Monday, November 20, 2017

Book Report!!!

I made the first Christmas cookies of the season!

Aren't they cute? They're Chocolate Candy Cane Kiss Cookies, from the recipe in the link in this sentence. If you look closely, though, you can see I added some red sugar sprinkles in with the white sugar on the outside, because I'm starting to feel like a fraud if I don't alter a cookie recipe in some way (even if it's pretty insignificant).

Anyway, today I need to share the cutest thing! My agent's nephew read Under Locker and Key and did a book report on it, and I freaking love it. She sent me pictures, which also ended up on Twitter (not by my doing):

I guess the assignment was to make a box for the book and fill it with items that represent the story. Those of you who've read Under Locker and Key, any guesses to what this kid put in the box? Okay, got your guesses? Now, scroll down to find out.

A key, like the master key.

Lock picks, always important for the aspiring retrieval specialist.


And we can't forget the burned rag that may have caused a grease fire. May.

I. LOVE. THIS. I think it's so cute and creative and I love seeing that kids are 1) reading my book and 2) enjoying it enough to make such fun book reports about it. It's very flattering. I know kids have a lot of great books to read, better than mine (I know because I read them too), so I'm honored that I could make the list some of the time.

I know one thing I'll be giving thanks for this week!

In other news, I'm still doing SCBWI's BookStop, and I bring this up because the holiday season is about to start, and mine isn't the only page. You can look at a whole bunch of new books and ind that special book for a special kid. Lots of great books on this list!

There are no debuts this week. Enjoy the holiday!

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Adventures of Florida Man

You know I like superheroes, right?

And you also know I like internet memes, or at least I hope you do.

So, today I'm combining these things as I look at a true internet superhero: FLORIDA MAN!

I know, I know, I'm not the first to document this hero, nor am I the best. Consider this a tribute, a moment of entertainment, for you. Then go enjoy the Twitter for the full experience.

Maybe you've heard tell of Florida Man and his heroics:

Maybe you thought they were fake news, as surely nobody as amazing as Florida Man could possibly exist:

And honestly, half the time (or most of the time) I'm right there with you in that disbelief:

But in the end, there's often too much documentation to credit everything Florida Man does as a hoax:

Sometimes we fear that this cannot last, that sooner or later Florida Man's exploits will come back to haunt him, and sometimes we're right:

But then there's always another hero ready to take up the mantle:

So let's hear it for the hero we neither needed nor deserved, but when we're bored and in need of humor, we often want: FLORIDA MAN!

Stay tuned for the coming adventures of ARKANSAS WOMAN!

*DISCLAIMER: I don't actually know how many of these headlines are true or even honestly represented. I present them to you as pieces of a story about a character known by the internet as "Florida Man." Take them as the memes they are.*

In other news, I'm still doing the SCBWI BookStop, so come by and check out my page!

Here are your debuts for this week:

Middle Grade:
Jeff Ruby - Penelope March is Melting (11/14)

Young Adult:
Ruth Lehrer - Being Fishkill (11/14)

Monday, November 6, 2017

Halloween Weekend, Pt. 2


Another week, another post talking about what happened last week.

I'm still doing SCBWI BookStop, by the way. Come by my page and say hi!

The big news this week is Halloween. But before we get to that, I'd like to talk about the radio interview I did!

I didn't mess it up! So I'm pretty happy about it.

Laura Moe was so nice and friendly, and she did a great job. Although, I wasn't worried about that. I was more worried about how I'd do. But I think I kept my head and spoke clearly enough, although I was pretty nervous.

If you'd like to listen in on the recorded interview, the link is below:

Let me know what you think!

After that was over, it was time to start celebrating Halloween!


One of my favorite parts of Halloween is seeing everyone's costumes. This Halloween party was particularly clever. I wasn't able to take pictures of everyone, but I tried to get a good sampling.

I went to class on Halloween dressed in my Jekyll and Hyde costume. Pretty effective result, considering I'm the teacher. I think my students may have been slightly better behaved that day than usual. :)

I wasn't the only person dressed up on campus that day, either. Check out this link to see the other BYU costumes roaming the grounds that day.

