Tag Archives: kidlit

Project: Bookshelf with Kylie Brien

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week, we are joined by Kylie Brien, a bookseller, writer, and fangirl with a serious addiction to buying books. 

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine

  • Genre: YA Gothic/pseudo-historical fantasy
  • Where I got it: Advanced reading copy sent to the bookstore
  • What I thought: You might not know this, but I have been praying for a Gothic, steampunk reimagining of The Phantom of the Opera with a little bit of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle thrown in. And that is exactly what Sarah Fine delivers. I loved this book. Very creepy, very visceral, very smart retelling.

Bloody Jack by LA Meyer

  • Genre: YA historical fiction
  • Where I got it: Free books from work!
  • What I Thought: Not sure how I haven’t read this book before, because it is everything I love. Voicey historical fiction with a smart ass protagonist who does the right thing in spite of thinking herself cowardly. Also cross dressing. And sass. Did I mention the sass?

And now, meet Kylie and her bookshelves! 

Working at a bookstore became the catalyst for a book-buying problem—well, some (i.e. my coworkers, family, and friends) would say problem. I say “I just really like books” and everyone else says “but Kylie, you have like fifty that you haven’t read.” Except for my dad who gently reminds me, “Kylie, you have to pay rent.” The most important thing here is that I don’t consider the entire bookshelf of unread books a problem. I think of it as an investment.

Bookshelf1

Everything on this bookshelf is unread.

I’m building towards having my own library one day when I’m a homeowner. I’m talking like a Beauty and the Beast style library that I will present as a grand gesture of love and friendship…to myself.

Beauty and the Beast

While I’m slowly plowing through my investments, I have a shelf full of read books that hold some of my favorites.

Bookshelf2

This is my shelf of read books and textbooks.

I’ve compiled a list of books I’ve loved that have made it from the unread shelf to the read shelf in the past year:

Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: This book is gorgeous. I want to live inside of this book. I have a grand plan to run away from home and join the Night Circus. I think I would make a good mime. I’d even help clean up after the lions or something.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami: This is the first Murakami book I’ve ever read and from it, I learned that I love his writing. I want to read anything and everything he has ever written. I just don’t want to run. Like ever.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak: This book is full of smart and funny stories. Reading this collection has solidified my giant crush on B.J. Novak. (No, but really, B.J. if you’re reading this: wanna take me on a date sometime?)

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell: Someone out there gets me and every other girl who spent the better part of her teenage years writing fanfiction at a time when fanfiction was still fanfiction and not—well, I’m sure you’ve all seen the Fifty Shades of Grey trailer by now.

Matilda by Roald Dahl: This book and every adaptation of it hold a special place in my heart. To this day whenever I eat cereal, I put on Send Me On My Way and try to use my mental powers to help me eat it. (It only works sometimes.) I just really relate to the voracious reader in Matilda but also, I want magic powers.

I highly recommend all of these books. Read them. Go. Go out and buy them right now—or if you don’t have an addiction to investing in books like I do, borrow them from your library. This option is probably better if you have to pay rent.

Kylie PhotoKylie M. Brien is a writer, reader, and bookseller who lives in Boston and has great aspirations to travel to Wonderland, Oz, and Hogwarts but settle down in Neverland (most likely she’ll be a pirate). You can follow her blog. And occasionally she tweets. 

Thanks for tuning in! Join us next Friday for more Project: Bookshelf.  Can’t wait that long? Visit the Project: Bookshelf archive.

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in which a giveaway winner is selected, and my book appears on goodreads

So first and foremost, THE GIVEAWAY! We had one last week, and I didn’t get a chance to pick the winner on Friday like I promised because I was on an uninhabited island seven miles off the coast of Maine1 where wifi was a fallacy. And when I did have wifi at the lighthouse2, I used it up staring dreamily at Goodreads.

Why was I staring dreamily at Goodreads, you might ask? That’s because in a few seconds of spotty wifi on Thursday, I got a Tweet from my friend McKelle:

WHAT!?

Race to Goodreads. Wait five minutes for it to load. Get error message. Run to other part of the island and thrust phone in air searching for bars. Find tiny amount of service. Type title into the Goodreads search bar with trembling fingers. Wait. Wait. Wait. Curse slow wifi with everything in me.

And then…what’s that?

goodreads 2  Is it?! It sort of looks like it is….

goodreads 3IT IS! My book is on Goodreads!

GoodreadsYou might be surprised to hear that after signing a book deal, almost nothing feels different. You still struggle through revision and self doubt and anxiety and plot quagmires and feel like throwing your laptop across the room most days. You still don’t feel like a Real Writer, let alone one with a Real Book Deal. But every once in a while, you get a few glorious moments of feeling like you’ve made it. Like this is actually happening, and your writing is more than just you and your keyboard and the voices in your head. Someone else is going to read this thing you wrote.

Seeing the Publisher’s Marketplace announcement was the first of these moments for me. The Goodreads page was the second. And man was it exciting to see3.

So all of my wifi this week was used up by me petting the Goodreads page for my book.

But here we are now, and so the giveaway!

The winner of Something Strange and Deadly and Heir of Fire is….

ARIEL T!

Congratulations! I hope you love them both, and I will be contacting you soon with more information.

More Project: Bookshelf is coming at you on Friday, as well as another giveaway. Stay tuned.

  1. All of these things are true.
  2. Yes, really, lighthouse. We stayed in a lighthouse.
  3. Slash also terrified because I am terrified of Goodreads. Once actual copies of my book are in the world, I am never again going anywhere near it. I’m going to have to hire someone (probably 14) to manage my Goodreads. And by manage, I mean copy and paste all the positive reviews into an email and send it to me.
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Project: Bookshelf with Anna Staniszewski

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week, Anna Staniszewski, queen of the quirky middle grade novel, joins us to celebrate the release of her new book, The Prank List, which is out nowAnna’s is a home with more bookshelves than people, one of which is a shrine to what I think is the greatest movie franchise of all time. Which movie? Read on to find out…

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

Lincoln’s Graverobbers by Steve Sheinkin

  • Genre: YA nonfiction
  • Where I got it: Won in a book design contest in one of my classes
  • What I thought: So if you know me at all, you know I am a sucker for stories from history that nobody ever tells. This is one of those stories. So cool, so interesting, and really well written and well presented. Fantastic read.

