Thursday, January 14, 2021

Perfect Does Not Exist

By Cheryl Oreglia

What happens when the world changes, when the things we were counting on, or the things we worked hard to accomplish do not happen?

Currently, our situation fits the description of a shit show, far from perfect, and way outside my wildest apocalyptic musings.

Apologies in advance for my sour mood.

People are experiencing a scarcity of food, housing, medical, and psychological wellbeing. The lack of moral leadership is not helping, it’s as if we’ve become an expansion pack for the Lord of Flies, and quite frankly some of us are behaving like lost children.

We’re still marrying, and having babies, but we’re dying alone.

Businesses are closing, supplies are running short, hospitals are at capacity.

What else could go wrong? Oh yeah, domestic terrorists stormed the Capitol, and we’ve impeached the president twice.

This has a trickle-down effect, as if a spring waterfall, and we’re drowning in the runoff.

Students who worked their butts off to get into college are studying remotely, missing the campus experience, and more importantly the networking that occurs when socializing. They are stuck at home using zoom as their primary social connection, youth suicide rates have doubled in the last year, along with seniors.

This has been a depressing year.

Authors are publishing books and forgoing the book tours, marketing conferences, and interviews. Not so bad but if you spent ten years writing and perfecting a novel it’s not the best of times.

My world is currently incompatible with the skill set I have depended on for most of my life.

I was taught from a very young age to follow the steps and the outcome will be close, if not exactly, what I expect. Right?

Study and you’ll pass your courses, graduate and you get a job, save your money for a rainy day, work out and you’ll get stronger, eat less and you lose weight, work hard and you’ll prosper.

But nothing and no one could have prepared us for a world-wide pandemic, months of quarantine, not to mention the political and social unrest that is currently monopolizing our country. The waters are stirred up, it’s murky as hell, and it doesn’t appear to be settling anytime soon. But remember, beautiful souls are shaped by ugly experiences says Matshona Dhliwayo.

So what the hell do we do now?

These are unprecedented times in the history of the world. If we don’t write about it who will? Every country on the planet has been infected, lost elders, jobs, and their sense of security. We’re slowly forgetting what it was like to live “normally,” and worse, we’re becoming accustomed to extremely restrictive environments.

That’s just bullshit.

This is not our demise, this is our opportunity to document a historical phenomenon flashing before our screens, from our own unique perspective, because no one else in the world can tell this story the way you can.

For writers, quarantine is actually a rare occasion that offers unmitigated time to write, think, and ponder without undue distractions, obligations, or interruptions. I agree Netflix is probably part of a Russian agenda to keep us docile and tame, but we’re better than this, at least I once was.

Hello, I’ve been whining about my lack of time, congested schedule, unexpected intrusions forever. Since the first, second, and third lockdown I have cooked hundreds of meals, spent thousands of hours on Zoom calls, and watched more television in ten months than my entire life put together, and I’m embarrassed to say I’ve worn my pajamas for most of these high-level activities. “Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t,” says Rikki Rogers.

What I haven’t done is write about it.

The sad thing is creativity doesn’t repeat itself, it can’t, says Seth Godin. This period in time might be our greatest opportunity along with our worst nightmare, but no one will read our stories if we don’t turn off the television, and write. Yes, I’m talking to myself, just ignore that part, I'm such a sloth. 

This is our work. It’s not for everyone but it will serve someone, it will change something, and it has the potential to make things better. Read that again.

The creative journey takes practice, it follows a distinct pattern, pandemic or not. I have to sit down, and write every day, whether I want to or not. I have to post my work and find an audience who wants to read what I have to offer. They are not going to come to me. 

It’s not easy, most things of value are not, in fact, it might be the most vulnerable thing you’ll ever do. Expose your fears, failures, frivolity, but trust me, no one wants to compare themselves with perfect, let your flaws shine. This is what gives us hope.

Write until our fingers fail, this is our covenant, and this is what I remind myself of when I’m sitting in the same sweats for a week, eating cold chicken with my fingers, hydrating with endless cups of coffee.

My mantra, “I will not watch reruns of The Office.” Repeat.

Remember that show, Walking Dead, it’s become a reality of sorts.

There are plenty of Walking Dead out there, this is our audience, and what we have might be the only source of hope available. Never doubt yourself, I’ve used that as an excuse, but it’s really a defense mechanism against failure. Yes, I’m talking to myself again, I write to figure things out, my thoughts flying around like kamikazes until they land on the page.

