Violin Recital: The Adrenaline, the Excitement, and the fact that it’s tomorrow

So a little life update. I’m having my first solo violin recital tomorrow. In translation–I’m going to play like 33 minutes of classical music onstage with just a pianist behind me instead of a symphony orchestra around me. The difference is akin to dueling versus being part of a Roman legion.

I’m balancing between “Everything will be fine!” and being a nervous wreck (If you’re wondering about the lack of posts lately, yes, this is why!).

I shouldn’t be. Following Plague Policy, there’s only going to be maybe a dozen people there. Some of this music I’ve had in my hands for–wow, has it really been a year? So no pressure, right?

Yeah. Right.

On the bright side, I’m playing two of my favorite pieces. The Baal Shem and “Meditation.” If you’ve ever been to a wedding, you probably know the second piece. Most people name it by saying, “Oh, you know, the “Da—da-da-da-da Daa-da,” and if you know it you probably had no trouble hearing the melody in your head just from that horrible little transcription. The Baal Shem is a piece that you can’t hum, but once you’ve heard it, you never forget. I’ve wanted to play it since, what, second semester of my freshman year in college? When my wee little hands didn’t have enough strength or technique in them yet.

I bought a new dress. I know, it’s something I almost never do. Orchestral attire is black. Solid black. Ask anyone in a symphony, and they’ll tell you how much of their closet is just black for concerts.

Except it’s just me this time. I don’t have to match. So I bought a floor-length dress. In green. Because I can.

Technically it’s slightly more than floor length, and to be honest, I’m a little nervous about tripping and falling flat on my face once I get onstage. Then again, I’d worry about that if I were wearing slacks. When I played in a production of Fiddler on the Roof, I didn’t fall off the ladder, didn’t trip dancing with Tevye–I found the one loose microphone cord trying to get up the stairs to the stage and almost went splat in front of the whole audience. Almost.

Everything is new about this concert, really. Even the concert hall is just a few years past its renovation (the acoustics, my love, the acoustics). And I’ll be playing on a new violin.

Okay, technically it’s old. But we’re new to each other. And I am falling a little in love. I could write a whole post about this violin, and I probably should. For now–the sound is subtle but strong when it needs to be. It looks ordinary until it’s under the stage lights, and then it shines like crystallized honey or sweet amber, like someone’s hair that looks brown until the sun hits it and you suddenly see red and gold and living fire. It has scars from getting bashed up years before it ever reached my hands. It’s a breath smaller than is typical and fits my hands just the way it should.

Oh. And the scroll is carved like a lion sticking out its tongue.

I love this violin.

I know I should just relax. Everything will be fine if I just relax. But when you want something so badly, sometimes it’s hard to remember to even breathe.

But not tomorrow. Tomorrow I will breathe. Tomorrow I’ll just stop thinking about everything new, everything that might go wrong. I’ll forget the violin isn’t actually part of me. I’ll stop caring so much if something goes awry. The house lights will go down, and I will play the music. I’ll fall into it, disappear, feel the notes in my fingers, in the ache of my shoulder, the pull of my wrist and nothing else will matter. Just the music. The singing, the screaming. The magic spilling out. I’ll be home.

That’s the plan, anyway.

Submitting a Short Story!/Random 1:00 a.m. Ramble

In Which Everything Goes Slightly Wrong…and slightly right, because it’s a Mad Hatter kind of day.

So here I was again, on the Writers of the Future page, all set to submit my short story for this quarter…

…with two minutes before the quarter ends, checking all the boxes and hoping AutoFill didn’t misspell my name and my formatting is correct because no time to check it now

And I missed it by one minute.

Ouch.

I don’t even have a good reason. The story was done. Sitting on my computer. I could have submitted it a week ago except I wanted to read it one more time.

So be it. The story would still be entered in the next quarter. That’s the nice thing about WOTF. There’s always a contest to enter, all the time.

Except–

The WOTF page was still reading 2nd Quarter, ends March 31. Right. 11:59, March 31.

Pacific Standard Time.

(Cue BookmarkedOne smashing her keyboard over to ask The Google what time it is in Hollywood. The Google says it’s 10:06 p.m., darling.)

I had two whole hours to submit the thing.

Adrenaline spike and everything, and I was two hours early?

I should be annoyed at my procrastination right now, but I’m just too happy to have gotten the story in on time.

Yeah, this probably isn’t going to be the last time I pinch it down to the last second.

But I feel good about this story. It was one of those things that just floated out, beginning to end (minus the 13 hours I spent locked in my room doing the draft edits and infinity-guessing everything). It’s too short, in my opinion, at 5,999 words. Usually I take about 16,000. It’s weird urban fantasy and I thought it was slightly bitter and sarcastic but both my alpha readers have raved about it and laughed (when did I get a sense of humor? That anyone else gets, I mean?).

I think it might be the one to place.

I hope. Maybe. Oh, I really hope.

How am I otherwise?

Passed a violin recital hearing. Somehow. Realized that “Love is finding someone who eats the stuff in trail mix you don’t” fits one of my WIP characters perfectly, but I don’t know if it should. In need of sleep. Eyes a little bloodshot. I broke my pair of five-year-old glasses yesterday and have been squinting vaguely at everything since. It’s been a while since I’ve done that. I’ve forgotten what the world looks like through a blur. How it feels not to have something perched on the bridge of my nose all the time, bruising slightly, hiding the pillow-sized dark circles under my eyes. It wouldn’t be so bad if my eyes didn’t feel like all moisture has fled to another continent.