Halloween itself was good. Pretty typical; good party, lots of candy. So much, in fact, that my house still has lots laying around! At least I'm recovering from a run, right? That Reese's Peanut Butter Pumpkin is necessary for my health!

Here are this week's debuts:

Young Adult:
Somaiya Daud - Mirage (11/6)
Anna Priemaza - Kat and Meg Conquer the World (11/7)
Amy Giles - Now Is Everything (11/7)
Amy Brashear - No Saints in Kansas (11/7)
Dave Connis - The Temptation of Adam (11/7)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Halloween Weekend, Pt. 1

Yes, this post is a two-parter. This is because it's a holiday weekend, and boy howdy, it's a doozy.

First, I want to remind you that the SCBWI BookStop is still going, so come say hi. Also, TODAY at 6 pm EDT I will be on Authors on the Air to talk about Under Locker and Key, so follow the link to tune in. Hopefully, I don't embarrass myself too much.

I have been pretty busy this weekend. Here it is, in pictures. Exhibit A:

A Stranger Things binge-watching party with my siblings since season 2 came out this weekend. My sister made the lovely lights wall that you see above out of rice crispy treats and M&Ms. Isn't it so great?

We watched the first three episodes together, and then broke to watch the rest on our own. It''s so good, guys. Creepy and thrilling and everything I'd been hoping for. I'm going to be screaming for so many different reasons for a while.

Some of my family went home to watch another episode before bed, or woke up and watched more the next day, but I didn't, because Exhibit B:

Another year of the Haunted Half Marathon, and another year of running as Dipper. This year, though, I had a goal to complete the race in under 2 hours. As you can see, I made my goal, but there was a cost. I felt fatigued at mile 10 and threw up at mile 11. I did finish, and I did make my goal, but I don't see this race as a total success.

I don't know why it was so tiring; I've done this race before and I know my training route is harder than this one. It was super cold before the race began, so it's been suggested that my warm-up wasn't sufficient for the cold and so my muscles were working harder than they should. My mental pacing may have also been off and I may have taken some hills harder than I should. Or, maybe, I just had a bad day. Either way, it's over, I got my goal, and I'm sore. I'm glad I can say I gave it all I had (including the contents of my stomach), but...everything hurts.

Which brings me to Exhibit C, aka, what I did after the race instead of having a nice, quiet, restful evening in:

A Halloween party, two which I wore this costume. Multiple pictures needed, as I went as Jekyll and Hyde. Jekyll on the far left, with a vial of green liquid (it's melon Powerade, and it's fun to start drinking it in front of people), Hyde in the center covered with blood and holding a knife, and then the half-and-half effect as seen from the front on the right.

I'm way proud of this costume. I'd wanted to do something like this for a while, and I think it turned out well! I think I'll keep this for later years.

The other costumes were excellent. I love seeing what other people put together and how creative they can be. At the party, there was a girl who painted her hair blue, wore an old-fashioned ship on her head, and had on a white T-shirt that said "WHALE." What a clever way of being Moby Dick!

I can't wait for Halloween and all the other amazing things to do and see! I'll have more to say, I'm sure, which is why this is a two-parter. Stay tuned for a report on how the radio interview went as well as (I'm sure) pictures of great Halloween costumes. I'm sad I didn't take any at the party I went to Saturday night, but in my defense, I was a little dead. And half evil.

Here is this week's debut:

Young Adult:
S.F. Henson - Devils Within (10/31)

Monday, October 23, 2017

Life Goes On With Bad Puns

Wow, I didn't know the chocolate milk post would be so popular! Stay tuned for Christmas time when I spout my thoughts on eggnog.

Actually, scratch that. I don't actually like eggnog. Peppermint, maybe? Hot cocoa? We'll see.

As for today, this is pretty much a news post. First, my book is still up for SCBWI BookStop. Come visit my page, watch the video, post a comment or click "like." Enjoy some (virtual and therefore imagined) chocolate milk and cake. I love visitors.

And, while you're there, go browse the collection. If you have any readers you're buying Christmas presents for, this is a great way to find new books.

Second, I'm doing a radio show! Next Monday, October 30, at 4 pm Mountain Time, I'll be doing an interview on Young Adult Cafe with Laura Moe.I'm way excited; I'm super-honored and a bit terrified to be doing this. Listen in and hear me embarrass myself!

