Merry Christmas!  Just as a heads up, I’m starting to move things over to Yes, that was my Christmas present to me.  Starting over with a grown-up blog (and twitter account!) that actually reflect my name.  About time!

For YOU, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. I know I will. Be safe out there, folks!

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First Christmas-itis…

It’s December 23rd, and like most years, I’m a little nervous, and running a little late.  See, I like to make my Christmas presents—usually a necessity, considering I don’t have a lot of money and usually have a lot of yarn.  Or at least, yarn.  The problem with this is that I never start early enough, and I invariably forget someone extremely important to me.  I swear sometimes there are holes in my brain.  I’m sadly very, very good at missing the obvious sometimes.

So here I am, two days before Christmas… none of my Christmas cards are sent out, none of my gifties are done, and a couple of them are not yet even started. Gifts for my family also have not been sent. They’re sitting around the room, wrapped, but still definitely here in my apartment in Utah, rather than flying to their various locations elsewhere.

I don’t even have the gift I’m knitting for my husband done yet, and this stresses me out like none other.  Especially as I was particularly meaning for this to be a good Christmas for him, since it’s probably his first real Christmas in years, and he’s so very excited for it. (I am too, don’t get me wrong!)

So, excuse me if I run out of here and go work like mad to finish my presents up. I’m afraid that’s about all I’m going to get accomplished today, other than probably catching up on Vampire Diaries, because hey, at least I can do that while I knit.

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Emulating the Greats—plans for 2011

There’s a quote from Anne’s House of Dreams that has amused me since I read it.

The trouble with Mr. Howard is that he’s a leetle TOO clever. He thinks that he’s bound to live up to his cleverness, and that it’s smarter to thrash out some new way of getting to heaven than to go by the old track the common, ignorant folks is travelling.

This can be applied to the publishing world, too, I think.  There are some people out there (I know, because I’ve run into a few of them) who think that the book they’re writing is so clever, so ingenius, so new, that agents and publishers will fall at their feet with offers and contracts the moment it’s revealed.  There may be tips and tricks to learn how to write better and how to self-promote, etc, but they don’t need these things, because they’re already inalienably brilliant, and their brilliancy shines from the very first sentence of their very first query letter, etc.

I am not, nor ever have been of that school of thought.  Well, no, I lie… maybe I was when I first started writing at the age of twelve, but a friend glancing over my work and reading the first paragraph or two aloud to my intense mortification proved me otherwise.  For me, the mantra has always been learn as much as you can—read the best books, and now that it’s available, the best author blogs that you can.  Find out what they did, how they think, and what the publishing world has taught them, etc.

And okay, part of this is because I’m a fangirl. What? I am.  So when I find an author I’m intolerably excited about (like Maggie Stiefvater, for example) I go looking up their blogs and things.  In Maggie’s case, I stumbled on The Merry Sisters of Fate, a blog where she and Brenna Yavanoff and Tessa Gratton each write a short story a month, offering them up as free reads.  Maggie told me herself how much this has helped them all in their writing, and just recently posted on how going through the “complete process” of writing a story as often as possible has taught her so much.

I have to admit, free reads are something I’ve been interested in for a long time.  My dear Wren & Marnie were an experiment between free read and blog fiction, which sadly combusted in my face, and I’ve offered a short retelling of Rapunzel, with the intention of making it more of a habit, but always failing to do so.  I think, though, that this has been because there has never been a deadline, or a concrete goal in mind.  So now, I have one.  Well, maybe I should say we.

Starting in January, Isabelle Santiago and I are going to be posting weekly fiction at Tales From the Hollow Tree.  That means two stories by each of us each and every month.  This is going to be a big challenge for us, but something we’re really set on doing.  It will mean stretching out of our comfort zones in a lot of ways, but we’re going to have fun and play with short fiction as much as we can, and we’re very likely to be including alternate POVs or teasers from our WIPs (of course!)

I’m really, really excited about this, and so is Isabelle.  I just hope the Merry Sisters of Fate don’t hold it against us.  After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?  Right?

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Reading as a Profession.