(If anyone knows where I can get prescription steampunk goggles…I have a comments section. Please tell me. I’d phrase it more prettily, but I already mentioned what time of night it is here.)

I got the notification for 1,000 likes on my blog, so thank you everybody for making me realize I exist and I can write and telling me when you read things you like and just for loving books in general–because books.

Still thinking about doing a formal thank-you post to celebrate, but I’m not sure what to do it on…ideas, anybody? Books you want reviewed? Random stuff about me? Something in between? We’ll see.

And I’m putting Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera on my reading list because…that’s a thing. If it’s half as good as I think it’s going to be, well. I won’t be wasting my time.

‘Till then. Goodnight, everybody. May all your books bring you sweet dreams.

Tolkien Reading Day 2021!

All hail the Ring-bearer and the master of words who brought us all to Middle Earth.

It’s Tolkien Reading Day, everyone! So grab your nearest Hobbit, eat second breakfast, take a hike, and of course, start reading.

In case you are one of the many (like me) who has lamentably finished reading The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, here are a few less-read Tolkien titles to help you celebrate.

  • The Silmarillion. Essential reading for the Tolkien nerd at this point. In case you’re unaware, this is the master history of Middle Earth written in a lofty epic style, begun when Tolkien was fighting in World War I. The creation of our beloved universe. The mythology. The creation of Dwarves, guys! Canon adventures of the Lady Galadriel and Lord Elrond! And everyone has about six names each, so start your cheat sheet of who’s who early before you get Maedhros mixed up with Maglor. It’s worth the effort–more like dozens of epics packed into one.
  • The Fall of Gondolin, Beren and Lúthien, and The Children of Húrin. In case you’re not up to reading the entirety of Middle Earth’s history, there’s a three book set (illustrated by the exceptional hands of Alan Lee) of three stories, expanded. Beren and Lúthien is waiting for me on my bookshelf. In a sacred place of honor. Be jealous. It’s okay.
  • A Tolkien Miscellany. Selected stories, a few of Tom Bombadil’s adventures that didn’t make it into The Lord of the Rings, the essay On the Fairy Story, Frodo’s song, “Smith of Wootton Major,” and “The Shadow Man and the Shadow Bride” (which haunts me with its beauty to this day) and many others, all snug in an orange cover. Perfect for bedtime stories. Or maybe I have a strange idea of bedtime stories…more like the 1001 Nights.
  • The Story of Kullervo. Tolkien’s interpretation of a myth. If you liked The Children of Húrin, this should be perfect for you except written in gorgeous poetic verse. And if you haven’t heard of it, don’t be surprised! It was only published a few years ago! If you’re not into tragic stories…maybe skip this one in favor of something else.
  • The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún. Another myth. Personally I hate and love this one in a way that’s impossible to describe. Brace yourself–it’s amazing. Skaldic poetry. It burns and screams at you. And that means a lofty beauty so complete you have to do a double take about what’s happening (werewolves? Incest? Murder? More murder? Murder with flaming castles on top? Yes, that’s what we thought it was!). This was the book that had me reading aloud Old Norse just to feel the words on my tongue. And you can see threads of The Children of Húrin everywhere. Every hundred pages or so, expect do a “Hey, was that Odin just photobombing in the background?” like a Nordic “Where’s Waldo.” Oh yeah, and Attila the Hun is there.

I could go on, but you might just want to check The Tolkien Society’s list and descriptions without my (what’s the word? Fangirling? Obsessing?) commentary.

Here’s to Master Tolkien, weaver of worlds! And to the next favorite book!

Shadowhunters: City of Bones Page to Screen Review Part II

Rejoining our teenage monster-hunters for the first movie review on BookmarkedOne!

Catch up on the first part of the book review here, or just pretend you did and keep reading at your own risk of mild spoilers.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is PG-13 for mild language, fantasy action/violence, and suggestive content. Personally, I thought it was pretty mild for a PG-13, but that’s my humble opinion.

I’m not going to lie. I saw the trailer for The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones before I knew much about the book series, and the little voice in my head that keeps me alive by feeding me snippets of fantasy and adventure ideas like Cheerios to a three-year-old during a long and boring conversation started screaming This is awesome! And for once, I agreed.

Besides. It’s a Lily Collins movie. Who doesn’t like Lily Collins? And Aiden Turner plays Luke, so you know, just Edith Tolkien and Kili the Dwarf out to save the world.

I over-nerd myself. Back to topic at hand.

Sharpen your pitchforks, Literary Defenders. I liked the movie better than the book.

First off? Movie version Mrs. Fray is so awesome. She’s not some lovestruck teenager or overprotective mom, she is amazing. She practically killed a man with her refrigerator.

I love her. A lot.

And let’s not forget that in addition to getting the action with her that’s only alluded to in the book, we see an almost identical fight scene with Clary. I was totally geeking out over the similarities between the characters and how it connected them.

Speaking of Clary, she’s more likeable in the movie. I know, she’s not a 5′ ginger with freckles anymore, but she also doesn’t swear the other characters out. She still sasses her mom more than she deserves, but there’s a reason behind it. So she’s freaked out and confused when she lashes out rather than just obnoxious.

Jace isn’t a total jerk. Like he actually says “Nice to meet you,” to Clary’s friends instead of insulting them instantly.