That’s it. Light reading week for me. So let’s not waste anymore time–here are Anna and her bookshelves! 

I’m generally a pretty organized person, but you would never know it by looking at my bookshelves. There is a bit of a method to the madness, though. This, for example, is my “teaching bookshelf.”

bookshelf 1

These are many of the books I use when teaching courses on writing and children’s literature (with a few titles from grad school thrown into the mix). The top shelf is my particular favorite because it’s full of books on the craft of writing. These are the books I come back to over and over if I find myself stuck with a project or in need of inspiration.
And here we have what I think of as the “owl shelf” (for obvious reasons).

bookshelf 2

It’s currently weighed down with many of the books I’ve picked up at conferences and other recent events. I’m hoping to make some serious progress with these books over the summer, much like Mackenzi’s bookshelf challenge!

Here is what I consider my “overflow shelf” since it’s the newest addition to our shelf family.

bookshelf 3

One section is dedicated entirely to picture books. (It bothers me that picture books are a totally different size from other books, so I like to put them on their own.) And below that is my “Polish shelf” which includes some of the books I grew up with. This one by Jerzy Ficowski (the title translates to A Branch from the Sun Tree) is a collection of Polish Gypsy folk tales that I was obsessed with when I was young.

bookshelf 4

You might have noticed some photos displayed in the middle of the bookcase. Those are collages that my husband and I made for our wedding a few years ago, so we could showcase some cute and embarrassing pictures of ourselves from when we were young. And in between them is one of my prized possessions: the award I received from the PEN New England Discovery Award committee back in 2009–the illustration was done by Lois Lowry!

bookshelf 5

Now we move on to what I’ve dubbed the “public bookshelf.” This one stands in our living room so we actually have to keep it in some kind of order.

bookshelf 6 (1)

It’s full of some of our prettiest books, and it also serves as a temporary dumping ground for library books, recently purchased books, etc. It’s also where I like to keep a stack of my own novels so that I can look at them sometimes and grin like a fool.

bookshelf 7

Finally, we have the messiest (but arguably the coolest) shelves in the whole house. These are full of books from years and years ago that my husband and I don’t read very much anymore, but on top of those shelves is pure gold.

bookshelf 8

Yes, that is a Lego Star Destroyer. It was a wedding present to ourselves, and my husband and I spent hours working on it. Above it is another prized possession–a Polish movie poster for The Empire Strikes Back that we received as a wedding gift.

bookshelf 9

And what Star Wars room would be complete without a Star Wars pop-up book? (And a Transformers one, for added fun.)

bookshelf 10

So to sum up: I’m messy with a purpose, I like to keep embarrassing photos of myself kicking around, and I’m a huge Star Wars nerd. Clearly, bookshelves reveal all!

Anna StaniszewskiBorn in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest book, The Prank List, releases on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at www.annastan.com.

Happy book release to Anna and The Prank List and thanks for checking out Project: Bookshelf!

prank list cover 2

Join us next Friday for more Project: Bookshelf.  Can’t wait that long? Visit the Project: Bookshelf archive.

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Project: Bookshelf with J. Anderson Coats

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week, we’re hosting J. Anderson Coats, whose book, The Wicked and the Just, should be on the reading list of everyone who loves historical fiction. Or Wales. What does she have on her bookshelf besides some creepy-ass candles? Read onto find out! 

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

Us Conductors by Sean Michaels

  • Genre: Adult historical fiction
  • Where I got it: Purchased for myself after the author did a reading at Porter Square Books, complete with a theremin demonstration by a local thereminist. What is a theremin, you ask? Aside from being the first electronic instrument and the subject of this novel, it is the weirdest music making device you will ever come across. You can find video here, and I encourage you to watch and be mystified.
  • What I thought: This book is stunning and haunting and I’m so glad I read it. The language is beautiful and poetic without ever feeling trite. However, like so many adult books in this genre, there are huge stretches of time where I felt like nothing was happening. It wasn’t happening beautifully, but I still got a little weary. It read very slow. But still highly recommended!

Marco Impossible by Hannah Moskowitz

  • Genre: Tween contemporary
  • Where I got it: Picked up during the great Simmons book grab of 2014
  • What I thought: While the emotional landscape of this book is impressive, there was too much going on. Too many characters. Too many emotional journeys. Too much wrapping up of those emotional journeys. In the end, it felt muddled, and the emotional impact was lost in the amount of it. Also the ending was so corny! Lots of over the top eye rolling was happening on my end.

Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde

  • Genre: YA fantasy
  • Where I got it: Snagged from the free books shelf at work
  • What I thought: This book is so funny! Contemporary fantasy in the style of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. And Jennifer Strange is much like her fictional sister, Thursday Next, in her unfailing practicality.

And now, meet J’s bookshelf! 

I’m a bookshelf decorator. As in, my home has a lot of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves to spare me needing to paint the walls a nice color or purchase art or really expend any effort whatsoever when it comes to decorating.

2014-6-2 Project Bookshelf #0 Decorating I2014-6-2 Project Bookshelf #0A Decorating II

I’m also a librarian by profession.

You’d think this would mean my books are organized in some way.

But they’re not. By and large, they’re organized in one of two ways: 1) order of acquisition; or 2) size.

