What Scares You?

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American Horror Story: Coven premiered last Wednesday, and it was AWESOME. My jaw has never dropped within the first three minutes of a television show like it did for this premiere. Kathy Bates is terrifying. It was such a delight to see everyone again, and I cannot wait to see more of Angela Bassett – I adore that woman, she is classy as all get out, and it looks like she will be a menacing and powerful addition as Creole voodoo priestess Marie Laveau.

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I look forward to watching you destroy Delphine LaLaurie.

So! I know this season of AHS is about witches, but I would like to talk about ghosts for this post.

I have been thinking long and hard on what frightens people – what frightens me about things I have seen during the AHS seasons. Asylum scared me because it dealt largely with the fear of one’s rights being taken away. When you’re declared mentally incompetent and thrown into a sanatorium like that, you suddenly have no control over what they choose to do to your body and mind, and that is downright horrifying to me. The exorcism and and demon aspect also frightened me, and the alien plot line was more interesting than scary in any way.

The young adult novel I am working on for #ROW80 is a tale of a haunting. I have always wanted to do a semi-traditional ghost story. They’re also my favorite films, especially when much is left to my imagination, and atmosphere is key, whether it’s a suburban home or an orphanage: The Devil’s Backbone, The OthersA Tale of Two Sisters, Poltergeist, Insidious, The Orphanage, Paranormal Activity (the first one).

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So simple, yet so deeply unsettling.

My protagonist is a seventeen-year-old girl named Autumn, moving to a small town in central Illinois with her mother for a fresh start after a traumatic few years following the death of her brother. They unknowingly bring an entity with them through the simple act of buying an antique, and the haunting focuses on psychologically breaking the two women down. I wracked my brain and jotted down what would frighten me the most, if I were being haunted by something that wanted to see me suffer – especially since I am a skeptic. I made Autumn a skeptic who keeps the paranormal in books and movies and rarely entertains it in real life, and set about creating a home atmosphere that would turn her into a believer. Then I tailored my list of frightening occurrences to ones that would really get to Autumn based on her personality and her past.

It was important to me to build it slowly and give the haunting time to gain momentum. I appreciated that about the new film The Conjuring (doll introduction excluded), where the signs are subtle, and then it begins to escalate. I want there to be ample time to develop the characters and allow for the reader to care for them before the paranormal element is brought to the forefront. Misplaced items, faulty electronics, footsteps, phantom smells. Then glimpses out of the corner of the eye, feeling observed and unsafe in your own home. I have a pretty good idea of how it escalates and major instances where Autumn is truly put in danger by this entity, but there is a hazy middle ground before it gets to that point that I am trying to develop.

Here is my question to my lovely readers and fellow #ROW80 participants:

What would frighten you if your home were actually haunted? What could happen that would make you feel unsafe, that you couldn’t explain away? Has anything happened to you before? Tell me about it, I love actual ghost stories! I personally have only had one instance that I could not explain away (and I’m a pretty hardcore skeptic); other than that, I have felt odd vibes in a house when my parents and I were house hunting when I was a teenager.

What happens in paranormal movies centered around ghosts that makes you do that five foot leap to your bed when you get home, just in case something is biding its time under the box spring and waiting to snatch your ankle and drag you under? (Someone please tell me I am not the only one with this absurd fear…when I was a kid, of course). Is it the jump scares? The disembodied voices? The fear of possession? In a good old fashioned haunting…

What scares you?

First Round of Words

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I am attempting something new! There is a writing challenge that was developed by the amazing Kait Nolan, author of Red and the Mirus Series, and I decided now was as good a time as any to hop on board with something that would help me as a writer. Because my writing has slacked, yo. Big time. Between school and work, I have not made an effort to keep it a part of my daily life, and therein lies the road to losing focus and never finishing anything.

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The writing challenge is called A Round of Words in 80 Days, a far more manageable and less intimidating venture than NaNoWrimo. This post is to share my goals for the 80 days, and make a promise to myself that I will stick to these goals.

Writing Goals:

- Finish my first draft. Write at least 600-750 words per day.

- Set aside a half hour to an hour a day to meet that goal. Even if it means writing on my lunch break.

- Go back and edit those handful of first chapters, because if I don’t do it, it will drive me crazy. Devote a weekend (or two) to just this, get it done and over with for the time being.

- Remember, as I write, to stay within my character’s perspective. This is a thing I inadvertently do as I’m plugging along – I end up being the narrator looking over my character’s shoulder, instead of telling the story from my character’s eyes. I am going to make a concentrated effort to stay with my characters and tell the story from their perspectives.

- Read more YA. One novel every two weeks.

- Be a team player and show support for other #ROW80 participants; three blogs a week (I am so bad at consistent communication, this kind of goal will be helpful).

School Goals (very applicable, because if this suffers, so does the writing):

- Finish the reading assignments well before class. No, really, self – finish the reading assignments in a timely fashion.

- Do not over think everything and stress myself out over nothing. My expectations for my school performance are ridiculous, and it is not necessary. Learn to time manage efficiently and banish the unneeded stress.