Well, frankly he does that too, but some sass gets a free pass with me if it’s clever. Particularly if the character minds his manners the rest of the time.

But actually, most of the characters aren’t total jerks like they were in the book. Isabelle actually tries to protect Simon rather than being the “I told you so” person. Alec no longer has his “No thanks, love interest, I’m racist,” line, although we don’t solve the awkward age gap as someone hits on a minor…creep.

And while we’re on the subject of characters…

I sort of wanted to sit down in Dorothea’s parlor, have her read my fortune and give her a hug (Is that weird? That I want to adopt the “witch?”). She seemed more like “I’m just minding my own witchy business, please leave me alone” than in the book. And that’s something I can really, really relate to.

All the lengthy soliloquies of “Let me sing you the sad song of the Shadowhunters” that Jace & Co. did in the middle of fight scenes are gone. Stuff just happens and we run with it. Usually it’s annoying because screenwriters cut out all the gooey goodness in books…this one it improved. There is such a thing as too much exposition.

Everyone is a little less of a useless flirt. Don’t misunderstand. They’re still flirts. There are still (multiple) obligatory “Men-Who-Lost-Their-Shirts” scenes…and one man lacking pants. And the “oops I fell on top of my crush” (someone please, please kill this trope for me). But we’ve cut down on how much Clary and the others look at each other only in romantic terms, something that frankly drives me nuts in YA girl-narrated books.

I mean, it could happen with guy-narrated books too. I’m getting off topic.

The point is, you are more than what you look like. And when characters can’t describe or engage with each other without pointing out whether they’re “attractive” or not, it’s unhealthy. People are not objects.

Fight me on this. I’ll go down with it.

But there’s also a lot less overtly sexual language in the movie, and…actually, there’s very little foul language in the movie in general, which is a refreshing change.

Some of us just come for the murder.

The monsters…are about all I can take. I don’t know why, but I hate the gloopy latex monster thing. Star Wars was a living nightmare for me when I watched it as a kid. I saw the monsters in the iconic cantina scene and kind of started screaming. If I’d met the Ravener demon in Clary’s house…I’d probably have torched the whole building. Yikes.

Of course, after the Orc birthing in Peter Jackson’s version of Orthanc…I was somewhat prepared.

Didn’t mean I liked it.

A few other great things about the movie? I’m going through these on speed so I don’t get distracted again.

  • The witty lines are still there. And sometimes better! It was late when I watched it, so I laughed far too much at “They weren’t real cops.”
  • “A war that can never be won, but must always be fought.” Yes, please.
  • Cue me freaking out because Magnus Bane has a Hobbit door. I know, I know, I know–Asian culture uses moon bridges and round architecture because they have better taste than the rest of the world…but it’s still a Hobbit door.
  • The addition of one single line that makes the accidental incest-y romance subplot somewhat more resolved…and less weird.
  • And look what idiots figured out to take your whole crew with you to raid a vampire nest because…duh???
  • And now you’re thinking with portals!
  • Did I mention Bach makes a cameo appearance (screams in little violinist girl delight)? Because “You could run out of garlic, you can’t really run out of music.”
  • Or werewolves driving an abandoned school bus?
  • Or Isabelle getting a flamethrower? That’s my girl!

But speaking of Isabelle,

There is no awkward love quadrangle involving her. Frankly, it’s a relief. She has more freedom to be her own character that way, rather than as competition for Clary or whatever. Instead she just sort of adopts Simon as a pet. It’s kind of cute.

And there are a few brilliant things that weren’t in the book and really only work in film as an art itself. Like the swords to summon demons that appear as a pentangle only from directly above.

Clever. Very clever.

And we have to mention the iconic opening scene in Pandemonium, right? It’s visually delightful. Especially without Jace’s history lesson in the middle. And Clary freaks out, the way anyone would respond to seeing something like that in real life.

Okay, so I don’t get completely derailed analyzing all the little details of the actors’ performances…

A few negatives the film couldn’t fix:

There’s a lot the movie dodges. Like we don’t deal with Hodge…or the blatant racism of the Lightwood family. I know, two hour matinee, you can’t solve all the problems in the world, you’re not The Two Towers…but it bothers me a little. On the one hand, just don’t include it. It’s fine. But you should never ignore an ugly truth. I feel like that was one of the book’s greatest strengths, Clary coming face to face with what she’s taught and making up her mind for herself about what she knows is right.

And my biggest issue with both book and movie?

“All the stories are true.”

I’m probably going to devote an entire blog post on why this bothers me. It’s one of those lines that sounds great and really isn’t. Especially since it touches on real-world religions in a way that’s not…ideal.

Long story short. If all the stories are true, if anything you say is true, then nothing is. Because if nothing’s false, nothing’s true. Conflicts aren’t resolved when both opposing answers are right and nothing means anything anymore.

It’s kind of a big deal.

Of course, by now you might have caught my bluff. If I hated the book so much, why did I proceed to the movie? Why am I Googling Shadowhunter runes and contemplating whether or not I can struggle my way through more of their teenage quibbling to finish the story? Why bother?

Because I lied. Maybe even to myself.

There’s so much about this story that I do like. So much about it that’s beautiful.

So. Volume 1 of Shadowhunters, everyone. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go curl up in denial about whether I’m reading the rest of the series and ask Google if you really can use a refrigerator to shield an explosion. Because these are clearly the most important questions in life.