2014-6-2 Project Bookshelf #1 Order of Acquisition2014-6-2 Project Bookshelf #2 Size

There are some exceptions. One of them is a small but growing collection of books by people I know*:

2014-6-2 Project Bookshelf #3 People I Know

*If I know you and your book isn’t here, it’s probably because I gifted it to someone. Please don’t throw things. :)

Another is a two-shelf unit across the hall from my bathroom known as the medieval bookshelf.

“Medieval bookshelf” is somewhat of a misnomer, as there are books about street ballads, historical artisans and craftspeople, and folklore that live there. But it is where all the books I use for research live, and they are organized by place and/or subject. Some of my most favorite things live here, notably a copy of Brut y Tywysogion (Welsh: Chronicle of the Princes) that came from Japan of all places and cost something like 17,000 yen.

2014-6-2 Project Bookshelf #4 Medieval Bookshelf

Another is my husband’s textbooks from back in 2006 that haven’t been read since but apparently have been legacied onto this shelf:

2014-6-2 Project Bookshelf #5 - Textbooks

(The creepy-as-hell candles need to be regifted STAT)

Also, here’s another legacy. When my son was little, he was allowed one shelf in the living room to keep whatever books he wanted so he didn’t have to keep running to his room to bring his favorites. He’s sixteen now, but this is what was left on the shelf from the last time it was used:

2014-6-2 Project Bookshelf #6 - Kid Shelf Legacy

(And yes, Skepticism and Animal Faith was placed there by him, at age ten or so.)

And here’s why we’re about due for another bookshelf:

2014-6-2 Project Bookshelf #7 - Overflow

Being surrounded by books is comforting, which is why I’m not keen to impose an order. They remind me of people I know, people I love, so it really doesn’t matter where they are as long as they’re easily at hand.

Coats - Author Photo 200J. Anderson Coats is the author of historical fiction for young adultsthat routinely includes too much violence, name-calling and pettyvandalism perpetrated by badly-behaved young people. Her first YA novel, THE WICKED AND THE JUST, was one of Kirkus’s Best Teen Books of 2012, a 2013 YALSA Best for Young Adults (BFYA) winner, and a School Library Journal Best Books of 2012 selection. It also won the 2013 Washington State Book Award for Young Adults. 

 Thanks for tuning in! Join us next Friday for more Project: Bookshelf.  Can’t wait that long? Visit the Project: Bookshelf archive.

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in which your book deal questions are answered

It has now been two weeks since my book sold. One week since I announced it to the wide world. In that week since, I have been reminded that I have both the best people in my life and am part of the best community. So thank you to all you friends and strangers who were excited for me and made my big news impossibly bigger.

In the last week, I’ve discovered that people have a lot of the same questions after you tell them you just sold a book. So I decided to compile my answers all in one convenient place. A book deal FAQ, as it were.

Hopefully all your questions are answered here, and if not, leave them in comments!

 

What’s your book called?

Apparently a lot of people missed this. It’s called THE SHADOW BOYS ARE BREAKING. This title is subject to change, as all titles are, but for now, this is it’s name.

 

Can I buy it now?

I know, I want it right now too! But alas—it doesn’t come out until next fall (as in 2015).

 

Ugh why does it take so long?!

Funnily enough, my book is actually coming out really fast in terms of a typical publishing timeline. Right now at my publishing job, we are working on books that won’t come out until 2017. Publishing takes a long time. Books are made up of a lot of pieces and it takes a lot of time for all those pieces to come together.

 

Speaking of your day job, are you going to quit it?

Aw that’s cute. In spite of Suzanne Collins and JK Rowling setting examples otherwise, not all children’s authors are rolling in the dough. Someday I would love to quit my day job and write full time, but today is not that day, because Boston is expensive and student loans are building at my back and I have to support my Diet Coke habit. So no, I’m not quitting my job, both for monetary reasons and because I really like my job. Jobs. Both of them.

 

What’s the cover going to look like?

I have no idea! Authors really don’t have control over that. But all of Katherine Tegen’s books have such lovely covers, I can’t imagine it will be anything less than extraordinary.

 

Um, why are you not publishing under your real name?

I’ve been a little surprised by how many people have been shocked and affronted over my decision to publish under a different name than the one that appears on my driver’s license. Turns out my last name has a lot of passionate defenders.

So here’s the deal about this—first of all, Mackenzi Lee is my real name. It is just my real name with the last bit hacked off. As previously discussed, my last name is long and intimidating, and after focus grouping it for over twenty years, I’ve discovered that most people’s initial reaction to my last name is panic. And I don’t want people panicking when they see the cover of my book. It is also very important to me as an author to be easy to find, and while many of you might think my last name is lovely and charming, try spelling it out in the nonexistent Goodreads search engine feature after only briefly glancing at it or hearing it said once in passing. I promise you will end up just banging your fist on the keyboard. That’s sometimes what I end up doing. So the dissection of my name is something I have thought long and hard about. It is not a snap decision. It was not decided by my agent or my editor or my publisher. It is not a rejection of my cultural heritage. It is instead a deliberate and well-thought out choice on my part in order to make me more easily accessible to the people who might someday read my book.

 

Wait, what happened to that other book you wrote?

What a good memory you have! So last summer, when I signed with my agent, it was not with this book. Back then, this book was only a few confused chapters saved in my file of ideas that might never get written. So yes, I did write another book before this one. It was about glass making in nineteenth-century Venice, and while I loved it dearly, and my agent loved it dearly, and even some editors loved it, it did not get published, and after sending it out to publishers for quite a while, it became time to, in the words of Elsa, let it go. There are so many factors that go into what books get published—it’s not always just which books are best—and for various reasons, this book did not get picked up. Maybe someday I’ll dig it back out and try again, but for now, it’s being left behind. Am I sad about this? Yeah, I guess, a little, but I also couldn’t have written SHADOW BOYS without writing that other book first.

 

So what’s book two going to be about?