I am keeping my goals somewhat light and not reaching for the stars because I do not trust myself with the school schedule I have – this will keep me from turning it into a stressor. I think this will be a lot of fun and keep me focused. Anyone else participating, I’d love to hear from you! It will keep me on task, and heck, I just like it when anyone stops in to say hello :-)

Cheers to a productive, writerly end to the year!

 

Steal my daughter? I will starve *everyone*

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Greek mythology has fascinated me since I was a wee tyke. I went through a phase in middle school where I checked out every mythology book in our tiny school library and poured over the dramatic stories of Artemis, Apollo, Athena, Zeus, Hermes (he was my favorite), Eros and Psyche, Hades and Persephone, Dionysus and Ariadne. My favorite was and still is the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, the talented musician who traveled to the Underworld to steal back his dead lover, only to have her snatched from him at the cusp of success through his own folly. Although I find the end of that story pretty distasteful, poor Orpheus. Bloody Maenads.

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Naturally, it thrilled me to no end that a Studies in Mythology course was offered at the university I am studying at, so you better believe I’m taking it this fall. We have not left Greek mythology yet, and I kind of hope we do touch on other cultures, because I would like to hear more about Norse, Indian, Native American, and Japanese mythology, but with the way things are going, I doubt it will happen. We primarily discuss the real world applications of the mythology and how the Greeks used the stories to explain – well, everything unexplained, which we tend to do with whatever religion we choose to follow, if we choose to do so. We are in the midst of presentations, where we split into groups and chose one Greek goddess or god to present to the class, so I have had the privilege to hear a lot of obscure stories surrounding their antics from our professor.

My group presented Demeter, goddess of the harvest, agriculture, and fertility. I wanted to take a moment to give props to this divine woman, and explain why I think she is a crouching tiger hidden badass.

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Demeter, sister of all the major gods and goddesses that spawned from Cronus and Rhea, was a maternal figure; benevolent, keeper of traditional laws, marriage, the earth, and the cycle of life and death. A hit with the farmers, that one. She is normally depicted with wheat or corn husks in her hair, but according to my professor, who is from that general area, wheat did not grow in Greece at that time; only barley. It was said that Demeter would only drink water with barley in it. One of her sacred animals was the pig, for all you bacon lovers. Pigs were routinely sacrificed in the rituals that celebrated her; the super secretive Eleusinian Mysteries and the Thesmophoria. She was a big deal to a lot of people, since she held the keys to successful harvests; she gifted humanity with the knowledge of agriculture, and was also the bringer of the seasons. The story that’s tied to those two crucial bits is quite famous: the tale of Persephone and Hades.

In a nutshell, Zeus promised Demeter’s daughter, Persephone, to Hades without Demeter’s knowledge. Persephone was snatched up by Hades while picking flowers and stolen away to the Underworld.

Sandara's rendition of this event is gorgeous. Her depiction of these two characters takes my breath away.

Sandara’s rendition of this event is gorgeous. Her depiction of these two characters takes my breath away. Check out her stuff, yo.

Demeter heard Persephone’s cry for help, but was too far to see what occurred. No one told that poor woman what happened to her daughter, so she wandered the earth grief stricken, refusing to eat or drink, as she searched for Persephone. During her wanderings, disguised as an older mortal woman, she stopped to rest at the town of Eleusis, and ended up working as a nurse for the king of Eleusis (in one version. The identity of the couple varies). To show gratitude for their hospitality, she set about making the couple’s son, Demophon, immortal, by placing him in the fire each night to burn away the ‘weakness’ of mortality in him. The ritual was interrupted by his mother, who did not understand Demeter’s actions and promptly freaked the freak out. Demeter, in turn, revealed who she was and chastised the woman for her ignorance. Instead of punishing them, she demanded instead that they build a temple in her honor. Thus the Eleusinian Mysteries came about, a nine day celebration devoted to Demeter and Persephone. She also bequeathed the gift of agriculture to the couple’s other son, Triptolemus (in other versions, Triptolemus is in fact the child she tried to make immortal instead of a brother), teaching him how to harvest and giving him the means to travel and teach others. In this way, Demeter’s gift is a kinder, more benevolent version of the start of civilization compared to the story of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods to give to humanity and was eternally punished for it.

Anywho – eventually Demeter found out what happened to Persephone, through Hecate and Helios. When Zeus refused to recant on the deal and give her back from Hades, Demeter turned into the biggest mother bear to ever dig her claws into an SOB. Zeus won’t give her daughter back? Then she’ll go after his precious mortals and starve every last poor bastard on earth until he gives in.

Flames. Flames on the side of her face.

She knew how to hit him where it hurt. She let everything on earth die and turned a deaf ear to his pleas. As long as Hades had her baby, the planet had nothing.

Not in her house, man. Not in her house.

After a year of barren harvests and rampant hunger, Zeus decided to send everybody but himself to convince Demeter to quit with the hunger strike, because he’s an arrogant tool. Demeter was having none of that and continued to grieve in her new temple at Eleusis. Zeus would not leave Olympus, Demeter refused to step foot there, and neither actually budged; Zeus sends Hermes to Hades, ordering the god of the Underworld to let Persephone go to her mother so Demeter will feed people again. Hermes is like the really put out child forced to deliver messages from one angry parent to another.

