Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Farewell, 2015

Note: If you haven’t had a chance to read my guest post on Opal’s lovely blog, here’s the link.
It’s difficult to write a year review post, because honestly, everything’s pretty much a blur for me. People ask me how 2015 has been, and all I can think is, I wrote a lot, I read a lot, I aged, end of story. Yeah, I processed things, and I’d like to believe my mind grew. I’d like to think I improved at the activities I love. Maybe I got worse.

As always, I added more books to my personal library and more experiences to my mental records. I moved to a different state and started a new life. Fortunately, I made a lot of friends in the blogosphere, and my blog grew, but I still get nervous about posting. I’m pretty sure I will always get nervous about posting. And I will always have that tendency to question the quality of my writing.

This year I’ve started to learn more about caring for other people, about opening up, about talking. I've learned that sometimes people actually want to read what I have to say, although that still seems like a crazy notion.

In a strange and wonderful plot twist, I write full time now. No, I am not published yet—I still haven’t seen a penny for any of my words. But my sister is providing for all my needs because she says that’s her investment in my writing career, that I can pay her back when I’m a crazy rich New York Times Bestselling author. Emphasis on the when. She has more true confidence in my abilities than I do.

In other news, New Year’s Day is my birthday. I confess, I always feel weird about having birthdays. Are they optional? It’s not that I dislike the reminder that I am getting older, and it’s not that I’m worried I’m too young. I just don’t like age labels. I’ve never felt like I belonged to my age, and the number tag feels dishonest. Maybe there is a difference between the number of years lived and the actual age of a person. Birthdays jar me because they remind me I am nowhere near as old as I think. They remind me that I haven’t yet lived even a third of the average American life expectancy. Is it possible to grow old twice? I feel old. Not spectacularly mature, just remarkably ancient. I don’t remember what it’s like to feel young.

I had goals for this year. Some I met, and others I didn’t. Life’s like that. But this was not a bad year, and I am happy to have lived it, even though it was far too short. Years are short. I enter one, I blink, and it’s gone. Another one comes in its place, only to hurry off into the sunset. Eventually, I’ll wake up bewildered, wondering when I turned eighty and how on earth that number snuck up on me. You wait and see. It just might happen to you as well.

I have goals for 2016. Big goals. Goals that will keep me busier than ever. But busyness is satisfying because I don’t feel the weight of time so much when my mind is active. I want to share more of myself with you, posts like this one and this one and this one. I want to read more and write more and think more. I want to get published (but I bet you already knew that). Most importantly, in whatever small way I can, I want to make 2016 a brighter year for all of you because you made 2015 bright for me.

Happy New Year!

Well, that’s it, little coffee beans. What are your goals for 2016? Feel free to guess how old I’m turning. Also, if you have any suggestions on how you think I could make this blog more interesting in the coming year, please let me know. I love hearing back from all of you.

Monday, December 28, 2015


Note: Over the past two Mondays, I’ve discussed the first six books of A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS (the links are here and here). Today I’ll be talking about the next three. Also, in case you’d like to read more of my caffeine-induced ramblings, and in case you missed it earlier, here’s a link to my guest post on Opal’s lovely blog.

When I was a child, without fully understanding why, I knew that THE VILE VILLAGE marked the turning point in ASOUE. From THE VILE VILLAGE on, the series gets darker, and deeper, and—dare I say it?—better. So let’s talk about this.

The Darkness. I’ve come across a bunch of negative reviews of ASOUE out there, including a fair deal of disapproval aimed at the darkness and the ambiguity. People have expressed their belief that the difficult elements in this story are not suitable for children or that kids couldn’t possibly enjoy a story with those aspects. And I get that. Really, I do. Because, for a while, I stopped understanding ASOUE as much as I did before, and I wondered if the books were too depressing. But, at that same time, (I was sixteen) I also stopped thinking as deeply, I started writing more annoyingly pretentious-sounding stories, and someone who meant a lot to me died. With the benefit of hindsight, I realize that the books weren’t lacking. I was the one lacking. I had temporarily lost my focus.

To take the attitude that children cannot handle the level of negativity in ASOUE—to say that they should be shielded—is to borrow too much of Mr. Poe’s mindset, in my opinion. It’s to forget how capable children can be, how deep, how thoughtful, if given the chance. Like the pain of childbirth, I suspect that adults tend to forget the pain of growing up—that niggling feeling of being too big for your mind and too big for your body.  

Your childhood is your most formative stage. Most everything has a bigger impact. All the contributing elements in your environment join forces to shape the person you will be in adulthood. So, it’s important for children to understand, sooner rather than later, that the world does not operate in black and white and that suffering does not mean the end of a person. True, yes, don’t expose young people to something they aren’t ready for. There’s no need to watch TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE with your three-year-old because Liz said not to shelter your children. (News flash: Liz doesn’t know everything. She just pretends to know everything.) But if you shield young people from reality for too long, you will only raise more people like Mr. Poe, adults who hide from the ugly truth—who cough into their handkerchiefs—so they don’t have to get their hands dirty and help people. You will only create adults who don’t understand what the world is really like.