No, but seriously, listen in. I'd feel a lot better about this if I knew I had friends in the audience. And, if you can't, I'll share a link to the recorded interview after it happens (if I can). So, next week's post may be a day late.

And, third, my ARC tour for Arts and Thefts is still happening. If you're interested in reading Arts and Thefts ahead of the publication date and leaving me a review on Goodreads, email me at

Thank you for all your support. I really appreciate it. I want to leave you with something fun, to make coming to my blog worth your time, but all I have are these terrible Halloween puns:

Why are there fences around cemeteries?
Because people are dying to get in.

What do you call a cleaning skeleton?
The “grim sweeper.”

What did the werewolf eat after he’d had his teeth cleaned? 
The dentist.

What treat do eye doctors give out on Halloween?
Candy corneas. 

Why do ghosts shiver and moan? 
It's drafty under that sheet.

What is Dracula’s favorite circus act?
He always goes for the juggler.

Why do ghosts like to ride in elevators? It raises their spirits.

What happens when a ghost gets lost in the fog?
He is mist.  

What is a vampire's least favorite food? 

What do ghosts say when they hear jokes like these?

And one joke for my Philly friends (you'll see why):

One Halloween a trick-or-treater came to my door dressed as “Rocky” in boxing gloves and satin shorts. Soon after I gave him some goodies, he returned for more. “Aren’t you the same ‘Rocky’ who left my doorstep several minutes ago?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied, “but now I’m the sequel. I’ll be back three more times tonight too.”

Here's this week's debut:

Young Adult:

JJ Strong - Us Kids Will Know (10/24)

Monday, October 16, 2017

An Ode to Chocolate Milk

First things first, did you know there's a Stranger Things mobile game? Because there is, and I've spent half of the last week playing it.

It's like Legend of Zelda meets Stranger Things, and I've having more fun with it than I have a right to. But...season 2, guys. Season 2.

Second, I want to remind you about my Arts and Thefts ARC tour. If you're interested, follow the link I just gave you, and you'll find all the information on how to join. I've already sent the ARCs out to the first readers!

Third, I want to tell you about this thing I'm doing through SCBWI. It's called BookStop, and it's a promotion for children's books. I made a page for it (you can find it right here) so come and visit me! I have information about my book, a little piece of trivia about the writing of it, and a video review.

You can also visit the BookStop homepage, which is pretty fun on its own. There's a good list of children's books that have come out in the past year, so you can browse and look at all the lovely books. Hey, Christmas is coming; if you know a book lover, this is a good place to start!

I should probably get to the meat of the post here. I'm two weeks out from the Haunted Half Marathon, which I do every year. What's new this year is that I have a time challenge for myself: I'm trying to do it in under two hours.

I should be able to do it. My training has been promising and I know the trail, which is a mild one. Still, it's requiring me to keep a faster-than-comfortable pace, so I've been finishing my training rather spent. Ergo, loss of water and nutrients. Ergo, headaches and crankiness all day.

Naturally, I don't like this, so I've been trying to find ways to refuel better. A couple weekends ago, I bought a bottle of chocolate milk for my post-run, since I like it after a race, so why not also after a training run?


I don't think I've ever really appreciated chocolate milk before now. I mean, I knew that it was a good post-run drink, but I don't know if I knew it.

To say it hit the spot would be an understatement. I felt like a video game character with my little health bar increasing with every swallow!

Much like Elsa, I'm never going back. I don't think I need this heavenly nectar after every run, but after the long ones, it's amazing. I feel so much better; my hunger is abated, my energy is higher, and I'm happier because, hey, chocolate milk.

Thank you, chocolate milk, for all the strength you give me. After my race, once I (hopefully) have made my goal, I will celebrate in your loving arms.

Or, you know, those of your alter ego, the Wendy's Frosty.

Here is this week's debut:

Young Adult:
Nikki Katz - The Midnight Dance (10/17)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Arts and Thefts ARC Tour

Last night I dreamed that my brother was Captain America and I was a regular person faking superpowers (long story). People kept skulking on our lawn all night, and I had to go out and fight them. I spent the second half of the dream trying to convince my brother that he should do the fighting because he's the one with the super-soldier serum.