Hades agrees, but not before convincing Persephone to eat the seeds of a pomegranate, the symbol of marriage. This forces Persephone to spend a third of the year in the Underworld with him, and the remaining two thirds with her mother. Demeter never got over this, so every time Persephone leaves her, the earth cycles into winter, and upon her daughter’s return, spring arrives and she allows for growth, hence Demeter’s connection to the cycle of renewal, birth, and death.

Other random, interesting things about Demeter: she had a slew of other kids besides her famous daughter. There was that one hot little affair with an island prince name Iasion, where they slipped away to a “thrice-plowed field” at a wedding and made whoopee. Of course Zeus found out, and of course he struck Iasion down with a lightning bolt and killed him, because he’s a douche, why is he SUCH a douche? Demeter had two boys by Iasion; Plutus (or Plouto), the god of wealth and abundance, and Philomelos, who invented the plough. There is this weird, unsettling little myth about Demeter’s horse offspring Areion and the goddess Despoine, thanks to Poseidon also being a total bastard. She had a few others, including two by Karmanor, who is sometimes interchanged with Iasion. In Roman mythology, she is Ceres, the word we derived cereal from.

Demeter is a badass because she goes for broke for her daughter, and her protector mode is unreal. She kept a watchful eye on Triptolemus during his travels to deliver agriculture to other parts of the world, intervening if he was ever attacked, and turned one would-be attacker – a king – into a lynx. She once punished the Thessalian king, Erysichthon, for chopping down trees in a sacred grove dedicated to her; after trying to stop him in human form and having him come at her with an ax, she cursed him with insatiable hunger. No matter what he ate, he would always be hungrier for it. After depleting his wealth to end his starvation, he was forced to start eating himself.

Lessons: do not touch Demeter’s sacred trees. Do not promise her daughter to some dude and kidnap her, or she will try to kill everyone.

For generally being portrayed as gentle, maternal, and deeply connected to mankind and the earth, Demeter does not play around when someone or something she cares about is in danger, and does not compromise. Her crouching tiger, hidden badass nature is what drew me to her for our presentation, and learning more about her was hella interesting. Here is the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, the Demeter/Persephone story in its entirety – at least this version of it.

Do y’all have any favorite mythology stories you want to share, or favorite gods or goddesses? Tell me about it in the comments!

One last thing: One of my group members found this awesome, unintentionally funny claymation video that strips the story of Persephone, Hades, and Demeter down to its basic root, and it is just too good. We laughed harder at this than we probably should have. Enjoy!

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I find it amusing that my first post in almost a year complements the last post’s covering of American Horror Story: Asylum, what with American Horror Story: Coven premiering in around two weeks. Which I am COMPLETELY psyched for. Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, and Angela Bassett? Yes. Yes a thousand times. I am so ready for the witching hour on Wednesday evenings.

So a lot of time has passed, and I have found myself paying very little attention to social media, because I am incapable of dividing my time in enough little slices to make room for it. I’ve been a busy little bee, and there’s no signs of that slowing until winter of 2014. What has taken up all of Miska’s free time, if not writing?

School stuff, man. School stuff.

I finished my time at community college and made the jump to a university. These core courses have taken over my life, but in the best way possible. My major is English, I can’t remember if that was ever mentioned in a previous post. I can’t remember a lot of things, like where I set down anything and if there was a thing I needed to do over the weekend (oh my God, is there a thing? That will dawn on me the morning of, and I will then be irritated and tired because I Promised and all I want to do is finish this paper and sleep?), because my week days are crammed with work, classes, reading and doing homework and maybe, if I’m lucky, a spot of writing. I don’t even know what a social life looks like anymore. I loved my time with Weaving Dreams Publishing so much that I’d like to fashion together my own career out of the kind of work that deals in books, so this is worth it, I tell you. So this past spring, I took required classes in American and British literature, along with a Linguistics class that was friggin’ awesome. The professor of that class was the Serbian equivalent of Eddie Izzard, and that just about made my entire life.

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Minus the cross dressing. But wouldn’t THAT have been stupendous.

So from January to May, Thursdays were the best day ever. One day there will be a blog post comprised solely of that man’s verbal idiosyncrasies, and it will be amazing. I have him again this fall, and it is truly like receiving lectures from the Great Izzard.

Oh, one other kind of cool thing happened this year.

I became a published author!

Of two short stories. Nothing extraordinarily grand, but hey, a girl’s gotta start somewhere! The facts are these (oh, Pushing Daisies, how you have forever changed that phrase for me, and I love you for it): Once upon a time, a Miska belonged to a writers group that changed her life, because that was how she began her internship with the publisher and met and learned from editors, and that writers group was taking short story submissions for an anthology. Miska submitted two stories, and lo, they accepted! After much polishing and rewording, along with the polishing and rewording she in turn did for the anthology’s other short stories, a completed work came together, and was published in April of 2013.

