo paper beneath the enlarger (so the microscope-like machine is called), position the object whose image you want to make on top of it, and then you turn it on and white light floods the little area of paper. 
  • After that, you dip it in a chemical called Dektol (developer), a soapy-like, basic liquid. Basically, it makes the white photo paper turn black, except for the white shape of your object. You keep it there a minute to a minute and a half. 
  • The second chemical you dip it in is called Stop Bath. It's a yellow color, because when you transfer the paper from Tray A to Tray B, some Dektol inevitably ends up in the tray of Stop Bath. Stop Bath actually is an acid, so it neutralizes the Dektol. Eventually, as the effectiveness of the Stop Bath wears down, it turns a purple-y color, thereby alerting you to change the liquid. You keep it in this tray for 30 seconds. 
  • The THIRD chemical is a smelly (vinegar-like) liquid called fixer. It makes the image permanent. You dip it in there for 3-4 minutes. 
  • Finally, you get to rinse the residual chemicals off the paper by putting it in this large, round sink for ten minutes. The water spins around, so it can wash it properly. 
  • Then you squeegee it. You lay the paper on a piece of plexiglass, and use this rubber thing to scrape the excess water off both sides of the paper.
  • Next, there's what's called a print dryer. It's a machine in which you lay the paper on its flat surface, pull a stretch of worn, warm canvas over it, and lock it into place. You rub the canvas for a minute, unlock the canvas's metal-rimmed edge from the side of the machine, and turn your photograph over to the back side. Then you lock it into place and rub the canvas for another minute.
  • Found here, via Wiki/CC. This is what it's supposed to look like!
  • And voila! Your photograph is ready. As long as you didn't mess up on any stage of the process. 

So, yes, that's the entire process I went through, to end up with a black paper, no image. Apparently, I didn't expose the paper correctly, though my teacher assured me I did the chemical part correctly.

How was that for a story? Well, not really a story. More of an anecdote of how to make it through a class period when you barely know what you're doing. And, speaking of stories, the third draft of my story is turning out suck-ish, thank you for asking. I'm so sick and busy that when I do get a free moment to work on it, I find that I want to sleep instead of write, and nothing comes out onto the paper. (Metaphorically speaking, of course. I type my stories out on my laptop.)

But anyways, for those of you who didn't know, this is how you make a photograph without a camera! It's an interesting experience. Hopefully, I'll make an image next class. And also hopefully, by next class my nose won't be dripping into the water wash.

Hope you have a blessed Friday and weekend! Get better at the things you love, get over sicknesses, and get a proper amount of sleep!

*You know by Dante's Inferno I mean the h-word, right? The devil's homeplace? I just have a ton of trouble including even the mildest of inappropriate words, in both speech and in writing.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Scottish Fairytales

I've spent the weekend bemoaning the loss of the internet and watching the first season of Once Upon a Time. (Our wifi was acting up for a few days. Meh.)

I also read a small book of Scottish fairy tales that I found among my mother's "library," so called because my mother as collected a LOT of novels over the years. So, here are a few summaries for you:

  1. There's the one about the kelpie and the man who tried to capture it.
  2. There's the one about the widower with a daughter and a son, and he married an evil stepmother to look after them. Then, the stepmother kills the little son, feeds it to the father, and his sister takes his bones and buries them in the garden, where he turns into a white bird, kills the stepmother, and flies off.
  3. There's the one about the enchanted man whose only hope for getting out from the fairy queen's thrall is for a maiden who loves him to hold on when the queen turns him into a lion, a bear, (several other things) and a hot lead weight, and then to drop him down a well. 
  4. There's the one about the prince who everyone thinks is sick, but really he's dancing in a fairy court every night -- until the stepdaughter of a neighboring king follows him quietly, steals a magic bird, and feeds it to the prince, taking away the spell.

I don't do well remembering things off the top of my head. And it's late for me, a school night, and I have a college essay to type up. (My AP Lit teacher wants a rough draft of the college essay we don't have to send to colleges until at least December. Yea, it sucks.)

Anyways, have a blessed Monday (if there is such a thing!)   

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9/11 and Terrorism

It's the 11th of September... and in America, that means remembering tragedy.

I cannot remember the day this actually happened. It was 2001; I was five years old, a kindergartener whose only thoughts belonged to curiosity and books. But as I grew up, I heard the story, over and over, every year: the planes, the crash, the death and terror and mourning. Especially of the heroes, the firemen and police officers, and the civilians all doing the right thing when it was far from easy.

Sometimes, I am glad I am young enough that I do not remember that. That on such a terrible day, ignorance was bliss. I lost no one but fellow countrymen. Which, now that I'm old enough, I realize is bad enough. Can you imagine it? Just for a second? Being buried under rubble, your breath catching, smoke trying to cough its way out of your lungs? I am lucky not to have any relatives who died in the 9/11 attacks, but I am sorry and horrified by the deaths of strangers.

