The Importance of Reading

“We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.”               — Philip Pullman

Marilyn Monroe, pretty and smart.

Marilyn Monroe, pretty and smart.

I was that kid. The kid who read all the time. The kid who brought a book with her wherever she went. The kid who had to be told to stop reading so much and go outside and play with my friends. I could be found reading under the table at family dinners. Reading on the way to school, reading during lunch, and reading on the way home. Reading under the sheets after my mom had told me–repeatedly–to turn the light off, I could finish the damn book tomorrow. Later, I was the girl who read all her summer reading in the first two weeks of summer break, and then spent the rest of summer at the library. I was the girl who threw silent hissy fits whenever she was assigned a book she didn’t like; not because it was a pain to read but because there was nothing–NOTHING–she hated more than disliking a book.

Long before the thought of being a writer ever crossed my mind, I was a reader.

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Whistle While You Work

Andrew Bird, man of many melodies.

Andrew Bird, man of many melodies.

A friend recently posted a fascinating article called “Untamed Melody,” written by musician and songwriter Andrew Bird about his writing process. In case you’re too lazy to read the article (really, though, read it!–it’s good!), I’ll sum it up for you: from an early age Mr. Bird has lived his life with melodies. Melodies with his cereal, on the way to school, while brushing his teeth. At any given time he has several melodies filed away in his brain, which he then takes out and tinkers with until he feels they are ready. He then marries words to melody by verbalizing nonsense until “something true” slips into the babble. He teases words from his subconscious mind to “settle into the grooves of the melody.”

I really enjoyed reading this article. It is always a pleasure for me to sneak a peak into another artist’s creative process; the insight I gain by examining someone else’s process often helps me to define my own process more precisely. There were many things about Andrew Bird’s process that resonated with me as a writer, the main difference being that where he goes through life with melodies in various stages of creation, I go through life with stories.

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Top 5 Badass YA Heroines

A lot of discussion has been flying around recently in both my writerly circles and the media about the lack of female role models in most of geek culture. There’s this great article by Tor railing against the classic female superhero pose–you know the one. Artist Michael Lee Lundford has created a series of drawings depicting female superheroes if they were fully clothed. Emmie Mears recently wrote a blog post  about the appalling number of female superheroes compared to male superheroes. Spoiler–it’s way lower than you think it is.

Katniss Everdeen, strong female role model.

Katniss Everdeen, strong female role model.

And it got me thinking about female role models in the genres I read and write; namely, young adult fiction. In the past five years, there have been a ton of really strong and powerful female characters dominating the YA genre, which is as it should be. Young women like Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior rise up to the challenges they face with tenacity and courage, sacrificing themselves for the things they believe in. They don’t need a man to protect them or marry them to feel complete. But Katniss and company are hardly the first strong women to leap from the pages of YA novels. So, I though I’d share my favorite fictional strong female role models from my childhood and teenaged years. They may not be superheroes, but they inspired me to be independent, forge my own destiny, and raise my voice against the world’s injustices.

1. Alanna of Trebond, from the Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce

Coincidentally, Alanna rescues the Prince fairly frequently.

Coincidentally, Alanna rescues the
Prince fairly frequently.

When her widowed father sends her to a convent to learn how to become a lady, Alanna decides to make her own plans. Disguising herself as a boy named Alan, Alanna travels to the Royal Palace in the city of Corus to become a knight, something no woman has done for hundreds of years. Although small of stature and weaker than the other boys in training, Alanna’s fierce character and stubbornness carries her through many trials and adventures, and she eventually learns that in addition to wielding a sword she also wields a kind of magic. She is incredibly loyal and steadfast when it comes to her friends, and a deadly opponent to her enemies. She is strong on the battlefield, clever with her magic, and tender with those she loves. Alanna is a warrior and a sorceress, but most of all she is a woman.

2. Hermione Granger, from the Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling

Wingardium Leviosaaa, bitches.

Wingardium Leviosaaa, bitches.

As a character, Hermione is incredibly complex. When we first meet her she is a nerdy bookworm with frizzy hair and buckteeth who is shunned by Harry and Ron until she proves to be of use to them. But over the course of the series Hermione blossoms into the kind of woman every young girl should strive to be; intelligent, competent, loyal, funny, self-assured. She is incredibly multi-faceted–she can be stubborn to the point of being obstinant, clever to the point of being a know-it-all, loving to the point of being mushy. But most importantly, Hermione stands up for the things she believes in and doesn’t let anyone tell her she can’t do what the wants. Also, the girl loves to read. I can get behind that any day of the week.

3. Meliara Astiar, from Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith

Meliara, complete with a black eye.

Meliara, complete with a black eye.