Matcha Tea

So as promised, here is my recipe for a matcha tea/latte, as requested by the lovely bloggers The Arbitrary Fairy and F.A. Eid. I know it’s been a while since I mentioned it in my Liebster Award post. I wanted to include pictures and I’m not all that fabulous with a camera. So here goes!

You will need:

  • Matcha powder
  • A bamboo whisk
  • A wide mug or small bowl
  • 8 oz. milk (heated)
  • Boiling water

A few notes:

  • Matcha powder is not the same as green tea. This is the sole ingredient that can’t be tweaked.
  • The type of mug/bowl is important. Whisking in a regular coffee mug won’t work because it’s too narrow to really mix in. You can use a cereal bowl or an oversized cappuccino mug with excellent results. Most mornings I use a handmade tea bowl:
The green stuff would be the matcha powder.
  • …which isn’t actually mine. It belongs to a loved one, but to be fair, one who doesn’t mind me using it and also doesn’t drink tea. I have been informed such bowls are named in traditional Asian tea houses, but apparently my skills lie in naming book characters, and not ceramics. I’m still just calling it a tea bowl.
  • If you don’t have a cute little bamboo whisk, you can try a regular one in a pinch or just a spoon and all the strength of your fury, but it won’t froth up as much. The bamboo whisk is what gives you the thick foam on the top.
  • Any type of milk is fine. I use almondmilk because I have a lactose-intolerant family member and the habit stuck. Oatmilk works too, but it tends to scald when heated. Probably a milk with higher fat content will make for a thicker latte, but I’ve never tried whole milk myself.

How to make it!

  • Boil water in a tea or coffeepot.
  • Scoop anywhere from 1/4 to 1 teaspoon of matcha powder into your tea bowl (depending on how thick and how caffeinated you want your brew. The powder I use has 8-12 mg. of caffeine per 1/4 teaspoon. In less mathematical terms, a 1 tsp. matcha brew = about half a cup of coffee).
  • Heat 8 oz. of milk until steaming (no need to boil)
  • Cover the bottom of your tea bowl and the matcha powder with the boiling water. Whisk together–it should be frothy on top. This is the part that keeps the matcha from clumping and staying at the bottom of the bowl.
  • Add milk.
  • Whisk again. Now it should be thick and foamy on top, like a latte (if using a bamboo whisk and enough milk).
  • That’s it!
Please ignore the fact that I didn’t whisk mine enough on this particular morning.

You can either pour your drink into a proper teacup/mug now, or drink it straight out of the tea bowl like a savage…which is what I typically do. I mean, the tea bowl is already so pretty…

I kind of love how the white streaks make it look like it has bones…and I can’t show textures in photos, but the glaze is almost rough on the outside so it grips your hand and doesn’t feel like you could drop it…

Anyway.

Matcha tea pairs well with Anpan (red bean buns), muffins, chocolate, strawberries, curry (the dish, not the spice), and pretty much anything else. It also has health benefits because it’s good for metabolism and sore muscles (to which I can attest as a violinist who practices to the point of shoulder aches) and a bunch of other things. And unlike other health teas, it doesn’t taste like boiled grass.

So happy tea drinking! And reading! Because what else are you going to do when you’re curled up with a mug of tea? Don’t burn your tongue.

Shadowhunters: City of Bones–Page to Screen Review Part I

Book: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Series: Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments, no. 1

Genre: YA urban fantasy/supernatural/romance

Content for the sensitive reader: Dirty jokes, plenty of mild to strong language, typical fantasy violence, heavy focus on characters’ appearances/body image, toxic relationships, fantasy racism, heavy flirtation/mild romance, witchcraft, vampires, werewolves, 3 total side character deaths.

BookmarkedOne Rating: 6/10

Audiobook narration: Mae Whitman, 9/10

VERY MILD SPOILERS: read at your own risk.

Let me start by saying I love the concept. There’s a hidden world you can’t see filled with all the monsters and heroes you always knew had to exist, brushing shoulders with you right this second. And sometimes, monsters and heroes are one and the same.

Or maybe it’s the aesthetic. The black hoods, the fingerless gloves, yellow taxis, runes, monsters, swords, and night air–the uncanny way it’s all so familiar, so much like the urban fantasy I’ve poured my life and soul into for the last three years.

Nuance.

The point is, I was really, really excited for this book. Yes, even if it is girl-meets-boy YA. Two of my least favorite things.

The book was…okay.

Alright, it was a little annoying. And maybe I should have taken the hint from the shirtless dude on the cover that this was going to be one of those books. I was too certain it was going to be the next best thing since peaches. But the concept was good!

And maybe it was a mistake for me to read Harry Potter? Because now I can see the similarities everywhere (though to be fair, since my urban fantasy is remarkably similar to TMI, maybe it’s coincidence)?

To explain City of Bones badly–a trio of racist Slytherins and your friendly werewolf help Clary Fray, the Girl Who Lived, leave the Muggle–erm, Mundie–world and defeat He Who Is Named for a Holiday (except they don’t) and the vestiges of a group of friends called the Circle (definitely not Death Eaters) who are desperate to have the Cup of Helga Hufflepuff (because if Sauron and Feanor taught this generation anything, it’s to covet jewelry and when that fails, cutlery). I mean, snap your fingers and say You’re a Wizard, Clary! She’s even got Lily Potter’s red hair.

To explain it properly…

…Well, maybe it is a lot like Potter in some respects, if for a clearly American YA audience. It’s got that same combination of the familiar and the strange for us fantasy dwellers. Standard features and new styles.