It amuses and amazes me how many people have asked this. I’m too excited about book one (which is already written) to even think about book two (which is not). I don’t know what book two will be about. While I am definitely anxious about writing it, because I am a writer and thus plagued by irrational anxiety that I will never have another good idea again, I was calmed by wise words of encouragement from my agent: writing book two is like that scene in Harry Potter 3, where Harry knows he can conjure the patronus because he’s already done it before. So I am trying to be confident in my ability to conjure another patronus!

 

Is the whole world different now that you have a book deal?

You know, it really isn’t. True, I’ve been doing a lot of out-of-context grinning and some spontaneous dancing over the past two weeks, and probably will keep doing that for the next year and a half, but my life isn’t really that different than it was pre-book deal. It’s funny how things can change and still stay the same.

Have any other book deal questions? Leave them in comments! 

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Project: Bookshelf with Amitha Knight

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week, we’re joined by Amitha Knight, a fellow Boston-area kidlit writer and Susan Bloom Discovery Award winner! She’s here to tell us about her bookshelves, and one special book that stands out. 

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine

  • Genre: YA historical fantasy
  • Where I got it: Thieved. But I won’t tell you from where.
  • What I Thought: Oh this one started out so strong. The writing and the setting are so, so pretty, but pretty isn’t everything. It lost steam about halfway through, and the plot drags, with too much of it is packed into the last eighty pages.

Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne

  • Genre: Middle Grade Steampunk
  • Where I got it: ARC picked up from the bookstore
  • What I thought: I think my expectations were too high for this one, because it did absolutely nothing for me. Unobjectionable writing, but I had zero emotional investment in anything that happened. The world was underdeveloped, characters were flat, and there was none of the imaginative charm factor I was hoping for. The prettiest thing about this book is the cover.

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

  • Genre: YA fantasy
  • Where I got it: Purchased for myself to complete the trilogy
  • What I thought: I really love this series, and while this wasn’t technically a bad ending, it just left me sort of unfulfilled. So much of what could have been done….wasn’t. Argh. I’m beginning to think there’s no such thing as a good way to end a series.

Guys, I am in such a reading slump! I am not liking anything I have picked up recently!

….And on that vaguely depressing note, meet Amitha and her bookshelf! 

We have several bookshelves in our house: my writing/research bookshelf in my office, my kids’ bookshelves in their rooms, a scifi shelf, and not to mention the growing pile of books at my bedside table. But our largest bookshelves sit in our living room, where we can see them, admire them, and be appalled at what a haphazard arrangement of books it is.

Amithasbookshelf

Once upon a time, our bookshelves were organized by author with a few categories separated out (my books from India that don’t have barcodes, his scifi collection, and my rapidly growing children’s literature collection), because my husband, the son of a former librarian, downloaded a program that allowed us to scan in our books and organize them. So we had all our books in order and cataloged on the computer…

…And then we moved. In our haste to unpack and feel moved in, we thought we’d just empty the books onto our shelves and then reorganize them later. That was a few years ago now and of course, “later” still hasn’t happened. Ah well.

Dragon

As far as the books themselves, I go to a lot of book signings and have numerous signed books from children’s authors (Shannon Hale, Gene Luen Yang, and Neil Gaiman, to name a few of the more famous ones), but one of the books I love the most is a book I tracked down and bought used online: a copy of The Secret Garden. This book isn’t particularly valuable (and I was dismayed to discover that it is abridged), however this specific edition has a lot of sentimental value.

Secret Garden

The Secret Garden was one of my favorite novels as a child almost certainly because I fell in love with this specific book cover. I remember checking this book out from the library and thinking it was one of the most beautiful books I’d ever held. Obviously, I had to return the book, but for a few years afterward, whenever I went to a bookstore I would look for this specific edition of The Secret Garden, just to see if it was just as pretty as I’d remembered. Many years later, I tracked it down online. Interestingly, the thing that had fascinated me the most—the sundial—was actually on the back of the cover, when in my mind it had been embossed in gold and on the front of the book, instead of the girl. While the actual cover (which is still lovely) isn’t as amazing as my memory of the cover, just looking at it brings back one of my very favorite reading memories of rocking in our backyard hammock over summer vacation and being so caught up in this story that I never wanted to put it down. Little kid me would be so excited to know that I found this book. Grown up me thinks it’s pretty cool too.

broAmitha Knight is a full-timer writer, a doctor, and a mother of two. She was named a winner of the 2012 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award and received a Letter of Merit for her writing from the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in 2011.  If you’re interested in children’s author signings, she maintains a calendar of events for the Boston area (also on Facebook). Follow her: Twitter / Google Plus /Goodreads

 

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Project: Bookshelf with Heather Marie

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week, we’re joined by the fabulous Heather Marie whose novel, THE GATEWAY THROUGH WHICH THEY CAME, comes out this August from Curiosity Quills Press. She is here to share with us the story of a hard-won bookshelf and the volumes that populate it.

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

  • Genre: YA Zombie Post-Apocalyptic
  • Where I got it: A graduation gift from the MT
  • What I thought: This book, sadly, didn’t work for me. It was by no means a bad book, and I thought the zombie world building was excellent, but overall the characters didn’t resonate and their emotional arcs peaked too fast for me.

This was a light reading week for me. Some other things happened and I was distracted, plus the new job has me reading a lot of manuscripts at work, leaving me not wanting to read when I got home from work. I promise I will do better!  

And now, meet Heather and her bookshelf!  

I’ve always dreamed of having a room filled to the brim with books. Over the years I’ve collected hundreds of them, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t seem to hold onto them. Either I didn’t have the space, or I was moving for the hundredth time and had to donate them to local stores and friends. It always made me incredibly sad parting with them, especially when I’d become so dependent on the comfort they brought me. There’s something about the colorful spines with their elegant script. The beautiful covers that you could stare at for hours. I love the feel of the pages between my fingertips, and the crisp sound of the paper with each turn of the page. But most of all, I love plucking a book off the shelf, curling into a ball on the couch, and absorbing its words until the late hours of the night.

