Monday, June 18, 2018

Busy Week, But Easy Running

The post-marathon recovery has been taking longer than I originally thought it would.

Normally, after a half, I'm back to my normal running schedule after a week of recovery runs. This time, though, I wasn't even able to run due to pain for 4 days after the marathon, and now, even though I don't hurt anymore, I'm still doing recovery runs. I think I'll know when it's time for me to start training normally again once I don't feel like this in the middle of my recovery runs:

I'm not even running all that fast! Argh.

Anyway, this last week I was able to take part in WIFYR, and it was amazing! I attended a potluck dinner with some of the other faculty (HAHA! They think I'm mature enough to be faculty!) and then, the next day, I was on a panel for new writers, representing the middle grade demographic.

It was a great conference. I wasn't able to attend every day, but when I did attend, I learned so much, especially about things I can do as a writer to better interact with my readers.

Yes, I know interacting with readers is a marketing thing. It's good for selling books. But, honestly, it's my favorite part of being a writer. I love meeting the kids who read my books, and even those who don't but might. I love school visits and I really enjoy talking to my readers. The thing is, those readers are mostly middle school-aged kids, so outside of school visits, I don't get to interact with them much. They're not on social media (or at least they're not allowed to be, if I know social media site rules).

So...I'm thinking of starting a YouTube channel.

This is terrifying to my awkward self, who gets even more awkward in front of a camera.

But I've been mulling it over, and I think it could be a lot of fun. One thing I enjoy so, so much about writing my books is the way I can solve the mystery before anyone else gets to. What if I did a weekly YouTube bit with some puzzles or codes for others, like my readers, to figure out? A weekly challenge, if you will. Some riddles, some puzzles, some codes and ciphers, and maybe some challenges that would require you to think like a retrieval specialist or detective.

Sound fun?

I think it is. But then I'm a huge geek, so not everyone agrees with my idea of fun.

In other news, I saw Incredibles 2 this weekend, and it's really good!

The plot is predictable, but it's solid and honestly I wasn't there for the plot. I adored every scene with Jack-Jack and I thought the movie was heartfelt and fun, with the same great family dynamics we loved in the first one. Edna Mode and Frozone's wife are also back.

And the short before the movie (it is Pixar, after all) is sweet and meaningful. I do highly recommend.

I still need to see Solo and Ocean's 8 because, you know, thieves and heists and all. Maybe I'll get some ideas for puzzles for my channel!

That will likely launch later in the fall, once I figure out what I'm doing. If you have any ideas or suggestions for me, I'm happy to listen.

Also, here's an NPR article I found about hanger. It's interesting, and I thought I'd share it with you.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Twenty-Six Point Two

I just started work on a new novel project, and I think I've discovered a new natural law:

Computers will work fine when you are doing nothing important, like games or Netflix, but as soon as you are hard at work on a new manuscript and haven't saved for at least fifteen minutes, the freaking computer will shut down without warning and you'll have to rewrite all that material all over again!

Yes. It happened. Why does it always happen when I'm writing and never when it's convenient?

In weekly news, this week I will be on a panel at the Writing & Illustrating for Young Readers conference.

My panel will be the new authors panel on Wednesday, June 13, from 4-4:40, and I may also be present at the book signing the next day (I think I'm invited to that, but I hate to impose if I'm wrong).

So, if you're going to WIFYR, I'll see you there!

. . .

Guess what?

I did my marathon!

The Utah Valley Marathon. Here's me, at the end, with my chocolate milk in hand and medal around my neck.

I got to ring the PR gong because I got a personal record. (Which is a given, since this was the first time I'd ever run 26.2 miles.)

My roommate met me at the finish line, and my three youngest siblings came and met up with me after I crossed.

It was a good experience. It was a hard experience. I learned another natural law: If the hot, hot summer weather is supposed to break over the weekend and drop to highs of pleasant low 80s, then there's no way it's going to happen before you run your marathon. The highs on Saturday were up in the high 90s, and it was probably about 80-85 degrees when I finished the race.

So, what's it like to run a marathon? I'm going to tell you. Doesn't matter if you asked.

