Saturday, July 2, 2016

IYWM Recap

It's been a while since I've blogged! Part of that was burn-out with all the bad news swirling around, so I needed to step back from the internet, and part of that was me keeping busy with other projects. I'll try to update this fairly regularly from now on.

the most photogenic building on campus

First, a recap from last weekend, when I attended the In Your Write Mind convention at Seton Hill University, my first time at IYWM after graduating last year. The best thing about the SHU writing community is the people. I got to catch up with friends, check in with mentors, and basically envelop myself in a creative bubble for a few days. More than half of my graduating cohort was in attendance, and the ones who couldn't make it were there in spirit, especially A.J. Culey, who sent us all wristbands commemorating her latest release, The Trouble with Antlers.

swag from A.J. Culey
Guests this year included two agents, an editor, and an author, all of whom presented seminars. It was great to hear their perspectives, especially during their collective panel. I even got to practice pitching my contemporary fantasy novel. The workshops were interesting overall, but my favorite was Timons Esaias's on Poetry for Writers. I think poetry and prose are seen as separate spheres by many writers, or at least get treated differently, but I feel that learning about one can only enhance my skill at the other.

tools of the trade
Other highlights included Seton Hill's gorgeous campus, especially beautiful in the sultry summer weather, and the town of Greensburg itself. This year's IYWM costume party was held in a restaurant that used to be a train station, which made for a very cool atmosphere.

Of course, my favorite part of going to conferences is always the books! At IYWM, I picked up Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley (courtesy of Diana Pho), Why Elephants No Longer Communicate in Greek by Timons Esaias, and Murder on St. Mark's Place by Victoria Thompson. Can't wait to dig into these.

Friday, March 18, 2016

FRIDAY FIVE: David Bowie Songs

My friend gave me a three-disc collection of David Bowie hits a few weeks ago, and it's pretty much all I've been listening to. In honor of that, here are five of my favorite Bowie songs.

"Space Oddity" - When I was in high school, my art teacher would sometimes put on music while we worked, but she played this song almost exclusively.

"Seven" - There's just something about songs about death, right?

"As the World Falls Down" - Labyrinth is so delightfully weird. How could I not love this one?

"Thursday's Child" - Because whose courage doesn't fall to their feet every once in a while?

"Heroes" - I've never seen Moulin Rouge, but I enjoy the soundtrack, and up until a few weeks ago, I had no idea this was an actual pre-MR song. "We could be heroes . . . "

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

What I'm Listening To: March '16

In the car: Swords and Scoundrels, Julia Knight
Goodreads synopsis: Two siblings.
Outcasts for life.... together.
What could possibly go wrong?

Vocho and Kacha are champion duelists: a brother and sister known for the finest swordplay in the city of Reyes. Or at least they used to be-until they were thrown out of the Duelist's Guild.

As a last resort, they turn reluctant highwaymen. But when they pick the wrong carriage to rob, their simple plans to win back fame and fortune go south fast.

After barely besting three armed men and a powerful magician, Vocho and Kacha make off with an immense locked chest. But the contents will bring them much more than they've bargained for when they find themselves embroiled in a dangerous plot to return an angry king to power....

For fun: Atlas Year One, Sleeping At Last
Favorite track: "Light" and "Saturn"

Singing about the stars is a sure-fire way to get me to listen to your album.

While writing: Far From the Madding Crowd soundtrack, Craig Armstrong
Favorite track: All of them? But if I had to pick, probably the love theme.

Friday, March 11, 2016


This edition of Friday Five brought to you by this week's celebration of International Women's Day as well as the current YA-reading kick I'm on. I tried not to repeat books I've put on other lists, but some I just love so much!

Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
This one's obvious. What first attracted me to Katniss was her introversion. She never seeks to make a spectacle. She never wants to fight. What she does--volunteering in the Hunger Games on Prim's behalf, becoming the Mockingjay--she does out of necessity. A lot of YA I read tends to portray its heroines as brash and angry and vocal about it, which is understandable since YA's main target audience, teenage girls, so often doesn't have a voice. But Katniss's strength is quiet, and I've always loved that.

Vanessa Dahl, The Engelsfors Trilogy (The Circle, Fire, and The Key), Sara B. Elfgren and Mats Strandberg
Oh, Vanessa. She's one of six heroines in The Engelsfors Trilogy, and while I love them all, Vanessa shines the brightest. She struggles with normal teenage worries in addition to having one-sixth of the fate of the world on her shoulders, but she still finds time to love her two-year-old brother, Melvin, and to forge a deep connection with fellow witch Linnea.