I’ve moved so much these last few years, which meant my book collection suffered dramatically. I went from two mini bookshelves, to none. Then I went from several boxes  stuffed into storage, to only a few with the books I couldn’t part with. As time went on, I told myself that I’d build my collection again. I begged and hoped someone would help me purchase another bookcase to display all the wonderful books that meant so much to me.

I knew I couldn’t afford a bookshelf. It was never something I’ve been able to fit into my tight budget. But last Christmas brought me the best gift, when my adorable husband went out and got me the perfect bookshelf. I nearly cried when I saw it. It came in this huge box and weighed a ton. I sat next to it all night and silently hoped we would head home soon to assemble it. No one in the room knew how attached I’d become to this gift, or maybe they did. I certainly didn’t hide my excitment. By the time we got home, which was pretty late, he asked if I needed help and I said no. For whatever reason, I wanted to put it together on my own. So I did.

photo 2 (3)

It took me all night.

When it was done, I dragged all the boxes out from storage and sorted the books on the shelves in no particular order. It didn’t matter to me where and why, it just needed to be.

When I stepped back and observed, my heart danced in my chest. I wanted to hug my arms around it and never let go. It was much taller than I thought, which meant more books! There was so much space needing to be filled, and there still is. But at the time, I knew it wasn’t complete until I added one particular book.

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver was a book I read in high school. It stuck with me all these years. There were times when I couldn’t even remember the title, and I’d find myself on the Internet scouring Google in hopes of finding it. And when I finally came across it, I promised myself I would buy it as soon as I could. But I never did.

Last year, out of the blue, I stumbled upon the book on the For Sale shelf at Tower Records. It was so random. In fact, I was struggling so much at the time financially, that I couldn’t even afford the sale price. My husband could see on my face how much the book meant, and, you guessed it, he bought it for me.

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I haven’t read this book since that first time in my 12th grade English class. And to be honest, I don’t even think I need to. I think we all have a book like this. Something we’ve read that changed us so much. Something that made you feel like nothing you’ve ever read before. A part of me thinks that reading it again will change the way it made me feel all those years ago, and all the years after. It’s something I don’t ever want to lose; that feeling of overwhelming emotion that one single book has brought to me.

I don’t know. Maybe someday I’ll read it again. Maybe to myself when I’m all alone and needing that comfort, or maybe to my future children when they’re ready. But, to me, just having it on my new bookshelf is enough for now. And maybe it always will be.

Heather-AuthorPhotos-3-WEBSIZEHeather Marie lives in Northern California with her husband, and spends the majority of her time at home reading. Before she followed her dreams of becoming a writer, Heather worked as a hairstylist and makeup artist for several years. Although she enjoyed the artistic aspect of it all, nothing quite quenched her creative side like the telling of a good story. When the day had come for her to make a choice, she left behind her promising career to start another, and never looked back. Visit her online on her website, Facebook, Goodreads, or Twitter

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Project: Bookshelf with Katja Nelson

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week, I’ve got my good friend and fellow writer Katja Nelson telling us about the war on her bookshelves. 

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

  • Genre: Young adult historical fantasy
  • Where I got it: I bought it as my admission ticket to see Sir Terry himself speak in New York City two years ago. As a result, it is signed. It’s one of my favorite books I own for that reason, but it’s sort of perpetually sat on my to-read list.
  • What I thought: This book was so great. Sir Terry’s trademark humor and heart, mixed with some great historical Easter eggs and some wonderfully imaginative additions. So great.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

  • Genre: Adult fiction
  • Where I got it: It was a “thank you” gift for being a World Book Night giver
  • What I thought: I aggressively disliked this book. Partly because I just expected it to be better from one of the Arrested Development writers. I did not laugh once in this whole book. I found no emotional connection in it. The characters were all annoying and I despised them. Especially the teenagers. Has this woman ever been around a real teenager? Ugh. I get it’s a satire but….no. This book just made me angry.

And now, meet Katja and her bookshelf! 

The books on my shelves are at war.

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See? It’s a showdown between children’s fiction and literary fiction. I’ve got Karen Russell’s Pulitzer-Prize Honor novel Swamplandia! locked in battle with Kate DiCamillo’s Newberry-winning Tale of Despereaux. And Bruce Coville’s Into the Land of the Unicorns hovering uneasily over Grapes of Wrath and Moby Dick. There’s The Illiad duking it out with The Westing Game, Don Quixote against The Golden Compass, Ironweed versus The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

All my life they’ve been at war. Growing up, I read children’s fiction nonstop, especially fantasy (I think children’s fantasy is very different from genre fantasy, and I like it much more than genre fantasy). I loved stories that glimmered like dwarf-made metal and shimmered like fairy dust. (I was especially fond of unicorns). But because there weren’t any fantasy stories at home, I’d bring home scores of them from the library (the books in Bruce Coville’s Magic Shop series were some of my favorites). In fourth grade, my dad gave me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone over Christmas, and I loved that book so hard I had read it ten times until I could read the second one. It was everything in one book that I loved: unicorns, magic, orphans, dreams. And it was funny too! I became a Potter evangelist. To everyone in my class I unashamedly testified of The Boy Who Lived. (I still do this, which is probably why I somehow ended up with three copies of it.)

The stuff ten-year-old me was writing was a reflection of my reading habits. There were a lotof unicorns in my books, along with plenty of magic and hordes of orphans with hitherto-unknown special powers. There were attics with secrets, and dreams that were more than dreams, and also some elements of Cardcaptors tossed in for good measure.

