Monday, September 18, 2017

The Goose is Getting Fat

It has been a wonderfully, autumnly cool week in Utah, so I, being me, started getting excited for a perfectly seasonally appropriate holiday.

Christmas.


Okay, now you're laughing (maybe at me, or maybe at the pug) or screaming in rage. That's fine. I love Christmas. My love for Christmas and Christmas music doesn't diminish my love for the other holidays; somehow, I've perfected the ability to be equally excited for Halloween and Christmas at the exact same time. But come on, people. Look at this trailer!


It's a movie about Charles Dickens writing A Christmas Carol. How was I not supposed to get in the right mood with this?

Over the years, I've received a lot of criticism for starting to listen to Christmas music too early (I start in August or September, on Sundays and when I feel like it), and for enjoying the holiday before Thanksgiving has passed. Again, I love Thanksgiving, and I get just as excited for it as anyone else does. But I still find myself defending enjoying the holiday too early.

I could, and do, make reasonable arguments about how the music makes me feel loving toward others and inspires goodness and joy. I tell people I save certain songs and movies specifically for the season. But that takes too long.

Maybe you also are a Yuletide early celebrator. Here are some good, short responses for when people ask about it and you don't have time to debate.

Them: "Why are you listening to Christmas music? It's not even Halloween yet!"

You:

- Say nothing. Hand them a candy cane.
- Again, say nothing. Sprinkle tinsel on their head.
- "HO HO YOLO!"
- "I do what I want."
- "What do you have against peace on earth, good will toward men?"
- "Better not shout, better not cry about it."
- "Because gingerbread."
- "Are you still mad about the mistletoe incident?"
- "I used to be normal like you. Then I took a peppermint arrow to the knee."
- "Nah." (and walk away)
- "I like things before they're cool."
- "I tried to avoid it, but the visions of sugarplums are relentless."
- "To fulfill prophecy."

These could be adapted for other holidays and interests. Anyway, they're yours to use. Happy holidays!

Here are this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Emily Blejwas - Once You Know This (9/19)

Young Adult:
Axie Oh - Rebel Seoul (9/15)
McKelle George - Speak Easy, Speak Love (9/19)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Arts and Thefts Is Coming!

Hey, all!

I've had a busy but good week. I started a new job, which is lovely, I saw the One Republic concert in Salt Lake (which was my first rock concert and it was a BLAST!) and I learned that the new local edible cookie dough shop is actually quite delicious. Oh, and my ARCs came.

Yes sirree!



They came! I got ARCs for Arts and Thefts!

It's real! And it's great to see the cover of the book and hold the thing in my hands and feel its weight. Wow. A few years ago, I was dreaming of publication, and now I have two books. Life is interesting.

So, Arts and Thefts comes out February 13, 2018, and is the sequel to Under Locker and Key. Here's the summary, straight from Amazon:

Middle school retrieval specialist Jeremy Wilderson must team up with preteen private detective Becca Mills once again to solve his most mind-boggling case yet in this action-packed MAX novel.

Ahh, summer vacation! Jeremy Wilderson, Scottsville Middle School’s first (and only) retrieval specialist, is enjoying a slower-than-usual season of retrieving (NOT stealing) lost objects in order to help the under thirteen population of Scottsville.

But crime doesn’t take a vacation! And when sabotage strikes Scottsville’s event of the year—the Summer Art Show—threatening to ruin the burgeoning painting career of Jeremy’s best friend, Case, it’s up to Jeremy to figure out what’s going on. Of course, his archrival Becca Mills, who just happens to think Jeremy, Case, and their friend Hack are involved in the crime, is also looking into it.

Jeremy has only a few precious hours to stop the sabotage before more contest entries—and kids’ dreams—are slashed and burned.

But Jeremy’s specialty is retrieval…not detective work! The only solution is to team up with Becca to solve the case, something Jeremy’s not exactly thrilled to do. Not to mention, he has to keep his alliance with Becca a secret from Case and Hack, who will disown him if they see him working with the enemy. Somewhere between being stuck inside an air vent and slathered in red paint, Jeremy has to wonder: is he in over his head?


If you're interested in learning more, or preordering it (because that's available now), you can check it out at this link. I'm hoping to have some promotional events soon regarding Arts and Thefts, including an ARC giveaway, and I'll keep you posted on anything coming.

