Thursday, October 11, 2018

THE CRYSTAL TREE by Imogen Elvis // Five Stars

Note: I was given a digital review copy of THE CRYSTAL TREE by the author.

First things first, I am so late in getting this review up. Even though I haven’t marked it on Goodreads yet (I am also way behind on updating my Goodreads), I finished reading THE CRYSTAL TREE, by Imogen Elvis, more than a month ago. I’ve been in the process of moving for the past several months, but now that I have the chance to sit and catch my breath, it’s time to take care of everything I’ve been neglecting.

Imogen Elvis is a great person. I feel like I can’t launch into a review of her book without first talking about her. Normally, I know, book reviews shouldn’t be personal. At least, that’s a rule I try to follow, but it’s more for when I’m writing a one star review, in order to keep myself from saying something mean. This is totally different. I like Imogen a whole lot. If you haven’t read her blog yet, you should do that. She is always sweet and kind, and though she hasn't posted in a while, all her old content is great. She’s one of the people who makes the blogging community feel less like a sterile nothingness, a place where you scream into the void, and more like a home, where people listen. So when I saw that she wanted reviewers for her novel, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

One of the first things I noticed about THE CRYSTAL TREE is that it has a similar feel to the Great Tree of Avalon books by T. A. Barron that I read growing up (I guess they’re now just known as the Merlin series). It made me nostalgic and cozy, like I was diving back into the safest parts of my childhood. Maybe I’m weird, but any book that makes me want to reread my favorite books is a good book.

I think one of the issues I have with knowing an author to any degree is that I see them as more immediately human, which means I expect them to be nicer to their characters. It’s kind of like, but I knew that serial killer, he was a great guy—how could he be a serial killer? Not going to lie, Imogen definitely surprised me here. She doesn’t pull her punches (not that I’m complaining, except WHY IMOGEN, WHY? You know what you did). So while Imogen is not a serial killer, I think maybe I should take her characters away from her and put them somewhere safe, at least for a while.

Of course, this review wouldn’t be complete without at least a mention of the magic system. Normally, I’m not a huge magic person, because most magic systems feel stale at this point, like people keep using and reusing the same concept. The magic in THE CRYSTAL TREE is refreshingly different, at least to what I’ve read. The idea of song as a means of working magic? The idea that we all have a life song that someone else can interact with and/or manipulate? Sign me up. It is vivid, beautiful and, at times, frightening. It fills the book with urgency and depth. The main character, Briar, can heal people with her song, which is super cool, but I especially loved her limitations and how they affect her.

And finally, at the risk of sounding spoilery, I like how sometimes the girl saves the guy. That one hundred percent earns you points in my mind.

If THE CRYSTAL TREE is any indication, Imogen has great potential as an author, and I am excited to see what she’ll do next. But I’ll stop talking now so you can go read her book.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Stale Coffee

Note: Long story short, I’ve been extra busy over the past couple weeks, traveling and getting ready to move. So instead of writing a fresh post for you coffee beans, I’m pulling one from the wasteland of half-finished pieces I’ve had knocking around in my Out of Coffee, Out of Mind Scrivener file for ages (call it stale coffee). I wrote this one over a year ago, when I was working for my former church under my second boss there. (I guess you will have to wait a little longer to read posts from Liz, the new-and-improved edition.) If it’s got a couple typos here and there, I apologize. I’m trying to edit, but for whatever reason, after drinking less than a cup of coffee, I can barely see straight. Also, it’s summer, but my apartment has been so cold, even with a blanket and a hoodie, I’ve somehow managed to catch a chill. Call me bulletproof. But yeah, I wanted to get this post up for you today because I won’t have another full day off until Thursday.

Here I am, in line at Starbucks. I’ve just finished work at the church, where my hours have been rearranged so I have more time off on Sundays. This is a big deal. Until recently, Sundays were one of the hardest days for me; I was on my feet, go-go-going from six in the morning till nine or ten at night. Mondays tended to suffer as a result. Having chronic pain makes stuff like that difficult for me, so this is a load off my shoulders. Anyway, I’m waiting in line, patient and peaceful. If I were Todd in THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO, my noise would be quiet.