What happens when the world changes, when the things we were counting on, or the things we worked hard to accomplish do not happen?

Change your definition of happiness, or better yet, “stop living someone else’s definition of happiness and start living your own,” says David Paul Vosburg.

Our current view of the world might not be perfect because that does not exist.

How are you holding up? What are you currently writing about? Any survival secrets? 

When I’m not writing for Across the Board, I’m Living in the Gap, drop in anytime.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Overnight Success

At a time when many of us are sitting down to get a leg up on those New Year’s resolutions to write that novel or find an agent or get published, it can be too tempting to compare ourselves to the Angie Thomases, the V.E. Schwabs, the seemingly overnight success stories. That success feels so far out of reach, it’s almost enough to stop our work in our tracks.

Just before publishing ground to a halt for the winter holidays, I signed my first “big girl” contract.


I don’t tell you this to toot my own horn (while I’m here, though, TOOT TOOT), but to give you some perspective. To those who don’t know me, they might assume it just happened, instantly and without years of hard work and waiting to back it up. They would be woefully wrong.

To demonstrate, a timeline:

2008: Though I’d been writing for “fun” for several years, as a new mom staring down the rest of my life, I decided to write “seriously.” My first manuscript was a Twilight rip-off called Eternity, in which my main character, Catherine, comes into the crosshairs of a football-playing family of vampires. No, you can’t read it. I’ve burned every word.

2009 – 2011: After Eternity’s failure, I decide I’m not a novelist. I am, in fact, a short story writer. I write and submit over a hundred and fifty short stories in this time. None of them sell. I join a Goodreads group called On Fiction Writing where I meet my first mentor. She not only has the balls to tell me my writing is “very not good,” but that it could be if I was willing to work my ass off.

2012: Back to novel-writing. Though I write two books this year, I am still too new to know how to property edit a manuscript or query an agent. I am full of optimism and too much caffeine. I manage to get a couple of short stories published in anthologies edited by writer friends.

2014: After six years of hard work and failure, I land my first paid writing gig at Dark Comedy Productions. I write an interview column called “The Rack” in which my interviewees, lovingly dubbed “victims,” are stretched out on the rack in a combination short story/interview format. To this day, it is my favorite thing I’ve ever done.

2014: After being rejected by every agent known to man, my first published novel, REAPER, is published by a small press in Minnesota. It barely sells—and for good reason. It was not up to snuff. But it was the stepping stone I needed. Someone out there thought I was good enough. Maybe I could be.

2015: My second published novel, SACRIFICIAL LAMB CAKE, is published by another small press, Red Adept Publishing. Though I’m pleased with the book, I suspect the small press route isn’t for me. Too much of the production and marketing is up to the writer. Being a mom of two, I work paycheck to paycheck. Fronting the money for blog tours and reviews and giveaway copies without the privilege of an advance just isn’t in the cards.

2016: I self-publish a book that, though it got some full requests from agents, never panned out in the traditional market. A TALE DU MORT is part Terry Pratchett, part Florida love-affair. In truth, I only published this one to see if I could. Several hundred rejections do a lot to a person; I wanted to know if I could do it on my own.

Late 2016: My third published book, ALL DARLING CHILDREN, is released by Red Adept Publishing after a few full requests by agents end in more rejection. It’s my first foray into the crossover horror genre I’d later figure out I love.

2017: Almost ten years after I started pursuing a writing career, I finally signed with an agent with my manuscript, HEART OF SNOW. We spend nearly a year on editing and submissions and receive almost a dozen rejections, all mostly complimentary and encouraging. Their one gripe? No idea where to put in on the shelf, or how to market it. I learn my first hard lesson—there are no guarantees.

2018: I write another manuscript, CAPE DISAPPOINTMENT. This one went through two complete rewrites before it even saw an editor’s inbox. Though I get close—an editor tells my agent she is taking the book to acquisitions—in the end, I’m rejected. At this point, my agent has signed a few authors after me, all of which have landed their first deals. I’m feeling disheartened and frustrated and wondering what the hell to do next. The answer is easy: write another book. So I did.

2019: I write two more manuscripts, one of which is shelved for having no plot. The other is still sitting in limbo.