Mr. Poe. THE VILE VILLAGE marks the point where Mr. Poe officially reaches the end of his meager patience with the children. In his mind, he has found home after home for the Baudelaire orphans, and time after time they have caused trouble. No, seriously, that’s what he thinks. Never mind that Count Olaf has been after the children’s fortune since the beginning, that he has caused all this trouble himself, and that he is the one who should be punished for his actions. Instead, Mr. Poe blames the children for their misfortunes. According to him, they are the trouble-makers, the culprits who continuously put his bank’s name in a bad light, the individuals who make his job thirteen times harder. If it weren’t for the Baudelaires’ tendency to kick up a fuss and to see Count Olaf everywhere, he wouldn’t have to keep finding new homes for them. And so on and so forth.

I guess, since the Baudelaires are children, and since they are orphans, they are particularly vulnerable, which makes them easy targets for the blame game. Why on earth would Mr. Poe want to recognize his own incompetence and blame himself for all the times he has utterly failed the children? And why would he blame Count Olaf, since Count Olaf wouldn’t have been such a problem had Mr. Poe done his job properly? No, the blame must land squarely on the Baudelaires’ shoulders.

So here, at this final juncture in this final formulaic installment before Snicket delves into unchartered territory, Mr. Poe cares so little he is willing to dump the children off on a village. It doesn’t even matter which village. Let the children pick one, any one, and he will leave them there without fact-checking or researching beforehand. Don’t first make sure this is a good place. Don’t even take the children over in person. Just send them on their merry way and warn them that this is their last chance not to cause trouble and make the bank look bad. Good job, Mr. Poe—you get a gold star.

The Village. Now we come to the point where I argue that the people in the Village of Fowl Devotees don’t even count as guardians. In my opinion, a guardian, however flawed they might be, is someone who takes you into their home and at least cares for your basic needs. A guardian is not someone who dumps you on someone else, in the way that the village council dumps the children on Hector. Hector may be the one who takes care of the children, because he was assigned to the role, but he was never intended to be the sole caregiver. The village as a whole had volunteered for that job. And instead of fulfilling that responsibility, the only remotely guardian-like connection they have with the children is in making them do all the village chores.

The Rules. The people of the village have so many rules, it’s nearly impossible to do anything without breaking one. Worse than that, they are uncompromising and unforgiving in their pursuit of the law. They fail to recognize that human beings need freedom and wiggle room in order to live life fully and completely. Like a lot of people, they find it easier just to have those in authority dictate all their actions so they don’t have to think for themselves, so they don’t have to deviate from established patterns, and so they don’t have to care about others.

The Baudelaires’ Struggle. After THE VILE VILLAGE, where another person who was supposed to care fails them miserably (Hector), the Baudelaires find themselves at a new emotional low. To have the hope of escape offered to them (the hot air balloon and the freedom from suffering it represented), and then to have that taken away, along with their friends (the Quagmire triplets), is to rub salt in the wound. They have been resourceful and they have tried their hardest and they have contributed their best, and they still end up worse off than they were before. They do not know if anyone will rescue them, they do not know if their friends are safe, and they do not know if they will be thrown in jail for a crime they did not commit.

THE HOSTILE HOSPITAL finds them on the run from the law, in more danger than they have ever faced before, with enemies on every side. The world is darkening around them, and they fear they are becoming dark with it. Only now do the children begin to see how truly awful supposedly non-villainous people are. In V.F.D. the villagers, who condemn murder, are eager to burn the children at the stake. In Heimlich Hospital the audience, which condemns murder, is eager to see doctors perform a craniectomy on Violet. And in THE CARNIVEROUS CARNIVAL the onlookers, who condemn murder, are eager to watch lions devour one of the freaks in the freak show. Even the supposedly good people are not good. The law-abiding citizens are not good. No one is good.

The children begin to doubt their own innocence in all of this. As they strike out into the bloodthirsty world on their own, they are forced to make decisions they are not always proud of. They trick poor, old Hal and steal the keys to his library of records even though they hate lying to the elderly man. They disguise themselves as freaks and lie about their identities. They snoop. The commit arson. They begin to wonder if they are turning into Count Olaf. Surrounded by adults who blind themselves to reality, adults who accept what they are told without asking questions, adults who embrace and worship their limitations, adults who enjoy hurting others, how are the Baudelaires supposed to grow up to be good people? Since the death of their parents, no one has set a decent example for them, and they have been forced to forge their own moral compasses. (Don’t worry, I will definitely cover this topic more in my next ASOUE discussion.)

So yes, I can see where this sort of story would bother adults—because it reflects reality. Even the good guys are bad guys. Adults fail children just as they fail other adults. Too often children have to sink or swim on their own, to figure out their morality in a sea of ambiguity. But that’s the beauty of A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS. It’s more than just a condemnation of those who do not care enough. It is a wake-up call. And that, more than anything, is why it is well worth reading.