The day before, I got my bib and shirt and stuff from the race expo. Where there were many people selling massage machines. That was new. I haven't seen those so much at other, shorter race expos. They also gave me a couple of flyers, with my shirt, for nearby hospitals and clinics, so that was considerate if a little concerning.

I got up at 2:45 am after a restless night. It's not easy to go to bed at 9 pm, though I tried, and even then, I was antsy. It took a while before I was able to fall asleep. But I got up okay, and made a light breakfast of oatmeal and a banana and packed my bag for the race.

I parked at the finish line and took a shuttle up to the starting line WAY up the canyon, where it was cold but they had firepits ready to warm the waiting runners. I had sweats because I knew it was going to be like this. When I got off the bus, the speakers were playing "Takin' It to the Streets" by the Doobie Brothers, and since that's on my running playlist, I took it as a good sign.

As I waited, I prepped. I drank a sports drink and lotioned up with sunscreen. I also took measures to prevent clothing chafing. You may notice that in my picture I'm not wearing a race shirt. The Spider-Man shirt comes from a company that makes light, soft, motion-friendly shirts, so that's what I wore for my first marathon. It's also encouraging to dress like a superhero.

The race started at 6 am. The sun was up, but we were still in shadow and the canyon was cool. The speakers played "What Doesn't Kill You" by Kelly Clarkson, which I thought funny, but not as funny as later when it was the song I finished to and the song on the radio as I went home. I had a theme for the day.

Running is interesting. I definitely had a stream of thoughts as I went, and they'd repeat. Here's a taste:

- Dang, the sun is out again. Where's the next shaded area?
- I thought this race didn't have hills.
- Where's the pacer? Oh, there she is.
- Did I fuel at the last mile mark? No? Better do that.
- I think I already passed that guy.
- Didn't that guy pass me already?
- Who the heck wears a backpack filled with marbles on a marathon?
- Wow, the scenery is gorgeous!
- Who dropped their socks? How did they leave their socks behind in the middle of a race?
- *new song starts on playlist* Ah, yesss! This is my jam.
- I've been running next to this person for a while. Should I say something?
- Nope. No need to talk.
- Breathing feels okay. I think I can do this!
- Um, legs are starting to hurt. Maybe I can't.
- If I see one more sign that says, "Smile! You paid for this," I'll make them pay and see how they like it.
- Another mile down. Just make it to the next water stop.
- It's getting hot....
- These last 6 miles in the sunlight are going to hurt.

They did. They did hurt. I actually threw up at mile 23, due to dehydration. Not that I was missing water stops; I hit every single one. But a marathon plus stupid heat equals loss of fluids.

I walked a bit of those last 3 miles, but even so, I made my time goal. I'd been hoping to finish between 4 hours and 4 and a half, and I finished around 4:15. So, right there in the middle.

After the race, I got lunch at Zupas with my family and then a Dole Whip because it was tasty and needed. Then I chilled and slept well at night. The next day? Well, this video should accurately depict what the day after a marathon looks/feels like:

Right now I'm feeling somewhere between "I can run 26.2 miles in less than 5 hours FEAR MY POWER" and "Sitting down is more of a controlled fall at this point please help me stairs without banisters would be impossible."

I'd do it again. I'd do another marathon some day. Maybe a fall one, because that would be pretty and a bit cooler than this one, but the Utah Valley Marathon was a good race. It had a beautiful course and it was well-organized. And now I am officially a marathoner.

But for now, I'm content to rest, regain my nutrients, and look forward to much more relaxed running schedule for the foreseeable future.

Monday, June 4, 2018

I'm Back and Ready to Discuss Avengers

So, I'm emotionally compromised again.

Oh, hello! I'm back. I've been traveling abroad in England, so I wasn't able to post anything while I was gone. I had a good time, riding the rails all over the United Kingdom, but I am glad to be back. It can be tiring to be in a new city every night.

Some highlights of my trip include attending Evensong at Westminster Abbey, seeing a play at the Globe Theatre, finding a little old chocolate house in Kendal, and pretty much all of the Lake District in general.

And having my birthday in Bath and going to the Pump Room for my cake:

That was pretty great.