Susan Caraway, Stargirl, Jerry Spinelli
It's been so long since I've read this book, but it still sticks out in my mind as the one that made being different and feeling out of place less scary. Preferring to go by the name Stargirl, she marches to the beat of her own drum, one she's probably made herself. She loves flowers. She cheers for both teams at basketball games. She people watches in the mall and has a happy wagon she uses to keep track of good things that have happened throughout the day. Unencumbered by the normal social restrictions of high school, she doesn't really find a place there, but the point is that she doesn't feel she needs to.

Jo March, Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
Jo is the Lizzie Bennet of Little Women. Who doesn't want to be her? She lets her imagination run freely in order to entertain her sisters. She speaks her mind and goes after what she wants, even if that's moving away from the family she loves to pursue a career in writing. Although her healthy temper means lots of sisterly fights, she loves her sisters more than anything.

Sara Crew, A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett
It's been a while since I've read this one, too, but the thing about Sara that stands out in my mind is her eternal optimism. When she gets word that her father's died, she loses everything. She loses the only family she has left and all the privileges that came with his position, which means she's no longer Miss Minchin's student and is now a servant. And yet, despite this, with her friends at her side, she never loses hope.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


I first read Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre when I was fourteen and found it dreadfully boring. There's a whole middle section where the characters are happy! How is that exciting? So I put it down for three years, and when I picked it up again at seventeen with a new viewpoint, I was enthralled. The love story between Jane and Rochester was fascinating in its own way, but it was Jane who captured my heart.

Jane, who loomed so large in Charlotte's eyes that the book is named after her. Jane, who grows up feeling unloved and still has tremendous amounts of love to give away. Jane, who decides to work as a governess in order to experience life outside of the one she knew for ten years. Jane, who chooses morality over love. Jane, who finds she can't compromise her ideals. Jane, who learns to love herself and finds love in the process.

She is a wonder and a treasure. To this day, she remains one of my favorite characters ever written. We all want to be more like Lizzie Bennet, who is quick-witted in the face of insult and sure of herself, but in reality, I know I'm closer to Jane. I am not outspoken and lively, but I take comfort in relating to characters who, like Jane, have a quiet strength and a determination of spirit.

Friday, February 12, 2016

FRIDAY FIVE: Romantic Movies

I'm not a particularly romantic person, but I can appreciate romance in fiction, and in honor of the upcoming holiday, here are five of my favorite romantic films.

The Young Victoria
This is one of my favorite movies of all time, not just romances. Written by Downton Abbey's Julian Fellowes, this historical drama focuses on the early life of Queen Victoria, most notably her romance with her husband, Albert. Though the relationship starts out rather rocky, it soon blossoms into something lovely.

The Decoy Bride
My sister and I used to watch a ton of rom-coms in the late '90s and early '00s. Revisiting those can be hit or miss, so when I found this gem on Netflix a couple years ago, I was utterly delighted. When writer James Arber and his actress fiancee Lara Tyler venture to the remote Scottish island of Hegg to get married away from the prying eyes of paparazzi, James winds up accidentally marrying Hegg native Katie, who longs for a more exciting life than the island can offer. It's on the quirky side of rom-coms, but definitely worth the watch.

She's the Man
Is there anything greater than modern adaptations of Shakespeare (or Jane Austen)? Probably not. This is a high-school update of Twelfth Night, in which Viola's high school cuts the girls' soccer program, so she decides to impersonate her brother at his new private school just long enough to kick her ex-boyfriend's butt in their rival soccer match. And because this is Shakespeare, complications ensue. Viola falls for her roommate, Duke, who is in love with Olivia, who is crushing on Viola-as-Sebastian. It's kooky at times, but ultimately charming.

Sweet Land
This movie is so underrated. It's the story of Olaf, a Norwegian immigrant farmer in post-WWII America whose parents send him a bride named Inge. The only problem is she's German and hardly speaks any English. When there are complications in getting a marriage certificate, tension arises in the community over Inge's background. Like its title, this is a sweet story about love overcoming barriers.

North and South
What list of romantic movies would be complete without a Victorian novel? When Margaret Hale's minister father faces a crisis of conscience, he moves the family north to the industrial town of Milton. There, Margaret meets John Thornton, a mill owner. The two clash over their different ways of life, but it's soon apparent that they bring out the best in each other. It has shades of the central conflict in Pride and Prejudice, but Elizabeth Gaskell takes time to focus on the secondary conflict between mill owners and workers, lending a larger scope to the story.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

What I'm Listening To: February '16

In the car: The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Carrie Ryan
Goodreads Synopsis: In Mary's world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future—between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded by so much death?

For fun: Confident, Demi Lovato
Favorite track: "Lionheart"

What can I say? I'm a sucker for catchy pop songs.

While writing: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, John Williams
Favorite track: "Rey's Theme"

I've loved John Williams for about as long as I've loved Star Wars, so it's always a pleasure when he releases a new score.