Monday, December 22, 2014

Decembers Past and Present (by Patty Blount)

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

More than just a song lyric, December meant Christmas and presents and trees and NO SCHOOL and family gatherings and cookies and a host of other traditions -- some of which I continue and some of which I now skip.

It's kind of sad, really. But with a full time day job plus a writing career, there are limits to how many Christmas traditions I can carry on.

Skip:

  • Christmas cards: I no longer obsess over the perfect photo and stamps and writing out all those envelopes. Instead, I spend an afternoon calling the people I haven't spoken to all year. 
  • Christmas shopping: Gone are the days of buying the perfect present for every person in our families. We now do a family grab bag with a $50 limit. 
  • Christmas dinner: Over the years, we've handled Christmas dinner in a number of different ways. First, my husband's parents used to take everyone out to dinner. But as we added children to the family, this became very expensive. So, we started sharing the holiday. Each year, one sibling hosted the entire family. Then, that became too difficult as we began moving further apart. 
  • Christmas trip: For a few years, we all met in a central location and rented a home big enough for all 18 of us. 
Continue:
  • Christmas baking: Since I was a little girl, baking cookies at Christmas time was a thing. Mom used to bake hand cookies... she'd roll out dough and I'd place my hand on it. She'd carefully trace around my hand with a butter knife, then cut through that outline with a sharp knife. We'd "paint" the nails with sprinkles and other decorations. A whole day was set aside for Italian struffoli, also called honey balls. Over the years, the cookie recipes have changed a bit, but I still bake boatloads every year because my family and friends enjoy those treats so much. 
  • Christmas decorating: When I was a kid, my grandparents had one of those white trees that rotated on a stand along with a color wheel that changed the tree from white to blue, green, red, and purple. Our own tree was an artificial evergreen. My mom used to do ceramics so we had a little swiss chalet that she'd made and a whole Nativity set. Sadly, those pieces have not survived the years, but I remember unpacking them and setting them up each year. Today, my family decorates a real tree. 
  • Christmas gathering: We choose an off day -- mid December or early January -- and get together to pick grab bag gifts and just hang out. 
  • Christmas breakfast: Since my husband and I got married, we've been going out to breakfast on Christmas morning. 
  • Christmas reading: I looked forward to the same stories. A Christmas Carol. The Gift of the Magi. Even though I'd read thoses stories dozens of times, I looked forward to reading them each year. 


Earlier this year, I released my first grown-up romance, a Christmas story called Goodness and Light. Traditions are super important to main character Elena. I borrowed many of my own traditions for this story -- Elena bakes cookies, shops for friends and family, decorates a tree and so on. Like me, Elena mourns for the traditions she no longer continues.

What traditions do you continue? Which ones do you miss? Whether it's Christmas, Hannukah, or Festivus, I wish you all a joyous holiday.




Sunday, December 21, 2014

Have Yourself a Merry Little Workweek (by Cyn Balog/Nichola Reilly)


Weeks like the one coming up, it’s hard not to be swept up in that feeling. You know the one I’m talking about, don’t you?

The one where everyone else in the world has is on vacation but you?

No?

Right, that’s probably because you’re on vacation. You’re a teacher, or a student, or have a lot of time off that you need to use before the end of the year. Meanwhile, I’ll be sitting behind a desk on Christmas Eve, crying on my keyboard, wondering how my life could have gone so drastically wrong.

Times like these, when the radio station at my work plays tunes like I’ll Be Home for Christmas, I think . . . NOT!  And Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, I think of Judy Garland singing to Tootie and I’m like, all they were boo-hooing about was moving to NYC and missing the World’s Fair. Big deal. They could easily hang that shining star upon he highest bough because they had Christmas off, and enough free time to make a slew of snowmen in their yard.

I am working pretty much every day this week, which makes for a lot of fun figuring out who will babysit the kids, who have 2 glorious weeks off. Not that there aren’t PLENTY of people available to sit with them… so many people are facebooking about their winter vacation escapades that I’ve already had to put my news feed off-limits. 