And that might sound strange, to be sorry for the deaths of strangers, when I can't even remember the attack. This is a desensitized culture, after all -- we aren't sorry when we hear of the Bubonic Plague, when 2/3 of Europe's population was wiped out. But we are also a culture that becomes outraged over the death of one boy; in the age of digital information and digital personal relations, we freak out over smaller disasters. And, of course, I am not immune to culture. It probably doesn't help that I have an over-reactive imagination and a writer's tendency to dwell on internal conflict.

So, yes -- on this day, of all days, I can feel both sad at the deaths of strangers over ten years ago, and very lucky that I do not remember it. It's a strange feeling, to be sure -- it's not distant, like hearing of the earthquake in Japan, but it's not as immediate as a death of a family member.

And what compounds such a feeling is the fact that another human being is behind this. I will not add my opinion about Osama Bin Laden and whether he's dead and whether that happened in the ethical way. I do wonder, though, how a human being -- a person who breathes, or breathed -- a person who knows or knew that we are also humans, that we are also sentient creatures, could knowingly cause such harm. It's hard to wrap my mind around. He's like a storybook villain, the way he's portrayed to Us Youngsters. But what is the psychology behind such a thing? What went on in that head while planes crashed and people died? It's morbidly fascinating question, one where you know the behavior is wrong but you still have to wonder why the person is doing it, what past experiences made this sort of behavior a viable option.

Which, while I'm sure the information is out there somewhere -- published in some book or science journal -- I'm not perfectly sure I want to know. It's enough just to feel, for one profound Moment of Silence after the Pledge of Allegiance is spoken, the full ramifications of actual human suffering. My cynical side tells me that there is no justification, and anyways, I am generally not one for searching out information. But my nicer side just wants to spend a moment remembering heroes, and a moment of humility remembering how easy I could be remembering more than a stranger's death on this day.

But now, I do not want to be profound and deep-dark-thoughtful. I want to live a life free and deep. The life I can live, because terrorism failed to terrify us for long. Because it just saddens us once a year, and because it can seem like a faraway event, a world away.

So, instead of continuing to pontificate upon personal feelings, I found a couple of my favorite songs. Old favorite songs, that I knew in childhood and occasionally still listen to, especially on the day they're written about.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

YA and Epic Fantasy

So, I've been traversing links to blog posts and psychological studies and whatnot, as I'm wont to do, when a link pops up in my Twitter from Mythic Scribes. Its title: Is YA the Death of Epic Fantasy?

I read the article, and it seems fairly innocuous. A narrator, who explains he has nothing against YA Fantasy, tells us that Epic Fantasy, which he describes pretty much just as Tolkien, is dwindling as YA Fantasy takes over the market.

But I hate this kind of thinking. It's so subtle that you want to agree with this narrator. You want to say, "Well, he's sort of right. People gravitate towards YA Fantasy, because it's easier to read, but the real stuff in the adult section, the 'Epic Fantasy,' ends up forgotten in a dusty corner."

The problem is, it recirculates the age-old opinion that YA is somehow less. It's less fantasy than epic fantasy, easier to understand, not as dark. The article describes it as:

  Now, I have nothing against YA Fantasy. I could even see myself writing one. Like many others, I love and aspire to the abilities of Rowling and others like her. And although her pieces became increasingly dark, they don’t contain the true grit of Epic Fantasy. Sometimes I want to see blood, smell death, and feel the sexual tension that might even be expressed in Chapter 1. I want a battle axe to split a skull and a brain matter to splatter across the page as I read. And, I want it all done with a vocabulary and structure that excludes some readers. Sorry.

Do you see me gritting my teeth and wincing?

YA fantasy can be just as sexual, just as bloody, just as "true grit" as epic fantasy. Even in Chapter 1. I've read many, many YA novels, ones that start out viscerally. That continue throughout the book to be visceral. It's YA Writing 101 -- show, don't tell. Make things tense; make things dark. Push the character as far out of their comfort zone as you can, leave them at rock bottom, and then you can pull them out. Maybe.

And, well, let's face it: J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series started out as MG, not YA. So did the Percy Jackson series, which he also references. Yes, the elder generation started reading books like Tolkien in elementary school, but I remember that The Hobbit wasn't really offered in my elementary school library. We had these books that are marketed specifically for those younger readers of MG.

In fact, I was so hesitant about reading "older" books back then, that I still struggle with it today. They teach you that reading has levels, that some things are too smart or too dumb for you. Today, I feel self-conscious walking through the MG aisles of my B&N looking for books, because I could swear the parents and little kids are judging me. Sometimes I get the feeling that the adults in the YA aisle feel that I am judging them, even when I'm not.

But it's not true. "True grit" is as likely to be found in YA as it is in adult. The problems in the books -- the torture and the sexual tension and the brain matter -- are not portrayed less in YA, just different, from the perspective of a struggling teenager instead of a world-weary adult.

And, to bring up an example (never leave out evidence when making an argument!), here you go: one of the details that stuck out in my mind the most after reading If I Stay (Gayle Forman) was of the main character hovering over her body after the car accident, looking at the brain matter of one of her family members splayed across the road.