Like other kids who love reading, I often had to be sneaky, for fear some grown-up would pounce on me and command me to “make myself useful” or “go outside and play.” I learned to feel guilty about spending my time reading. (I also learned that people are more hesitant to interrupt you if you read in the bathroom.) (I’m pretty sure this is why the bathroom is my favorite room in the house.) But my guilt about reading was compound by my parents’ well-meaning nagging about reading The Classics—by which, of course, they meant boring, non-fantastical tomes that felt heavy and plodding and old, filled with dust and American wars and shabby clothes. But I didn’t want to read about kids whose lives were grim and sad and poor and rarely funny. I remember my mom suggesting I read Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, and I got about a chapter in before I became so utterly bored that I did that thing I’d seen on TV, where the reader hides one book behind the other, like so. (I’m almost positive that my mom was not fooled by this.)

And I kept up all that fantasy reading and fantasy writing and fantasy evangelizing until high school, when I finally did what my parents had been telling me to do for years: I traded in my Weird Fantasy Books That I Should Be Slightly Embarrassed to Be Seen With for Socially Acceptable and Academically Impressive Classic Novels. And I stopped writing fantasy.

But they weren’t bad, those SAAICNs. In fact, I was surprised by their beauty. I was surprised by how much they resonated with me. I enjoyed some of them so much that I even started buyingthem (with a combined feeling of intellectual superiority and Benedict Arnold-ish guilt). But if anything, the classics made me less of a socially acceptable person, because now I had all these crazy ideas about relationships and religion and the nature of the human experience, all topics that made me not so fun at parties.

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My English major made me worse. I read a lot of literary fiction there—the only acceptable sort of literature inside the academy. But those books were beautiful too. And because I was reading literary fiction and writing literary criticism about it, I fell deeply in love with language, which meant feeling betrayed and fascinated by its slipperiness, by the necessity and impossibility of meaning-making. But I also felt that I was doing a good thing, reading Real Literature and writing literary criticism about it, instead of wasting my time with children’s books. Even though I was learning to question the literary canon, to ask what assumptions we’re making when we call some books Great Works of Art and others Merely Popular Scum That Is Undeserving of Our Attention and Will Never Stand the Test of Time, still I felt that I was finally making good use of my wordsy mind, that I was making my parents proud by studying The Classics. The decision to pursue an MA instead of an MFA partly grew out of feeling that writing literary criticism about literary fiction was superior, career-wise, to writing children’s fantasy. Children’s fantasy was something I could savor as a guilty pleasure, but not something I could take seriously, intellectually or vocationally.

And then, the summer before I started my MA, when I suddenly had oodles of time in the evenings after work, I realized something was missing from my life. Yep, it was fantasy! I missed kid characters. I missed unicorns, and magic, and orphans, and dreams. I missed the lightheartedness of fantasy, its playfulness. So I went back to my local library. And I checked out armfuls of kidlit. And I started to read it again. And then I started to write it.

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It’s only now that I’ve started buying children’s books again that I know I’m finally taking children’s literature seriously again. Because now instead of only books that are the very most upstanding Classic Novels, there are more children’s books. There’s the Harry Potter shelf, of course—the nucleus, the heart of my book life. But there’s also Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina and Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy and Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

In my own circuitous way, my writing, my life, has been improved by my meandering path through fantasy and literary fiction. My time with literary fiction has changed the way I see kidlit. I treasure its linguistic economy. I see now what’s at stake in children’s fantasy. I see what’s important about battling dragons. I’ve been There and Back Again, and I think both kinds of books are essential. Both do irreplaceable work. They teach me to love better. They teach me to be honest, kind, and brave. They teach me about dark times and about hope. East of Eden taught me about agency; The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles taught me about creativity.

So it’s not a war on my shelves. It’s not even a truce. It’s a freaking love fest.

nelson{e}_59 (1)Katja Nelson is a writing and rhetoric teacher at Brigham Young University, where she is pursuing her MA in English Literature. Her favorite Muppets are Kermit, Beaker, and the Swedish Chef.

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Project: Bookshelf with Amy Garvey

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week, we’re hearing from Amy Garvey, whose book, Cold Kiss, knocked my socks off and you should all read it immediately. I am so excited to have her on the blog! But prepare yourself–she has a rather tragic tale of books loved and lost. 

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

  • Genre: Young adult post apocalyptic
  • Where I got it: It is on long-term loan from a friend  who rescued it from a box of homeless books
  • What I thought: This book was excellent. The landscape of the novel is unbelievably detailed and imaginative. I have not had this much world building envy since Scorpio Races. While this book definitely had its issues, they paled in comparison to how complete and real and gorgeously gritty the world of this book was. Love.

The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Cavern by S. S. Taylor

  • Genre: Middle grade adventure
  • Where I got it: Purchased when the author and illustrator did a signing at my former bookstore
  • What I thought: In spite of the fact that this might be the most beautifully designed book I own, the story itself was not as pretty as the packaging. While this was by no means a terrible book, I think I was just too old for it. Ten year old me would have loved this, but adult me could not suspend my disbelief far enough to swallow it. Also there was 100% more cursing in this book than any other middle grade I’ve ver read. So that’s something.

Jackaby by William Ritter

  • Genre: Young adult historical fantasy
  • Where I got it: Picked up from a box of ARCs at work. Sadly for you, this book doesn’t come out until September.
  • What I thought: Why did I read this book? Well it was pitched as Sherlock Holmes meets Doctor Who so……it’s elementary, really. This book was so charming, witty, and a very clever play on genre while still being it’s own thing. I really loved it. I took a bit of issue with the end, and with our narrator as the central character, and the romance (just leave it out!!!!), but in general it was so much fun. An essential read for Conan Doyle fans.

Blackwood by Gwenda Bond

  • Genre: Young adult urban fantasy
  • Where I got it: Once upon a time I read queries for a literary agent, and she sent me this book as a thank you.
  • What I thought: While the premise of this book is dynamite, I hate to say I quit after one hundred pages because I could not get over how unrealistic everyone’s reactions were. About fifty pages in, our main character’s father is brutally murdered. That night, she is giggling over this boy and almost kissing him in his driveway. Um, nope. Life’s too short to read a book you are just not buying, and I could not get over that.