Anyway, like I said, I'm emotionally compromised again. Netflix just released Part 3 of Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia and I just finished binging the new season. It's intense. And really, really good. If you're into fantasy, adventure, and kid's animated shows that are actually really serious and dark, and you haven't been watching this, you should start it up. Really well done, Netflix. Well done.

I guess it was time to get another fictional fist to the face, now that I've finally cooled down enough over Avengers: Infinity War (AAAAAAHHHH!) to blog about it. (In semi-related news, I bought a Spider-Man running shirt for my marathon. Which is this weekend, so more AAAAAHHH.)

I noticed some things in the movie that I've wanted to speak about. Now, since time has passed, I can.

Um, spoiler alert. You have been warned.

So I want to talk about Thanos. He was way, way more interesting as a villain than I was expecting.

Not that I was expecting much. I was expecting your typical Big Bad Comic Book Villain with megalomania and monologues, but lacking in motivation beyond "I'm bad and I do what I want" (no offense to Loki). That's not what we got.

The Thanos in Infinity War is mad, yes, and he is driven by motivations that don't make a lot of sense to anyone who actually values life. Which is, hopefully, everyone. But, I was interested to see a Thanos who has thought out his plan, who can explain it in a rational way, and, most importantly, sees himself as the sacrificing hero.

We haven't had this type of villain before. Think about it. In Iron Man, we have Obediah Stane, who wants to take over as CEO of Stark Industries. Greed and power are the motivators. In Captain America, we have HYDRA and the Red Skull, who are seeking ultimate power and domination. Ultron wants the complete destruction of the human race because he thinks robots and androids like himself and Vision are the future. So...power and domination, in a more computer way. And don't get me started on Star-Lord's psycho father Ego.

Helmut Zemo (the Civil War villain) and Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (before they join the Avengers) are all seeking revenge for past wrongs done to them by the Avengers. Not power, then, but vengeance. You can put Ronan the Accuser in this category, too.

And who can forget Loki, the "full-tilt diva" who wears a cape and monologues until forcibly stopped by Hulk? He's a more complicated villain, given his backstory, but he really acts the megalomaniac villain for the Avengers, seeking power and domination. A throne.

This is really the only villains the Avengers have fought: the power-mad and the vengeance-crazed. These are people who want what they want, and they'll do whatever it takes to get it. It's all about them.

Which is why I think they weren't ready for Thanos.

Thanos thinks he's the hero. He thinks the universe will thank him for annihilating half of all life so that the other half can live with more prosperity. He honestly thinks this. Yes, he's insane. But to himself, he's doing the right thing. It's not about him; it's about everyone else.

So he acts the part of the hero. He doesn't monologue or posture, and he doesn't make sure the heroes know that his actions are his fault.

Terry Pratchett, in his book Men at Arms, says this:

“Something Vimes had learned as a young guard drifted up from memory. If you have to look along the shaft of an arrow from the wrong end, if a man has you entirely at his mercy, then hope like hell that man is an evil man. Because the evil like power, power over people, and they want to see you in fear. They want you to know you're going to die. So they'll talk. They'll gloat.

They'll watch you squirm. They'll put off the moment of murder like another man will put off a good cigar.

So hope like hell your captor is an evil man. A good man will kill you with hardly a word.” 

So far, for the Avengers, this has been true: they've been fighting evil men. And that's how they treat Thanos, like another evil man. They expect the power-madness and selfishness, and that's not what they get.

Of course, Thanos is the villain. Anyone who thinks the solution to a problem is killing people is not the hero. But he behaves like one and has, to himself, heroic motivations, which is why I don't think the Avengers and Guardians were ready for him.

Gamora doesn't believe Thanos can love, so she's unprepared for when he sacrifices her as his greatest treasure. And later, Scarlet Witch tells Thanos that he can't imagine the pain she's in. The Avengers have decided that Thanos is just like their other villains, when he's really not.

Thanos, at least to himself, is a good man. And he behaves like Pratchett describes.

Thanos doesn't gloat. He comes in, takes the stone, and goes to find the next one. He doesn't wait or seem to enjoy people's suffering. He behaves like a merciful hero, although he's really not.