The plot is simple. Shadowhunters kill monsters. What’s a Shadowhunter? Well, they might be people with the blood of angels, based on one of the most painstakingly debated, brief, and mysterious verses in the Old Testament about the sons of angels and daughters of men–but please don’t get me started on that or we’ll have to go over why writing is not theology and why theologians are terrible, terrible writers (just as a warning, I’m probably going to write a whole post on this sooner or later because religious appropriation in fantasy drives me bonkers). It’s handled well enough, for what it’s worth. As a possibility, more than anything else.

My impressions?

I’d heard rumor Clary was dumb and irritating. So I was determined to like her. And I did! A little. I like that she’s super short and spunky and has freckles and acts like an ordinary teenager.

But…

I was a little surprised at first. The girl has zilch self-preservation. Witnesses a violent crime and barely shows fear. Maybe if you’re brave you’ll put your life on the line for someone you don’t know. But this was…almost illogical.

And I couldn’t help shaking my head at how much cheek she gave her mom in the opening. Maybe I’m overreacting, but if I’d ever given my mom that much disrespect and walked out, well, let’s just say I’d be lucky to have a home when I got back.

Still. She’s not dumb.

Then I got further into the book.

My final opinion? Clary is not of sub-par intelligence. She’s emotionally immature. Insensitive. Unobservant. Has a foul mouth (and is busily, if accidentally, teaching the homeschooled Shadowhunters how to swear). Sometimes annoying. But not stupid. I’ve met better protagonists, and I’ve met worse.

Then there are the other characters.

Alec, the selfish jerk. Isabelle, the flirt. Jace, the flirtatious, selfish jerk. And when I said they were racist, I wasn’t joking. It’s not prejudice as we know it, based on gender or race or ethnicity or culture or ideology or whatever. It’s Shadowhunters vs. Downworlders. Us vs. them, just with a different face.

I hated all three of these characters in a slightly different way.

I know, I know, you’re supposed to like Jace because he’s the cool one. Maybe that’s why I disliked him.

He talks too much. Like, seriously dude. If you’re that emotionally damaged, stop spilling your guts to everyone who didn’t ask. Whether or not we’re trying to give key exposition here.

But beyond that–girls, someone who has a traumatic past shouldn’t be your first choice as a romantic partner sheerly because you pity him. You can’t love him because of his issues because that isn’t who he is. Past does not define the future. You can love someone with emotional issues, absolutely. But you also need to be careful and make sure you know the real them before you wind up getting hurt yourself. People who have been abused react differently. That doesn’t make them automatically bad people. It just means you’re handling broken glass. It might be a mosaic one day, but it will still cut your hands if you don’t know where the sharp edges are.

Sorry. Toxic relationships in YA are a super pet peeve (am now taking recommendations for any YA books where the two main protagonists don’t end up as a couple. Because seriously. Bonus points if someone stays in a happy, healthy relationship from the beginning of the book until the end).

Long story short, I didn’t really understand why Clary liked Jace. Sure, he was nicer to her than the others, but he was still a jerk and said horribly mean things on purpose. It didn’t feel like a healthy relationship of any kind. And let’s not forget he’s an implied womanizer (cafe scene and smeared lipstick on the cheek, in case you forgot. Oh, and that line he says about girls, what was it? “Usually he wanted them, and then he wanted them to leave him alone.” Something like that). So any attraction between the two really meant–nothing. At least outwardly.

Then there’s Alec. Personally, I’m disappointed. I thought at first Alec was going to be the best character of them all–protecting the others, a little bit of a mother hen, but with the sort of camaraderie every book needs.

Instead, he turned out to be another two-dimensional love interest. No, he doesn’t do things because he cares about others. He protects people because he selfishly wants them for his own pleasure. Without the respect that you have to give individuals in real relationships to recognize their autonomy and personhood. Because of course we can’t have a character who does something just because it’s right and he doesn’t want anything in return. That’s not how the real world works, is it? Of course he has to be petty and selfish and every relationship has to be love or hate. He’s a jerk to Clary and she’s a jerk right back.

It’s disappointing.

And while we’re on the subject of things that bug me? “Gay” is not a character arc. It’s a characteristic. Especially when the character has no (satisfying) emotional arc from beginning to end. And it’s really disgusting that Clare writes in that characteristic like every other modern YA novel to prove it’s diverse–and then promptly makes it just something to be whispered about during girl time gossip. That’s not respectful to anyone involved.

What was that phrase I used earlier? Emotionally immature.

It’s also kind of sexist and objectifying towards the male characters. Oh, there’s still pressure on the girl characters, too. And apparently Clare’s verdict on “Can guys and girls be friends?” is a resounding no, because there are zilch platonic relationships in the book. Anywhere.

Oh, and apparently everyone is okay with a teenager being flirted with by someone at least twice his age? Dude, witch, warlock, or whatever, that’s creepy.

Really creepy.

Not to mention the fact that the teen’s response, rather than “Uh, he’s way too old for me,” or even a polite “I’m not interested,” is essentially “I’m racist, so that’s never going to happen.”

Now it’s beyond creepy.

Moving on from the creepy,

The things I liked about the book!

Luke was probably my favorite character. I would most likely read an entire book just of Luke. It’s compelling, it’s heartfelt, he struggles, and he rises above it all.

And the aesthetic is everything I could have hoped for. Weapons, runes, libraries–down to werewolves bringing you Chinese takeout. What is not to like?