And now, meet Amy and her bookshelf!

I don’t remember life without books. One of my mother’s favorite stories to tell is of me sitting on the plastic potty she used for toilet training—with a stack of picture books on the floor beside me. I don’t doubt this, although I’m glad there’s no photographic evidence. In elementary school, I was that girl, the one who came to the dinner table still reading, the one who knew exactly when the Scholastic Book Fair was scheduled, the one who volunteered in the school library during recess. I inherited a lot of my mom’s books, well-worn copies of the Nancy Drew mysteries and Black Beauty and The Five Little Peppers and Little Women, and my daughter shelves are now full of my copies of the Little House books, among lots of others.

My point is this, I guess. If someone asked me what my interior decorating style is, the best answer would probably be “books,” with a subcategory of “furniture upon which to read books.” I’ve had more than one mover look at my boxes of books with something like true despair. I’m the kind of person who likes to go to the bag sale at the library and come home with multiple bags. Being a writer has always justified the purchase of any book—one day, I could be writing about a 17th century parlor, so The Illustrated Guide to Furniture Through the Years was clearly an essential book to own, am I right?

But over the years, I have accumulated some other stuff—kids, for one, who come with their own array of paraphernalia. Suddenly making room for an entire wall of IKEA shelving takes a back seat to finding a place for said kids’ to sleep and play and store their toys (and books).  Culling became a necessity. A painful, time-consuming necessity, but a necessity nonetheless.

A few years ago we moved, and a lot of books ended up in in boxes in storage. I had chosen the absolute essential books to keep in the house—things like my Chicago Manual of Style and my childhood copy of Little Women, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and The Big Book of Dates—as well as books I hadn’t read yet, because I figured this was a good time to give them a little love.

And it worked! I read a whole slew of books I had bought on impulse and had never gotten around to reading, although I also bought more new and used books, because…well, because that’s what I do. I slept soundly at night knowing that the rest of my books were waiting for the day I would have the chance to display them all again.

Then I discovered that many of the boxed books had suffered water damage. Hundreds of books were moldy and swollen into monstrous Hulk versions of themselves. And I was soon a raging Hulk version of myself, frantically trying to salvage whatever I could. The survivors weren’t anywhere near as many as I wanted.

full shelf, Amy GThe bookshelf I use today is another IKEA special, a big black rectangle of cubes that holds everything but the currently-reading pile next to my bed and a collection of mass market paperback favorites that live in a hand-me-down bookcase in the hall. I don’t know if it’s the cubes or my own tendency to compartmentalize, but my shelving system is unique. I have all of my poetry (and biographies of women poets and writers) in one cube, and all of my books on writing in another or reading in another. There are two cubes for YA books (one paperback, one hardcover), a cube for graphic novels and anything oversized, and a cube Harry Potter shares with vintage children’s books. And every one of these cubes is double-shelved—that is, there are two rows of books in each, and sometimes books laid on top of the rows. I’m not even going to get into what’s on my Kindle. The cube with the wicker basket is winter gloves and hats, because I figure everyone needs a little room to grow.

One of my favorite cubes is where the books I’ve written live, and even some of those are missing—foreign editions of some of my romances, a copy of the first romance I wrote, which I published under a pseudonym, and the first volume of a YA series I wrote a long time ago through a book packager. When I’m sitting at my desk, I can turn around and seen them at eye level, more or less, and they’re an important reminder of not only what I’ve done, but of what a lifetime of reading and writing has meant to me.

my shelf, Amy GI’m learning to live without books I loved—my collection of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley mysteries, for instance, which would have been perfect to loan to my mom, and a bunch of older contemporary novels that were never bestsellers were true favorites, like Summer by Lisa Grunwald and Points of Light by Linda Gray Sexton. It’s harder to deal with my mom’s copies of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights being gone—they were oversized hardbound editions with woodcut illustrations by Fritz Eichenberg, and when I was a kid I pored over them for hours. Those are books I’d like to find again someday, simply because the books themselves were so beautiful, even though I have the text version of both books on my Kindle.

All of which is a long way of saying that time and the water damage disaster have taught me a few things about my books. One, books are, for the most part, replaceable. The text of them, anyway. Two, particular editions of specific books can sometimes mean something more, like the faded paperback copy of Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs which I’ve had since I was about twelve. I don’t really believe there’s any truth to astrology anymore, but picking up that book with its cracked spine and dog-eared pages takes me right back to junior high, when I was certain I could figure out everyone in my life if I just knew their birthdays.

Does that make it less a book and more a memento? I don’t think it matters. Some of my books are for reading and reference, and some of my books are a window into another time, when hardbound copies of Grimm’s Fairy Tales were something my mom actually used in her second-grade classroom. What I’m trying to do now is create my ideal bookshelf, even though it means buying new copies of books I loved but don’t have anymore, the ones I can’t stop thinking about. It also means giving books I’ve never read or won’t read again a new home when I can, possibly because I’ve seen Toy Story 3 too many times. No book should sit on a shelf forever unread and unloved, right?

I think one of the moments when I knew I had actually grown up (well, sort of) was when I realized that I wasn’t going to desperately adore every book that crossed my path. It makes the ones I can’t part with that much more beloved.

ImageAmy Garvey is the author of nine novels for kids and adults, including Cold Kiss from HarperTeen, as well as essays, novellas, and some bad poetry she doesn’t let anyone else read. If you run into her, she’ll probably be reading something. You can find her on Twitter, and on Tumblr.  

 Thanks for tuning in, and be sure to join us next Friday for more Project: Bookshelf! 