Okay, little coffee beans, that’s it for today. What are your thoughts? Have you read the series? Which book is your favorite? I will be posting two more discussions on A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, and I will try to encompass as much as possible, but if there is a character or place or theme from ASOUE that you especially want me to discuss and are concerned I won’t cover, feel free to let me know. As always, I welcome your feedback.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Christmas-y Tag!

The esteemed Victoria @ Stori Tori’s Blog nominated me for this tag. Thank you, Victoria!


Post the picture on your blog. (Since I have no clue where the original picture is, and I’m too lazy busy to track it down, I’ll just use the one on Victoria’s blog.)
Answer the questions.
Tag up to 12 bloggers.
Make up 10 questions for the other bloggers.

What is your favorite Christmas treat?

Can I say all of them? No? Okay. I think I’m going to have to parrot Victoria and pick wassail because I can never get enough of it. As a general rule, we tend to make it only around Christmastime, and I might get a chance to have some on maybe one or two other occasions throughout the year, which means it’s a pretty big deal for me when it’s available. I also love German apple pie, but I make it every Thanksgiving as well, so it’s not specifically a Christmas treat. So yes, wassail, final answer.

Are there any special traditions that your family has to celebrate Christmas?

Every Christmas morning, my sister, my cousins, and I get up early and scurry downstairs to open goody-stuffed stockings in the blue half-light of the morning. (Who says you have to quit this tradition when you become an adult?) Then my aunt cooks an asparagus bake (at least, I think that’s what it is), and it’s super yummy.

At around ten o’clock, once all the sane people drag themselves out of bed and consume enough coffee to reenter the land of the living, we gather around the ginormous Christmas tree in the living room and listen to the Christmas story before we dig into the presents. After oohing and ahing over everyone’s loot, we retreat to our respective burrows where we nap or eat candy or binge-watch Doctor Who until around three o’clock when we troop downstairs to perform our solemn duty and devour the Christmas feast. Later on in the evening, we usually peek at what’s in theaters and, if there’s something we want to watch, we’ll head out, but it’s not exactly a set-in stone tradition. Sometimes we go the day before or the day after.

Of course, this year, since we’re not going home for Christmas, my sister and I will have to pick and choose which traditions we will be able to follow and which ones we will have to reimagine. For instance, we won’t be going to theaters on Christmas Day, but we do plan to see THE FORCE AWAKENS on my birthday (New Year’s Day).

Do you enjoy getting presents for you friends and family? Do you buy your gifts or go the homemade route?

I love getting presents for the people I care about, but sometimes it can be stressful because I always worry I’ll get someone something they don’t want. Usually I buy gifts because I don’t have a whole lot of extra time for crafty things, but one year I bound books for people, and one year I went on a major knitting kick and made a couple pairs of mittens for my mom. You’d think, since I’m a writer and a creative person, that I would feel more confident in giving handmade gifts, but I find it a lot less stressful just to shop for pre-made items.

Is it cold where you live? Have you ever had a white Christmas?

In Maine, where I used to live, it can get super cold, sometimes even down to the single digits (Fahrenheit). It’s very common to have a white Christmas there. Here, though, I’m not sure of the exact temperature range. I just know that it’s a fair deal warmer. A few days ago, we had a teeny tiny snowfall but, sadly, nothing accumulated.

What’s on your Christmas list this year?

More books.
A Lamborghini.
Even more books.
Another Lamborghini.
Other books.
More coffee.
Gift card to a bookstore.
Gift card to a coffee shop.
One million dollars.

You get the picture.

What’s your favorite Christmas song?

What does your Christmas tree look like?

Like amazingness.

Okay, so my iPod camera isn't spectacular. But trust me, the tree does look better in person.
Also, look at all those presents!
What are you reading in December? (Anything festive?)

I haven’t read anything festive this December, but I have been binge-reading A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS. Also, I plan to re-read Jane Austen's PERSUASION because it’s kind of my own personal tradition to at least start it around Christmas every year. And, of course, I’ll tackle whatever books I get for Christmas.

Are you an organized little elf or are you still shopping/preparing on Christmas Eve?

Let me just point out that I am almost 5’7” tall, so “little elf” might not be an accurate description of me. I’m more like a Mirkwood elf. That said, yes, all my pre-Christmas shopping is done. Usually I end up buying a few more odds and ends after Christmas because I always forget to add someone to my list and then I remember and freak out a little and rush to the store to get something cool but not completely useless for them. But I do try to finish the majority of my shopping two weeks in advance so I’m not panicking about last minute gift buying and wrapping because honestly, why kill the holidays with unnecessary stress? Stress can come after, like when you realize you forgot to buy a gift for your best friend (not that I’ve ever done that, but it could happen).

How early do you start to get into the Christmas spirit?

Pretty much right after I finish eating Thanksgiving dinner.

Do you make any Christmas crafts? Decorations? Send physical Christmas cards?

No, sorry, I believe you have mistaken me for an interesting person. On some level, I’d like to be that cool crafty girl who sends homemade cards to everyone, but I have neither the budget nor the motivation, so I’ll just have to stick to being mildly jealous of those who do.