Girl reading by Charles Edward Perugini

Girl reading by Charles Edward Perugini

Like most avid readers, I’ve had a dream since I was young to be able to read for a living.  Of course, anyone who really does read for a living knows it doesn’t quite look like the fantasy—which is lying around on a comfy chaise of some sort in the middle of a vast library of leather-bound books (or hot bestsellers, take your pick).  What it generally looks like, especially in today’s climate, is sitting in front of your computer a lot and skimming word files, and unless you’re lucky enough to be a book reviewer, those word files are probably only submissions, meaning that the quality of the work is not guaranteed.

I’ve known this for a while now.  In college I edited on a poetry magazine called Into the Teeth of the Wind.  The magazine is known for having a quirky, transitive sort of audience, so the poetry that came in to us really ranged from brilliant to outright drivel (or outright weird).  In fact, if anything has taught me to appreciate conciseness and good poetry, it would have to be the masses of extremely poor poetry that I read in my four years of college.  Reading bad poetry (along with some very good poetry, of course) really turned me into a better poet myself.

Reading submissions for other things is no more likely to mean particularly good reads.  Submissions for an online publishing house (or any publishing house, I would imagine) are just as likely to attract questionable writing as a small print-run college lit mag.  Does this mean reading a LOT of bad starts? Yes… it certainly does, but it also makes you appreciate the writing that is good, where the author has clearly honed their craft and done all they can to make the story the best it can be.  This is a great learning experience for me, too… because just as reading a lot of bad poetry made me a better poet, reading questionable writing can make me a better writer, because I can see in other people’s work the mistakes I might be making myself, and that’s a golden lesson if ever there was one.

So, reading as a profession isn’t quite the fantasy that it was for me as a kid… but as I’m starting out in this new journey, it’s certainly a fun and exciting thing for me.

Not that I plan on giving up on the massive TBR list I have stacked up, of course… To share a quote by a brilliant man…

“Read for pleasure. Never forget to read for pleasure.” – W.S. Merwin

~Lisa, who can’t wait until she’s a professional author and can write book purchases off of her taxes.  What?  You know that’s a sizable perk…

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Dear Emily…

I was going to write on a Christmas-y subject today, but I ran across something that reminded me of an Emily Dickinson poem, and now all I can think of is Dickinson, Dickinson, Dickinson, so that other post will have to wait.

The “something” I ran across was this fabulous quote by Willa Cather, arguably another extremely important woman in the wide scope of American literature, but someone I know considerably less about, and have never personally read:

The fact that I was a girl never damaged my ambitions to be a pope or an emperor.

My mind jumped immediately to what is possibly my favorite Emily Dickinson poem:

No matter — now — Sweet —
But when I’m Earl —
Won’t you wish you’d spoken
To that dull Girl?

Trivial a Word — just —
Trivial — a Smile —
But won’t you wish you’d spared one
When I’m Earl?

I shan’t need it — then —
Crests — will do —
Eagles on my Buckles —
On my Belt — too —

Ermine — my familiar Gown —
Say — Sweet — then
Won’t you wish you’d smiled — just —
Me upon?

— Emily Dickinson – # 704

So, in case you didn’t know this… in case you had the mistaken idea that Emily Dickinson was this depressed, lonely girl who did nothing but dress in white and lock herself up and hide away from the world… read that poem again.  Emily Dickinson was a rock star.  Her imagination had NO limitations, and she was pretty much one of the smartest people who ever lived. (It’s true… if you don’t understand one of her poems, go back and look EVERY word up in the dictionary, then you’ll want to cry because you’ll see how smart she is.)  She was also, obviously, not afraid of female empowerment, and writing freely about it.  Not that all of her poems are about her… that’s something you definitely don’t want to assume, especially when she writes about remembering being a young boy, etc. 😉

Okay, I know I fangirl weird things.  I do.  Emily Dickinson is NOT a normal thing for someone to fangirl.  A professor of mine my very first semester of college nipped me with the Dickinson Love bug, though, and there’s no coming back from that.

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This is my blogging face.

I think I’m going to take up the habit of early-morning blogging.  You must understand, I am far from an early-morning kind of person.  I’m more of a write-until-the-middle-of-the-night-when-you-have-no-choice-but-to-pass-out person, and that was all well and good when I was single, but I’m starting to understand that that gets in the way of Married Life.  (Or vice-versa, but bygones).

Meanwhile, one of the things Married Life entails is making sure Husband gets up in the morning, and making a lunch for him, because prior knowledge proves that he’ll simply go without eating otherwise, and considering he works unfortunately long hours some days, that’s not something I’m willing to let happen.

