Bright Copper Kettles

The turn of the year seemed like a great time to do a Favorite Things list. I've made this list 2010-specific, mostly... it's hard to hold back the eternally wonderful.

Catch up on back issues:

Raindrops on Roses
Whiskers on Kittens

my prince among men
parents, regular and in-law
sisters and brothers (ditto)
nieces, nephews, and godchildren
my ink-and-paper children: A.D., L.E., and their beloved ones
baby herbs in tiny pots, $2
Lent and Easter
Benedict XVI
people who comment on my blog
writers' group
alpha, beta, and gamma readers
book club and the blessed ladies who belong
old friends and new friends
best friends
friends that know I'm a big dork and love me anyway
oh, all right... Twitter
piecing words together
rhythm and melody and harmony
peace and order
ordinary time, with or without the capitalization
capris and sandals
brownies and chocolate chip cookies
road trips
Yellowstone Park
P.G. Wodehouse and Jon Acuff
Alan Lastufka, Luke Conard, Kristina Horner and John van Deusen
Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods
discovering that my husband has (more) awesome friends
time with a forever kindred spirit: Briana
The Office
Dorothy Sayers, Shannon Hale, Orson Scott Card, George MacDonald, and C.S. Lewis
a kitten named Maia
Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, et cetera
the Hallelujah chorus
the Ave Maria: Schubert, Bach/Gounod, pseudo-Arcadelt, all wondrous
choir practice
singing with Lou
singing in the kitchen, which has better acoustics than the shower
re-learning how to sing in front of other people
plants that coexist with the cat
clumping clay litter
Maia killing bugs
Eclipse, Secretariat, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
fresh pumpkin
huckleberries, especially in pancakes
ivy turning colors in autumn
falling leaves
visits from family and friends
trick-or-treaters and the Phantom of the Opera
Advent and Christmas
The Hog's Head
Harry Potter fans
hot chocolate
hot tea with lemon and honey
blankets and wool socks
walking in the falling snow
telescopes and star charts and clear skies and Jupiter's moons
sunrises and sunsets

...did I forget anything?


Things My Friends are Up To

In lieu of three French hens, on this third day of Christmas, here are a few things to keep you busy during the Blogosphere's slow days:

First, my old internet buddy Chris Knight was interviewed by Bob Buckley over at the Fox network about his battle with bipolar syndrome. I learned a lot from it. It's well worth watching, especially for anyone close to someone who deals with forms of clinical depression.

Second, over at the Hogwarts Professor site, Elizabeth Baird Hardy wrote up a beautiful piece on Jane Eyre as a fairy tale. I can't recommend it enough for book- and fairytale-lovers.

Third, Mr. Pond just won a contest with an Ugly Duckling-themed story about the duck that carried Hansel and Gretel across the river. It's lovely, brief and captivating. Enjoy.

Fourth, Music of the Week: Eric Pazdziora (who has commented here a few times) composed a beautiful song, taking as its lyric a poem by George MacDonald. Eric and his wife, Carrie, are in the choir.

Text can be found at Eric's website. MacDonald and I have different ideas on Mariology, but the piece is hauntingly beautiful.

Last, Blogengamot head Travis Prinzi put up a fascinating post about magical thinking, creativity, and Santa Claus. I honestly think I'm too dreadful at acting to pull off that story with my own children, should I ever have them. The jolly old elf also seems to be a mixed and unpredictable experience that some former children remember gladly, some feel they missed out on, and others classify with growing pains. But I favor magical thinking, even if only in the context of a fairy tale that is never thought of as anything more. I don't doubt that it stretches the mind to think and believe greater things.

I hope you're all having a happy, magical Christmas season.


Merry Christmas

My husband has tomorrow off, and between music to practice and gifts to wrap and other such things, I don't expect much time for blogging. Besides, it's Christmas. I want to spend it with Lou and our families, not my computer. :)

Next week, posting may be a bit unpredictable. I may choose to throw out memes and post randomly, or simply to not blog at all. Fair warning. It's the holidays.

For your enjoyment, here is a song—highly appropriate to these days leading up to the birth of Christ—that Lou and I have loved learning. It took some doing to find a non-buzzy recording on YouTube, but here you go.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!