What’s the menu for Christmas Day?!

Food. (Bet you never saw THAT coming.)

Okay, in all seriousness, we’re making ham, mandarin orange salad, Christmas salad, stuffing, corn pudding, and probably a few other things that I’m forgetting. We’re also making pie (tri-berry and German apple). Our fridge is a little bit full right now (translation: GAH, WHAT DO WE DO? THERE’S NOT ENOUGH SPACE!), and I think we might end up eating leftovers until December 2016, so yeah.

What makes it FEEL like Christmas to you? (Weather, specific tradition, food, smell, person, etc.?)

Honestly, the air smells different when it gets colder, and the world just has this blue and grey cast to it in December. It feels rather nostalgic, in a good but painful way. It’s like this every year.

Do you have relatives coming? Excited? Nervous?

Nope, I have no relatives coming for Christmas day. My dad’s twin and his wife live relatively close to me, and we’ll probably meet up with them sometime after Christmas, but that’s it.

What famous Christmas character do you most identify with? (Scrooge, Elf, Tiny Tim, the Grinch, Santa, etc.)

Umm, maybe Elf because sometimes I get obnoxiously excited about Christmas.

If you were to start a new Christmas tradition, what would it be?

I think it would be a nice tradition to buy an entire bookstore every year, just for me. I’m not sure how we’d fit that into our budget, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

What Christmas movies do you like to watch this time of year or what’s your favorite?

Most years we watch IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE on Christmas Eve, so I’d have to say that one is my favorite.

What’s your favorite Christmasy book or book with a favorite Christmasy part?

Would you doubt my love of Christmas if I said I didn’t have one? It’s weird, because as much as I get excited about Christmas, I enjoy experiencing it firsthand rather than consuming it secondhand through media. I’m not a huge fan of Christmas-themed stories, so I tend to avoid them. (Probably the main reason why I enjoy IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is that I’ve watched it with family so many times, it’s become almost a scrapbook of memories.) I think if someone wrote a Christmas novel with tragedy and betrayal and murder, I would be down for that, but most Christmas stories are too happy feely and gold-colored and Christmas for me is blue and muted so they just don’t fit the mood.

Well, that’s it little coffee beans. I’m not going to think of new questions or nominate anyone today because Christmas is so close, and I imagine a lot of you will be busy. But, if you really want to do this tag, by all means, knock yourself out.


Monday, December 21, 2015


Note:  Last week I began my analysis of A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS by discussing the first three books. Today I’ll be talking about the next three. Also, in case you’d like to read more of my caffeine-induced ramblings, here’s a link to my guest post on Opal’s lovely blog.


For the most part, books 3-7 in A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS follow the same basic pattern as book 2. Mr. Poe places the Baudelaire children in a new home after their previous guardian situation turns out to be a no-go. Then, while the children try to remain optimistic, Olaf shows up and wreaks havoc. With the exception of Uncle Monty’s home in THE REPTILE ROOM, the environments are already less than optimal before Olaf appears. And, of course, each book ends with the children needing a new home.

Mr. Poe. While books 2-7 do follow the same basic plot formula, the characters have plenty of room to grow and/or change. For instance, in books 1-3, Mr. Poe seems relatively willing to dig up what he deems to be a nice, new home for the children, but THE MISERABLE MILL marks the part where even that small willingness dwindles. If it weren’t bad enough that he had initially dropped the Baudelaires off with a man whose relation to the children he couldn’t remember (THE BAD BEGINNING), now he deposits the children at a lumber mill run by a man whose name he does not even know and whose face he has never seen. At this part of the story, also, he begins to spend less time making sure the children acclimate well. And his noticeable absence leaves the children open to exploitation. Were Mr. Poe invested in the Baudelaires’ lives even a tiny bit more, the children could be spared a great deal of suffering.

Likewise, at the boarding school in THE AUSTERE ACADEMY and at the penthouse in THE ERSATZ ELEVATOR, Mr. Poe performs the very least he can of his duties and dumps the children off before hurrying away to deal with other “important” things. Given what has continually happened to the children in their new homes, you would think he would do more to make extra sure that they remain safe and protected. Instead, he cares less and less. Ironically, the point where he becomes Mulctuary Money’s Vice President in Charge of Orphan Affairs (at the beginning of THE ERSATZ ELEVATOR) marks the point where he pretty much stops helping the orphans at all.

The Hypnosis. What I didn’t quite realize as a child was that ASOUE tracks the gradual effects, both negative and positive, of prolonged trauma on young people. I will cover this more in my next discussion, but for now I want to talk about Klaus’s hypnosis and how it might tie in with this.  