This means I’m starting to make the slow transition from Night Owl to Morning Person.  Or at least, Able-To-Wake-Up-In-The-Morning-And-Accomplish-Things Person.  This is not a first for me.  I took an LDS Seminary class that started at 6:00 when I was in high school, which I was fairly (excuse the pun) religious about attending, so I am at least familiar with the concept that the sun actually rises, and doesn’t just appear in the sky and slowly set every day.

Still, as various parental figures in my life would tell you, morning has never really been my strong suit.  In fact, most of my early-morning romps of late have ended up with me falling asleep around nine or eleven anyhow, which is slightly pathetic, but at least for the moment still true.  What? I’m an eight-hours-of-sleep kinda girl, and that’s hard to do when you go to bed at midnight and wake up at five.

I’m planning on using quiet early morning time for other things that I’ve been neglecting of late, too… like reading, for instance. And the actual Writing writing that I’m supposed to be doing.  Isabelle Santiago and I are going to really challenge ourselves and each other to get some things done by March (March?).  In my case, I plan on having a first draft finished—finally finally finished—of my YA Paranormal.

Now excuse me, I have jobs in Japan to apply to.

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2010 Year in Review

Apparently nothing grinds a blog (or writing in general, in fact) to a halt like planning and organizing a wedding.  I got married November 9th (hip hip hooray!) and am only just starting to get my routine back into place.  I’d like to say “back to normal,” but my husband and I are actually planning on going to Japan for a year… if I can find a teaching job there, that is.  Here’s hoping!

This year has been a tumultuous one, to say the least, but also one of the most eventful. Got engaged, got married, etc, etc…  the year is a bit of a blur, really, but it seems to have lasted a long time, too.  I’m just a bundle of clichés when I try to talk about it.  Suffice it to say that it’s been a good year, and I’m happy with how everything turned out.  Did I expect to be here a year ago today?  Not hardly… but when life happens, you can either let it, or hide from it, and I’m starting to think that giving in and not hiding from it anymore was a big part of my growing up this year.

As to other things… I’ve done pitifully at my 52 books challenge.  I have finished exactly a dozen books so far this year.  I have fairly good chances of finishing Anne of Ingleside before the year peters out, but that’s still a good 39 books short of my goal, and 40 less than last year.  I’ve been feeling the absence in my life, too.

The plan is to start online presences off a little fresh in 2011.  Tales From the Hollow Tree will be completely revamped, with a couple of extra staff members coming on board.  CinderLisaDesign, my alter ego, will finally be getting back to regular updates, too.  I’ll even be getting back to my tumblr, where I’m most likely to talk about any and all of the above in one place.

As to other plans… as I said, Japan.  Sadly I’ve missed a lot of deadlines, but I’ve worked up a CV, and I’m going to start sending it out as soon as possible.  It may be a bit insane, but we’re broke as broke right now anyhow, and when will we be able to do it in the future?  After we have kids and start a family? Not likely.  So we’re destination Japan. Wish us luck.


(I realize I’ve gone from writing “me” to “us”… I don’t know that this blog will stay that involved in my married life—not likely—but still… apologies, if  it’s thrown you off!)

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2009 in Review

2009 had more ups and downs than I knew what to do with, and that’s the truth.  I spent the end of 2008 through June of this year almost constantly on the move, and when I did settle down, it wasn’t in my  beloved California, but instead somewhere up in the Rocky Mountains, which… wasn’t entirely by choice, let’s leave it at that.

That being said, this has been a really good past six months for me—despite a few minor technological revolts and a couple of serious family trials since moving up here.  Suffice it to say that 2009 tore me to shreds and made confetti out of me—which hopefully means that 2010 will be celebration-worthy.

So, with a glass of sparkling cider raised to the new year, here’s a quick look back at 2009…

Really, this has been a very defining year for me.  This is the year that I took the initiative and learned how to bind books (a la the University of Youtube), which lead to a none-too-shabby Etsy shop (CinderLisaDesign) which has kept me afloat for most of my utterly jobless year.  I was already a devout crafter—I’ve been hooked on knitting and crochet since my freshman year of college—but as a writer, learning how to make books out of paper, fabric and string has been a profound experience for me.  My love for books in the printed format couldn’t help but spill over to my love for handsewn books.  I still have a lot to learn in the bookbinding arena, but even with my extreme lack of knowledge, I can say proudly that I am a bookbinder, and part of a slow revival of a dying art.  I’ve found the bookbinding community (yes, there is one) to be a fantastic group of people, also.  Like most crafters, they have been welcome and encouraging to even the most blunder of attempts to learn their arts.