 

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in which some big things happen

I’ve had this post saved in my drafts for about a week labeled “Things I Should Probably Talk About.” Because I am often really good at writing about the weird little stories of no consequence that happen to me, but not always great at hitting the big things, and these last few weeks were chock full of big things.

So here are a few that I felt were worth talking about:

Big Thing #1: I finished my MFA!

Two weeks ago last Friday, I donned a funny looking hat, a wrinkled robe1 and a shroudy hoodish thing that made me feel a bit like a sorcerer, piled into a bus with four thousand of my closest friends and drove to the Bank of America Pavilion which, it turns out, is a terrible place to host anything when it is even remotely cold, and oh man, was it cold. Rainy and grey and the wind off the water was merciless. At one point, the girl I was sitting next to and I realized we could actually see our breath. In May. It was a cold, cold place to be forced to sit still on uncomfortable folding chairs for two hours while name after endless name was read off.

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But in spite of sounding very negative about the whole affair, it was a good time. Graduation ceremonies are a bit silly if you think about them too hard, mostly because of all the pomp and circumstance, but every time I’ve gone to one, I’ve had a genuine moment of pride and coolness when I got to walk up on stage, hear my name read, and get the little fake diploma. So overall the day was enjoyable. And my lovely family came in from Utah for the occasion, so I got to be with them. And, true to our usual classy selves, while everyone else went out to nice fancy dinners afterwards at places with multiple forks and cloth napkins, we went to my favorite eccentric diner and ordered a cookie sheet of onion rings.

So I’m now a master. I expect you all to refer to me as such from now on.

Big Thing #2: We went to Maine!

After a day of graduation and another of doing Boston things3, my family and I packed up our rental car and drove up to Bar Harbor, Maine, where we spent a very enjoyable week doing enjoyable and Maine-ish things, like hiking in Acadia, riding on boats, and tearing apart lobsters with our bare hands2. Maine was lovely and quiet and not anywhere near as cold as graduation, so we spent our time overdressed and marveling at how easy it was to breathe when the hiking trails are level and at a low elevation4.

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Maine was impossibly lovely, and after a rather arduous two years of graduate school, I really enjoyed a week of doing little to nothing that required any brain power5.

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Big Thing #3: I got a new job!

Okay, job is a relative term. It is an internship. But not just any internship. My dream internship, an internship I have been chasing and applying for over and over basically since I got to Boston. At last, they either got sick of reading my resume or decided I was actually maybe worth considering, because they hired me. I am over the moon about this news, and I feel really lucky to be putting my children’s lit knowledge to use so quickly after graduating from school.

And speaking of children’s lit things…

Big Thing #4: The PEN-New England Susan Bloom Discovery Award Night!

So as you may remember, a few months ago I went nuts with excitement over being one of the winners of the PEN-New England Susan Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award. Last week, there was an official awards ceremony, at which I was invited to read from my winning manuscript. And guys, it was amazing. I polled some friends who came to see if it was actually really that awesome or if I was biased because I was one of the guests of honor, but the general consensus seemed to be that it was genuinely awesome. It was amazing to be surrounded by so many people who were enthusiastic about children’s literature and me as a writer and my possible contribution to the field.

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Myself, Rebecca, and Pamela, this year’s three discoveries.

Everyone deserves the experience of being shepherded around a room full of witty, intelligent people who all tell you how much they love the art you are creating and the things you are doing, which was basically what the whole night was for me. Everyone also deserves the chance to be introduced by someone you really admire and hear them say nice things about your work, which I was also lucky enough to have happen when Lois Lowry introduced me and my manuscript. I did my best to not freak out when this happened.

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Miss Lowry and myself

After Lois’s very generous introduction, parts of which I am considering getting tattooed on my forehead, I got to read from my manuscript6. I am pleased to report that I did not lose my place, drop a page, say “Ingolstadt7” wrong, or pronounce “Frankenstein” the way they do in Young Frankenstein, which I was worried might happen since the MT and I spent the whole week in Maine quoting Young Frankenstein in honor of my impending reading. Then there was a lovely Q&A, where I got to talk very fast8 about Mary Shelley and how cool she was and about the Danny Boyle production of Frankenstein that inspired the whole thing9. And then I ate cookies and talked to more amazing people and showed off my Frankenstein tights and basically just had an amazing night. It was a fairly once in a lifetime experience that I will treasure and carry with me as a badge of courage as I go forward with my writing career.

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Rebecca, Susan (form whom the award is named), Cathie (head of the Simmons program) and me.

And those are the big things worth noting that have happened over the past few weeks. It’s been rather eventful here at Chateau de Lee, and I have enjoyed very much having a few weeks of good news and fun things. I’m bracing myself for real life to set back in again.

 

  1. Because some genius had the idea of making our gowns eco-friendly by crafting them out of recycled plastic bottles, meaning they couldn’t be ironed or else they would melt. To which I say, “A plague upon environmentalism!”
  2. The MT and I got very into naming the lobsters we met/ate. Or maybe that was just me and the MT indulged me. Whatever the case, over the course of the trip we met/ate Aloysius, Randall, Gob the Lob, Buster Bluth (because he was missing a claw), katniss, and Hannibal (because, it turns out, lobsters are cannibals).
  3. Such as treason, living free or dying, and protesting intolerable acts.
  4. Upon completing a particular hike, we were greeted by a sign boasting that we were now 520 feet above sea level. The Utahans, who live their lives at four thousand feet above sea level, were unimpressed.
  5. Though this doing nothing was interrupted by some strange and unexpected distractions, when I shall discuss in big thing number 3…
  6. This is the post modern revisionist steampunk Frankenstein book I have talked about a little bit here. In case you were wondering.
  7. Far and away the hardest and most German word in the manuscript.
  8. “Fast” meaning both briefly and at break neck speed, which I often do when I am nervous or excited, and I was definitely both.
  9. I also very nearly got set up on a date with Benedict Cumberbatch. Really.
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