Currently Reading: Alec Forbes of Howglen

Oh! if only she knew that Alec and Curly were of the elect! But they only could find that out. There was no way for her to peer into that mystery. All she could do was watch their wants, to have the tool they needed next ready to their hand, to clear away the spales from before the busy plane, and to lie in wait for any chance to put her little strength to help. Perhaps they were not of the elect! She would minister to them thereforeoh, how much the more tenderly!

"What's come ower Annie?" said the one to the other when she had gone.

Author: George MacDonald

Synopsis: When little Annie Anderson's father dies, leaving her an orphan, her aunt sends her to live with her tightfisted cousin. Schoolmate Alec Forbes becomes her champion when she is mistreated in the classroom, and before long Alec is both her hero and best friend. But as Annie searches for salvation and the love of God, Alec goes off to college, where a romance and an enemy lead him in other directions. Alec's life and soul hang on the mercy of God and the love and prayers of his friends.

Notes: My parents read this book out to my sisters and I when I was little. I had only vague memories of it, but at several recent reminders, decided to search for it on Kindle for PC. It was free. Win.

As someone for whom the primary interest of a novel is always in the characters, this is my kind of book. That's not to say that there is no plot. There is, and this used-to-be-certified whitewater rescue technician held her breath more than once. But the characters are what will keep you going through the point-of-view jumps and the broad Scotch.

More, Alec Forbes and Annie Anderson are my kind of characters. Annie, especially, is just about everything I could ever want to be. Her search for salvation particularly hit home for me. I loved Alec, too—and then I wanted to hit him—and then I feared for him—and for the sake of avoiding spoilers, I'll leave it there. Alec and Annie are far from being the only greats, too; I'm not sure I've ever seen MacDonald's equal for creating complex people. Thomas Crann, Mr. Cupples, and Murdoch Malison (how would you like to be named that?) walked off the page as living redeemable souls whose hearts were bigger than their terrible failures.

The tale makes for a challenging read, owing to the dialogue's being almost entirely in the auld Scotch dialect. Words like bairn (child) and muckle (much, many) can take a little getting used to, but to add to the fun, sometimes recognizable English words mean something totally different: gin for if, war for were, crap for crept, etc.

The ending was perfect, brilliant, beautiful—and far too short. It strongly tempts me to write fan fiction, but I haena ower muckle time f'r sich.

Recommendation: Gin ye ken y'r auld Scotch, ye haena onything t' stop ye. If not, you'll learn by context, or by the glossary in the back—or you can probably find versions where everything is translated into English. In all events, I highly recommend the book.


Tasty Tuesday: Fruitcake

Tasty Tuesday
Fruitcake has such a lousy reputation that even I laugh when Uncle Vernon tries to knock in a nail with a piece of Aunt Petunia's. And I'll admit, I've had fruitcakes I didn't like. Nearly every one, in fact.

But if nobody you know likes fruitcake, it's because they've never had this one. The only bad thing about this recipe is how difficult it is to crack the Brazil nuts. You can find every other nut shelled, but not the rock-hard Brazils. Honestly, has nobody invented a machine to do this?


1/2 lb Brazil nuts
1/2 lb pecans
1 lb candied cherries
1 lb dates
1 lb walnuts

1 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup cooking sherry

Mix dry ingredients and add fruits and nuts.

Beat egg yolks with vanilla and sherry and add to main mixture.

Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into the mix just before putting in oven.

Bake 1 hour at 300 degrees, in greased and floured loaf pans.


Photo Break

I have a cold, thanks to which I have done nothing today but read a book, talk to family, put ornaments back on the Christmas tree whenever Maia takes them off, and try to take the edge off the heat in some leftover Indian cuisine. As it turns out, lamb korma is really good when not entirely dominated by capsaicin.

But despite several efforts, I've not come up with a good post on writing for the day. One of these days, maybe I'll get ahead and start doing scheduled posts... till then, when I fail, you get Christmas pictures. Or other such things.