Twice Count Olaf’s associates hypnotize Klaus and use him to hurt both Phil (a worker at the Mill) and Charlie (co-owner of the mill). Of course, in real life, hypnosis is a little different than is commonly portrayed in movies and literature. Someone who is hypnotized will not obey orders to perform an act they would not ordinarily do willingly. In other words, if you are not a killer at heart, hypnosis cannot make you a killer. Now, it’s possible that Lemony Snicket (or should I say, Daniel Handler) was not privy to this information while he was writing THE MISERABLE MILL. But what if he did know? If we are to assume that Lemony Snicket was aware of this fact, is it possible that he was trying to say that deep down, Klaus wanted to hurt the people who didn’t care enough about him (and consequently, by not caring enough, contributed to his torment)—that the dark and bitter parts of him are being brought to life through hypnosis? Just something to think about.

Sir. Sir, the children’s guardian in THE MISERABLE MILL, sees them as both a burden and an asset. He is not willing to treat them any better than he treats his workers, and he does not treat his workers well at all.

The onus of finding out whether Sir would be a good guardian or a failure is on Mr. Poe, which means Mr. Poe should do his research. And it wouldn’t be too difficult to figure out that Sir feeds his workers gum for lunch after not providing breakfast or that he only pays them in useless coupons. Naturally, if Mr. Poe knew that, it would be worse than negligence to leave the children with a man like Sir. But the fact that Mr. Poe isn’t expecting Sir to put the children to hard labor does not negate the fact that it would be wise for him to see how the mill is run and to see whether the employees are happy or not. That alone would give him a decent idea of Sir’s character. Instead, it seems that Mr. Poe eagerly dumps the children off on the first available person and thinks no more about it. And I doubt I need to tell you how irresponsible that is.

Charles and Jerome. While Charles, from THE MISERABLE MILL, is not the children’s guardian, he is their guardian’s business partner, and he is in a perfect position to witness how they are being treated and to do something about it. The very least he could do is call the police or inform Mr. Poe that the children are being underfed and overworked, which is, by the way, ILLEGAL. Although he is polite and nice and gives the Baudelaires small snacks from time to time, his lack of action makes him complicit in Sir’s abuse of the children. His spinelessness and his avoidance of difficulties coupled with his surface kindness and his compassion, do not make him any less of a bad guy because the end result remains the same—his complacency puts the children in danger.

Jerome, on the other hand, is the children’s guardian for a time (in THE ERSATZ ELEVATOR), so he is responsible for making sure they stay safe and well. And his negligence is inexcusable. He has such an aversion to arguing, even when it is necessary, that he will not even tell a waiter that no, he doesn’t like salmon, so no, he doesn’t want a salmon puff. Even when he recognizes that the children are genuinely concerned about Olaf masquerading as Gunther the auctioneer, he does not press the issue because he does not want to argue with Esme and Olaf/Gunther. When the children show that they are determined to find and rescue the Quagmire triplets no matter the cost, he surrenders guardianship of them because he does not want to argue and he is not willing to do what he knows he needs to do, which is take care of the poor hurting children. Even when he knows they have no one, even when he had promised to take care of them when he took them on in the first place, he does not care enough to help them out in their time of need. Incidentally, he is the last guardian that the children ever have (since I don’t count the village in THE VILE VILLAGE as a guardian—and I’ll explain why next week).

The Baudelaire Children. Okay, I’ve spent a lot of time discussing the various adults who have failed the Baudelaires, but it’s time I cover the children themselves. Despite all they have been through, I think it’s safe to say that Violet, Klaus, and Sunny have unbreakable spirits. When they have to do scary things for the sake of others or for the sake of survival, such as Sunny climbing up an elevator shaft with her teeth or Violet scaling a tower using a homemade grappling hook and homemade rope, they do so willingly. If it weren’t for their intelligence, their quick-thinking, and their resourcefulness, they wouldn’t have escaped Olaf’s clutches even the first time. Basically, their ability to think on their feet is the only thing that keeps them alive and free—not the adults, not anyone else, just their innate ability to function no matter what.

While we know they have faced—and continue to face—a great deal of suffering, and while we know that suffering has left its mark on their souls, we never see them wallow. Even Lemony Snicket frequently acknowledges that they are braver and smarter and stronger than he is and that he would crumble under the pressures they withstand. True, the Baudelaires would benefit greatly from external support, such as a guardian who actually cares, and I pity them for having to suffer so very very much throughout the course of the series, but the fact that they have survived what they have survived and still manage to get out of bed (so to speak) every morning is phenomenal. Even in adversity, they thrive—Violet with her inventions, Klaus with his booksmarts and research skills, and Sunny with her fearsome toothiness and her culinary talents. They are some of the best role models you could find, and I am happy that I spent my childhood looking up to them.

Okay, little coffee beans, that’s it for today. What are your thoughts? Have you read the series? Which book is your favorite? I will be posting three more discussions on A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, and I will try to encompass as much as possible, but if there is a character or place or theme from ASOUE that you especially want me to discuss and are concerned I won’t cover, feel free to let me know. As always, I welcome your feedback.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I Won't be Home for Christmas

If you’ve been reading my blog for the past month or so, you’ll know that I just recently moved to a different state. Since I relocated from Maine to Virginia, travel back and forth can be an interesting affair. Plane tickets, especially last-minute ones, tend to be expensive, and driving there and back presents a significant time investment. Not to mention the fact that my sister (who I live with now) has to work on Christmas Eve. So, all that to say, I won’t be going home this time around.