This was a lot of fun to write, so I hope it's fun to read. Right now, I'm working on a new project that is also a lot of fun (superheroes), and I look forward to keeping you posted about that one's development.

To close, I want to share this link. It's a site that navigates good charities to donate to or help, and here's their page for charities helping with Hurricane Harvey. If you're interested in helping out, this is a good starting place:

Hurricane Harvey: Charity Navigator

Here are this week's debuts:


Young Adult:
Scott Reintgen - Nyxia (9/12)
Ismee Williams - Water in May (9/12)

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Choosing Ones

Happy Labor Day!

This past weekend I was asked what my favorite and least favorite writing tropes are. Among my least favorite were:

1. The hunky, violent, abusive love interest
2. The "strong female character" who does nothing to further the story OR is just all the masculine ideals in a female body
3. When characters have little to no motivation for doing what they do (I'm looking at you, Zack Snyder)


Seriously, why is she even there?


And my favorites?

1. Breaking the fourth wall
2. When the villain is defeated not by brute strength but by some cunning plot set up well in advance by the heroes
3. When the hero has to decide to be a hero, turning his/her back on a normal life
4. A character is special because of who, not what, they are

I want to talk about this last one in today's post.

This isn't the "Chosen One" idea, where someone is born special and is destined to save the world because they're the Chosen One. This is actually the opposite of that, so I sometimes call this character the "Choosing One."

*thunder sounds as the post title is stated in the post*

The more I read and write, the more I find myself drawn to the characters who are not born special. They are not royalty, they have no special powers, and no one has made a prophecy about them. In fact, there's no reason for these characters to be part of the heroic team, or even to be the protagonist. They are perfectly justified in staying home.


But they don't.

These characters are good people, heroic people, not because of any outside force pressuring them to be (though that can be very fun when said CO (Chosen One) rebels against those pressures), but because they want to do the right thing, even when it's hard.


Really, any of the hobbits fit this description.

I really admire these characters. Not only are they good because they want to be good, they aren't inherently special. They show that anyone can be heroic, not just someone with a special power, or foretold destiny, or whatever. I find it so much interesting to see a normal person, who wants to help and do the right thing, put in situations where he or she feels maybe a little inadequate and wonders why he or she is even part of this fight. But then, rise above it and do the right thing anyway.


This is the kind of heroism I respect more, and I love seeing it. These characters aren't perfect, but they're heroes because that's who they are, not what they are. In my own writing, I tend toward these kinds of characters: the nobodies who are somebody not because they are Chosen, but because they Choose.

Here are this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Eric Bell - Alan Cole is Not a Coward (9/5)

Young Adult:
Katherine Locke - The Girl With the Red Balloon (9/1)
Linsey Miller - Mask of Shadows (9/5)
Heather Fawcett - Even the Darkest Stars (9/5)
F.M. Boughan - Cinderella Necromancer (9/5)
McCall Hoyle - The Thing With Feathers (9/5)
Meg Kassel - Black Bird of the Gallows (9/5)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Disney Defense: Cinderella

Hello! Sorry again for the late post; I've been traveling and spending time with my family, and for me, that takes priority.

But I'm about to get back to a regular schedule, so that's good. I thought that today I'd try to defend one of Disney's most blasted films: Cinderella.


Why? Because I feel like Disney's old movies are misinterpreted after so much time. Nowadays, the push is so strong to present what is typically considered a "strong female protagonist" and I think that too often the movies actually become less feminist, offering a semblance of it but perhaps not the real thing. Cinderella is, surprisingly, far more feminist in nature than remembered.

But wait! Isn't this the movie about a passive, helpless girl waiting for her prince to save her? Isn't that this story?

Actually, no. Not at all. If you watch the movie again, you may notice that the Prince does one thing that moves the plot forward: he goes looking for the girl he met at the ball. Even that could be considered a reactive move, acting only because of the actions of others.

Cinderella, on the other hand, the so-called passive princess, is anything but.

This girl gets up at the crack of dawn to get to work, seemingly running the household on her own. Sure, she sings about dreams coming true, but that's not where she leaves it. She acts on what she dreams, working hard day after day. She doesn't leave the oppressive situation she's in (and perhaps she can't), but neither does she succumb to it.