And Simon. How happy am I that he manages to prove them all wrong, that ordinary people have a place in a magical world and their Shadowhunter racism is stupid?

Very, very happy. Honestly, I was worried. I thought Clary was going to dump him for her new friends and move on. Like MG protagonists having their parents die on page 4 without shedding a tear. What role could a “Mundie” possibly have?

Well, apparently a pretty big one. Because it doesn’t matter so much what as who you are. In any world. And that’s awesome. Anywhere you are. “It is our choices, Harry…” erm, never mind.

I could go on about imbalanced ratio of killing stuff to kissing and the ending that’s really not a satisfying ending, but I think you get the idea. I finished the book slightly disgusted with what might have been and hating YA every bit as much as usual.

Mae Whitman is lovely on the audiobook. I would be a serious ingrate if I didn’t mention that. Her voice is delightful, and she changes it just enough to fit each character. My faith in good audiobooks after the underwhelming performances of We Hunt the Flame is thankfully restored.

That being said, this rant is seriously long enough. So I’m going to save my thoughts on the 2013 film Shadowhunters: City of Bones for next time. Don’t worry. It gets better. I promise I’ve gotten most of my grumbling done now.

In the meantime, feel free to let me know what you think of the series. Is it worth it to keep reading? Think I’m being too harsh? Not harsh enough? Have no idea but want to say hi? Comment, my friends, comment below.

Happy reading!

The Sad Life of a Grammar Snob

So I’m workshopping short stories this week. I love workshops. I love the energy, the creative flow, the fresh perspectives you get from throwing writers together and saying “Go!”

The problem, you ask?

I’m kind of a horrible person.

You see, nice, ordinary people would read the stories and say “Wow! You made a thing! All by yourself! Out of the air! That’s like the coolest thing since the wheel!”

I, on the other hand, am screaming into a pillow.

What would I like to say about the stories?

Rubbish. It’s rubbish.

(A moment of silence here as we all fully appreciate why I blog under a pseudonym)

Do I say that? No. Of course not. Because I know what it’s like to put your creative work forward, how vulnerable and tender you feel, second, third, and fourth-guessing yourself at every gentle criticism.

There is no place for someone like me to say what I’m thinking.

Hence the internal tension. I’m trying not to flinch if I see a verb tense error I’m not supposed to be correcting.

Why am I such a jerk?

Because at the heart of it all, I just want the stories to be better. It’s because I know what good writing is, I’ve tasted its bliss like Greek ambrosia–and it’s not that difficult to reach. Just sit down at a typewriter and bleed (yes, thank you, Mr. Hemingway. You can go now). Everyone has stories inside of them. It’s just a matter of letting them out, polishing them until they gleam. It can be done. I can do it. Anyone can.

So what I really want to say when I sit down to workshop a story?

“It’s rubbish. Really, it’s total rubbish. But we can make it spectacular. It might be boring as a rock, but even rocks can have the blazing brilliance of a comet.”

Yeah. That’s what I want to say.

…except for the stories that blatantly haven’t been edited or proofread…at all. Those I’m back to screaming into a pillow about.

Need an intense alpha reader, anyone?

The Liebster Award

A titanic thank-you to The Arbitrary Fairy for tagging me in my first ever blog award!

I’m perhaps ridiculously pleased, but…I’m not even sure what a “Liebster” is.

So I Googled it.

I had a hunch it was German, like “lieblings” is favorite. Liebster translates as something closer to “darling” or “sweetheart.”

Makes sense. Sort of.

Anyway, before I let this entire post be taken over by my etymology habit, on to the tag!

Rule 1: Thank the Blogger Nominator

The Arbitrary Fairy! Go swamp her blog with likes and comments! Show some love!

Rule 2: Answer the 11 Questions

(cracks knuckles and adjusts spectacles)

What is your current favorite book/series and why?

…well, my favorite since–what, the summer of 2014 or something?–is The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I am a hopeless fantasy nerd and it is the best (ever). Hence the Tolkien-filled bookshelf on my home page, the obsession with Hobbits, and the preference for high epic fantasy. I love the characters, the brotherhood, the Shire, the scream-in-your-throat Two Towers suspense, the gorgeously long ending, the fandom–did I mention there’s also The Silmarillion? I will refrain from gushing too much because it would take a minimum of 5 posts to get through my adoration of the masterpiece…

…my precious.

What are your favorite genres to read and write?

Fantasy. High fantasy, urban fantasy–I really can’t bear to write anything else these days. This caused some friction when I took a creative writing class that wanted only “literary fiction,” which banned me from unicorns, cyborgs, dragons, and everything else that gives life flavor. Somehow I survived, but reached the tipping point that if I had to read one more literary fiction story set in a suburban kitchen where the only endings are pointless arguments or toxic relationships, I was going to scream.

Recently dipping my toes in science fiction, but it’s spilling out of my pen as science fantasy. I’m not too disappointed.

I read a lot of middle-grade fiction, if you consider that a genre, because I like kids’ fairytales. And occasionally historical fiction and classics (Any Oliver Twist fans out there? Just me?).

What is your favorite fandom?