This will be the first year either of us has been away for Christmas, and it will take some adjusting. Of course, we will try to maintain some of our traditions, like binge-watching Doctor Who and waking up to goody-stuffed stockings. We will make wassail and buy sparkling grape juice (and we’ll cross out the “non” on the label where it says “non-alcoholic” because yeah, we live on the edge like that). A couple weeks ago my sister bought a Christmas tree and brought it back strapped to the top of my little Ford Focus, and now it graces our kitchen with its loveliness (the tree, not the car). So we’re doing all right.

But in case you were wondering, Virginia is not Maine. It’s not really anything like Maine. It has different grocery stores and different restaurants and different people. Maine is rather rural, and the county where I spent most of my childhood is known for being one of the poorest counties in the US. Now I live near the richest county in the country, so saying things are different here would be a bit of an understatement. In Maine, winter has always been a snowy affair. Last year was especially bad, and the snowbanks at the ends of the driveway got to be taller than me (I’m almost 5’7”). It felt like I spent more time shoveling than breathing. Here, though, the prospects of having a white Christmas are next to nil.

So yes, Christmas here will not be the same as Christmas there. I will miss the magical feeling of looking out the window of my cousins’ house and seeing, yet again, all those fluffy snowflakes floating down to kiss the earth on Christmas day. I will miss the sugar cookies my aunt usually makes and the grand selection of pies in the pantry. I will miss watching It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve with my cousins, and I will miss waking up early and sneaking downstairs with those same cousins to open our stockings in the dark even though none of us are little children anymore. I will miss the people.

This year the two of us will have to forge our own Christmas path. It will be much quieter here, since even my sister’s college friends will be home spending the holiday with their families. We’ll have to occupy ourselves some other way. We could take a walk among the trees around our cul-de-sac and pretend the branches are laden with snow instead of deer ticks. We could make imaginary snow men. We could even throw pieces of store-bought ice at each other and pretend we’re having a snowball fight. The possibilities are endless.

Either way, we’ll be okay. True, we’ll end up missing out on what the rest of our family is doing, and sure, it will be rather quiet here. But my sister and I haven’t forgotten the main reason why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. More than family and presents, Christmas is about gratitude—it’s about celebrating the fact that Jesus came to earth to pay the ultimate price for our sins. And I can’t be lonely when I’m thinking about that sort of love.  

What about you, little coffee beans? What are your plans for this Christmas?

Monday, December 14, 2015



Starting on that fateful Christmas day years and years ago when I unwrapped the first ten books of Lemony Snicket’s A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS and, incidentally, fell down the staircase while reading THE REPTILE ROOM, this series was a staple of my childhood. As a young person, I connected very deeply with the stories, but only now, as an adult, am I beginning to understand why. So I figured I’d share my revelations with you. You’re welcome.

From the very beginning of the series, the Baudelaire children become forcibly acquainted with misery—long, drawn-out misery. When I was younger, I sometimes wondered why Lemony Snicket chose to cover such dark subject matter in a series of children’s books. Like, why not write about happy things? Don’t get me wrong—I really enjoyed the stories. I just wondered, is all. (I believe that question came from this sense I had as a child that I could handle much harder things than most little people could. I was rather pompous back then, I think.) Now I get it, though. On the one hand, I would hazard a guess that this series is meant to help adults understand what it is like for a kid to experience suffering, but on the other hand, it is also meant for kids who are suffering to see that they are not alone, that there is someone out there who not only understands but cares.

Mr. Poe. After the children lose their parents and their home in a terrible fire, their parents’ banker, Mr. Poe, is charged with finding a good home for them. He fails miserably at this job—in fact, all thirteen books in this series are pretty much a tribute to the fact that he is a horrible guardian-seeker (that’s totally a proper term). While he does take the Baudelaires in for a while before handing them off to their distant relative, Count Olaf, he offers no true support. When the children come to him with their concerns about Count Olaf, he shuts them down and does not bother to look into the matter, even though Klaus tells him that Olaf struck him.

Worse still, Mr. Poe supposedly has a chronic cough, but I believe his cold his more habit than anything since it seems that whenever one of the children has something big and important to say, something that might involve difficulty and action, Mr. Poe breaks down into one of his infamous coughing fits and then changes the subject.

Mr. Poe is the classic adult figure that so many suffering children in real life must face. He is the man who claims to care and has been charged with caring but does not really care. As long as it does not take too much effort, he will help out, but when it comes to exerting himself or digging deep or actually trying, he won’t do anything. He’s too busy with his bank or he’s too busy with coughing and he just not invested enough. Worse, he won’t take the children seriously because they are just that—children. Every time the Baudelaires warn him about Count Olaf, now that they know his evil plans, no matter how often they have been right before, he brushes them off as being too distraught or as having a tendency to see Count Olaf everywhere. His reluctance to listen to them is often what puts them in the most danger, and every time, without fail, Count Olaf escapes after being exposed and Mr. Poe does nothing to stop him. Absolutely nothing.