Lou and I, cutting our tree:

We always go with Lou's parents and Andy and Lindsey. Family photo:

Maia caught sight of the Christmas tree in the kitchen, bolted, and hid under the bed for awhile. When she finally came out, she discovered it was just a giant plant:

...at which point it became something to chew on, climb in, bat water away from, and otherwise enjoy to the fullest:

 That became even more exciting when her people hung cat toys on it.

Family photo, in which I am starting to feel sick enough that I fail to hold the smile for ten seconds. Fortunately, I do manage to hang onto the cat, who clearly has places to go and things to do:


Thoughts of Summer and other stories

The big news this week: One of the projects I worked on this year has finally gone live! Silhouette's Arbor, a four-book seasonal collection of the highlight posts from the first years of the online journal, is now available on Lulu. It should be up on Amazon in a few weeks as well. After working on it with Justin, Jessi and Jake for months, I'm thoroughly excited to get my own copies!

The Summer season was my special project; I got to be its editor, writing the foreword, collecting quotes for the afterword section (in which Mr. Pond is quoted alongside C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, Emily Dickinson, and others), and editing and arranging the articles. It turned out beautifully, if the files I saw were any indication.

The pieces included were some of my favorites—among others, Jana Gering's short, enthralling essay on children's literature, Jessi Gering's lighthearted thoughts on adventure, Judd Mellinger-Blouch's poem Mermaids and Millstones, Matt Martinson's haunting Exile, James van Noord's hilarious set of dating definitions. And of all the pieces I ever wrote for Silhouette, I got to include my own favorite—the terza rima poem, Channeling Dante.

And that's just my season: the other three are every bit as brilliant.

* * *

Oh, sequel-writing, how difficult must thou be? I've vacillated all week between reverting to the second NaNoWriMo version and creating an entirely new outline. This morning I worked on both, in the space of less than one hour.

What I should be writing is a query and synopsis for the first book.

* * *

Writer's link of the week: Why have one when you can have ten? Mr. Pond aggregated his top ten favorite writing articles for the year. It'll probably take me a week to read through them all, but... awesome.

* * *

Music of the week: One of my all-time favorite bands, the techno wrockers* Ministry of Magic, totally made my last weekend by releasing three new videos. I loved them all, and I'm definitely getting this CD. This song was my favorite, but you can watch the others at The House Song (advisory: a bit of strong language, and a few Slytherins) and Lily.

Yeah, I know. I also like the Backstreet Boys. What's wrong with that?

* * *

Funny of the week: Hyperbole and a Half's brilliant The Alot is Better than You at Everything. Words fail to describe how much I love this post. Let's just say that I like it al... I like it a... oh, I can't make myself do it! I like it a lot.

* * *

Ah, the last week of Advent: one of my favorite times of year. The O antiphons, the music, the candles, and Christmas preparation! This weekend is dedicated to tree-fetching and decorating and finding x:

kitten + tree + ornaments = x

I also hope to finish George MacDonald's Alec Forbes of Howglen, partly because it's so wonderful and partly because I just picked up three more young adult books from the library, all of which need to be read within three weeks.

Happy weekend, everybody.

* wrocker (RAW-kər) n. contraction of wizard rocker, a musician or band who primarily performs songs based on the Harry Potter series.


Another Thursday Question and Free Austen Ebooks

Calling all Jane Austen fans!... at least, Jane Austen fans with Kindles or Kindle for PC (it looks like these might also be available in pdf.) George let me know this morning that Books on the Knob has a list of Austen's novels and Austen-related books, currently available free from Amazon (thanks, George!) Exciting? Oh, yes. I'm not usually a fan of Austen sequels—how can anyone expect to live up to the original? But I'll be at least looking into these.

Also, after poking around the internet, I've found a few more questions about books that I'll probably ask on Thursdays, at least from time to time. Some of these are a little more in-depth, so we'll go one by one. As with the old list, feel free to answer on your own blog if you like. If you do, please link back in the comments, so I can go read it!

Last week we talked about our fiction-induced idiosyncrasies, and I loved reading everybody's catch phrases and inspirations! Some favorites: "Brightly, brightly, and with beauty" (Masha, from Stranger in a Strange Land); Pollyanna's Glad Game (Rachelynn); seeking and finding wonder (Mr. Pond, Smith of Wooton Major and The Golden Key); and apparently I'm not the only one who can't stop themselves from using Gollumspeak on occasion. Good to know, George. :)

This week's question: If people looked at your bookshelf, what conclusions do you think they would draw about you?