Apparently (according to my coworker) I have entertaining dreams. Just thought I'd share the latest with you.

Anyway, on to the news. I don't have a lot to share this week; work is keeping me busy and I'm also working on a new project, though it's too early to share much about that one. If you want a hint, though, see the above passage about my bonkers dream.

But I want to now start something I've wanted to do for a while: an ARC tour of my second book, Arts and Thefts.

What does this mean? Well, I have two Advanced Reader Copies of this book that I am willing to send out into the world. If you're game, I'll send you a copy to read before the book comes out in February. You can be a literary hipster! Or, if you read and liked the first book (some of you exist, right?), you'll be able to read the next one ahead of schedule. In return, I ask you to review the book on Goodreads and then, in February, copy that review onto Amazon.

It would be helpful to me, if you request the ARC, if you gave it a positive review, but I do want you to be honest. I wouldn't ask you to lie, obviously. But I would appreciate some positive publicity out there before the book comes out, if you can help me with that.

So, how would this work? If you would like to take part in the ARC tour, email me at and request an ARC. Send me an address to mail it to. I'll send you an ARC, and then, when you're done, you'll send it to the next person. Email me again when you've finished and I'll give you the name of the next person to send it to, and we'll keep it going until we're done or February comes!

I'm a little scared and excited to start this. I hope some of you decide to take part in this! It would help me out, and I hope it would be some fun for you.

Here are this week's debuts:

Young Adult:
Tara Goedjen - The Breathless (10/10)
Lisa Rosinsky - Inevitable & Only (10/10)
Heather Kaczynski - Dare Mighty Things (10/10)
Tracey Neithercott -Gray Wolf Island (10/10)
Julie C. Dao - Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (10/10)
Caitlin Sangster - Last Star Burning (10/10)

Monday, October 2, 2017

Light in the Darkness

Hello, everyone. I take it you've heard the news.

I spent the weekend listening to the LDS General Conference, which was full of so much light and joy and goodness and love that coming back to regular life is always an adjustment, but even more so today with the news about the senselessness of the Las Vegas shooting. It's always described like that: senseless. Without sense. And it is. It always is. It defies sense to wreak such horror on other human beings.

It's hard, seeing the darkness in the world and feeling like there's nothing I can do to stop it. I want to; I'm not one to be content doing nothing. I believe that if you really care, you should act on that care. But, sometimes, due to finances and distance, hoping and praying are all you can do, even if you want to do more. So I'll start with that.

It's times like this that make me think of Sam's speech in The Two Towers. "How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened?" But the speech continues with, "But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer." I do have hope in a brighter future.

That said, I also believe in the small lights in the darkness that are still around us. Such terror and tragedy make the news, and I'm not trying to ignore them or say that they're not important to recognize and fight. But there are also smaller, quieter victories that rarely get attention, that perhaps do quite a bit to push back the darkness. I've been hoping to do a post like this for a while, and this seems to be the right time.

Here are some recent stories about tiny lights in the darkness:


"As thick, black smoke billowed around the dock, the Leightys realized they had to do something. Thrust into a horrible situation, they helped to rescue two injured people from the boat. Looking back, the husband and wife know they were there for a reason."


"As Hurricane Irma bore its fury down on the state of Florida, faith-based groups in Brevard County and across the state like New Shiloh Christian Center were ready to shelter the poor until the storm passed, and then feed and help the needy."


"Three students at Rogers Middle School in the Affton School District were recently honored by the city and county as local heroes after coming to the rescue of their ailing bus driver on the way home from school."  


"Our disaster response teams are in Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts, St. Maarten and Turks and Caicos working hard to feed, rescue, and deliver medical care to desperate animals affected by Irma. As Hurricane Maria approached earlier this week, our teams had to seek shelter and unfortunately wait out the storm before resuming their work."


"For 11 consecutive years, La Grange teenager Crofton Kelly provided a generous helping hand to kids with cancer by organizing, implementing and coordinating a local tennis tournament designed to raise funds to benefit the Pediatric Oncology Treasure Chest Foundation."