That anthology is titled Imprints of the Past. The general theme is nostalgia, so the stories primarily center around family and remembrance, with various subgenres. The really cool thing about this anthology is that all of the proceeds go to a local non-profit organization called Harbor House. Harbor House is a shelter for women and children suffering from domestic abuse, and it is an organization very, very close to the hearts of many people in our area. I personally know friends and others in the community that have benefited from the shelter and the wonderful counselors at Harbor House; the proceeds could not go to a more deserving network of volunteers attempting to educate others on domestic abuse and offer help to those caught in its web.

I will speak very briefly on my stories, and other than the fact that there are some amazing authors who contributed to this anthology and their stories are beautiful and heart wrenching and memorable, I highly encourage picking up a copy because a large chunk of the money goes directly to the shelter, and every sale helps. My first story is 129 Juniper Lane, and it is the simple tale of a brother and sister returning (breaking into) their childhood home after it’s been sold following their parent’s divorce. Hilarity and heartbreak ensue.

The second story is Apple of My Eye, and that one … that one is personal. I fictionalized myself in the form of Anna, but the grandmother in this tale is my own, and it concerns the brief, painfully bright moments in the months before my grandmother died of lung cancer. It was difficult to write – even more difficult to have edited, as if they weren’t taking a piece of my history and a specific memory with my grandmother and twisting and pulling it every which way – but the purging of some of that pain was good. Reading about my grandmother in print has been bittersweet, but I am deeply grateful for the chance to do it and have it be a part of something so special. My grandmother would have liked that.

So the style of this blog will subtly change, because it will reflect the thoughts of a manic college student losing her mind while she tries to fit in homework, reading, and writing on top of a nearly full time job. There might be posts unrelated to books and writing that deal with American Horror Story, because I DO WHAT I WANT. I might talk about pieces of literature I’m reading for class, research assignments, there will be book reviews, blather, and the kind of silliness that comes on at two in the morning the day before a paper is due. With coffee involved. So stop on by, tell me your thoughts on AHS or whatever you’re reading, and if you’re putting yourself through school the hard way like me, my God, bust out the wine and let’s commiserate.

There is still plenty of cake.

Alive and Kicking

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Hey guys and gals. What month are we in? October? The END of October? I kind of dropped off for awhile there, huh? A long while, sweet jeebus. And somehow, my most favorite month has been slipping by me, too. I love October and all its scary bits and spooky goodness, and you know how many scary movies I’ve watched? One.

ONE.

Movies on television don’t count. Yeah, I watched the Tim Burton Show this past week – Nightmare Before Christmas, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, but they hardly count. Every year I manage to indulge myself and devote at least one evening to a horror movie fest – sometimes themed – but I haven’t been able to do so this year. I know I could do this any time of the year, but guys, it’s the Halloween month! I haven’t even been to a haunted house! I KNOW!!

I have been watching my favorite show ever, which is American Horror Story, and that counts towards the horror quota, methinks. This week’s episode was SO creepy and unsettling. Not even so much for the exorcism (which was extremely well done) but for that creepy doctor. Ugh, he makes my skin crawl, and I can’t even deal with this crazy town doctor’s connection to this guy:

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That’s James Cromwell! Dr. Arden is Farmer Hoggett from Babe! What happened to you?! There is something not right about watching Farmer Hoggett terrorize a prostitute and perform experiments on mental patients. Something has gone awry. Did you lose the farm? At what point did you decide to forego sheepherding for medical school and total insanity with zero accountability? You make me very nervous, sir.

I must say, though, the beauty among the dismal hopelessness and despair of this season is Zachary Quinto wearing horn-rimmed glasses. He was made to wear glasses like these.

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Bless you for being so handsome, Mr. Quinto. And possessing the smoothest and most soothing voice I’ve ever heard.

Back on track. If there ever was a track. This post derailed before it even started. I’ve been so out of it, y’all. Want to hear how this month (few months) got out of control? Well if you don’t, I don’t care, I’m telling you anyways. School started. I’m finishing up the last little bit of electives I need in order to transfer to a university in the spring, to start the upper level courses for my English degree (!). The biggest change out of that is, due to class work taking over my life, I had to step down from my duties as administrative assistant for the publishing company. I was really sad to have to do that, but I just couldn’t devote the time to helping the authors like I used to. I felt like I was doing them a disservice by trying when I really didn’t have the time, and I was afraid stretching myself so thin would mean I’d be giving two poor performances, so I had to let go of one. Finishing my degree is really important to me, so it’s taking precedence at the moment. So, sad thing, but necessary for the time being. I still, however, do a little manuscript critiquing for Weaving Dreams, which is a lot less demanding and still very fun.

Between my regular full time job and classes, I’ve also been finishing the last big edits for a completed novel, the project I have with coauthor. Those three things have taken over my life completely, and I don’t quite know how sane I am at this point. Let’s go with not at all. That feels accurate.