I am very curious about this.


Currently Reading: Book of a Thousand Days

Note: I've just signed up for Goodreads! If you want to be my friend over there, click here. Can't believe it took me this long to sign up for a book reviewing community.

* * *

Day 684

Here's something true about darkness—after enough time, you begin to see things that aren't there. Faces look at me, and when I turn my head, they disappear. Colors wash themselves before my eyes, then fade away. Shiny gray dream rats dart between my feet but don't make a sound. I wanted to write this down so I can remember that those things aren't real.

My lady sees more than I do. Sometimes what she sees makes her cry.

Author: Shannon Hale

Synopsis: In this story loosely based on the Grimms' Maid Maleen, orphaned mucker Dashti goes to work as a lady's maid for the daughter of a lord. The two are immediately shut up in a tower under a seven year sentence, as punishment for her mistress' refusal to marry a terrible man. Lady Saren's suitors—one good, the other evil—come to woo her through the tiny remaining opening, and the frightened Saren commands Dashti to speak to both of them in her name. When the world outside goes silent and their food supply begins to run out, Dashti must find a way to escape, and then their adventures begin in earnest.

Notes: Shannon Hale, I love you.

I've put off reading this book for about a year, for just one reason: I'm not really fond of novels written in unusual form (journal entries, in this case.) Poetry, letters, present tense—all of those things make me hesitate when I flip through a book. Even first person POV can stop me, unless the voice is really strong. That's not to say these things are bad, just that I find them harder to get into.

But it is possible to miss very good books this way, and if the book has something else to recommend it (say, the name Shannon Hale on the cover), I may eventually give it a try. Often, as in this case, I'm glad I did.

Especially for a stand-alone book, Book of a Thousand Days contains strong, well-drawn worldbuilding. Dashti's culture, from her religion to her mucker songs to her yaks and boots, is vivid. The regions, the naming language, and other aspects of the Mongolia-based fantasy land add their color to the story without distraction or confusion.

Better yet, the storyline provides various opportunities for deeper thought, especially in its theme of self-sacrifice. I was sometimes put in mind of the author's Mormonism, but always positively; never in a preachy fashion.

But my favorite thing—and the thing that keeps me coming back to Hale's books—is the humor. Dashti kept making me laugh. Tough-girl heroines too often come across as shrewish or otherwise unpleasant; Miri, Enna, Becky, and Dashti (the four whose books I've read) are every one a delight. They're plucky, spirited, yet all different from each other. Their stories come off with a sweet balance of depth of thought and happy-go-lucky heart.

This book doesn't trump Princess Academy (the author's Newbery prize-winning work, which is an exceedingly rare object: a flawless book, in which not one splash disturbs the smooth flow of story). But it's probably my second favorite of hers. It feels good to read a book through to the end and turn the last pages with a smile. Even in young adult fiction, that joy is all too hard to find.

Recommendation: Of course I recommend it. Read it with some chocolate chip cookies if you want to maximize the fun.


Tasty Tuesday: Honest-to-Goodness Michigan Pasties

Tasty Tuesday
This recipe comes to you courtesy of my good friend Sarah, who sometimes comments here. During a chat over lunch, she told me about the classic pasties everybody in Michigan makes. Seattle, I have news for you. That tradition tastes good here, too.

As a general rule, based on childhood experience, I do not eat rutabaga. Not being aware of that fact, Sarah emphasized the importance of the rutabaga to the rest of the recipe, and either she's extraordinarily persuasive or I'm an easy sell or both, because I got myself down to the store and for the first time in my adult life, bought one (once I'd successfully differentiated the rutabagas from the parsnips).

Sarah's right. You'll want to include the rutabaga.

Here's the recipe, as I worked it out from her directions. She and I both tend to be sort of cooks who—well, as she put it: "...just wing it and make note of everything you would do different the next time and then by about the 3rd time you have pure perfection. :)"

Good enough for me. I've tried to make some guess as to measurements for the sake of those of you who are not the type to wing a new recipe. Best of luck. Feel free to ask questions in the comments.