2020: The editor who took CAPE DISAPPOINTMENT to acquisitions, only to have it rejected, reaches out to my agent. She tells my agent she wants to try again, if I’m willing to play a little with the genre. It’s a challenge, but I whole-heartedly accept. The book goes through its third complete rewrite before she takes it to acquisitions again. It’s twelve years later, and I finally get the call I’ve been dreaming of since Catherine tackled a vampire in a game of touch-football.

What I’m saying is this: it’s difficult, the waiting feels like it’ll kill you, and you will be rejected more times than you can count. That doesn’t mean you should give up. I didn’t.    

Thursday, January 7, 2021

What's in a Name?

Like a lot of authors, I like to put some time into creating individual characters for my story. The first step in always figuring out what their name is. I don't like to pick a name at random. Often times, I will spend a few hours browsing baby namer websites for the perfect name based on meaning, pronunciation, ethnic background, and personality. But does the name of a character influence who they'll become in the course of a story? I think it does.

Insert shameless plug here.

In my dark fantasy series, 'The Book of Siavon', I spent a lot of time working out the names of my main characters. Being that the world is set an a medieval, fantastical landscape, I wanted the characters to have heavy Irish, Latin, and British influences on their names. Keavy, the heroine of the series, was the hardest to come up with. I wanted something easy to say, but also different enough that you wouldn't confuse it with any characters from other novels. I landed on this particular name by browsing a Gaelic name database. It means gentle, beautiful, or precious (though in the series, I have her saying her name means "Lady of the hearth"), which is the kind of person I pictured Keavy as. 

Another way I name characters is through science. Often times, non-human characters and creatures in my fantasy stories draw their name from some sort of real world Latin name for the animal in which I have based them on. Linnaeus Marcus Tulley is a prime example of this. He is of a race called the catfolk, which are basically half-cat, half-human sentient beings who populate the mythical world of Aryth, (which I named as a variation of Earth). Linnaeus came from the name, Carl Linnaeus, who was a Swedish scientist who studied botany and zoology. He also was the person who came up with the scientific name, Felis catus. You guessed it, he gave cats their name. It was a little nod to the field of science, which the character of Tulley studies, as well to his species influence. I didn't expect many people to pick up on it, but those that did probably got a little kick out of it like I did.

I also sometimes use the meaning of names as a form of foreshadowing in the story. For instance, someone who is a werewolf might have a name that means 'wolf' or 'change.' I try to do this subtly to keep from spoiling the story, so it's usually not too obvious. I mostly do this for my own entertainment, but people interested in linguistics might pick up on it.

Naming characters is a lot like naming real children. You want it to fit their personality and be something they can grow with as the story progresses, but you also just want it to sound right in the reader's head and be something that isn't too hard to pronounce. That's why I spend so much time obsessing over what names to use and where. It's a lot of fun, and believe it or not, one of the easier aspects of creating a whole person for a book, even if it takes a while. 

How do you name your characters? Tell me about it!

Stay weird.

Monday, January 4, 2021

New Year, New Resolution?

A post by Mary Fan
Happy New Year, everyone! It's that time again -- the time when a bunch of people set resolutions and goals for what they're going to do between now and December 31. I've seen a lot of writers share their goals on social media. Some are aspirational targets, like achieving a certain word count per day, and some are... how do I put this... more like wishes shouted into the Internet.

You've probably seen them around. "This is the year I land an agent." "This is the year I get published." "This is the year I become a bestselling author."

I get the impulse. The myth of meritocracy has led most of us to believe that external markers of success -- usually achieving some kind of institutional approval, popularity, or monetary gain -- are all due to the efforts of the individual. It's a comforting myth, this idea that you can control your own destiny. And to some extent, helpful, since it can push you to do the things you need to in order to get what you want.

But so much is out of our control that treating these external markers as resolutions isn't always healthy. Especially in an industry as fickle as publishing, much more is up to chance than we'd like to admit. Maybe you happened to write a book in the trendiest genre, right as the genre is taking off. Maybe you happened to adopt a style adored by publishing professionals. Maybe you were assigned a phenomenal cover artist whose eye-catching design made your book stand out from a thousand others. Or maybe you didn't -- your timing was off, your tastes don't align perfectly with the industry's, your marketing efforts didn't land.

So when if you don't land that agent, get that deal, or achieve that title, does that make you a failure, or simply unlucky?