Thanos also is willing to make sacrifices for the greater good. Although it hurts him to do it, costs him "everything," he throws his daughter Gamora off a cliff, killing her for the Soul Stone. He does this not for himself, but for the universe. He doesn't want statues and monuments to his name, and he doesn't want to rule the universe. He's tired of the quest. His goal, when all of it is over, is to rest quietly on a farm.

This doesn't sound like a villain's MO. This is what a hero does. The Avengers and Guardians weren't ready for this because they have to fight someone who behaves like they do. Like a hero. And after Civil War, we can see how bad they are at fighting people who draw strength from the same things they do: determination and a belief in a higher, moral purpose.

(I'd also like to point out that Star-Lord and Thor were motivated by revenge, and because of that, Star-Lord lashed out, preventing the others from taking the gauntlet, and Thor hit Thanos in the chest, not the head, so Thanos could see who was killing him. Star-Lord and Thor's "villain" actions might have cost them all the fight.)

Infinity War was a loss for the Avengers and the Guardians, and I think it's because for the first time they had a super-powerful foe that didn't fit the villain mold in motivations and actions. They were scattered and unsure of what they were dealing with.

Now, for the second half, I am hoping that with his mission complete, Thanos has lost some of that "heroic" determination. And, with so much lost, the Avengers have redoubled theirs to set things right.

Monday, May 14, 2018

BYU YA Conference and Vacation Report

Hello, all!

This week is the calm between the storms of two vacations, but it's not all that calm. Why?

Because I have a school visit tomorrow and a conference on Friday.

This conference? It's the BYU YA Undergraduate Novelist Conference and it's arranged by my mentor, Chris Crowe. It's today through Friday, and I'm speaking on Friday. But...


Shannon Hale. Ally Condie. Carol Lynch Williams. Kristen Chandler. They are some seriously amazing writers, and wow, it's such a delight and honor to be listed among them. As a keynote speaker.

Am I nervous? You betcha. But that's what preparation is for, right? And practice. Lots of practice.

Anyway, calm between two storms. This weekend, I am leaving for London. I'm excited, but still a little surprised that I'm doing this and that it's coming so fast. But it will be good.

Last weekend, I was in Disneyland with my four siblings!

Here we are in Cars Land in California Adventure. We went because we wanted to, but also to celebrate my sister Chrisanne's graduation. We spent two days in the parks and TORE IT UP.

(Seriously, we rode so many rides. It was great!)

Day 1: Disneyland. We went all over the park, riding Indiana Jones twice, and pretty much everything else at least once. The day was cold and overcast, but we still rode Splash Mountain, working the system to get a FastPass for, like, ten minutes after we got the pass. The ride picture was really good, with all of us clear and lined up, but we didn't get a copy. We did get churros, though.

They are Coco-themed churros, found in Frontierland, and by gum, they are delicious. I've never had a Disneyland churro before this, and I hear they're all good, but this one...this one was amazing. Cocoa powder and salted cinnamon sugar coating, and a chipotle chocolate dipping sauce. I swear, I'm going to figure out how to copy the flavor because dang, that churro was good.

Other highlights included Hyperspace Mountain (surprisingly back in time for our visit), the family of geese threatening a service dog (who looked terrified), the kid dressed as WALL-E, the Jungle Cruise dad jokes, and ALL THE RIDES!

Very cold Pixar show at the castle at night, and after walking roughly 12 miles over the course of the day, we finally called it a night.

Day 2: California Adventure. We started and ended the day with Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout!

All in all, we rode it 4 times and heard 3 different songs. That's right: they have 6 different possible drop sequences and ride experiences.

We also rode Radiator Springs Racers a couple of times, and I forgot how much fun that ride is! The theming, the ride itself, the racing your's a good one. And we took the single rider line because Mama didn't raise no fools. And we had a lot to do.

Soarin', the pier rides (although the Pixar Pier change closed the roller coaster), and the Frozen stage show. All highlights. As well as the Ghirardelli's ice cream after lunch.

The day was another cool one, but not as bad. The winds weren't as strong, it didn't drizzle, and we didn't ride a water ride, so that helped. And, the sun came out for a little while, which brought up the temperature.

It was a great trip. I loved spending time with my siblings in the Happiest Place on Earth, and we all did pretty much everything we wanted to do. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did. I do wish that the pier was open, and that it wasn't so cold.