Authentic Michigan Pasties

Pie crust (I'd suggest enough for two double-crust nine-inch pies)

Ground beef or finely chopped flank steak, uncooked
Carrots, potatoes, onions, rutabaga, chopped to about dime size
Salt and pepper to taste

In measurements: I used about 2/3 rutabaga, maybe 1/3 medium onion, a couple of medium-sized baker potatoes and two or three carrots to perhaps a pound and a half of ground beef.

Roll out the pie crust according to how large you want your pasties (I think the general idea is eight- or nine-inch pie crusts)

Mix the beef and vegetables together, all raw, and place in the center of each rolled-out piece of pie crust. Fold the crust over and crimp the edges (this can be done along the top or the side.)

Bake at 375 degrees for... Sarah's original directions said two hours, but I knew that in my enthusiastic little oven they'd be blacker than the leather cover of an old KJV by then. I made them half-size and only baked them 45 minutes. That worked beautifully.


New Blog Design, Christians and Art, and Narnia

As you may or may not have noticed: This weekend I completely redesigned my site, thanks to Blogger's relatively-new Template Designer. It felt a little nervy to put both my name and face in the header (yes, that is me)... I'd already found it embarrassing enough to redirect my blog to jennasthilaire.com with everything inside me shouting YOU ARE NOT FAMOUS DON'T BE PRETENTIOUS. Oh well. Pictures personalize a website—at least, that's how I feel when other people put their own up. And that is my name.

Let me know if you come across anything in the new site design that needs fixing, and I'll do my best to oblige.

While normally I'd do my own writing about writing today, fellow Blogengamot member Arabella Figg put up a post at The Hog's Head discussing whether Christian films can be good. Her thoughts and the ensuing discussion on the relationships between Christianity, Christians, and art—including a contribution from Hollywood screenwriter Janet Batchler (who wrote Batman Forever, among other things)—fascinated me. I recommend that. The basic principles are applicable to the art of writing.

If you need further reading material, I just posted a review of the new Narnia movie, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, also at The Hog's Head.


The Giveaway Winners Announced! ...and other stories

The contest to win a copy of Annie O'Connor's book, Going to See the King, has come to a close! The entrants, numbered in order of entry:
  1. Donna
  2. Rachelynn
  3. Mary
  4. Sarah
  5. George
  6. Lindsey
  7. Maria
  8. MissPhotographerB
  9. Mr. Pond
  10. Rachel
  11. Farmer's City Wife
  12. jennaseverythingblog
The winners, courtesy of Random.org:

Farmer's City Wife!

Winners, email me at librarylily at gmail dot com with your shipping address... well, Sarah, I can probably hand-deliver yours. :) Annie is passing me the copies today, and I plan to have them in the mail by Monday.

If you didn't win and you need a gift for a young child, the book is available on Amazon. I recommend it. :)

* * *

Writer's link of the week: Veronica Roth on Not Writing, or Why Your Brain is an Ice-Cream Maker. Sure enough, sometimes we really do need a day off.

* * *

My friend Agnes sent me an email this morning requesting prayer for a 31-year-old coworker undergoing experimental treatment for a very fast-moving cancer. I don't know Krista, but because I also don't know who will be motivated to pray or help underwrite the high costs of her treatment... here's a link to her web page.

* * *

Lastly but not leastly, here's your funny of the week. This site contains a lot of bad language, either created by the autocorrect or by the people who saw too late what their autocorrect did, but it's also possibly the funniest site I've ever seen. I haven't yet been on it without laughing myself to tears.

Happy weekend, everybody!


Thursday Book Questions: The Wrap-Up

[Tomorrow at noon, the drawing for my friend Annie's books closes! I'll be tracking down that random number generator and choosing winners. If you haven't entered yet, you can do so by commenting here.]

Last week, we closed off the Thursday Book Questions meme with five of the most personal questions we'd come across. Books we've been avoiding (sometimes because they're intimidating or tragic; sometimes, as jana.kaye with Marilynne Robinson's Home, because we just needed the time to really absorb it.) Books that made us angry—theological works were mentioned more than once (favorite answer, from George: "...heresy and apostasy give me tummy aches." Me, too.)