Moving to Utah has been quite an eye-opener, also.  The town I live in is very small and very simple, and while it’s busy for a tiny town, it’s a far cry from Southern California.  And being a member of the LDS Church, I have to admit that I had a very clear idea in my head in what I might expect from “Utah Mormons”—of which the less said the better.  The members here have been fab people, though, and come through for me in a number of ways that I can’t even begin to list.

2009 was also the first year I hit my 50-books-in-a-year challenge—I even hit (and exceeded! Okay by one, but still!) a 52 books in 52 weeks challenge.  Considering that there were moments this year when I didn’t think I’d pass 3o books, that’s quite something.

This year my good friend Isabelle Santiago and I also started Tales From the Hollow Tree, a review blog for all things Young Adult fantasy, and while getting a post up every single week day just between the two of us has been a challenge at times, it’s also been a blast!  I’ve read a lot of great books, along with some less-great books, and learned a lot from our Thursday Myths & Legends 101 posts.

In more personal news, I can just say honestly that despite the insanity that’s circled around me this year (and I seem to draw it like a moth to the flame sometimes) I’ve been really happy this year.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s been a good year, but I’ve been happy in it, which is the most I could have asked for this year, I guess.

Honestly looking forward to 2010.  It has to be better than 2009, and I have high hopes, personally.


Have fun and be safe out there!

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Movie Review or Why You Should Watch Elvis & Anabelle

I had the delight of seeing this movie last week.  I admit, I picked it out out of pure curiosity. I had little to no idea what it was about, all I knew was that it had Blake Lively in it and she comes back to life on a mortician’s table.  I had half a dozen reactions to those spare scraps of information alone.  Blake Lively?  I’d only seen her in Gossip Girl and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and I admit while I love the former, I can’t stand her in the latter.

But I couldn’t help but be intrigued.  The names themselves are enough to catch your attention, but they’re not hard to believe as names, they simply hint towards a quirkiness that can’t help but be expanded by the the plot description.

Basically, Anabelle is a beauty contestant, vying for the illustrious title of Texas Rose, pushed towards it incessantly by her I-want-you-to-have-a-better-life mother (the almost-always brilliant Mary Steenberger) and possibly even more by her twelve-kinds-of-icky stepfather.  The constant pressure pays off as Anabelle is indeed crowned Miss Texas Rose—only to die of heart failure moments after being crowned, as a complication of an eating disorder.  She is then taken to the Moreau Funeral Home, reported as the best funeral home in the county, under the direction of Charlie Moreau.

In truth, Charlie hadn’t been embalming for years—the business was secretly kept up by his seventeen-year-old son, Elvis.  Elvis is not your average seventeen-year-old, as could probably be guessed by the work he does, but his life has been more shaped by the suicide of his mother when he was a child, and his father’s resulting decline in competence.  We learn later on in the film that Charlie (played magnificently by Joe Mantegna), who is a hunchback, has lost much of his mental capacity after being hit in the head by bottles thrown by town hooligans.

But back to the story.  Anabelle ends up in Elvis’ all-too-capable hands, and he can’t help but recognize the beauty queen.  Elvis has a habit of taking pictures of his “work,” the people he’s embalmed, but before he can so much as start on Anabelle, he’s captivated by her beauty.  In a moment of weakness that’s much less creepy than it reads here, he kisses her, and as he does he accidentally hits the flash of his set-up camera, which shocks Anabelle out of a deep, coma-like state of cardiac arrest.  Anabelle is then returned to her delighted parents—who don’t change their priorities for the girl, despite what she’s been through.  The media circuit that is a result of Anabelle’s seeming ressurrection (and that her parents are eagerly feeding into) is too much for her, and after a nightmare implying that Anabelle’s death obviously didn’t affect her parents at all, she finds herself running away in the middle of the night, fleeing to the one place no one would expect her to go—back to the funeral home where she came back to life.