Although Meliara (known as Mel to her friends and family) promises her dying father than she will save the kingdom of Remalna from tyrannical King Galdran Melindar, she has no experience in battle or intrigue. But that doesn’t stop her from launching a rebellion with nothing but a few poorly armed villagers and her own wits and determination. Although essentially illiterate at the beginning of the novel, Mel has a thirst for knowledge and seeks out any opportunity to better herself as a scholar. She is often self-conscious about the way other people view her, but rarely lets that stop her from doing the right thing or saying what she means. Mel describes herself as “quick to laugh, quick to act, and much too quick to judge,” but she is also kind, brave, and selfless.

4. Meg Murray, from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Funny, I don't remember a winged centaur in this book.

Funny, I don’t remember a winged centaur in this book.

Like Katniss Everdeen, Meg is a reluctant hero. She doesn’t particularly fancy running around trying to save the world or making a stand against evil, but when situations conspire to throw her into the middle of a dangerous adventure, she rises to the occasion. When Meg and her younger brother Charles Wallace follow their scientist father through a “tesseract,” or a wrinkle in time, they find themselves on the dark planet Camazotz where everyone is controlled by IT, a giant evil brain. In the end, only Meg’s great love for her family and her strong will can protect her brother and Camazotz from the wicked machinations of the disembodied brain who seeks both the destruction of individuality and the end of free will.

5. Princess Eilonwy, from the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander

Jeez, but her mom looks mean.

Jeez, but her mom looks mean.

Anyone who has read the Prydain Chronicles cannot help but love Eilonwy, the snarky, headstrong princess who accompanies Taran on his far-flung adventures. Eilonywy is descended from the Royal House of Llyr, a line of powerful enchantresses, but the princess has no interest in behaving as a “true lady” should. Rather, Princess Eilonwy is hot-tempered, stubborn, and sharp-tongued, and although she has no formal training in the usage of weapons she is a formidable opponent when it comes to battle, resorting to teeth and nails when she has no other weapons at her disposal. While she is often sarcastic and short-tempered, Eilonwy is also loyal and caring with regards to her friends and companions, and often uses her wits and determination to get them out of sticky situations.

Well, there you have it! It was actually a challenge for me to narrow down my favorite strong female role models from my childhood–they were more plentiful than I expected! While there is definitely a paucity of female superheroes in Hollywood, I think it’s great that there are so many strong young women dominating children’s literature and the young adult genre!

Do you have favorite strong female characters from your childhood or teenage years? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!


Oh dear, I’ve just remembered that I’ve forgotten (?) to write a blog post today. Now it’s almost bed-time and I have absolutely nothing to write about. I could try to pull together a review of a book in a few minutes, but honestly I doubt it would do the book or the author justice. Bad literary karma, you know.

Instead, I will leave you with this inspiring video. Sometimes you just need someone to remind you that if you believe in yourself, you will get the hang of it! (Also, thumbs up for rock n’ roll.)

Sticks ‘n Stones

Sticks and stones will break my bones
But words will never hurt me.

Sticks and stones....

Sticks and stones….

How many times do we hear this growing up? I don’t remember the first time I heard this simple rhyme, but I know that I have heard it hundreds of times since. And on one level, it is excellent common sense: don’t let someone get a rise out of you, don’t retaliate with violence, don’t freak out over an insult. But on another level, it is one of the most mind-bogglingly false adages out there. Because words hurt. Sometimes far more than a simple broken bone.

Yes, sticks and stones may break a person’s bones, but interestingly enough, the human body does not remember pain. The brain can remember having been in pain, and the emotions surrounding that pain, but the actual physical discomfort cannot be conjured up again without actually inflicting the same pain on the same nerves in the same way. So a broken bone will knit. A bruise will fade. A cut will heal. But anyone who has ever been badly wounded by a carefully chosen sentence or two will know that it is not so with words. The memory of an insult, criticism, or verbal abuse can sting or even damage long after the moment has passed. Often, it will even grow worse with time, burrowing deep into the psyche until nothing can dislodge it.

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How (Not) To Begin a Story

Happy Monday, internetz! I think I’m coming down with something and my brain isn’t functioning properly, so it’s gonna be a short one today. Inspired by bad prologues, pilot episodes, and opening sequences the world over, I give you…

How To Begin a Story in 7 Easy Steps*

1. Flashbacks! Why limit yourself to only one flashback? Start off nice and easy with the first flashback, and then once you’re inside that flashback why not flashback another few years? Then, try a century or two! The more flashbacks, the better.