I want to buy a sandwich, order some coffee, sit down and write. I have ideas and almost-ideas swirling through my brain. If I can get them down, it will make my afternoon.


Yeah, the woman in front of me is one of those people who never quite got past that toddler stage—you know, the one where you’re the center of the world and people don’t exist when you’re not interacting with them. Technically she’s in line ahead of me. Like, she’s not ordering, but she’s close enough to the counter that I would feel rude jumping in front of her. She’s taking her sweet time reading the nutrition facts, the ingredients, the wrinkles in the bread, for crying out loud, on every single sandwich in the case. It’s getting old, but I’m still pretty chill. Waiting in line is one of my superpowers. *puffs chest*

Finally, FINALLY, she chooses a protein box and pounces on the poor barista. I start to breathe a sigh of relief. Now that she’s ordering, I won’t have to stand here much longer. Those chairs are looking so comfy.

Nope. Nopety nope nope nope. She starts her order off with, “This is going to be complicated.” Let me tell you, she was not lying. The barista is great, though. He interacts with her intelligently as she gives the most complicated coffee order I have ever heard (and I thought my orders were complicated). It involves multiple shots of espresso, a pump of mocha “approximately the size of a quarter”, coffee terms I will have to look up to understand, and a five minute discourse on how “people of color are now doing more for themselves.” Her words. She uses the barista as an example, since he’s putting himself through college with this job. Go him. But seriously, lady, wrap it up. Just. Stop. Talking.

She moves over, telegraphing like she’s starting to walk away, enough for me to feel justified in sliding over to the counter with the sandwich I chose while she was picking her protein box, eons ago. Those were the good old days, back when I had faith in humanity. I’m hoping setting my sandwich down will stake my claim, silence further conversation on her part, and rescue the poor barista from having to fake one more smile.

Sometimes losing your naiveté can be a lengthy process. Because she’s not done. No, she’s remembered ANOTHER thing she wanted to say, which is even more condescending. It’s pretty clear that no one else in the growing line, in the entire bustling shop, exists to her. She doesn’t stop talking until both her coffees are almost in hand. If I started stabbing myself in the eyes with a straw, I think she’d just keep talking. I’m tempted to test that theory.

In all fairness, I don’t think she’s intending to be rude or an inconvenience. She’s older, maybe set in her ways, maybe from that era where people were taught different ideals. She’s not the kind of person I would want to live with, definitely, but I shouldn’t judge. I don’t know what her life’s been like, don’t even know her name. Also maybe she has no peripheral vision. I know people so oblivious, mugging them would be the easiest thing in the world (if I were, you know, planning to do that *hides*).

When I finally have my food and my coffee in hand, I sit down at one of those little tables, sandwiched between two other occupied tables. They’re one-person tables, mind you, lined up in front of a bench with little room to spare between each one. For the sake of convenience here, let’s call that tiny little space between tables “privacy room”. I can’t see your computer screen—you can’t see mine. Nobody has to feel like their space is being invaded.

The lady to my right has been staring at me since before I sat down, but I’ll forgive her since she hasn’t tried to shank me yet and also because she has a cool accent. Only a couple minutes after I get comfortable, though, she invites a friend over, who decides to sit right in my privacy room. I angle myself away from them as discreetly as I can, considering that I’m, you know, writing about them. However, that has my computer screen facing the girl to my left. She’s minding her own business, but that doesn’t stop me from turning my screen brightness down almost all the way and making the font so tiny I can barely read it. I like to think of myself as a smooth operator.

I love coffee shops. Often I get my best writing and editing done in environments like this, with the smell of coffee in the air, the sound of ice being scooped, of beans being ground, the background chatter. I have to grin and bear with the handful of people who gossip loudly (you know they want you to hear them), the people who video chat right next to you, the noisy ones who follow you around the shop for no specific reason so you can’t get a moment’s peace. You never know what’s going to happen in a Starbucks, in any coffee shop, really. One time someone drugged my coffee, and I’m about 99% sure it was the barista, since I never leave my drinks unattended (he doesn’t work there anymore, so we’re all good). It’s a jungle out there.