Personally, I don't like tying resolutions to things out of my control, which is why my resolution is very simple: To finish the manuscript I started during NaNoWriMo, clean it up and make it readable (it's currently a hot mess full of continuity errors), and submit it. That's all I can do; the rest is up to fate.

Do you have a writing-related resolution?

Thursday, December 31, 2020

What's It Like Now: Writing Covid Into Your Story

 It's New Year's Eve (mild clapping) and I'm sure you're at home, like me, like everyone, doing nothing, just waiting for that ball to drop so we can be done with this year. I find myself swarming with a lot of pent-up rage (mostly aimed at politicians and dum-dums who refuse to wear a mask because of 'mah freedoms'), but also a sad resignation that, despite the vaccine, we won't be climbing out of this dark tunnel anytime soon. 

This is our new way of life. Caught not wearing a mask in a crowd is the new going-to-school-naked nightmare. Most of us are used to wearing masks. Used to keeping our distance, canceling parties, working from home, zooming get-togethers, e-learning, etc blah, etc.

Which begs the question for writers, do we incorporate Covid into our book universes? and how?

A friend of mine, who has far more publishing cred than I do, said editors and agents are mostly ignoring Covid as far as stories go. Recently published titles, supposedly set in 2020, do not incorporate the pandemic into their novels. But that is presumably because they were acquired pre-pandemic and to make such drastic changes wouldn't just suit the story, it would cost time and money in rewrites. 

Books are a form of escapism, and nothing anchors us more to our current nightmare than reading about it in our forms of entertainment. And, yet, television shows that have returned to filming are working Covid into the existing universe. Showtime's Shameless and NBC's Superstore are two that come to mind. If this is our new reality, then shouldn't our art reflect it too?

I can't imagine reading a book set in 1919 that didn't, at least, mention World War I and its lasting trauma, so why would we pretend Covid doesn't exist in our own works set in present-day? Is it because we (publishing) expect this to go away and lose its relevancy? If so, that seems short-sighted.

I haven't heard a consensus on this, and I would love to know what writers are doing.

So, writers, what are you doing? Are you absorbing Covid into your plots? Ignoring it? Writing fantasy or historical fiction to side-step it? What? I need to know.

And happy New Year.

Monday, December 28, 2020

What Pretentious Scotch Reviews Taught Me About Writing

P.T. Phronk
A post by P.T. Phronk,
of Forest City Pulp fame
I have a few days off this holiday season, and that means I can get tipsy every night without having to worry about working with a hangover in the morning. My wonderful girlfriend also got me a bunch of scotch for Christmas, so that's been my drink of choice.

Have you ever read reviews for scotch? Google any random example and you'll see they're all pretentious as hell. Here are five egregious "tasting notes" about various drinks, from Whisky Shop Magazine:

“Absolutely filthy… like doing a bog swim without a snorkel.”
“The nose is a TNT banana, exploding bursts of fruit…”
“The hug of sherry is soporific”
“A pleasant dram, but lacks nerve and buoyancy.”
“Like putting Benny Lynch into the ring with Marciano.”


Ridiculous, right? I don't even know who those last people are.

Yet I find myself reading reviews for each scotch before I drink it. The more reasonable reviews may not mention TNT bananas, but they do include various fruits, spices, and inedible items like smoke and leather.

Wait ... meat?

And you know what? I enjoy the scotch more after reading these reviews.

Last night, after reading about Ardbeg's peaty nose and impression of a distant wildfire, I cleared my mind of the day's worries, watched the snow fall outside, took a sip, and was transported to a boggy landscape with a hint of smoke in the air. It was a nice experience. I could even compare it to a hug.

I don't know if that pleasant sip was a direct result of the chemicals in the scotch reacting with my tongue, nerves, and brain. I probably imagined half of what I thought I tasted. But it doesn't matter, does it? Taste is subjective anyway. If it can be enhanced by some pompous scotch blogger halfway around the world causing my brain to embellish a little, then I will continue reading flowery booze descriptions until I see the world through purple-coloured glasses.

Here's where I tie this back to writing. Writers sort of do the same thing as these scotch reviewers, except the embellishment is intentional, and we aren't constrained by the physical reality of liquid on the reader's tongue. If we're doing our jobs, we can make a person vividly hallucinate coastal air, a beach bonfire, and a soporific hug—no strong liquor necessary.