Mainly, Anabelle is looking for answers.  She can’t remember—or understand the reason—behind her coming back to life. After Elvis discovers her on their property, he grudgingly lets her stick around for the night, but when she starts questioning Charlie—who the world of course believes was the one to witness her awakening—Elvis gets defensive and brusque with her.  Despite this, Anabelle simply can’t go home, and so she decides to stay at the funeral home, to disappear for a while, as it’s one place no one would ever think to look for her.

The two obviously end up spending time together then, but Elvis is decided early on that because she’s popular and pretty, she must be like the other popular kids in town, like the ones who got their kicks by tormenting his father, for example.  Anabelle is enchanted by the ever-sweet Charlie, though, and fairly irrepressibly cheerful and nice—until she gets ticked off by Elvis’ brooding negativity, and then she calls him out on it, which he can’t help but be impressed (and sort of amused) by.

Anabelle’s parents, meanwhile, have reported her as missing, and when a cop comes by the funeral home asking questions, Elvis agrees to drive her to a friend’s home a few cities away—but there is no friend, really, and the two end up simply roadtripping and enjoying themselves, throwing off all the burdens their parents have inadvertently (and sometimes not so inadvertently) lain on their shoulders, and growing closer as they do so, until something happens which has Anabelle running unhappily back to her parents, and eventually leads them both to the brink of drastic measures—only to be saved by each other in a lovely, serendipitous way.

Like I said, I really didn’t know what to expect going into this movie. I was considering that it might be something like a yuppie, updated, indie version of Harold and Maude, a lot of dark humor interspersed with a few extremely tender moments—and indeed, there’s a nod or two to that cult-classic in this film, which I can’t believe are unintentional.  Where Harold and Maude is a sort of celebration of the Weird, however, Elvis & Anabelle is a tribute to the simple triumphs of the human spirit, even under the worst of conditions.

Any reservations I may have once had about Blake Lively’s ability as an actress are quite honestly swept away, and her opposite, Max Minghella is officially on my to-be-watched list.  To be quite honest, though, the movie is worth watching if only for Joe Mantegna’s portrayal of Charlie.  I’ve been pretty much raised on Mantegna’s work—starting with the charmingly-smarmy contractor from The Money Pit way back when.  He’s always had a soft spot in my heart, and the sweet, childlike Charlie is played with such deft sincerity that I was literally in awe of his work.

This movie quite honestly broke my heart a good half-a-dozen times, but it’s not the dark, almost gothic tale I was expecting.  It has an overwhelming sweetness to it, despite some particularly dark themes, and the story feels very natural, despite some fantastical elements to it.  I really can’t recommend it highly enough.  If you can get your hands on it—and really, that’s a big if—don’t hesitate.

As a bonus, the music is fantastic.

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The reason why it always takes me forever to finish Jane Eyre.

His name is St. John Rivers.  Every. Darn. Time.

I admit, after having read this book four or five times, this shouldn’t surprise me.  The book is in stages.  The childhood stage.  The long and dreary Lowood School years.  Thornfield, Thornfield, wonderful Thornfield, and then…. St. John Rivers.  Sigh.

I understand that he’s a very important foil for Rochester.  He is everything good, and straight, and narrow, but also everything cold, hard and passionateless.  Actually, worse, he has passion, but denies it thoroughly.  St. John Rivers is exactly as unappealing as Charlotte Brontë ever could have wanted, and that’s a fact.  What’s also a fact is that it makes for slow reading.  Trudging, more like.

Don’t get me wrong, this is my favorite book in the history of books (or at least in the history of books I’ve read, which is a decent number for my four-and-score years) but St. John Rivers is a drag.  He just is.  He’s more cringe-worthy than Mr. Collins of Pride and Prejudice, because at least Eliza isn’t listening carefully to every word Mr. Collins says.

I suppose I could always skip over St. John… but I never do.  I just don’t roll that way.  And if I did I might miss his sisters who I do adore.  I honestly want to pluck him from the book sometimes, though.  He’s just so unenjoyable to read.  Though I suppose if he were gone, there’d be no one to save Jane from starving to death, would there?  And we can’t have that, so St. John will have to stay, no matter how much I whine and resist him.  Poor Rosamond Oliver.  He really must have been pretty for her to fall for him like that.

~Lisa, who has six more books to finish (this one included) before hitting her goal of 52 books in 52 weeks.  It may just happen this year!

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