On watching the film again, I was surprised by how sarcastic and sassy this "passive" character can be. She was going to beat that cat with a broom!


So, the ball comes around. I'm no scholar in medieval politics and social events, but I'm guessing that a royal ball to which every eligible maiden in the kingdom is invited is not something that happens every Friday. This is likely a once-in-a-lifetime event, much like a total solar eclipse, and for once, Cinderella is invited. She can go, by royal decree.

Lady Tremaine, Cinderella's stepmother, can't disobey a royal decree. So she, intelligent, conniving villain that she is, does what she can to stop Cinderella from going to the ball: she sets terms she knows Cinderella can't meet. In order to go, Cinderella must finish all her chores and have a suitable dress. She then, with the stepsisters, load Cinderella with more chores than she can manage.

Two notes, here: One - evil as Lady Tremaine is, she's certainly a strong character. Strong characters don't have to always be good.


And two - The Prince is not mentioned by Cinderella at all to this point, not really. She's not hoping to meet him and marry him. She doesn't expect him to save her. She just wants to go to this ball.

Cinderella does everything she can to meet the terms. She works hard and she pulls out a dress to alter. These are not the actions of a passive, "oh, well," character. She needs help to succeed, but I'd like to mention that these mice and birds that help her do so because she showed them kindness first, saving them from traps and feeding them. This is tit-for-tat, payment in kind. Kindness is not passivity, here or anywhere.

And she succeeds! Her hard work pays off and she has a dress to wear and chores are finished. And then....


The stepfamily ruins everything.

Here, Cinderella has done everything she can. She worked hard, she did everything that was in her limited power, and nothing came of it. A ball, a big party, seems so silly a desire, but for this girl who lost her parents and must now slave at the mercy of an unkind stepmother and stepsisters, one night out on the town must have seemed like a reprieve well-deserved.

Here, she receives help again, from a powerful female character: the Fairy Godmother. This character is kind and very powerful, able to give Cinderella everything she needs to go to the ball. She doesn't set Cinderella there, though, and I find it interesting that she uses the fruits of Cinderella's labors to send her there: the pumpkin you know Lady Tremaine didn't grow, the rags of the dress Cinderella was planning to wear, and the mice, dog, and horse that she cared for.


Cinderella goes to the ball, aided, but of her own desires. She meets the prince and falls in love, but then leaves when she must. After that, we see no proof that she's sitting, waiting for him to find her. She goes back to work, keeping that memory in her heart.

Then, when she learns he's coming, she stops working. Lady Tremaine realizes who that mysterious girl from the ball is, and locks her in the tower. But does Cinderella wait and wish?

In the remake, sure, but in the old cartoon, never!

She gets help. She makes a plan to use Bruno, the dog, to scare off Lucifer, the cat. And then, when the slipper is broken and all hope seems lost, she pulls out the other slipper.


In this film, Cinderella is proactive, strong, and kind, and the passive waiter is nowhere to be found. The most I can do to call her weak is comment on her needing help, and I think the day we believe that it's weak to need help after you've done your best is the day that we've lost all compassion as a society.

I realize these Disney Defenses may not change anyone's mind about how they view these movies, but I think there's much more good to be found in these films than usually believed, and that if children like and want to watch them, it's important to see the good messages about working hard, being kind, and taking action to teach them, instead of letting the media preach only "be pretty." These old Disney movies are a lot deeper than we give them credit for, and the "Disney stereotype" of passive princesses is more fantasy than reality in many cases.

Here's hoping all your dreams come true!

Here are this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Jonathan Rosen - Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies (8/29)

Young Adult:
Rebecca Barrow - You Don't Know Me But I Know You (8/29)
Maggie Ann Martin - The Big F (8/29)
Gregory Katsoulis - All Rights Reserved (8/29)

Monday, August 21, 2017

Home Turf and Outer Space

Happy Eclipse Day!


Go get that Fire Nation!

I apologize for not posting last week. I was preparing to travel back to Pennsylvania for a couple weeks, and the preparations were more intense than I planned for. I also didn't have much to say, so I wasn't sure how to craft a post.

But I have a good one today, and a great one coming around the bend, so that's good!

Writing is going well. I'm a bit stalled on a WIP, since what I thought the book was when I started it may not be what it really is. I need to figure out if I want it to skew funny and ridiculous, or go more serious and realistic, or try to walk the fine line between the two. Personally, I think I'll be learning the highwire.