In a year when inspiration was badly needed, that's where I've most recently found mine. I hope you find yours too, and have a very happy new year!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Karissa's 2020 Round-Up. Yee-Haw!
Since this is my last post for 2020 it seems like a good time for a year-end review. Not the most original idea, yes, but I always enjoy looking back and remembering. And this is my blog post, so I do what I want. Also 2020 has been a brutal year (Such a cliché at this point--don't mean it ain't true), so I like the idea of remembering the things that were good about it, and there sure were A LOT of great movies, books, TV shows that kept me from losing my mind.  I'd like to share those with you In hopes that maybe one or two can bring you joy as well.

My favorite Books of 2020

The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she's posted to an alternative London. Their mission - to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it's already been stolen. London's underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested - the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene's new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.

Soon, she's up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option - the nature of reality itself is at stake.

I loved it! Loved that it was like a great blend of Sherlock Holmes, Steampunk, and classic epic fantasy sprinkled with modern characters and a semi-sentient library that embraces computer technology. The Library knows no single time period or genre, and that made for a fun mix of world-building. I loved Irene's level-headedness and ingenuity contrasted with her craving for friendship, family and a place to belong. I loved the unexpected moments of pure wakadoo absurdity (cyborg alligators!?! A train is actually an ancient fae god?!?!)The metaphysical concepts of the Library are interesting and compelling--a little confusing when first introduced but as the worldbuilding became clearer, the books just got better and better. Irene, Kai, Vale, and Bradamant are a fun Grown-up-Scooby-Doo-esque gang, and there's just a touch of romance to make it all the more thrilling.

This series gets my endorsement for being turned into Netflix's next series (rather than another frickin' reboot of True Blood. Ugh.)

Circe by Madeline Miller

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange
child - not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power - the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love. 

Circe, as a character, is complex and flawed and so wonderfully sympathetic in this EPIC story. Miller is really a pro at giving her characters an arc that show tremendous but believable growth and change. I didn't know much about Circe before reading this, and I think it was good to come in without expectations because this is the version of Circe I'm always going to think of from now on. Madeline Miller is likely to be another of my insta-buy authors. I read her second book, The Tale of Achilles, after Circe and adored it, too, although I reserve harsh critiques for it's representation of women (so surprising after the fierce feminine voice of Circe). 

 The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

When Mouse’s dad asks her to clean out her dead grandmother's house, she says yes. After all, how bad could it be?

Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more—Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants…until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself.

Alone in the woods with her dog, Mouse finds herself face to face with a series of impossible terrors—because sometimes the things that go bump in the night are real, and they’re looking for you. And if she doesn’t face them head on, she might not survive to tell the tale.

From Hugo Award–winning author Ursula Vernon, writing as T. Kingfisher.

This was such a freaking creepy, messed up book.  Often my most favorite kind of horror is the kind that keeps the monster hidden as long as possible. People joke about it now, but back when it came out, The Blair Witch Project did such a good job with suspense and anticipation without ever really showing you a monster. This book has that same unknowable adversary quality for about 2/3rds of the plot. Bad things happen, but who is doing them and why is almost impossible to know, but clues and highly original folklore references are sprinkled in along the way. It makes you uncomfortable and uneasy without being too specific, and I loved that. However, if you're a fan of monsters, this book has plenty of that too, and it all that quiet suspense building up pays off big and very weirdly in the end.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.
Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.

I fell in love with Rebecca Roanhorse's "Sixth World" series (dystopia urban fantasy), so it was sort of a no-brainer to pick her first foray into epic fantasy. This book cements Rebecca as being one of my go-to, will one-click buy all her books, authors.

I want a second-world fantasy to be THICK with worldbuilding and this one absolutely delivered. In the
beginning, understanding the vocabulary and the dynamics of the societies and clans and geography was challenging as it often is with second world fantasies but I trusted Roanhorse to deliver on the foundations she was building and boy did she ever!

 This book stood on its own but it also feels very much like only the beginning to something much bigger and grander.

The Sandman, by Neil Gaimon, Audio Production adaptation by Dirk Maggs

Adapted and directed by multi-award-winner (and frequent Gaiman collaborator) Dirk Maggs, and
performed by an ensemble cast with James McAvoy (It, Parts One and Two, X-Men: First Class, Split) in the title role, this first installment of a multi-part original audio series will transport you to a world that re-writes the rules of audio entertainment the way that The Sandman originally re-defined the graphic novel.