There’s a certain magic to being in a place that exists primarily to serve coffee. Yes, it’s overpriced, and sometimes I forget to tie up and gag my common sense, and I end up horrified at how much I’m spending. I don’t know how I’m going to extricate myself from this little table without sticking my butt in someone’s face. My anxiety is never a fan of situations like this. As a consequence, I prefer to sit where I can have eyes on everyone coming in, in case someone decides to shoot up the place, not that it would really help me that much in this sardine can.

I spend my coffee shop time balanced precariously between intense concentration and the steady voice in my head saying, “Let’s leave, let’s leave, let’s go home where it’s safe and cozy. You can watch Good Mythical Morning and read Shakespeare’s Star Wars. Maybe sister will be there and we can watch Firefly together. Why stick around here? This isn’t as fun or as peaceful as you thought it would be.”

For a host of reasons, I keep coming back. Probably it’s the sense of community. I can pretend the girl to my left is writing a book, likewise the girl two tables to my right. Everyone here with a laptop is a novelist, I tell myself, and we are all a part of something, so I’m among friends. The baristas know me by face, if not by name. Sometimes I think I come here to counteract the loneliness of my solitary church job and my living situation, so I don’t go crazy, locked in my head all day every day.

I should wrap up this post. It’s getting long, and people are staring. I have other writing to get done; I hadn’t even planned this post before coming here, and now I have to switch tracks, even though I’m already feeling like I want to go home. Also I have artichoke stuck in my front teeth, which is very distracting. Remind me not to smile at anyone on the way out.

Hey, it's newer me again. *waves awkwardly* It was weird editing this post, trying to stay true to my older voice. It was even stranger to see how anxious I was, how lonely. I saw it then, but I didn’t see it the way I do now. I think surviving that situation meant not realizing how bad it was until I got out. I’m at a place where anxiety is almost nonexistent, where I can generally chill in a coffee shop for hours and be sad to leave.

I’m still one of those people who clears corners when entering a building, who sits facing the doors or better yet, where you can see people coming in but they can’t see you. Although I think that’s just good sense.

Change is good. Sometimes you’ll end up in a stage of life you think will never pass. The nearly two years I spent starving myself were miserable, and I felt trapped, but it's over. I won. And even though it damaged my health in ways I’m not sure I’ll fully recover from, and the temptation to relapse still tries to sneak up on me, I’ve learned some things. I’ve grown as a person. I don’t really know why I’m sharing this post with you today, because when I read it, I find it especially easy to judge myself. But, you know, sometimes I get discouraged, and the best fix I’ve found is a change of perspective. Maybe this will help someone. 

Now it’s your turn. What are some coffee shop experiences you would like to share?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Hello Again

It’s been so long since I posted—and even longer since I posted regularly—I almost feel like I need to reintroduce myself. When I think about the first couple years of Out of Coffee, Out of Mind, it’s like remembering something that happened to someone else. I loved blogging, you guys. I’ve missed posting and I’ve missed you people and I think I got so wrapped up in feeling ashamed about being sick and feeling shamed about being lousy with answering comments, I let it eat away at my motivation to keep trying. In all honesty, I kind of forgot how to be a person for a while.

I’m working way more now than I used to, and I’m still writing novels on the side, so I doubt if I’ll have enough time to go back to my original once a week posting schedule. But I want to start blogging again.

To be honest with you, I think one of the reasons I found it so easy to stop blogging, even after I got better, is that I wanted things to be to the way they were before I was sick. For a long time I didn’t have the mental energy I used to enjoy. Blogging was beginning to feel foreign to me. I got out of the habit, lost my routine. And, you know, I’m not the same person I was before anorexia. I know you liked that Liz, and I’m similar to her in many ways, but honestly, I don’t know if you’ll like this Liz as much. I’m happy I’ve changed, really I am. I’ve grown and matured, and that’s awesome. But in order to recover, I felt like I had to excise parts of myself that were intrinsic to my personality. That’s an ongoing process in my life—cutting out the aspects of myself that need to die so I can live. 

I’m still changing. I struggle with anxiety once a week now, or once a month, not once a minute, not to the degree I did before. I let go of some lies and learned some truths, and I’m probably always going to be horrible at correspondence, but I’m less hard on myself about stuff in general. I’m learning when to say yes, when to say no, and more importantly, when to stand up for myself, even when it hurts. Sometimes I feel like I’m way behind the curve, and I’m finally starting to catch up. 