But hey, I guess that just means I'll have to go back someday, right?

Monday, May 7, 2018

Frozen's Not All Meh

I was thinking that I'd do a post about Infinity War, but I will DEFINITELY have spoilers in it and I want to wait until an acceptable time has passed before I talk about it. Maybe next week.

This week, I am going to be spending the weekend in the Happiest Place on Earth:


Personally, I think Disney World, the Most Magical Place on Earth, is the better location, but I admit East Coast bias and any Disney is good Disney, I think.

Which may come as a surprise to you, considering how much I criticize Disney lately. That doesn't mean I don't like Disney or enjoy its movies and attractions. It just means that I don't want them to get complacent and try to pass off okay movies as great ones. Like Frozen.

I throw a lot of shade at Frozen because I think it's an okay movie, a good movie, but not a great one and I don't like it when okay, good stories are touted as great ones. Elsa is not a feminist character just because she doesn't chase a man (seriously) and Hans is not a good villain just because you didn't see him coming.

That said, there is one thing that Frozen did that I think they did very well, and that was in Anna's characterization.

Anna is a good protagonist that gets overshadowed by fans and media by her older sister (which is interesting, when you think about it). She is a strong character and, I think, the more feminist character, because she acts and is not acted upon. But that's not what I think they did well with her.

No, what I like about Anna's writing is that she has consistent character traits that work as both flaws and strengths.

One annoying sign of lazy writing is the "clumsy character." The writer knows the main character can't be perfect, so they give them some stupid flaw like clumsiness that doesn't impact that plot at all. At first glance, Anna seems to be one of these lazy characters.

But she's not. Why?

Because she's impulsive.

This is the trait that makes her interesting! Over and over again, we see Anna act before thinking. With Hans:

With Elsa:

Running off to find Elsa without supplies or proper clothing for a winter mountain trek:

Insisting they go "right now":

Trust-falling into Kristoff's arms:

Jumping off the cliff:

And, lest we forget, confronting Elsa without any kind of plan beyond "I'm going to talk to my sister."

This character trait is consistent. It's not just there when it's convenient or inconvenient. Anna is always a bit impulsive. Sure, she does plan and think, but overall, she's eager to leap before looking.

And this causes problems for her.

This trait is the reason she trusts Hans so much so early. It's also the reason she fails so badly with Elsa at first, because she didn't have a good plan.

But it's also the reason she actually goes in the first place to get Elsa to come back, and it's the reason she moves to save Elsa from Hans so quickly, thereby saving Elsa and herself. She doesn't think before she acts, and that means she can act quickly.

Sometimes, that quick action is reckless, and sometimes it's needed. But either way, it's a character trait that belongs to her. It doesn't make her a weak character; in fact, it makes her stronger by giving her realistic strengths and weaknesses beyond "clumsy."

Flaws and strengths in characters are subjective. A tendency toward reckless action may be a strength on the battlefield but not in a diplomat's office. It's traits that give characters strengths and weaknesses, not some inherent list of "good" and "bad" qualities. Frozen actually did a good job showing that with Anna.

So, can we please start liking the movie for what it has instead of what we wish it had?

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Problem of Unproblematic Stories

Sorry for the slightly late post. I just got back from seeing Infinity War.


Ahem...anyway, the blog post.

This is something I've been thinking about for a long time.

Now, I love Disney. I have my whole life. And, soon I'll be visiting Disneyland with my siblings and I'm about as excited as an eight-year-old about it.

But I was talking with my sister yesterday about some of Disney's most recent blockbusters, and about their older movies (the Renaissance ones), and we discussed how those older ones could not be made today.

Think about it. Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and certainly The Hunchback of Notre Dame...all movies with plots or elements that would face enormous scrutiny and backlash today. Race relations and religion, gender roles and unfeminist messages. Un-PC terms and ideas.

I honestly think Disney could not have released these, brand new, today. I think the reason for this is that they're all a bit problematic, and big companies can't afford to be problematic.