 
One fun story: I'm back in my home town with all these people who know me. They have bought Under Locker and Key and given it to their kids. So, when I went to church yesterday, a few people came up to ask me how the writing is going. That was cool, but the highlight was walking behind a group of boys and then hearing them whisper, "Under Locker and Key" and seeing them glance back at me.

I felt like a rock star. For just a few seconds.

Today I watched the eclipse. We didn't get totality out here, but I have eclipse glasses so I could see the 80% moon coverage. It was wild. The light got a touch dimmer (even though we didn't have totality) and the air got cooler. I also enjoyed seeing the spots of light under trees turn into crescents.


 I also thought it was neat that the whole country united in peering at the sky today. It reminded me of the movies about the Space Race and how everyone was excited to see the astronauts go up, enter orbit, go to the moon, etc. I love seeing the country excited and united in something so pure and good, like celebrating the moon passing in front of the sun.



I really like space and science. A few of my WIPs deal with science in some way. Maybe, one day, I'll write a story set in space. Maybe there'll be an eclipse.

I hope you all enjoyed the day! Here are last week's and this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Kristi Wientge - Karma Khullar's Mustache (8/15)
Darcey Rosenblatt - Lost Boys (8/22)
Melissa Roske - Kat Greene Comes Clean (8/22)

Young Adult:
Lana Popovic - Wicked Like a Wildfire (8/15)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Superhero Tropes

Happy Monday to you all!

In Provo, it's a little gray and dismal today, which means I'm writing and listening to Christmas music. Yes, I know it's August. No, I don't care. Listening to it now doesn't diminish my appreciation for it in December, and I think that any music that encourages joy and goodwill toward others is worth listening to any time of year.


Refraining from raining on my parade is appreciated.

So, this last Tuesday I visited Orem Library. It was great! I loved being there and talking to the kids. I love doing visits; it's one of my favorite perks of being a writer.

The other is writing about crazy bonkers ideas and the "research" that feeds said crazy bonkers ideas.

I have a new project. It's in very, very early stages (I'm drafting a first draft now) so I'm not going to go into too much detail. Suffice it to say, I dreamed (as in at night) up the plot so you know it's going to be strange, and it involves superheroes.

But not superpowers.

It's a weird one, but I'm having fun, and that's all that matters, right?

Anyway, writing a sort-of superhero story involves research. I love it when watching The Flash becomes research. I've also been training for this for years!


(Does this mean I should go see Spider-Man: Homecoming again? For research? I think it does!)

As I've been researching, I've noticed some interesting superhero tropes. We'll see if I play with any of them in my story or not, but either way, they're fun to notice. Educational, too. Like....

- So many characters have alliterative names. Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, etc.

- Many heroes are scientifically inclined.


- However, the scientifically-inclined heroes fight the villains by brute force.

- Villains, on the other hand, tend to fight using technology and science (what does this say about how we see scientific research, I wonder?).

- The mask and costume are typically spangly and brightly colored.

- Heroes are stronger when united.


 - Villains are stronger when alone, as teaming up tends to end in in-fighting and backstabbing.

- Even though heroes are stronger as a team, they tend to punch first, ask questions later, when dealing with conflict.

- Secrets. Secrets everywhere.

- No one (except Hawkeye) seems capable of holding down a spouse and kids.


 - Superpowers have associate powers no one talks about. Like superspeed and super-endurance, so the physical body doesn't tear apart (skin needs to be strong, too).

- Superheroes are overwhelmingly on the young side of the spectrum.

- Villains range in age.

- Girl heroes tend to wear their hair down.

I'm going to cap it here. If you were hoping for some deep, meaningful blog post today, sorry to disappoint. I'm just exploring, prewriting, and sharing the things I observed with you. Some of which don't make much sense to me. If I'm going to play soccer, go for a run, or enter a jujitsu tournament, I tie my hair back so it doesn't get in my way. Why don't superhero women do the same? I guess Wonder Woman does have that headband.


So that's good.

Here is this week's debut:

Young Adult:
Mary Taranta - Shimmer and Burn (8/8)


Monday, July 31, 2017

Magical Recipes

I'm visiting the Orem Library tomorrow! I'm so excited!