So this is me, someone who’s learning and growing and trying to be better. I don’t get things right all the time. I’m too selfish for my own good, and too slow to forgive. I internalize anger and turn it back on myself. I question God at least ten times a week. One bad moment, and I forget all the blessings I’ve been given. My life is 75% not hearts and butterflies right now. 

But I’m back. This is me. My name is Liz. It’s nice to meet you again.

Monday, October 30, 2017

My Fifth NaNoWriMo

As you may already know, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts on Wednesday. At long last, thousands of writers will turn to their stories for the month of November in a mad dash to write 50,000 words before the thirtieth. 

While last year was fabulous, and I came away with a grand total of 606,606 words, my other take aways were mental exhaustion and sore wrists. So, although part of me desperately wants to go for anywhere between 800K and 1M words (which I may still attempt, because I am waaayyy too competitive for my own good), my official goal for this year will be comparatively more relaxed. Because of work and a few added responsibilities/demands on my time, and because I am not 100% in the best head space yet, I would like to content myself with writing 250,000 words. 

I like that number. It was my initial goal for my second NaNoWriMo (where, to my delight, I ended up with 404,404 words instead). 

But now we have to discuss coffee. Namely, the fact that I CAN NO LONGER DRINK CAFFEINATED COFFEE. I am freaking out calm. I also appear to be lactose intolerant now. *weeps copiously* 

I feel so high maintenaince ordering a decaf latte with coconut milk and no whipped cream (and that’s not including the flavor shots I want). There are too many details to remember here, and sometimes I don’t have the energy to go through the whole song and dance of ordering coffee. #Firstworldproblems Also, when people make my order wrong, and I politely ask them to fix it, sometimes I get looked at like I’m being the b word. So that’s fun. 

Long story short, after some extensive coffee research, I found out that the best decaffination method (ie., Swiss Water Process), doesn’t use chemicals and doesn’t strip the coffee of its full flavor profile. (Yes, I am turning into a coffee snob. Deal with it.) So I bought a couple bags from a couple brands and some sweetened condensed coconut milk and we are good to go. I will simply have to supply the caffeine jitters myself. 

That’s all well and good, Liz, we care so much about what you will be drinking during November (I can hear your sarcasm, btw), but what are you going to be WRITING??? I’m glad you asked. I’ve been planning some new novels/stories to try in November. Yes, you heard me right—planning! *cue collective gasp* If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you’ll know that I like to write by the seat of my pants with maybe some minimal notes. For years, I spat on planning; I drowned it in the dregs of my cold coffee heart. Until there I was, one fateful day, watching videos on poisonous mushrooms because I will do anything in the name of procrastination research. When, BAM! a little story nugget popped into my head, just a scene really, which I proceeded to bang out on my superglued together keyboard (because my j key decided to do its own thing last November, and a few other keys have considered following suit). I then had ideas for several other scenes, all from the same story, so I used the handy dandy Scrivener corkboard function to summarize and organize them. It kind of escalated from there, and over the course of a couple days I compulsively outlined the majority of that novel. Not only did I do that, but I have since remained excited about the project and pleased with my outline. (Which, as you may know, is a relief, since typically when pansters plot, it drains our creative excitement and kills our prospective stories with fire.) 

All told, I have about three novels that I’m going to prioritize, and a few back-up ideas if I run out of material. I’m not going to go into specifics about what two of the novels are about, because they’re still so young—they haven’t developed immune systems yet. But I will say the third one is meant to be a complete new rough draft for BMT, which has fought edits tooth and nail for so long my options are A) start fresh or B) fake my death and take up scorpion training in a foreign country. (Option B is starting to sound tempting.) 

Now, some of you are probably wondering if I will be posting pep talks during NaNoWriMo, as I have in Novembers past. And to that my answer is, probably not. At least not with any sort of regularity. I have none written ahead—I feel like I’ve already written a fair amount of pep talks, and I don’t want to write any more unless I’m really excited about them. But I will certainly keep my options open. 

Last but not least, if you want to follow my progress this November, please feel free to add me to your buddy list! You can find my profile here. I promise I won’t bite.

What about you, my coffee beans? If you're participating in NaNoWriMo, what are your goals? What is your favorite kind of coffee?