Okay, before we move forward, I just want to say that I'm not advocating writing and producing stories that offend major audiences, or even minor ones. There are things that should be left out of movies and stories because they are offensive, and they do make people angry, and it's bad writing to include them because they can easily be corrected by compassion for one's subject as well as proper research and understanding. Look at Coco; Pixar did a good job with that one.

But I think that, sometimes, in the desire to stop this kind of problematic content, a writer can throw out all complicated, heavy, and problematic themes and plots as well as the offensive material. This makes the final product, well, weak.

I throw a lot of shade at Frozen, and here's some more. It was a good movie, but honestly, I think the heaps of praise it receives are a bit much for what it is. I know Frozen has a huge following and lots of people love it, and yes, the music is good. But when I look at the story and themes, I'm not wowed. I don't feel the awe I felt in The Lion King when Mufasa tells Simba to, "Remember who you are." I don't ache for the characters. Sure, I feel for them, but I don't feel for them. Everything is...a little washed out.

Frozen had a binary theme: love=good, fear=bad. No one is going to dispute this. No one is going to feel for the villain or question what to do in this situation. It's obvious; Elsa needs to let love conquer fear. Because of this weak theme, we had a paper doll villain who needs to be a psychopath in order to actually work as a believable villain (which is lazy writing).

Now, let's compare this to another Disney movie, one that I think they allowed to be a bit troubling. Big Hero 6.

In Big Hero 6, there is no easy binary. Hiro has a legitimate reason to grieve, as does Dr. Callahan. The film deals with ideas of depression, obsession, revenge, and justice, and it doesn't make it easy for the viewer. Hiro lost a loved one, but so did Dr. Callahan. Does that make Callahan's actions just? Is Hiro justified in doing the same? What is justice, and how can healing happen? We see Hiro come just shy of becoming villainous himself.

The movie does comment on the rightness or wrongness of their actions, and Callahan is the villain, but he's a believable, even relatable one. It's not neat or clear, and there is no easy fix, no wave of the hand that can return what has been lost. There are consequences that don't go away, and that makes me care a bit more. It also leaves me thinking about the themes for myself.

Let's look at another movie comparison. Moana had a protagonist who didn't actually grow all that much, or discover all that much about herself, through the whole movie. The movie presents a choice: Moana must choose between her love of her people and her love of the ocean. But it's a hollow choice. The two are not mutually exclusive, not inherently. I never felt like this was a real choice. No choice, no consequences. No problems to solve. So, I think, that's why Moana doesn't seem to grow. She's never challenged to determine for herself who she is at the expense of anything.

Now, there's Tarzan. Tarzan grows up among the apes, feeling like an outcast. Then humans come to the jungle and he realizes that there are creatures like him. Soon, he has to face a choice: to stay in Africa or go to England and be with other humans.

These choices are mutually exclusive. Tarzan cannot do both. In the end, he has to choose one or the other, and the other door closes, so to speak. Yes, the girl he loves stays with him. In the jungle. It's a good ending, but a choice is made, and there are consequences for choosing it. We see a moment where Tarzan decides who he is and where he belongs.

Now, I know the point of Moana is that she can have both. But there was never any problem with it, not really. No conflict in the viewer's mind. Moana starts as someone who loves her people but will go to the sea against her father's wishes, and in the end, she still chooses the sea and her people. There's never really a moment where she has to consider giving up one or the other, or where she's really stopped from having one.

Not like in Wreck-It Ralph where Ralph wrecks Vanellope's car. Dang, that's always hard to watch.

This is getting long-winded, so I'll wrap it up. I'm afraid that Disney, scared of offending anyone, has also stopped allowing problematic themes in their musicals. Other films, like Big Hero 6, aren't as scrutinized and so get away with more. But the musicals seem to have stopped trying to explore complicated themes.

So, here are some suggestions I have for Disney, on how to do this again:

- No easy binaries. If 99% (if not 100%) of the audience can point to love as better than fear, then why not replace the binary with personal comfort versus responsibility, like in The Lion King? Even if audiences know which one Simba should choose, they at least can see why he might want to choose the other.

- Consequences. If one choice is made, the other has been lost. Winning the day requires a sacrifice, even if it's small.

- Start treating the female-lead, musical movies like the male-lead, non-musical movies. Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6 have a lot more compelling plots and characters than the female-lead movies, which all seem to have the same plot and characters.