I’ve also been sick for about two weeks, and let me tell you how fun THAT’S been. I finally went to the doctor a few days ago, since my symptoms started pointing to a sinus infection. I had this one alarming development where my teeth started to hurt – like the nerves were fraying, and every time I would descend steps or even eat, this curious ache would grip my upper teeth, like they were loose and one bite of something hard would just knock my teeth right out of my skull. The only reason this freaked me out was because Huffington Post put up an article this month about these archeologists that found the skull of a young man from Egypt around two thousand years ago who DIED from a sinus infection. His teeth were jacked up, you guys – gnarly and rotted, littered with abscesses and cavities, and all the scientists could talk about was how much PAIN that poor guy had to have been in, and how finding him gave them insight into how dentists of the time may have tried to treat patients like him. Naturally, I read this article days before I got sick. So whenever I’d do something to make my teeth really hurt, and then my face would be hurting and I’d have a horrible sinus headache, my brain would immediately flash an image of that guy’s teeth to remind me that PEOPLE DIE OF SINUS INFECTIONS, IT’S BEEN TEN DAYS GO TO THE DOCTOR. YOU DON’T WANT TO BE THIS GUY.

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I had terrible visions of waking up one morning with THOSE TEETH, all because I didn’t go to the doctor to treat the sinus infection. Yes, I’m this melodramatic every time I’m sick. I’m a total wimp. And that article was poorly timed.

SO. Now that I’m feeling better, I’m going to make a conscious effort to update periodically, get back to talking about writing. There’s also one eensy weensy little thing happening next month, starting next week, that’ll keep me on my toes which I’ll be posting about.

It’s almost NaNoWrimo time!!!

For those who don’t know, NaNoWrimo is National Novel Writing Month. For the entire month of November, authors are challenged to write 50,000 words and attempt to complete a novel, or at least get a good chunk of it written. The goal of Nano is to write continuously, without editing yourself, and to get in the habit of writing consistently for a stretch of time every day. Setting a writing goal for yourself and sticking to it is the name of the game, and if you reach 50,000 by November 30th, there’s some pretty sweet prizes and deals. Yes, I am attempting something that will probably boost my stress level up like whoa, but I am determined to make this a fun project for the month of November, in between homework and that pesky job. So throughout November, expect a lot of rambling, all over the place posts (kinda like this one) about writing, being sick of writing, occasional manic bursts of euphoria when I’m having a good spell, and all kinds of nonsense. Enjoy that.

All right, kids! I need to sign off to write a paper about Charlemagne, do some editing, and keep prepping the outline for Nano next week. It’s good to be back!

Teaser Tuesdays

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Hosted by Should Be Reading

Morning! Today’s teaser comes from a book I’ve been wanting to read for forever and a day. I finally got my hands on a copy a few weeks ago, on a visit to Myopic Books in Chicago. That was during the Printers Row Lit Fest, when I had my sister with me. I was prowling around the basement of the bookstore, and the noise of glee I made when I saw this lone copy convinced my sister I’m the weirdest person she knows. Pfft. She just doesn’t know that many readers, poor child. Anyway, I started reading it over this past weekend. It’s called War for the Oaks, by Emma Bull.

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Teaser:

“The phouka was leaning against the shed, the picture of disreputable ease. The black-lensed glasses almost hid his expression. Only a one-sided quirk of his lips hinted at amusement, and relief. The owner of the motorcycle stood several paces away from him, rubbing his palms against his pantlegs. Eddi wondered what the phouka had done to torment him.” – 103

It’s a wee bit long, but I didn’t want to cut off the paragraph. Guys, this book is so cool so far! Eddi is a young woman who finds herself caught up in a war between the faerie folk, and the phouka is sent to guard her. I seriously adore him. I have no idea what’s going on in this teaser, but I guarantee the phouka has done something badass or mischievous. The banter between he and Eddi is a great source of amusement. I have a feeling this novel is going to be a new favorite. Plus, how awesome is that cover?

Happy reading, everyone!

I wouldn’t make a tasty s’more

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Hey there. Hey. It’s been a little while. How have you been? Has your underwear melted into your skin from this amazing heat wave we’re in the throes of? It’s been awesome, hasn’t it? Not really. But kind of, who doesn’t love a toasty summer? Other than penguins. I did a smart thing last week, on my day off – I went up to Six Flags with a friend. On the hottest day of the year, when it was supposed to be like 103 degrees. I told this plan to my parents last weekend, and they just kind of stared at me in stunned amazement, hoping that they’d raised a child smarter than this, and then reminded me that my skin is one shade away from being translucent and will probably just ignite like a marshmallow over a fire pit. Even as I said, “But there’s a water park, and I’ll reapply sunscreen all day” I had a nervous feeling, and I pictured that white marshmallow blackening around the edges and then sliding off the stick in a gooey mess of carnage, and I was afraid.

I did not want this to be me.

But! It was actually pretty fun. All the sane people stayed home, so the park wasn’t super crowded. My friend and I ran amuck riding all the roller coasters we wanted with pretty much zero waiting time. Every so often, I could feel the heat attempting to bake my skin into a pie crust, and when it made me paranoid, I went back to our locker and slapped on more sunscreen. Then we would soak in the wave pool and I swear I could hear my skin sizzling. I left totally burn free, so – Mel: 1. Sun: 0. And, AND! I bought a Batman cape. I know!! There were so many capes there, guys, I can’t wait to go back and get a Superman cape, and a Flash cape, so I can have a cape for all occasions, like napping and writing. My coworker dared me to wear it to work the next day, which is silly, because of COURSE I would do that. And I did, and it made me feel like a superhero.