Must I pick just one? The Lord of the Rings! The Silmarillion (some of their artwork is so incredible)! Harry Potter (their fandom is gigantic)! The Kingkiller Chronicle (when they’re not being super toxic and hateful because they want a third book)! The Phantom of the Opera! And most recently I am falling in love with all the beautiful Frankenstein things! But what I really love is when fandoms combine their efforts and suddenly we have fantastic and lovely new combinations. Like ComicCon group photos. Or Phantom of the Opera/Frankenstein combinations which I didn’t know I needed in my life…but really, really did.

Would you rather bring one of your characters to this world for a day or visit your favorite book world for a day?

Excuse me while I go rethink all my life choices.

I mean, instinct says I’d like to go spend a day in my writing because I could be with all my characters (and maybe they could spin a magic spell to let me stay). But there’s also such immense charm in confusing literally everyone on the planet by bringing one of my apprentice wizard friends here and pointing out the sights and getting ice cream and finding out what magic exists in everyday life and watching the sunset through new eyes and feeling so much less alone…

Okay, I confess this isn’t the first time I’ve considered either option.

Both is good!

What is your favorite kind of character to write or read about?

Oooh, this is tricky.

So reading first. I have a terrible weakness for snarky thieves like Scipio in The Thief Lord, Sage in The False Prince, Con in The Magic Thief.

But then I like characters who don’t admit who they are, even to themselves. Heroes with a little pain to them. Think Dustfinger in the Inkheart trilogy.

I like writing villains who get another chance, because we all need one. I like characters who pretend they don’t care about anything, who see the world blow up right after slipping out of their fingers and react with “Oh well, it is Tuesday.” People who have nothing to lose. People who know what matters most and will do anything, anything to keep it alive. People who are just slightly lost and out of place in the mad world we live in.

So…

All the characters. Give them all.

Do you prefer coffee or tea? (Or something else?)

Until about a year ago, the answer was neither. I was comfortably uninvolved in the Ageless War of Caffeine.

Now the answer is Matcha, which is technically a tea but also a latte. Creamy with milk and very green. I’ll post my recipe if anybody pokes me for it in the comments.

Also nostalgic for hot cocoa when it snows. With marshmallows. Of course.

Would you rather be really good at one specific talent or average at a wide variety of talents? Why?

Probably one specific talent. Just because I’d love to know how to fence and juggle and parkour and do better calligraphy, but in reality I only have two hands and a much narrower range of talents. Left hand holds my violin. Right hand gets the ink pen. If I could be awesome at both of them, well, I wouldn’t complain.

What is your passion in life?

…Do I…have to answer this? Do I only get one?

Do you have any “unusual” talents or hobbies?

Ha! Yes.

I am a Renaissance faire child! This is a hobby which involves costuming, road trips (during non-Plague times), funny accents, and sneaking up behind people to suddenly play a burst of violin music as befits the situation.

Yes. I am that bard that just appears behind you, grins, and disappears.

I have a growing pile of posts about my Ren faire adventures that never get enough love, so shameless plug for these. I mean, really. We put Deadpool in the stocks. I get to hang out with a band of sword-wielding mercenaries. I visited real castles (the acoustics, my love. Oh, the acoustics). We got “Year of the Plague” T-shirts with a steampunk plague doctor dragon design this year since we couldn’t meet in person. What’s not to love?

Would you rather live in a desert or a snowy region for the rest of your life?

Um. Probably snowy because I fell in love with mountains on road trips as a kid. Unless it’s a desert island? That would be cool.

Can you think of a movie adaptation that is better than the book?

…yes.

I hate to admit this, but yes. I liked both Howl’s Moving Castle and The Secret World of Arrietty better than the books. But not by like a gigantic landslide. The books were okay.

…and How to Train Your Dragon. I’m still having trouble understanding that the book series and film trilogy are related. At all.

But in 98% of other cases, the book is better.

Rule 3: Nominate eleven more bloggers for the award.

Liam Brodentel at The Lost Balloon Café (Maybe True, Mostly Metaphor is the best!)

F.A. Eid at drinkbooks.blog (one of the first people to actively read my little blog)

Leah Ning at leahning (writer of one of the best stories in the last WOTF anthology)

The Temperamental Writer at allthingstrivialandinsignificant (only recently discovered this blog, but it’s cheered me up on several drab afternoons now)

Shaina Frantz at The Beauty of a Story (another new one to me with a voice all her own)

Jessica at Lildonbro (book reviews and recipes? Overachiever!)

Callie at Not Another Costuming Blog (I know it’s not a book blog, but there was nothing in the rules about that. I checked.)

Nathan Slemp at The Library of Scales (because dragons)

Emily Thompson at Sorry I’m Booked (because books)

Kevin at KP’s Pages (because fantasy)

And Julie at One Book More (just because)

Rule 4: Ask your eleven nominated bloggers eleven questions

The Sacred Eleven! Written by someone who isn’t particularly nosy and hates answering too many questions! Ready, guys?

  1. What book/movie/pop culture thing do you recommend to everyone?
  2. What are you reading right now?
  3. What is the coolest thing about your blog?
  4. Why did you decide to start blogging?
  5. What random thing about yourself do you want to share (can you yodel? Do you hate polka dots? Did you once sail around the world)?
  6. Favorite travel destination (real or fictional)?
  7. What piece of wisdom did you once really need to hear?
  8. Where do you go when you need inspiration?
  9. What is the most beautiful place to you (your couch, a meadow under the stars, etc.)?
  10. What would you love to try (crochet! Yodeling! Sailing around the world!)?
  11. Favorite dessert (everyone should have at least one)?

And now that we’re done, go over and check out the Arbitrary Fairy’s Liebster Award post. Because it’s cool.