It’s weeks like these I start to rethink the full-time job idea. But it’s necessary for me, without a trust fund, a rich husband, or a multi-million-dollar book deal.  Still, there has to be a better way. After all, it often seems like most everyone else in the world has found it but me.

Happy holidays.  I salute you from my office, where I will be knee-deep in spreadsheets. But in the remote chance someone like me is reading this, fist bump. You’re not alone.  Have an after-work hours egg nog on me, my friend, and let your heart be light.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Santa Paws is Coming to Town (Alissa Grosso)

If I had a fireplace, and Santa Claus dropped in by way of the chimney, I'm pretty sure my dog Jack, would do his best guard dog impersonation and bark and growl until Santa headed straight back to the North Pole. The closest we get to Santa around these parts is the oil delivery guy and Jack has, on many occasions, voiced his opinion that this man and his big noisy truck are not welcome here.

Jack waiting to protect me from Santa, oil delivery guys or any other potential threats.


Lucky for Jack that he doesn't need to rely on Santa Claus for his Christmas gifts. That's my job. While many people know December 25 as Christmas, I'm pretty sure Jack considers it New Squeaky Toy Day, and as far as he's concerned there is nothing more exciting than a new toy, especially one that squeaks. One Christmas my boyfriend gave Jack a toy that had 10 separate squeakers in it. My father noted this was something of a passive aggressive gift, my boyfriend not having to actually share a house with Jack and his 10 squeakers.

Jack getting ready to try out a squeaky bone, a Christmas gift I gave him. It only had one squeaker in it.

Jack will be getting a new squeaky toy this Christmas and a tasty new bone to chew. I would say, "Shh, don't tell him," but honestly I think he already knows. It's like when I get a small, heavy, rectangular gift-wrapped package, and I have to pretend like I wonder what it could be, when I know, of course, that it's a book. My parents' old Golden Retriever, Winston, had the Christmas thing so figured out, that one year when the humans were taking too long eating breakfast, he took matters into his own paws, rooted around through the dozens of packages under the tree, found the correct one, tore off the paper and started happily squeaking away. Impressively, the rest of the packages remained untouched.

My cats used to get more excited about Christmas. For one thing, the tree, though artificial was a great source of entertainment. Of course, there was the usual batting of the ornaments off the tree. My cats also enjoyed climbing the tree and sleeping in the branches. There were often fights over who got to sleep under the tree. One year I went away for Christmas, and came home to find the tree on the ground. I don't go away for Christmas anymore.

Sadly, I lost one of my cats earlier this month. I now just have one cat, and he's become something of a crotchety old man. He has no interest in toys. He spends his days sleeping, eating and pooping in inappropriate places. There's a very good chance he'll leave me a present under the tree. Let's just say, I won't be getting excited about it the way Jack does over a new squeaky toy.

My crotchety old man in his more playful days attacking a George W. Bush cat toy (a gift from my parents) while my two girls wait patiently for their turn to chew on the president.

But one gift I am grateful for is all the love, joy and cuteness that animals have brought to my life over the years -- both those that are still here and those that have crossed over the rainbow bridge where every day is like Christmas with new squeaky toys and catnip mice (or presidents, as the case may be) for all.

I'll be giving out lots of gifts this Christmas, but I guarantee that none will be greeted with the joy and sheer exuberance that one small, squeaky present will generate, and so that's why I urge you, if you are able, to give the gift of a warm, safe home to an animal in need be they a shelter cat, a free-to-a-good-home dog or even a pair of stray kittens. And if you can't adopt any new furry friends, please consider your local animal shelter in your holiday gift giving. Even a small donation can help keep the tails wagging and the kitties purring.

May you have a furry (and merry) Christmas!