"In case you need proof of some good in the world, look no further than Alaska: There, two women oversee The Magic Yarn Project, a nonprofit that creates yarn wigs for children diagnosed with cancer. Since the project — which recently celebrated its second anniversary — was launched in fall of 2015, more than 3,000 volunteers have made nearly 4,000 character-themed wigs for children in 29 countries."


"This brings me to my not-so-humblebrag of the week! Last week, we got to introduce our babies to an actual, real live hero -- the legendary Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County! Hrabowski, if you don’t know, has been the head of the university for nearly 25 years, and in his tenure has elevated the tiny institution from relative obscurity to national prominence."

I'll stop there, although I found many, many examples of local people doing good for those around them. In times of so much bad, I'm comforted and encouraged by stories of people being heroes in their own, small ways, bringing a little light to others. They make me want to do what I can, as little as that might be, whether to help issues that get national or international attention, or more local problems.

To end, then, here are two more links that might inspire more heroism:

How to Help After the Las Vegas Shooting

How You Can Help Hurricane Victims in Puerto Rico

And here are this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Amanda Hosch - Mabel Opal Pear and the Rules for Spying (10/1)
Supriya Kelkar - Ahimsa (10/2)
Jake Burt - Greetings from Witness Protection (10/3)
Karina Glaser - The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (10/3)
Jodi Kendall - The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City (10/3)

Young Adult:
Hope Cook - House of Ash (9/27)
Gwen C. Katz - Among the Red Stars (10/3)
Marit Weisenberg - Select (10/3)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Salt Lake Comic Con 2017

It's interesting how you can have low expectations for something and then have them totally reversed by the end of the day. That's what happened this year at Comic Con, for me.

Now, I always have high expectations for the Salt Lake Comic Con. It's run well and it's always interesting, and the guests are always so great. However, this year I was only able to go for half a day. How much fun can you have in half a day, and is it worth the ticket price?

But I went anyway. I am working on two nerdy stories, so I needed the research, and I wanted to buy a nerdy lanyard for work. I did all I could to maximize my experience. I cosplayed as Vanessa, aka Human Ursula from The Little Mermaid.

I went to panels.

And I enjoyed the sights.

And I had a really, really good time!

The panels alone would have been worth the ticket. It was great hearing Elijah Wood talk about doing the Lord of the Rings movies and how it felt returning to the set for The Hobbit, and Zachary Levi is a really, really good guy. He was funny and dorky and so humble and fun. I enjoy getting to know the celebrities that come to Comic Con, just a little bit. It always makes me like them more when I find out that they're good people for real.

Zachary Levi would hug you for $20, which would go to charity. I wanted to do that, but he was leaving just as I got there. So bummer.

I got my sister a nerdy shirt at Comic Con, which I found fun because this particular sister isn't geeky and normally wouldn't like this stuff, but she is a fan of Stranger Things, so I took a little joy in getting her a nerdy shirt at a nerd convention, knowing she'd like it. It was one of these:

One of the highlights of the day was meeting Heather Dixon!

She's my favorite blogger. If you haven't read her blog Story Monster, you should. It's fun and interesting, and she talks about everything from her art and books to funny and sad things that happen in her life. And then, you should read her books Entwined and Illusionarium. There's a real magic to her work, and I love it all.

I totally fangirled over her, and I hope it didn't freak her out. She was one of the few people who recognized my costume. And I got a signed print of Tiffany Aching! If you read this, you know how much I love Terry Pratchett.

So, yeah, highlight. It was a good day. I'm glad I went, even though I couldn't stay for very long. I got my lanyard and some chocolates shaped like Baby Groot's face, so that was good, too.

I'm currently working hard on several projects, so I'm pretty busy. I'll keep you posted with any developments with Arts and Thefts or my work in progress. Thanks for reading, as always!

Here are this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Kim Ventrella - Skeleton Tree (9/26)
Patrick Moody - The Gravedigger's Son (9/26)

Young Adult:
Margaret Rogerson - An Enchantment of Ravens (9/26)
Jared Reck - A Short History of the Girl Next Door (9/26)
Kes Trester - A Dangerous Year (9/26)

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.


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!"


- Say nothing. Hand them a candy cane.
- Again, say nothing. Sprinkle tinsel on their head.
- "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)