Is that true grit? You asked for brain matter, there's an example. And If I Stay is one of the relatively popular YA novels, not one of those obscure novels I dig out of the library.

Moving on to the vocabulary and structure. Yes, true that the YA market looks saturated with the World of Snark trope from the outside. But just earlier this summer, I read Princess Ben, a story with impressive vocabulary and structure. And there are plenty of others, waiting in libraries and bookstores everywhere, that do not employ the sometimes atrocious slang used in modern teenage circles.

And, in fact, it doesn't exclude readers. Grammar isn't the problem. It's the educational system that doesn't offer such epic books in school libraries, that cuts funding for the English department, and teaches kids to hate reading by requiring that they do so. It's the adults who don't read and set examples for their children, who don't take biweekly trips to a library or bookstore, who don't hit home the fact that language is the most powerful tool we have.

(I've been fortunate enough to have a mother who's even more of an avid reader than I am. and I'm sure there are plenty of parents or guardians or teachers who make an effort to connect a child with a love of reading. But too many don't or can't manage it.)

He mentions:

One thing that I always appreciated about Epic Fantasy was its exclusivity. Not everyone could read it.

 Perhaps it's because of a system, not because it's Epic Fantasy. True, it's not everyone's preference; but I would bet not many have access to shelves of fantasy in the first place. Fantasy is a lovely, misunderstood genre, whether YA or adult.

He also says of epic fantasy:

We continued reading fantasy in a society where fantasy authors wrote for adults and their novels were found in the normal fiction section of our local libraries and bookstores. Many of us expanded our interests, flocking to gaming and other pursuits. But our first love was what publishers label as Epic or High Fantasy. In this genre, we met our elven friends, our grumpy dwarven companions, and our nemesis the evil sorcerer.
Despite the unusual nature of our desired reading, it came with a certain quality. The lexicon, the syntax, and the high-literary value of many of these works was something that most ‘kids’ didn’t quite get. To read and understand them was a challenge and an accomplishment. Reading Tolkien as a kid while others were tackling Where the Red Fern Grows came with a knowledge that we were more advanced readers – if nothing else.

First of all, I've never read Where the Red Fern Grows, so I'm not sure what he means by that last statement, but I don't remember fantasy being a challenge. I've always been a proper-English sort of girl, so I can't attest to it, but I don't believe the high-literary value of the  novels was what I didn't get. Value was just not something anyone attributed to fantasy.

Let's put it this way: not once has my school -- elementary, middle, or high school -- actually had us read fantasy for a school project or during the curriculum. It sometimes comes close, like the mystical qualities the Scarlet Letter* seemed to have at times, but they never assigned it. Nor science-fiction, for that matter. I was ecstatic to be able to choose my own reading material for my AP Lit summer project, and promptly chose The Hobbit. Other than that... I kind of think the school system believes there is no value in it.

That high-literary quality, on the other hand... I know that feeling. The same term came to mind the first time I read Tolkien: a difficult book to read, but lovely to finish. It compared with every pretentious book they threw at us in school, but LoTR was still worth a grin, because it was fantastical, a true escape and other world. But no school seems to attribute the same term to the genre.

Most "kids" would be thrilled to read epic fantasy, if they had been taught the grammar skills to manage it. My lack of faith in the school system informs me that tackling Tolkien in 6th grade would've boosted my
self-esteem a lot more than the thin MG novel Crash (Jerry Spinelli) did. Not that Crash wasn't a lovely novel, it just wasn't challenging to a person like me.

(I know, this started out as a rant against adults who underestimate YA novels, and now has devolved into a rant about the educational system. In my defense, I am still in the public school system, and can attest to the atrocity of it, and the direct effect it can have on choice of reading material, and on grammar skills.)

I wasn't actively discouraged from reading "normal" fantasy or fiction. I just wasn't exposed to it. I wasn't given any chance to like it, apart from the spine of the books on my mother's bookshelves, which I was always slightly intimidated by. (They were grown-up books, they would imply. My mother would've let me read them, but I spent the majority of my childhood in school, where they assign easy, boring books marketed directly for the less-than-average intelligent, and that alone made me think it would be best to avoid the "real" and "smart" books they obviously didn't think I was capable of handling. And this was back when I believed they knew best.)

So, YA and MG are really all I had. It wasn't lowbrow; plenty of it has the "high-literary" quality. But I don't think it's threatening the adult fantasy, unless you think that because of the low exposure to adult fantasy, kids will grow up to be less inclined to read it. And you can't really blame that on YA, can you? You can only blame it on the people who didn't put The Hobbit in my hands when I was eight years old.

Have a blessed day. 

*That's sarcasm, by the way. The Scarlet Letter is one of the most scowl-worthy books I've ever come across, because it's dry, difficult to read, and not an escape at all. The most mystical references involve elaborate metaphors of the letter's aura of ignominy.