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

That Gift-Giving Feeling? (Natasha Sinel)

I love the aesthetics of the holiday season—snow, lights, trees (especially since, being Jewish, I don’t have to deal with the hassle part of procuring, decorating, undecorating, and disposing). But the other part of the season—the gift-giving—has been lost on me for a long, long time. December has become nothing more than a month filled with to-dos lists—Chanukah presents (three kids, eight nights, do the math), teacher gifts, tips, cute holiday card to everyone we or our parents have ever known, new unwrapped gifts for charities, checks for end of year fund-drives. It’s just one novel-length to-do list. On top of that, I'm bitter that the list takes up my writing time. And gift-receiving? No thanks. When I need something, I just get it.



But…but! The other day, I caught a glimpse of the giving spirit, and I’m hanging on to it for dear life. Our elementary school had a holiday boutique. Generous parent volunteers arranged gently-used stuff—jewelry, books, ties, mugs, stuffed animals, toys—on tables in the gym, and priced everything for about a dollar. I sent my kids in with a few bucks each.

That afternoon, my sons came home with their booty. While Z (2nd grade) chose to wait for Chanukah, J (Kindergarten) could do no such thing. He was bursting at the seams, talking faster than I could listen. And out of re-used plastic bags came each thoughtful purchase. A small soft teddy bear for Dad, a stuffed Tigger for Z, whose favorite color is orange, and a real-looking plush cat for me (I like cats, but some of us—I won’t mention names—are allergic). And then, out came the pièce de résistance—a truck for his oldest brother N (4th grade), whose current special interest is cars. J couldn’t wait for him to get home, and when he finally did, N, thankfully, was appreciative and sweet, even though the toy was a bit too young for him. J was so happy to get his brother’s approval, he almost cried.

This whole scene brought back a vivid memory from my own childhood. I was in 2nd grade. My mom and I walked to Higgers Drugs (now CVS). Incidentally, it is right next to Politics & Prose. Suddenly, I saw it. The perfect gift for Mom. I was absolutely sure that it had been placed there magically for the sole purpose of me finding it. It was the most beautiful key ring I’d ever seen—a large clear plastic rectangle with the name ELLEN etched in white letters. I ran to find my mom (in those days, it was okay to be out of your mom's sight in a store), asked for the amount of money I needed, then paid for the key ring. All. By. Myself. That was pure joy. Excitement. I could not wait until my mom opened that present. And I’m sure, like J, I didn’t wait. I don’t remember her reaction (I imagine she was appropriately enthusiastic), but I do remember that she kept that bulky thing on her key ring for years and years.


Turtlenecked Me in 2nd Grade

I want that feeling back—the innocence and pleasure, so completely devoid of cynicism. I want gift-giving to signify more than just checkboxes on my list of things to-do. I want to stop wishing for December to end so I can get back to “normal” life. I long to feel the way J (and 2nd grade me) felt when choosing and giving a gift.

Maybe it’s not too late for this year. After all, Chanukah’s only just begun.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Unexpected (and much needed) Moments of Peace by Jody Casella

Confession: I'm not a huge fan of the Christmas season.

Instead of feeling peace and good will toward men, I am usually stressing about elbowing my way through crowded stores to buy gifts that no one really needs, and hauling boxes of decorations up from the basement to festoon the house that a couple of weeks later I'll be unfestooning, and gearing myself up to host out-of-town guests which involves cleaning my train wreck of a home.

Fortunately, every year there are few happy glimmers of what the Christmas Season is all about.

Our family's annual watching of It's a Wonderful Life.

The fresh piney scent of the tree (every year I say I don't want a live tree because they make such a damn mess and every year we get one and I love it.)

Buying gifts for kids at a local community center and helping at their holiday party.

Hanging out with my family and the visiting relatives. Playing cards. Making puzzles. Listening to Bing Crosby and Charlie Brown Christmas. Cooking and eating tons of food. 

Okay, I'll admit it: I like Christmas, once I get into the swing of it. 

One year I didn't think I was going to. 