Also, today is Harry Potter's birthday. Happy 37th birthday, Harry Potter! (Yes, that's how old he'd be if he were real.) And, happy birthday also to J.K. Rowling, since they share a birthday.


July 31st is a real holiday in Provo. I ran a Harry Potter-related 5K on Saturday night (pics above), and tonight there's an event that will have live entertainment, trivia contests, and butterbeer. I'm going primarily for the butterbeer and the themed foods, though the entertainment will be good, too.

It's fascinating to me how an entire generation can love a book series so much that we celebrate it as though it were real. Wonderful, though.

Once, I went to a July 31st party that had 6 types of chocolate frog, among other goodies (sherbert soda drinks based on potions, jelly beans, etc.). I ate a bunch of sugar instead of dinner and woke up feeling utterly empty of anything substantive. I still look fondly on those chocolate frogs, though.

If you're throwing a Harry Potter party today, have fun and don't forget the food! Personally, I think one of the most engaging part of the books is the wizarding food; why else would people flock to the theme parks for butterbeer and buy Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans? Food helps us connect to cultures and learn about them, and I think that also goes for the fictions cultures we wish we could be part of.

I've made a few Harry Potter-themed foods, and they've turned out great. Here are a couple of my favorites. Have a great July 31st!

Pumpkin Pasties:

Ingredients

2 eggs, slightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar
1 1 lb. can pumpkin (or 2 cups fresh, roasted in the oven then pressed through a strainer to save your Pumpkin Juice to drink!)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 2/3 cups evap. milk (1 can)
1/2 tsp. allspice
9 oz pie crust pastry (enough for two single standard pie crusts) - I like to use a store-bought one, but you can make your own.

Instructions

Except for the pastry, mix together all the ingredients well. This is the filling.

Bake the filling only (no crust) in a large casserole dish in hot oven (425 °F) for 15 minutes.
Keep oven door closed and reduce temperature to moderate (350 °F/180 °C) and continue baking for 45 minutes or until table knife inserted in center of dish comes out clean.

Cool filling completely on a wire rack.

Roll pie crust pastry thin and cut into circles approx 4" in diameter.

Put a spoonful of the cool pumpkin mixture towards one side of the center of the circle.

Fold over the crust into a half-circle and firmly crimp the edges closed.

Slice three small slits in the top for venting.

Place on a greased cookie sheet.

Bake only until crust is a light golden-brown, approx 10 minutes.

Tastes good both hot and room-temperature. I like eating these while drinking a mug of hot cocoa!

Butterbeer:

 
 Ingredients
  • 1 two liter bottle of cream soda, chilled
  • 1/4 tsp caramel extract
  • 1/4 tsp butter extract
For the Cream Topping:
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup butterscotch topping
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
Instructions
  1. In large mixing bowl, whip heavy cream until it forms stiff peaks.
  2. Add butterscotch topping and powdered sugar.
  3. Mix the caramel and butter extracts with the cream soda and then pour the mixture into clear cups or mugs.
  4. Top with butterscotch cream topping and enjoy!

Assorted Candies:

Acid Pops: Dip sour-flavored lollipops in honey and roll in Pop Rocks.

Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans: Dip regular flavors in sugar water to make them sticky. Cover beans with spices or flavorings. Go nuts and let your dark magic take you to some scary places.

* NOTE: You can also just buy regular beans and tell people you've mixed in some of the store-bought Bertie Botts. Watch people hesitate before eating the buttered popcorn flavor.


Licorice Wands: Take chocolate Twizzlers and dip the end in melted chocolate (any color). Cover the chocolate end with sprinkles.

There are a bunch of other recipes online if you want to search them and learn how to make Cauldron Cakes, treacle tarts, pumpkin juice, and the like. But these are fun and a few of them are quick, perfect for a party!

Here are this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Jonathan Rosen - Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies (8/1)
Danielle Davis - Zinnia and the Bees (8/1)
Katie Slivensky - The Countdown Conspiracy (8/1)
Patrick Moody - The Gravedigger's Son (8/1)

Young Adult:
Tiffany Pitcock - Just Friends (8/1)
Katy Upperman - Kissing Max Holden (8/1)
Chelsea Bobulski - The Wood (8/1)
Matthew Landis - The League of American Traitors (8/1)