There were books that we didn't expect to like but did, or thought we would like and then didn't (Harry Potter got mentioned on both sides, and then we had some back and forth on Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia, which I haven't read since fifth grade. Maybe I should make an experimental re-read out of it.) Lastly, we talked about our favorite pleasure reading, which was fun, and as there were too many to list, I'll just say: if you're looking for fun stuff to read, check out the comments.

Also, commenter Donna has promised to respond as soon as she can. :)

Thanks to everyone who participated! If you haven't, it's never too late, of course.

My problem now: What to do with Thursdays? Today, at least, I'm going to ask you a question: What habits, phrases, or idiosyncrasies have crept out of a book and into your life?

My answer will be in the comments. Feel free to either put yours there or write your own blog-post on the subject and link back.


Currently Reading: Keturah and Lord Death

[If you haven't entered yet, you still have till Friday at noon to try and win a free book!]

"Tell me what it is like to die," I answered.

He dismounted from his horse, looking at me strangely the whole while. "You experience something similar every day," he said softly. "It is as familiar to you as bread and butter."

"Yes," I said. "It is like every night when I fall asleep."

"No. It is like every morning when you wake up."

Author: Martine Leavitt

Synopsis: A beautiful young woman follows a hart into a forest, becomes lost, and meets Death, who is a lord. He has come on his black stallion to claim her, but she takes up the mantle of Scheherazade, telling him a story of a girl who searches for her true love. She has no ending to tell him. Captivated, Death grants her a bargain: one day of life to find her own happy ending.

Notes: This book was recommended to me by fellow Blogengamot member Arabella Figg, and does credit to her taste. Set in medieval times and written in a voice that emulates the language of fairy tales, it follows a path to an ending that probably should have been more obvious to me, but which took me rather by surprise. Still puzzled, I turned the page after the end and read the acknowledgements. Once I'd done that, the whole story made sense.

Everything about this story is beautiful. Unique, interesting characters, lovely and fitting prose, apotheosis as Keturah fumbles through her attempts to find true love and help her village, and enough of thought and symbol to keep me thinking for days. It certainly made me want to read more of Leavitt's work.

It offers food for introspection, too. Apparently I'm still very much in love with life—either that, or with the golden-hearted hero archetype. It's a tough call. I can't say more without spoilers, so we'll leave it at that. :)

Recommendation: Read it in a pensive mood, perhaps by lamplight on a quiet evening. It should fit perfectly.


Tasty Tuesday: Potato Moussaka

Tasty Tuesday
[Have you entered to win a free book yet? If not, you can do that here.]

All right, I admit it: A lot of the time I cook simply. Half-hour chilis with fewer than ten ingredients. Beef-bean-and-cheese burritos. Chicken enchiladas with canned mushroom soup.

Every now and then, however, I go to cooking with a little more artistry and respect. Because as Leopold says, in a romantic comedy that I found likeable if somewhat forgettable, "It is said that without the culinary arts, the crudenesses of life would be unbearable."

Hear, hear. So on Sunday night, I made potato moussaka. Which has made an appearance in another romantic comedy, in which slender blonde girls with Wonder Bread sandwiches make fun of six-year-old Toula Portokalos for having "moose kaka" for lunch. Really makes you want to eat it, doesn't it? But I promise you that this is worlds better than a Wonder Bread sandwich.

Once again, I'm not sure how copyrights work on internet-posted recipes, so for the sake of the law, I'll just link it: Mousakas Patates. You'll want that page for its serving suggestions and such, anyway.

Cinnamon. Nutmeg. Garlic. Allspice. Béchamel sauce. Potatoes and ground beef and cheese... It's definitely worth the prep time. Enjoy.


Win a Free Book

The dirt was dry and dreary as I drudged daily across the desert. I didn’t really mind, though; I was going to see the King.”