When The Sandman, also known as Lord Morpheus - the immortal king of dreams, stories and the imagination - is pulled from his realm and imprisoned on Earth by a nefarious cult, he languishes for decades before finally escaping. Once free, he must retrieve the three “tools” that will restore his power and help him to rebuild his dominion, which has deteriorated in his absence. As the multi-threaded story unspools, The Sandman descends into Hell to confront Lucifer (Michael Sheen), chases rogue nightmares who have escaped his realm, and crosses paths with an array of characters from DC comic books, ancient myths, and real-world history, including: Inmates of Gotham City's Arkham Asylum, Doctor Destiny, the muse Calliope, the three Fates, William Shakespeare (Arthur Darvill), and many more. 
Outstanding and exceptionally performed. I'm not normally a James McAvoy fangirl, but if he were performing as Lord Morpheus, I would listen to him read the ingredients on a box of laundry detergent. I actually own some of the Sandman comics but, confession time, I haven't read them yet. So, I can't compare this production to the quality of reading the comics, but as someone who had only a casual, shallow knowledge of comic, this audio production made The Sandman and his world extremely accessible. You don't have to be a super-fan to understand and follow the stories.

Thorn by Intisar Khanani 

Between her cruel family and the contempt she faces at court, Princess Alyrra has always longed to escape the confines of her royal life. But when she’s betrothed to the powerful prince Kestrin, Alyrra embarks on a journey to his land with little hope for a better future.

When a mysterious and terrifying sorceress robs Alyrra of both her identity and her role as princess, Alyrra seizes the opportunity to start a new life for herself as a goose girl.

But Alyrra soon finds that Kestrin is not what she expected. The more Alyrra learns of this new kingdom, the pain and suffering its people endure, as well as the danger facing Kestrin from the sorceress herself, the more she knows she can’t remain the goose girl forever.

With the fate of the kingdom at stake, Alyrra is caught between two worlds and ultimately must decide who she is, and what she stands for.
I tried to come into this book with no expectations and little advanced research. I knew it was a fairy-tale retelling, but I wasn't sure which one. Surprisingly, I have never read the original "Goose Girl" story, even though I'm aware of it as part of the cannon of classical fairytales, so I got to come into this book with no knowledge or expectations and I'm glad I did. This was a fantastic way to be introduced to the fairytale, although I can't say how true it was to the original or how subversive it might have been (or even if it needed to be subverted).

The world-building was a little on the sparse side for my tastes. In 2nd world fantasy, I'm usually looking for a lot of description and scenery. That existed in this book, but it was clear the author was focused more on theme and character and she definitely delivered in those departments. I'd say perhaps the strongest theme in this book is the idea of justice--what it is and what it isn't; and who deserves it and who doesn't; and who should receive it and who doesn't; and how those who don't get justice from their leaders or from the law go about seeking it through other means.

This was just really brilliantly done, and the author pulled no punches. This story WILL break your heart several times but that made the whole experience richer. I will definitely be reading more by Ms. Khanani.

My favorite Movies of 2020

My husband and I are both Gen X and grew up loving Bill and Ted. As soon as our kid was old enough, we showed him the movies, and he loved them too. When the Hollywood Powers that Be announced another Bill and Ted movie for 2020, I was wary. 

So many of my cherished childhood properties have been messed up by producers/studios/writers who couldn't leave well enough alone and who seemed to care more about subversion and edginess than honoring what made us all fall in love with the thing in the first place. However, Bill and Ted Face the Music turned out to be the perfect remedy for our world weary spirits. 
With COVID and the elections and everything else against which we've all had to toughen up to survive, Bill and Ted was the antithesis of cynicism and sarcasm and bitterness. It was warm and funny and light hearted and totally celebrated the original spirit of this franchise. It couldn't have been released at a better time. For a few minutes we let ourselves believe that this divisive world really could be united in peace and harmony.

The Old Guard

A covert team of immortal mercenaries is suddenly exposed and must now fight to keep their identity a secret just as an unexpected new member is discovered.