2. Stereotypes! Listen up folks, this one is important. This is the beginning of your novel. How will anyone be able to relate to your characters if they aren’t obvious stereotypes? Pick conventional archetypes that everyone will be able to recognize. You’ll need a bitchy cheerleader (remember, lipgloss makes you evil), a sensitive guitar-player (no one’s noticed he’s handsome because he’s quiet and writes poetry), an arrogant rich boy (only the right girl can redeem his damaged soul), and a manic pixie dream girl (she makes her own clothes). Voila! A perfect cast of conveniently pigeon-hole-able characters.

3. Disjointed Mythologies! There are so many world mythologies, and it can be tempting to just pick one. Don’t do it! Use them all. Norse, Greek, Japanese, Judeo-Christian–jam them all together! But don’t bother synthesizing them into one coherent hybrid mythology. Are you kidding? That would be way too much effort.

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Ode to Midnight Feasts

Reading, glorious reading. Illustration by Jon Whitcomb

Reading, glorious reading.
Illustration by Jon Whitcomb

My friend and fellow writer Emmie Mears recently started a Facebook thread about beloved childhood books that quickly spiralled out of control. As soon as I thought I’d remembered all of my favorite books from my youth I thought of another cherished novel or series that had made an impression on me. The Chronicles of Narnia; Into the Land of the Unicorns; the Dark is Rising Series; Redwall; Harry Potter. Each remembrance filled me with a warm nostalgia for days spent curled up in the sunshine, lost in the thrilling pages of some new saga.  But with each new remembrance came a recognition of a thread winding through all these childhood favorites: food.

Yes, food. Midnight feasts in cloistered dormitories. Exultant banquets celebrating the return of the unvanquished hero. Small sweets shared as a token of blossoming friendship. Children’s books celebrate food almost incessantly. Think of your favorite childhood novel and I can almost guarantee that at one point or another the characters will share in some ceremonial exchange of food.

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Pleasure in Fear: The Horror Genre

I should not have googled "under bed scary." *hides under covers*

I should not have googled “under bed scary.”
*hides under covers*

When I was about eight, a babysitter (who had apparently not been briefed on my parents’ ban on all things violent and scary) told me a scary story at bedtime. It was a variation on a classic theme: a young girl is left home alone with no one but her faithful dog. She is woken in the middle of the night by the sound of a leaky tap in the bathroom, but is too frightened to get up and shut it off. She reaches down to her dog, who licks her hand in reassurance. She drifts off to sleep. When her parents arrive home the next day, they find their daughter murdered in her bed, and her faithful dog gutted and dripping in the shower. A cryptic message is scrawled across the wall in blood: Humans can lick too.

With the wisdom granted by adulthood, I can now see that there are some glaring inconsistencies in this story. For instance, why would the murderer slay the girl’s dog and then hide under her bed for an indeterminate amount of time? Was he hoping for the opportunity to lick her hand? Did the message hold some kind of significance for her parents, and if not, why bother writing it? Neither the cleverest nor the most original tale, I’m afraid. But despite all that, I can say with complete honesty that this story terrified me.

Scared. Me. Shitless.

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Onward! Upward!

A lovely sunny day on the Thames

A lovely sunny day on the Thames

Hello again! It has been quite a busy month, but I am happy to say that I am still alive and am ready to start blogging regularly once more! Furthermore, I am able to report that spring has officially sprung in London! Blue skies…tulips blooming in Regent’s Park…sunshine! O, frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!

Ahem. Dear me, I fear I’ve gotten a bit over-excited about the reappearance of that beamish substance known as sunshine. I’m afraid it has been a long, cold, wet, gray sort of winter here in Her Majesty’s England, and considering the fact that May is just around the corner, I think I’m entitled to a bit of childish glee when faced the with the prospect of short sleeves and bare feet. Pardon me while I take a moment to gyre and gimble in the wabe.

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Sea Change: How to Revise Out the Bad and Keep the Good

"Is this wheat, or chaff?" "It's cotton, stupid." Image courtesy of Winslow Homer.

“Is this wheat, or chaff?”
“It’s cotton, stupid.”
Image courtesy of Winslow Homer.

I will readily admit that revisions are extremely difficult for me. One of the things I dread most about finishing a project is the prospect of then having to begin revising it. It’s difficult for me to precisely identify what it is about revisions that bothers me so much; some times I feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of imperfect material that I have to slog through, while other times it’s a question of beating down my ego in order to recognize what is wheat and what is chaff, and how to separate the two.

Point is, revisions are not my favorite thing.

These pencils. In my eyes.

These pencils. In my eyes.

More often than not during the revisions process, I find myself staring at my manuscript until the black words marching across the page begin to swirl like ants being flushed down the toilet. I’ll force myself to tinker with a few sentences here and there, rearranging words without much confidence that any one phrase is better than another. And then I’ll give up, shuffling off to stab pencils into my eyes out of pure frustration.

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