Until next time, happy reading!

Life, the Universe, and Everything Symposium 2021 (Part II)

What could possibly be better than sitting snuggled up in a warm sweater with a pile of pillows attending LTUE panels with my fellow nerds as fluffy snow covers everything outside?

Okay, maybe it didn’t have to be about -2° (about -18° for Ye Celsius Users) outside making my hands so dry that my knuckles bled…it kind of looked like I’d punched someone in the teeth…but that’s not the point.

The point is that I had a deeply awesome time.

It would be almost impossible to describe all the awesomeness, and I’ve already waited so long to write this post, so I’m just going to hit my favorite things and leave a tantalizing bit of mystery so you have to go find out what it’s like for yourself next year.

  • It was a three-day symposium.
  • Anything was possible. And I mean anything. From discussing WWII dogfighting to what crops to plant when there’s a war to the worst tropes to dodge in romance to women’s combat clothes to real-life magic and superstitions–for research, of course. I love that more than I can say. As soon as we say “This is for the craft of writing,” absolutely anything was on the table. Anything.
  • There were real experts on the panels. Geologists, war veterans, and I think an anthropologist in addition to writers of sci-fi and fantasy. Moral of the story? If you’re going to blow something up while wearing a corset, we will know if it’s not accurate. We will find you. Okay, just kidding. But the level of detail in these panels was deeply gorgeous.
  • It’s not just for writers! I know that’s somewhat obvious from the title, but LTUE is geared for writers, illustrators, and gamers. With different tracks and panels specialized for each.
  • You could pick any name you wanted on the Discord chats, so you know I went as bookmarkedone. And it was so refreshing (and amusing) that when questions were asked of the panels, they had to refer to us by whatever name we chose. As if we could be whoever we said we were. I love a bit of anonymity in my life.
  • The symposium ran from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday (or later if you went to Filk singing…and later still in my time zone). Solid panels the entire time. This was positively awesome because there was great content all day long. Except I didn’t quite have the capability to stay squirreled away in my hidey-hole 12 hours straight without someone coming to wonder where I’d gone.
  • The panels are up for an entire month after the event so attendees can rewatch anything they like. So the time machine wasn’t necessary after all so I could go to all the panels at once.
  • Did I mention I got to meet Jessica Day George? I know, I know, I haven’t reviewed any of her books on my blog yet. I have read them. And I was so thrilled there was actually an author I knew on the panels–she’s even more charming in person. I think she was knitting socks during one of the panels. I’m not sure it was possible to dislike her. And thanks to Creator Chats, I and 11 other lucky scamps who called dibs on an hour of her time got to ask her questions of our own. I feel better, thanks to her. That I really can do this great big tremendous overwhelming beautiful thing called being a published writer. Someday. Someday soon. So a big thank-you to her…in the 1/1000 chance she’s reading. You never know.
  • I love going to cons in person, but there were some pros to having it online. If I’m not going as a character or with a group, I tend to be pretty quiet. Absorb information. Assess the situation. Insert a wry comment as needed. There’s a certain freedom in being just a name online. I asked the panel questions and got them answered–something I’d most likely never have done in person. I found myself chatting with other attendees–and yes, I was responsible for more Lord of the Rings and Princess Bride allusions than I had any right to. Nobody stopped me.
  • Writers of the Future had a panel with Joni Labaqui and a few of the big names who judge the stories every year, so now I finally know what this deeply encouraging person who sends me emails every few months looks and sounds like.
  • I’m sure I already mentioned how comfortable and exciting it was to be back among my people again. The world of nerds is really the best place to live. Always. If there’s a way to make the impossible come to life, we’re the ones who will find it.
  • I know I’m forgetting more awesome things. Just guess something wildly fabulous in the comments and I’ll say if you’re right.

But despite all the things I loved about LTUE, there is a downside to all of it.

Now that I’ve gone and done all that and caught up a little on sleep and have softly drifted back down to earth…

…the only thing I want to do is write.

Life, the Universe and Everything 2021 (Writing Con!!!)

Okay, so Sunday I found out about this online con, and I’m freaking out a little bit because I know it’s going to be awesome.

I need to back up a little bit.

Life, the Universe and Everything Symposium is a convention for writers, artists, gamers, and filmmakers–storytellers of any type. And this year, due to Ye Olde Plague, it’s all online.

(quick moment of gratitude to Writers of the Future, GalaxyPress, and staff for the friendly note about it sent to all contest entrants. They are the best)

So a con I would never get to visit because it’s on the other side of the world, I now have a ticket to. And I can’t stop the giddy little girl voice in the back of my head from jumping up and down and screaming because it’s the first con of any type I’ve gotten to attend since traveling with my mercenary buddies as Resident Fiddler last…March?

Oh, my lovely nerd culture, I have missed you.

Even better, there’s “Filking” every night of the con, which to the best of my understanding, is fantasy/sci-fi bard/campfire music, and I am so here for that it was worth the price of my ticket alone.

Sorry. I’m really excited.

Did I mention Jessica Day George is on the panels?

The only downside is that everything looks so awesome I’ve picked at least 3 different things I want to attend every session…and I still don’t have a working duplicator or time machine.

I have discovered too much awesome.

Considering I was going to spend the weekend working, I’m not going to complain too loudly.

Unless, you know, somebody actually has that time machine.

Wish me luck! Blog posts to come when it’s all said and sung!

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