Like Mr. Poe, many adults downplay what children have to say because they are children or because they have been through something traumatic or just because. Adults can assume that, since children are young, they need not be trusted or listened to. So too often children with legitimate struggles, children who need help, get swept under the rug because let’s face it, kids with issues are a hassle and why bother with all that effort—all that work—when you can just cough into your handkerchief loudly enough to drown out the sound of suffering?

Count Olaf. Count Olaf is pain; he is the antagonist; he is the constant source of misery that follows the Baudelaire children around everywhere. He is the one who taints everything, the one who takes even happy moments and twists them into something awful. And no matter how hard the children try, they can never escape him. Perhaps, if they had had actual help from those in a position of authority and power, they would have been able to live happy childhoods. But no one cared enough to truly save them from Count Olaf. Instead, the vast majority of adults in the Baudelaires’ lives offered Band-Aid solutions, patted themselves on their backs, and left it at that.

But Olaf is also the adult who sees the children only as a sum of their misfortune. True, I know that he looks down on them and so chooses to talk down to them, but I don’t think it’s an accident that he refers to the Baudelaires as orphans, as if orphans are a different species of people. That’s something else that adults often do to children—label them and see them only as the sum of their suffering.  

Aunt Josephine. Aunt Josephine is so afraid of everything, she won’t even let herself or those around her live. She allows her fear to control her, and it puts the children, who are under her protection, in danger. Instead of taking care of them, which is her job, she puts her own life first. She is terrified of door knobs and welcome mats and telephones, but she isn’t frightened by the things that should truly scare her, like the fact that she lives in a house literally suspended on rickety stilts over Lake Lachrymose. Maybe if she had stopped caring so much about the things that couldn’t hurt her, and maybe if she had started focusing on the things that still could, she would have been able to be a proper guardian. Maybe if she hadn’t been such a sniveling coward, to the point where she couldn’t even bring herself to use the phone in order to call the police, she wouldn’t have sold out the children to Count Olaf in order to save her own skin.

But I think in some ways it’s easier for her to be afraid of the small manageable things, the ones that—deep down—she knows can’t really harm her, so she doesn’t have to think about the big things, the ones that can harm her, the ones she feels she can’t avoid. Why else would she live teetering on the brink of a precipice yet refuse to use the stove because it might catch fire?

Ultimately, it seems to me that A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS is a veiled lesson about the many ways in which adults fail children—a muted harangue of sorts. This is why I especially appreciate the fact that Lemony Snicket pulls in so much intelligent material, as though he is telling his audience how he believes that they are more than just young people, that they matter, and that they are smarter than adults often assume. While he explains bigger vocabulary words along the way (which really helped me when I was a young person, even though sometimes his explanations wouldn’t count for proper definitions) he doesn’t make the mistake of assuming that, because children might need a few words defined for them, they can’t understand big things like death, loss, suffering, and abandonment.

Finally, beyond the hard, powerful themes, Lemony Snicket can’t seem to keep from pulling in literary and classical references, like the “Virginian Wolfsnake” (bonus points if you get that) and Brett Helquist’s illustration of Damocles Dock depicting an arch with a sword hanging over the Baudelaire children’s heads (even more points if you get that reference without clicking this link here)—all of which serve to deepen the story.

Okay, little coffee beans, that’s it for today. I will be covering the next three books in a week or two. In the meantime, what are your thoughts? Have you read the series? Do you agree/disagree with my analysis? What literary/classical references have you noticed in the books? Which installment is your favorite? Which character is your favorite?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Beautiful Books #3 // The Editing Process

 Okay, so I’ve never participated in any linkups before, and I’m a little late in joining this set, as you can tell from the fact that this one is Beautiful Books #3, not #1 or #2. Oh well. I’m here now. So there.

In case you’re wondering, the Beautiful Books/Beautiful People linkups are hosted by Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In, and their questions are always so cool. It was only a matter of time before I broke.

On a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best), how did the book turn out? Did anything defy your expectations?

Objectively speaking, my seven NaNo novels turned out to be spectacularly awful, but since I already expected them to be horrible, I haven’t suffered any disappointment on that count. Outsiders would probably give all seven rough drafts a one or a two, at best. Personally, I would give them anywhere from five to seven because, while I know they’re terrible and I know I’ll cringe while I’m rereading them in preparation for edits, I also know they have plenty of potential, and that’s really all I look for in a rough draft.

Comparative title time: what published books, movies, or TV shows are like your book? (Ex: Inkheart meets X-Men.)

This is a tricky one, since I don’t like writing novels that remind me of other stories. I’m not going to try to think up comp titles for all seven books, since that could take some time. But I guess one of my historical novels could be described as Beauty and the Beast meets Rapunzel (it’s a fairytale set during the time of the first Black Death outbreak in Europe.) And though I haven’t read the play yet myself, I’ve been told my satire on writing could possibly appeal to fans of SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR.

Do you enjoy working with deadlines and pressure (aka NaNoWriMo)? Or do you prefer to write-as-you’re-inspired?