How is this book related? It’s totally not. I just wanted to share my bad choices that somehow worked in my favor. But I have bookish sort of things going on!

Here’s a super cool bit o’ news: a few weeks ago, Tommy Stubblefield, who works at Better World Books, approached me to ask if I would be interested in doing a guest blog post for the Better World Books Blog. Umm, heck yeah I would! So I did, and it is here: Heroes With Tails. Check it out! I wrote about my favorite furry heroes and book series involving memorable critters from my childhood up until now, like the Redwall series, Watership Down, the Bunnicula series, Wind in the Willows, etc. I still plan on doing the Great Redwall Reread of the summer, which may be less summer and more early fall, but I want to read them all in order and revisit those swashbuckling mice, crafty squirrels, unintelligible moles, and fierce badgers (badgers, in general, seem to kick a lot of ass no matter who’s writing them).

Second bit o’ breaking news (why am I doing that? I don’t know. It looks cool. And that’s how I’m saying it in my head. Like a British chap): Also a wee bit ago (okay, maybe Scottish now?), a blog that reviews YA novels, appropriately called I Love YA Fiction, put out a request for a guest blogger for the summer, to do two reviews a month. I applied, naturally, because I love their blog and the ladies that run it are hilarious, and it would help me make a dent in my YA TBR pile and expose me to more YA I would have otherwise never heard of.

…and they picked me! So! I will be a guest blogger at I Love YA Fiction for a few months, posting two reviews a month. I’m so, so excited you guys, and so grateful to Judith and Ellen for giving me the chance to do this. My first review goes up this Thursday, about the novel Hourglass, by Myra McEntire. So hop on over to their blog and read it on Thursday, heck just read it period because their reviews are thorough and usually very funny, now go go go!!!

Wait, not yet, I’m not done. Hold your horses. I mean, I don’t have anything uber important to say at the moment – I feel a rant coming on for a proposal I read a few days ago that will need its own blog post, and I have a review of my own to get up at some point – I … I guess I could end it here and get back to actual work. I have some cover letters to do, a manuscript to take a look see at, and the edits of one of my own chapters to go over. That one is a bear. I can’t get it to exude the atmosphere coauthor and I are striving for, which normally is not a hard thing for me. Nothing’s coming out right, and it’s making me feel small and defective, and I don’t know what to do about it. Other than listen to Joshua Hyslop and remind myself that I don’t always suck at this. When an entire chapter is sticking in my craw, I get intimidated and throw my laptop dirty looks until I eventually put on my big girl pants and plow through it. I’m still searching for my big girl pants.

All right, kids. Keep an eye out for my guest reviews, and stop in and say hey, cause I get lonely. On a final note, what is everyone reading? I just finished Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card (awesome, awesome book. I can’t believe I’ve only just now read it), and I’m almost halfway through Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson. Which is give me the hiccups funny and I’m enjoying the hell out of it. Oh, and have a great 4th – not just those from the US, but everyone, just enjoy the day, even if you don’t have it off work. Like me. Heh.

Okay, now you can go.

Book Review: Before I Go To Sleep

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Christine wakes up every morning not knowing who she is. She couldn’t tell you where she’s living, what year it is, and doesn’t know the man claiming to be her husband. He tells her she suffered an accident that rendered her brain incapable of recalling past memories and retaining new ones. She can only remember what happens within one day, until she falls asleep. While she dreams, her memory resets itself, wiping the slate clean. She doesn’t know who to trust, when she can’t even trust her own mind to give her the truth, and piecing together the reality of Christine’s life feels insurmountable. Until she finds her journal.

I really love the way Before I Go To Sleep is written, the immediacy of the language. Never has first person present tense felt more appropriate. Christine lives in the moment; she has nothing of her past, nothing concrete at all, and her future will forever and always be a mystery because she’ll never be able to build any kind of path of experience to lead to it. I cringed in sympathy at Christine’s horror when, convinced she is in her twenties, she goes to the mirror to find a body heading for old age. Christine’s mind has robbed her of the prime of her life; there are some days she wakes up with only the faint memories of being a child. The dull dread of  reliving that same horror every day, with no way of actually recalling that these days even happened and will occur, is a giant, white elephant parking its rear in the center of her thoughts all the time.

Christine has no choice but to hope the people around her have the best intentions, because she doesn’t know any of them. And by any of them, I mean all of two people. Dr. Nash may be the only person Christine can trust, only because of the presence of the journal he told her to start, to help keep track of her days and trigger memories. His genuine effort to help Christine is sweet, and she clings to his presence like a buoy in an ocean, but even this is suspect: why is he going to these lengths? And Ben. She knows, unnervingly, that she cannot function away from her husband because of the reboot every morning. If Ben wasn’t there to clue her in, if Christine never kept a record of her days, she would be lost forever, completely at the mercy of her ravaged mind. What she begins to uncover, however, proves that some nasty shadows lurk about in her life – and Ben sidesteps the truth more often than not.