- Don't be afraid. Do your research, and be kind to the cultures you're depicting. But part of humanity is dealing with difficult ideas and making hard choices, and that should be present in your movies. Now, more than ever.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Codes and Code Breaking

This week is going to be nuts for me, and today is the worst of it, so today's blog post is going to be a little shorter than usual. So I'm going to make up for it by making it strange.

The book I'm currently working on is a mystery that features a lot of clues and codes. My three main characters have different strengths, and one of them, the boy Charlie, is skilled with puzzles and clues. Lately, I've been sharing the stories of female explorers (Anna's area of expertise), so I thought today I'd give you Charlie's.

Also, I'm a freaking code nerd. I love using them and making up clues with them, and I've been like this for a long time. I used to make treasure hunts a la National Treasure for my siblings, full of codes and clues. So indulge me, today.

I'm going to tell you what I have going on this week, but I'm going to do it in several different codes that I use in my book. If you want the decoded version, scroll to the bottom. But where's the fun in that?

First code: Atbash

The Atbash cipher is a simple one where you essentially flip the alphabet: A becomes Z, B becomes Y, and so on. The decoder is above. It's easy to use and easy to decode; me and my sister use it to share TV and book spoilers, since the recipient can decode whenever ready to know.

So, here's Reason #1 that my week is busy, in Atbash:

1. Gsrh dvvp, R zn tizwrmt nb hgfwvmgh' urmzo kzkvih. Gsv hvnvhgvi gvxsmrxzoob vmwvw ozhg dvvp, yfg yvxzfhv R'n gvzxsrmt lmormv R szev z hortsgob vcgvmwvw hvnvhgvi. Hrmxv hfnnvi rh hgzigrmt, R'n gibrmt gl tizwv gsvhv zh uzhg zh R xzm dsrov hgroo yvrmt gslilfts, dsrxs rh hgroo z olmt grnv: gsvhv kzkvih ziv 10 kztvh olmt. Rg zohl wlvhm'g svok gszg zoovitb hvzhlm rh fklm nv.

Second code: A1Z26

This one is a lot like the Atbash cipher. It's a simple substitution cipher that switches numbers for letters. A=1, B=2, and so on. I don't typically use this one because it's just as easy to break as the Atbash and writing it requires a lot of hyphenating. You'll see.

Reason #2:

13-25 23-18-9-20-9-14-7. 19-5-18-9-15-21-19-12-25, 23-8-1-20 5-12-19-5? 9 8-1-22-5 1 23-18-9-20-9-14-7 7-18-15-21-16 13-5-5-20-9-14-7 20-8-9-19 23-5-5-11-5-14-4 1-14-4 1-12-20-8-15-21-7-8 9 4-15-14'20 20-8-9-14-11 9'12-12 13-1-11-5 9-20 (18-5-1-19-15-14-19 6-15-18 20-8-1-20 12-1-20-5-18), 9 19-20-9-12-12 8-1-22-5 20-15 19-5-14-4 15-21-20 1 19-20-15-18-25. 20-5-14 16-1-7-5-19, 1-14-4 9'13 14-15-20 19-21-18-5 23-8-1-20 20-15 19-5-14-4? 13-25 23-9-16? 15-18 19-8-15-21-12-4 9 19-20-1-18-20 1 14-5-23 19-20-15-18-25 20-8-1-20 8-1-19 2-5-5-14 20-9-3-11-12-9-14-7 13-25 13-9-14-4? (9-20 9-14-22-15-12-22-5-4 6-18-1-3-20-21-18-5-4 6-1-9-18-25 20-1-12-5-19 19-5-20 9-14 1 22-9-3-20-15-18-9-1-14 20-9-13-5 5-18-1.) 9 1-12-19-15 16-18-15-13-9-19-5-4 13-25 7-18-15-21-16 9'4 23-18-9-20-5 5-22-5-18-25 4-1-25, 1-14-4 9-6 9 6-1-9-12, 9'22-5 2-5-5-14 1-19-19-21-18-5-4 3-15-14-19-5-17-21-5-14-3-5-19 23-9-12-12 2-5 4-9-18-5.