I need deadlines, and I need pressure. If I know that I have all the time in the world, I won’t get nearly as much writing done. So NaNoWriMo and other short-term goals definitely help with that. There’s a reason why my younger write-as-you’re-inspired self never got anywhere.

How do you go about editing? Give us an insight into your editing process.

Instead of just dealing with different issues separately through lots of individual drafts, like most writers tend to do (from what I’ve seen), I rewrite my entire first draft, word for word, making all the necessary changes that I know are needed. Then, once that draft has cooled and received feedback, I handle all the tweaks and changes required, but again, all in one go. And I get more feedback and keep tweaking until I’m confident the book is officially finished.

 I use this editing process across the board, even for blog posts. It frees me up to write awful rough drafts—as horrifying as they need to be for me to get them out—because I know that I’m going to rewrite and reevaluate every single word anyway. So there’s really no need to bother writing something polished and beautiful on the first round. It won’t save me time. Anyway, the more work during the second draft, the better because the only time I truly feel like myself is when I’m in the midst of those extensive rewrites. At no other time does my head feel as clear and my thoughts as orderly and in control. Yes, you may go ahead and judge me now.

What aspect of your story needs the most work?

Does “everything” count as an aspect? *cue crazed laughter*

My plots need a whole lot of tightening and reordering since I hardcore pantsed my novels this month which does not make for a cohesive plot. But hey, that’s what editing is for. My dialogue needs some major fixing as well. And in rough drafts, I do all telling and no showing, so editing is when I need to think of more creative approaches to convey information without just telling it to the reader. Basically, with my NaNo novels, I just pulled together all the building materials I felt I was going to need and piled them up, and now I need to take all those materials and all the tools in my mind and I need to build something presentable. I seriously cannot tell you how much I love this process, as crazy difficult as it can be at times.

What aspect of your story did you love the most?

Despite the incalculable faults in all seven novels, I think that I succeeded in conveying at least a seed of the emotions that I wanted to capture (well, okay, so that’s what I tell myself). And if I have the beginnings of something, I can take it from there.

I actually wrote a large portion of character internal reflection in order to figure out how my babies tick, which means I have a rough map of all their motivations and conflicting issues and fatal flaws. Translation: Christmas came early.

Give us a brief rundown on your main characters and how you think they turned out. Do you think they’ll need changes in edits?

They began life as large piles of goopy clay, and I will have to give them shape and hone them during edits. Since I wrote more than one novel, I have a healthy handful of main characters and I’m only going to list the major ones here.

November (Ember for short) can’t stop destroying herself with the one last tiny seed of hope she has left. Miranda knows what she has to do but doesn’t have the strength and the confidence to do it. Edison has allowed his bitterness and his exhaustion to ruin his last year alive. Jaqueline is so grief-stricken she can’t even see well enough to stop the people around her from dying. Eve’s arrogance is ruining her. Rachel actively sabotages herself and her career. Aiden mistakes apathy for patience. Will is controlled by his fear and by his anger. Maebel won’t even let herself be free now that her controlling husband of sixty years is dead. Cambria is sweet, but she is too na├»ve and silly to protect herself from those who are eager to take advantage of her. Marianne can’t fight her irrational rage. Roderic is foolish enough to destroy everything just to save the woman he loves. And, last but not least, Lara has allowed her obsession with an unsolvable mystery to consume her.

While much of their respective core natures have been somewhat established, I still need to work at making them properly unique and three-dimensional and compelling and all that fun stuff. Also, I love how their most defining features, at this point, are their fatal flaws. *laughs maniacally* In edits, though, I will be sure to give them positive qualities to balance out their vulnerabilities.

What are your plans for this novel once you finish editing? More edits? Finding beta readers? Querying? Self-publishing? Hiding it in a dark hole forever?

Mad editing and then querying.

Share a favorite snippet!

This snippet is actually the very first paragraph I wrote during NaNoWriMo, and no, I haven’t edited it any, so it still needs a lot of work:

She could see him. In the corner of her eye, she could see him, and he was so close there were still times she thought she would be able to reach out and touch him. Times when she spoke to him and was certain he would respond. Times when she forgot he was just a hallucination.

What are you writing goals and plans for 2016?

In 2016, I plan to finish editing at least two rough drafts, maybe three. I have a few novels from last November that I haven’t touched yet, and I have the seven I wrote last month, so I’ve decided two of the ones I want to prioritize, but I’m not sure which other one I will add to my plate. At some point, if I’m feeling brave enough, I may have you vote to help me decide, but until then…

(Yeah, I was just too lazy to finish that last sentence, but if you want to think that I was doing that for dramatic effect, then by all means, do so.)

Other goals include writing 800,000 words next November if I can possibly manage that without killing myself. And I want to see if I can get some small freelance writing jobs on the side. In other words, it’s going to be busy year.

What about you, my little coffee beans? What are your plans for 2016, writing or otherwise? What is your editing process? If you participated in NaNoWriMo, how would you rate your work?