I was suspicious of everything for Christine’s sake. Oh, the wedding photos were burned in a house fire, Ben? There are no pictures for Chris to look at? Her parents are dead? Where are her friends? Does this doctor have totally good intentions? Why is Ben lying to her? Why, on the first page of her journal, does she put this reminder: Don’t Trust Ben?

Every weird clue or lie I jumped on and analyzed, piled it on the growing mountain of That Seems Shady, Ben. I wanted Christine to find answers, I wanted her memory to return – I cheered whenever she remembered anything at all from her past. As her true past slowly started to reveal itself, it just grew more awful, like pulling back layers of old kitchen floor and tile and finding more rot on the other side.

The fact that a huge chunk of the novel is just her reading the diary of the days leading up to the present day doesn’t hinder the story at all. I forgot that the entire novel basically occurs over the course of one day, because I was so absorbed. Each day she learns something new, either from Dr. Nash, Ben, or her own fickle mind. She is so isolated that when she finally connects with her only friend, I got a little choked up. How often we take our friends’ presence for granted. What a huge part of our lives they are, in the memories they help make, their laughter and advice and companionship. The absence of such a confidante is keenly felt, and I ached for Christine. Chris is like a prisoner in her home, with a warden that is never really truthful, for Her Own Sake, and she feels indebted to him for his patience, his love, his willingness to rehearse the same play every single morning to tell Christine who she is and why she’s there. I was afraid for her, anxious, and the suspense over what she would discover about herself and her life just oozed over every page.

S.J. Watson managed to make a woman reading her diary nerve-wracking, y’all.

At the climax of the novel, there is a scene involving her journal that wrecked me almost as bad as it did Christine. I experience moments of sheer panic whenever something weird happens to my laptop, and I have that flash of losing everything I’ve written and the thought of it is devastating. How would it feel to lose writing that told me who I am, that acted as my lifeline creating a life that existed beyond one day at a time with no other connection to each new day?

The only qualms I had with the story concerned the ending and the big reveal. It’s almost too farfetched, almost a little too hard to swallow. At the very least, it hadn’t gone on very long – a month or two, if I recall correctly. I was simultaneously satisfied and dissatisfied with the ending. I liked the note it finished off with, but the finale was so rushed, and I craved to read more about Christine interacting with two particular people.

Beyond that, I flat out adored this novel. I give Before I Go To Sleep four out of five memory banks.

Favorite quotes:

“These are the details I should remember, I suppose. The little things. Perhaps it is these trivialities I have been writing down in my book, these small hooks on which a whole life is hung.” – 30

“The nineties. It was odd to hear summed up in two words a decade that I could not remember living through. I must have missed so much. So much music, so many films and books, so much news. Disasters, tragedies, wars. Whole countries might have fallen to pieces as I wandered, oblivious, from one day to the next.” – 49

“When I tried to organize my memories, they fluttered and vanished, like a feather caught on the wind that changes direction whenever a hand snatches at it.” – 109

“With a shudder, I realize that he has done all this before. His grief is not new. It has had the time to bed down within him, to become part of his foundations, rather than something that rocks them.” – 119

All I want is a picnic basket.

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What an exciting weekend I had! Four days ago. But, you  know. I feel the need to share, since it involved books, and me taking home more books, thus making my new Kindle feel small and jealous. I stopped by Printers Row on Sunday, saw a concert, and ate birthday cake! With pink glitter toothpaste frosting. This is what my father exclaimed with dismay when he saw it. “Why is the frosting glitter toothpaste?!”

No, really. It *sparkles*

Cake was on Saturday. The original plan was to spend the entire weekend in Chicago with my little sister – I bought her ticket to the concert as an early birthday gift, and I basically treated myself to a weekend of awesome for my own birthday – but it was so freakin’ hot and gross that I just knew we wouldn’t have the energy to be outside wandering around both days. So Saturday we stayed home, and spent the afternoon trying to hunt down a picnic basket.

Why, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you! We were going to see Iron & Wine Sunday at the Ravinia, this really neat outdoor venue north of Chicago in Highland Park. I’d never been, and I was kind of excited about our lawn seats; on the lawn, they let you bring in your own food, blankets, chairs, coolers, whatever. So we wanted to make it a legit picnic and have an actual, honest to God picnic basket to put our goodies in.

Think we could find one on short notice? Yeah. Yeah, no. I mean, if I was feeling particularly adventurous and wanted to search all of Plainfield and Joliet for a picnic basket, I might have found one, but we stuck kind of close to home, since it was two hundred degrees outside with no wind and my car doesn’t have working A/C. I feel like I should get that fixed. We found something comparable at a crafty type store, but the real kick in the pants was at Target. No picnic baskets to be found, except…

Target, you asshole.

Oh that’s nice. Taunt me with a picture of a picnic basket, but don’t carry one I can actually buy. I see how it is.