From now until Friday the 10th at noon, enter for your chance to win Going to See the King, a children's story written and illustrated by my talented friend Annie O'Connor! In celebration of the book's release on Amazon, Annie has given me three copies to give to three happy winners. Yes, that's right:
  • 3 copies (your odds are very good)
  • 3 winners
  • All you have to do: Leave me a comment saying you want one!
(Ahem: If you're the parent of one of my age-five-or-under nieces, nephews or godchildren, your child is already getting this for Christmas. You're of course welcome to enter, if you want a copy for another reason—say, to pass on to someone else...)

I fell head over heels in love with this story. From the perspective of one of the Magi's camels, Annie takes us through the desert, to Herod's palace, and finally—spoiler alert—to Bethlehem. All the camel wants is to see the king he's heard so much about. It's well-told, alliterative and fun, with beautifully-colored illustrations. It's also absolutely sweet.

Want a copy? Leave me a comment saying so. Please enter only once per person. The contest ends Friday at noon. It's fair and democratic: winners will be chosen by random number generator. I'll reveal the winners Friday afternoon sometime.

No limits on where I'll ship, although the further you are from Bellingham, WA, the longer it will take to arrive. I plan to ship the copies Monday so you have them by Christmas if possible.

Enter away!


The Absence of Vampires and other stories

Congratulations to my friend and fellow writers' group member Annie O'Connor, whose children's book Going to See the King is now available on Amazon! This is just the sweetest, most beautiful little story. Hang around my blog next week, and you might well win a free copy. :)

* * *

After a year and more of working at it, I feel like I'm starting to understand what goes into making a job out of writing. This week's to-do list, in retrospect:
  • Finish NaNoWriMo. Toss the manuscript and start over again.
  • Be overwhelmed with gratitude toward gamma readers, and spend hours thinking about their suggestions.
  • Make trips to Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, and the library, in the name of market research
  • Organize Google Reader and subscribe to more book-related blogs and Publisher's Lunch
  • Remember that even in an office job, it sometimes took me a focused hour and a half to write an email
  • Organize My Documents folder and set up a special folder for the NaNoWriMo manuscript
  • Remember that my website still needs designing. Think about it. Waste twenty minutes in Paint.net relearning why a past idea didn't work.
  • ...and write. Blog-posts. Novel. Even a few Tweets.
It's a good life.

* * *

I keep breaking a promise to myself. I'd sworn not to respond to my siblings' anecdotes about what their small fry did with the words "The other day, Maia..."

The problem is that she does all these toddler-like things. Giving me a naughty look and then deliberately doing what I just told her not to. Getting into things she shouldn't and leaving disaster for me to find. Attacking my feet with her teeth and claws out... okay, maybe that one is cat-specific. But still. How can I help it?

* * *

Writers' link of the week: Natalie Whipple's What Happens When It IS You. Because it's good to have realistic expectations. And as someone who put neither vampires nor outright sex in her novel, who writes the old-fashioned way (third person perspective, past tense), who could base her life memoir around the theme of waiting (but I'll spare you)—it could totally be me someday.

Natalie Whipple, I hope very much that you get published soon. I love your blog. I can't wait to read your books.

* * *

Cheer-worthy article of the week: This pope plays it right. Okay, this is a couple of weeks old. But many thanks to Jonah Goldberg, not only for rising above the media's usual epic-disaster response to any suggestion of a conflict between church and sex, but for writing a beautiful, sensible, respectful piece. Three cheers, sir.

* * *

Music of the week: Eva Cassidy's Songbird. How has this song been out for years without me knowing it?

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Funny of the week: Eric Pazdziora calls it the "Best. Paper. Ever." From experience, I can tell you that it's medically accurate.

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Victory: Today, I cleaned my house before blogging. (Blogging is one of those projects that expands to fill all available time.) I'm going to go write other things for awhile.

Happy weekend, everyone.


Thursday Book Questions: Part 11

Five questions a week. Eleven weeks. Post your answers in the comments (or on your own blog if you prefer, just link back in the comments) and I'll do the same thing.

We've come to the last five questions in the Thursday Book Questions meme. Now I have to come up with something else to do on Thursdays. Thinking...

Last week was Thanksgiving, but two weeks ago we found it difficult to determine what it meant to skim a book. Read it really, really fast? Try and hit the high points while overlooking the rest? We weren't sure, but some of us do it, some of us don't, and some of us even admitted to skipping ahead. (I've done that, too--but only if I think the book likely to be depressing.)