A1Z26 also takes up a lot of space. Not my favorite code, but handy.

Third code: Keyed Caesar:

The Caesar cipher is typically a shift cipher, meaning you switch the letters over a certain number, like this picture, which shows a left shift of 3:

This makes it a little tougher than Atbash or A1Z26. But I like the keyed Caesar, which uses a key word to create the shift. For example, if the key word was Batman, the alphabet used for the code would look like this:


You see how those letters went to the front? This makes the alphabet shift over. Repeated letters are only used once. It's unique to any key word.

So, here's the third reason in keyed Caesar cipher. Key word is "Elgar" (figure out why I picked that word):

3. Ky sfstrq fs cqeauetfmc! Sdr's crttfmc drq arcqrr fm Soemfsd Tqemsjetfnm jfir e lnss (sdr's oqrtty kugd tqfjfmcuej mnw) ema jrevfmc gnjjrcr lrdfma bnq lrttrq tdfmcs! Ky oeqrmts eqr bjyfmc fmtn tnwm nm Tursaey mfcdt, ema nb gnuqsr F wemt tn sorma es kugd tfkr wftd tdrk es F gem, sn F'k tqyfmc tn gnkojrtr ky wnqi pufgijy. Ft wfjj lr cqret tn srr rvrqynmr ema tn grjrlqetr wftd ky sfstrq. Tdr wrri wfjj lr lusy, lut sn cnna!

Is this a bad time to tell you that there are lots of decoding machines online that handle all three of these codes? (But again, where's the fun in that?)

Anyway, that's it. That's my week. I hope the puzzles entertain you enough that the fact that this content isn't all that interesting this week. I have papers to grade; my brain is a little fried.

Go ahead and scroll down for the translated messages. But before we get there, here's one more for you, using all three codes. I'm not going to translate this one; it's for you to figure out. Just a piece of nonsense that may be fun to decode. Key word, when you need it, is "Hesperides."

Rm gsv svzig lu gsv dllw gsviv'h zm zkkov givv. Yb wzb rg rh tmziovw zmw tizb, yfg yb mrtsg rg kilwfxvh uifrg lu nllmorg hroevi.

2-5-25-15-14-4 20-8-5 1-16-16-12-5 20-18-5-5, 20-8-5-18-5 9-19 1 18-9-22-5-18. 2-25 4-1-25 9-20 9-19 13-21-4-4-25 1-14-4 2-18-15-23-14, 2-21-20 2-25 14-9-7-8-20 9-20 12-5-1-16-19 23-9-20-8 6-9-18-5. 

Hkp erylkp tar obvro, h shvr. Ey phy bt bq phof hkp qbgrkt, eut ey kbdat bt alwgq wbta tar wbkp taht bt qusfq bk, gbfr h aukdoy jluta. Bi ylu tllf tar jllkgbdat hmmgr, hkp olhqtrp bt lvro tar obvro'q ighjrq ql taht bt qjrggrp gbfr Lstlero, hkp morqrktrp bt ht tar jluta li tar shvr ql taht tar wbkp shoobrp tar holjh prrm wbtabk, waht jbdat rjrodr tl qrr waht ylu ahvr eoludat?

Decoded messages:

1. This week, I am grading my students' final papers. The semester technically ended last week, but because I'm teaching online I have a slightly extended semester. Since summer is starting, I'm trying to grade these as fast as I can while still being thorough, which is still a long time: these papers are 10 pages long. It also doesn't help that allergy season is upon me. 

2. My writing. Seriously, what else? I have a writing group meeting this weekend and although I don't think I'll make it (reasons for that later), I still have to send out a story. Ten pages, and I'm not sure what to send? My WIP? Or should I start a new story that has been tickling my mind? (It involved fractured fairy tales set in a Victorian time era.) I also promised my group I'd write every day, and if I fail, I've been assured consequences will be dire.

3. My sister is graduating! She's getting her degree in Spanish Translation like a boss (she's pretty much trilingual now) and leaving college behind for better things! My parents are flying into town on Tuesday night, and of course I want to spend as much time with them as I can, so I'm trying to complete my work quickly. It will be great to see everyone and to celebrate with my sister. The week will be busy, but so good!