So Sunday we woke up bright and early and headed north. I try to avoid driving into Chicago since it still gives me anxiety, so we went to Rosemont, which is halfway to Highland Park anyways, and took the CTA train into the city. I didn’t think it was miserably hot since there was a nice breeze, but my sister was already a sack of complaints before we even ate lunch. I kind of expected that, since Sam is fifteen and she has mastered whining down to a fine art. I can tell when she’s honestly unhappy or just whining because she can. So I ignored her pithy comments about walking, the sun, the heat, how much she hates me. I dragged her into Myopic Books, a bookstore in the Wicker Park neighborhood with floors so creaky you’re almost convinced you’ll go crashing down to the next level after a few jumping jacks. The aisles are super narrow, the basement is kind of creepy, but I can’t visit that area without going in, because I never leave there empty-handed.

We hopped back on the L for downtown, did a little shopping, and walked over to the Printers Row Lit Fest. I know all kinds of cool things had been going on all weekend, and I missed like all of it, so I promised myself to be more prepared and spend more time there next year. For those unfamiliar with Printers Row, it’s basically a literary fest put on by the Printers Row membership society, who do weekly journals about all things bookish via the Chicago Tribune. It blocks off a handful of city blocks in the Printers Row neighborhood of downtown Chicago, and tents and booths are set up for local bookstores, indie publishers, literacy organizations, the like. There are stages set up for children’s story time, author readings and signings, all kinds of fun stuff. And it’s totally free – there are some events that require tickets and such, but there’s no admission fee to the fest itself. I’ve never been to anything like it.

Only in the past seven months or so have I begun to really explore the literary world, since I started to work within it. I feel like I’m still dipping my toes in the water, trying to get acclimated, afraid to plunge right in because there’s just so much. I’m only just starting to realize the huge literary community in the Chicago area and suburbs, and I feel like this whole new world is opening up. Just looking over the lists of authors, publishers, and organizations at the fest was overwhelming. A handful were familiar, but beyond that, I didn’t know any of them. Bookstores I didn’t know existed, a plethora of small presses, tons of authors. I am totally going to spend a few weeks just tracking down all those bookstores and visiting them. I can’t wait to grow more familiar with the literary community around me, but until then, I just decided to enjoy the book celebration, wander around, and buy books.

I didn’t stay as long as I wanted, on account of an overheated and irritated teenager and our schedule, since we had the concert. I discovered the discounted book tents, and happily dug through the bins and scanned the shelves for cheap reads, much to my sisters’ horror. She is well aware of my habit of spending hours perusing books, so she attempted to cut my browsing short:

“It’s really hot out here. Like really hot. And bright. How many books do you need? How long is this going to take? Because I feel like I’m dying. Melissa. I’m dying. I’m really thirsty, too. I need some water. Missy. Missy. I am dying out here. Can we go inside somewhere? Are you done? Oh my God, you’re going to make me carry some of those books in my bag? Are you kidding me? Why are you doing this to me?! I hate you.”

And so on. She’s actually a funny kid, so it was less annoying and more amusing. Don’t worry, I let her enjoy some air conditioning and get water. I ended up with seven books.

It was a good day.

I brought Let’s Pretend This Never Happened with me to the concert, since I’ve been dying to read Jenny Lawson’s memoir, and there was enough daylight to enjoy it through the opening act. Seriously, the perfect way to end a Sunday is to chill on a blanket with a pillow, at a concert venue, listening to music, eating, and enjoying a hilarious read. I highly recommend it. I was giggling to myself from the very start of the book, and after a few pages my sister gave me a scathing look and said, “I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself over there. Without me.” So we had story time, and I read the first thirteen pages out loud. We laughed so hard that I think we made the couple lounging in their chairs nearby nervous.

So that ended my adventurous weekend. I concluded I must find a way to live in Highland Park, because it’s absolutely gorgeous. And next year, I will strive to double the amount of books I walk away with from Printers Row. Also, Iron & Wine was stupendous.

Musing Mondays

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Hosted by Should Be Reading

This week’s musing asks:

What is the longest book you have ever read? How long did it take you to read it?

It’s funny that my mind immediately jumped to Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. It’s not the longest book I’ve read, but at the time I read it, that novel felt like it was two thousand pages long. It was a huge project for my British lit class my last year of high school, one of those in depth semester long mothers where we had to know all eighty some characters inside and out, complete with weekly quizzes to ensure we were, in fact, reading that sucker instead of using Sparknotes. My friend paid respects to the project by christening her dissected cat from our Anatomy and Physiology class Hortense.

The longest book I’ve actually read was The Stand, by Stephen King. It took me a little over a month, if I recall. My entire sophomore year, I was on a huge Stephen King kick, and that was the grand finale in the late spring. I think I’m due for a reread on that monster, since I know I’ll get more out of it now then I did when I was 15. I remember being absolutely grossed out by the superflu virus’ ravages on the world. Randall Flagg disturbed me on so many levels. I adored Nick, and I was devastated at what happened to him.

Nowadays, I haven’t found very many thousand plus page novels I’m willing to invest that kind of energy in. I have Under the Dome, by Stephen King, and I’ll eventually read that one – it’ll be the first novel of that length I’ve read in over ten years. Goodness.

Happy reading, everyone!

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