If it's Charlize Thoren being a badass, I'm there. If it's a movie with more than one woman being a badass, I'm there. If it also happens to have Matthias Schoenaerts in it, that doesn't hurt either (even if I am ready to see him do something other than being the moody silent handsome asshole).  Sure parts of it were kinda predictable but other parts of it were really fun and original. It wasn't earth shaking but it was fun and the cast had great chemistry. I'm looking forward to the sequel.


The rapid spread of an unknown infection has left an entire city in ungovernable chaos, but one

survivor remains alive in isolation. It is his story.

I've been watching a lot of foreign horror this year and I think it would be smart to do a different post devoted to some of the amazing movies I've seen. I've always had a wakness for zombie movies and TV shows and Korea is having a blast with this genre. This movie has a simple concept, a charming and not entirely stupid kid has to survive a sudden zombie apocalypse alone in his urban apartment building. He uses drone technology in some really novel and creative ways. There's a cute relationship and great witty banter. It's not perfect, there are a few sub plots that are a little head scratchy, but overall it's full of the great fast paced, edge of seat tension that I need from all good zombie movies.

 Although it wasn't released this year, I also must recommend Train to Busan, which is not only a nail-biting thriller but also an emotional gut wrencher. My eighteen year old kiddo says it's the best zombie movie he's ever seen.

My favorite TV shows of 2020

Schitt's Creek

Hands down this was the best show I've seen in a long time and 2020 was the best year to watch it. I'd seen people saying "you have to stick it out past the first season," so I was prepared to do just that--stick it out. WHATEVER! I was hooked on this family from the first episode. I've been fans of Eugene Levy (Mermaid!) and Catherine O'Hara (Beetlejuice!) since I was a kid. A little later in my youth I became aware of SCTV and Christopher Guest movies and loved them even more.  Maybe on the surface they look like shallow people? I don't know...from the first episode it seemed clear to me that a devastating thing had happened to them and instead of taking it out on each other, they chose to stick together. This show is hilarious but it's also unbelievably warm and sweet.

When an acquaintance asked for Netflix suggestions, I told them to watch Shitt's Creek. They said, "The children are way too old to be acting the way they do." i.e. immature brats. But, but...that's the whole point of the show. These privileged people learn to grow up and be more real, and yeah that doesn't happen in the first episode. But in the meanwhile you get to know the delightful "bumpkins" of Shitt's Creek who are not bumpkins at all. You keep expecting them to be portrayed as small town simpletons and mostly they are but they all (well, almost all) have an undercurrent of wry, no BS intellect. 

The show regularly made me laugh out loud and cry and I want a mini version of David Rose to keep in my pocket.

The Mandalorian; Season 2

The Mandalorian was everything I wish the Star Wars sequels had been. I like season two better than the first because the whole season was more cohesive overall. The goals and purpose and narrative arc were clearer and Mando (Din Jardin) became more of a real person. Even Baby Yoda/The Child/Grogu grew a bit more than being an extremely cute puppet/prop. My favorite moment of the whole season (besides the last episode which had a lot of favorite moments) was seeing the Tucsan Raiders aka The Sand People get culture, language, and a back story that was long overdue.

There were a lot of great individual episode directors but overall I give kudos to producer John Favreau for reminding me of when I was a wee little girl who regularly asked her mom to put her hair in Leia Buns because she loved Star Wars so much.

Cobra Kai

This was an unexpected delight, though I must qualify that at the time of this post I've only seen the entirety of Season 1.  My husband and I have a hard time finding things we both like to watch together. Mostly, I gave this a try because he was interested it, and nostalgia is a powerful drug in our house (see Bill and Ted Face the Music above). 

My husband loves anything that brings him fond memories of his childhood (seriously, I think The Goonies is perhaps his favorite movie ever), and we both loved Karate Kid back in the day, but I was a kid then. As an adult, I figured Cobra Kai might be as juvenile as Karate Kid and probably very dumb. The first episodes were a little more sentimental and simplistic than I normally go for, but my husband loved it so I stuck it out. I'm glad I did. 

The writing and characterizations got a lot sharper and smarter as the season went on. It manages to laugh at itself in a way that the originals never did, and it pokes fun at some of the problematic content from the earlier movies. There are more than a few laugh out loud moments, too, which is a plus.  Maybe some of it was a little predictable, but other moments showed some complexity and cleverness I wasn't expecting. And I'm always a sucker for a bad guy who gets a better back story (see my reference to the Tucsan Raiders above) and a chance at redemption.

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