We also talked organization, which brought about some of the most interesting responses we've had yet (Mr. Pond used to arrange books by the color of the binding until that became impractical, Sarah [mother of three small children] just tries to keep hers on the shelf, Donna says "Ahem. I am a librarian.", John Stanifer keeps C.S. Lewis and all his critics together, and Masha takes the cake with "I like to organize my authors based on who might have gotten on with each other - Kierkegaard and Rilke are together, Hemingway and F. Scott. I also like to put people like Sartre next to overly pious authors and imagine the arguments.") And others. There were too many to list.

This week's questions get personal, even dramatic:

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
(answer here)
52. Name a book that made you angry.
(answer here)
53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
(answer here)
54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
(answer here)
55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
(answer here)

I'm looking forward to your answers!


Currently Reading: Ice

Involuntarily, she glanced again at the castle with its soaring ice turrets and crystalline ivy. If he was real, then all she knew of the world—all she knew of science and the rules of the universewas false. Half of her wanted to explore every inch of this place. The other half wanted to turn back the clock and redo the day before.

He padded closer to her, and this time she didn't retreat. "You can return to your 'research' station and pretend all is the same as before. But it is not the same, and it will never be the same. You cannot erase what you now know. Your world has changed."

Author: Sarah Beth Durst

Synopsis: Science and Inuit mythology combine in this retelling of the fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Teenage researcher Cassie Dasent marries a polar bear to gain her mother's freedom from the trolls. Cassie eventually falls in love with Bear and accepts him as her husband, but he never lets her see him in human form. When Bear tells her that he has "fixed her chemical imbalance" to allow her to conceive, she feels betrayed, and turns her flashlight on him as he sleeps. The trolls claim him, the magic palace melts, and Cassie is left pregnant and stranded on Arctic ice. Her only hope to save her husband is to find a way to the troll castle, which lies east of the sun and west of the moon.

Notes: I've always found this particular fairy tale—itself a form of the Cupid and Psyche myth—rather moving. I remember first reading it in its Whitebear Whittington incarnation, years upon years ago, when I was too young to be anything but vaguely haunted by the lines:

Three drops of blood I've shed for thee!
Three little babies I've born for thee!
Whitebear Whittington, turn to me...

Sarah Beth Durst puts the logical polar bear spin on the tale of a white bear, and gets inventive from there. The protagonist, having long outgrown her Gram's stories about her mother being the North Wind's daughter, lives for science and data and the thrill of chasing the beautiful, deadly bears across the likewise beautiful and deadly ice. Cassie's devotion to empirical observation is challenged when she sees a great bear walk directly through an ice wall—and before long, she's warm in a frozen castle, wondering how her GPS reads a latitude of 91 degrees, promising to marry the king of the polar bears if only he'll save her mother from the trolls.

Armed with an impressive amount of research into polar bear science and Arctic survival techniques, Durst leads Cassie and her readers through a physical and emotional journey from spite to trust, from disdain to love, and from a will to live to the will to give life. The descriptions show the Arctic as fantastically beautiful and then as something like Dante's lowest circle of hell. The adversary horrified even tree-crazy me into almost understanding Cassie's desire to never see one again.

The tale is well-told enough and meaningful enough that I'm surprised I didn't love it more. The main problem, I think, is that I didn't get along with Cassie. Till the end of the book, when she adjusts her attitude in all of the areas that made me furious with her, her primary good quality is that she's a survivor. "Survivor" isn't a good enough trait to get me past "selfish" and "mouthy" and "doesn't want her baby." But perhaps that's just me. I'm naturally drawn to characters like Harry Potter, Anne Elliott, Ender Wiggin, Lucy Pevensie—the really pure-hearted ones, and sometimes even those other people label "too perfect."

But I can't fault Cassie's character development, and there's a lot to be said for that. Anyway, judging from other things I've read, my somewhat lackadaisical response is unusual. A friend recommended Ice to me. She generally shares my taste in stories, and loved this one.

Recommendation: Read it with a cup of hot chocolate, and be grateful you don't live inside the Arctic circle. Unless, of course, you do.