We'd just moved from Lexington, Kentucky to Columbus, Ohio a few weeks before. Money was tight. We hadn't sold our house in Lexington yet and it looked like weren't going to for a while. The furnace in the Lexington house broke and we were afraid the pipes were going to burst. My husband kept driving back (three hours away) to deal with each new maintenance issue. 

The house in Columbus was giving us other interesting maintenance issues. The place was drafty and old and cold. So cold we were walking around, inside, wearing our coats, hats, and mittens. Snow built up on the inside of the windows and we were glad because it meant that the icy wind could no longer blow in through the window cracks.  

We had radon in the basement. The guy installing the radon pump had to drill into the attic. He poked his head up there and came rushing back down to ask me, and I quote: "Did you know you have a Circle of Life type thing going on up in your attic?" Apparently, mice, birds, and raccoons had taken up residence and left behind a 3-foot high mound of straw and feces that the home inspector had failed to notice.

Our entire backyard flooded. And froze over. 

Our kids (in 8th and 5th grade) were stressed too. They were missing all of their Lexington friends and were trying to navigate new schools and routines and social groups. 

A week before Christmas things reached a breaking point. My husband had gone back to Lexington to fix the newly broken kitchen sink. It was 6:00, and my son informed me that his school was having an orchestra concert at 7:00. He had to be there in thirty minutes.

We ran around trying to finish up dinner and get out the door. My daughter started pitching a fit because she didn't want to go to the concert.  My son didn't know what he was supposed to wear. At his old school, orchestra kids always wore white shirts and black pants. But who knew about this place. I made him wear khakis and a blue collared shirt, figuring that would work no matter what. 

I still didn't know how to get to the school without looking at a map. I drove over in the dark (no streetlights in our little town. I know. What the HELL??) There were like two million people dropping off their kids and going off to park who knows where. My daughter was still whining in the back seat. My son mentioned that he thought he was supposed to play a viola solo and he was a little nervous about it. 

The kids being let out of the cars were all wearing black and white. 

Daughter and I joined the crowd of strangers streaming into the still unfamiliar middle school. We followed the mob to the auditorium. On the way I bumped into my son, who looked out of place in his khakis in the sea of black and white. 

"Can you go back home to get my black pants?" he asked me, voice quivery.

"No," I snapped. I barely knew the way home in the dark. I didn't think I'd make it back and forth in time. Daughter was still attitude-ing by my side and I couldn't bear to drag her back outside into the cold. I'm ashamed to admit that I berated my son, something along the lines of "This is your own damn fault for telling me at the last minute about the damn concert. You need to be more responsible." Blah blah bitchy bitch. 

He shrugged dejectedly and went off to find his class.

I remembered he had a solo and realized that I hadn't wished him good luck and what kind of crap mother was I making my kid feel crappy right before a concert?

But whatever.

Nobody even knew us in this stupid place. Daughter and I found a seat surrounded by strangers, all of these people calling each other by name and waving and chatting around us and I sank down into my chair thinking about my husband sleeping on the floor of our old house that I had loved so much and how later me, my whiney daughter, and irresponsible son would be going home to our Circle of Life Frozen Wasteland house that I hated.

The orchestra filed out in their black and white and there was my gangly 8th grader slumping and looking miserable. 

I've never felt so out of place and helpless and anxious and filled with self-loathing.

The music started. The usual kid orchestra deal. Decent music, but not what you'd probably choose to listen to for an hour if your kid wasn't one of the kids up there playing. 

The last song listed in the program was some song I'd never heard of called Dona Nobis Pacem. The music teacher introduced it, explaining that Dona Nobis Pacem, in Latin, means "Grant us peace." If the music is sung, those are the only words. 

Yeah yeah who cares, I was thinking, let's just get this show over with.

The 8th graders left the stage and scattered throughout the audience. I saw my son make his way down the aisle. He trudged upstairs to play somewhere in the balcony.

Suddenly I was nervous for him. What the hell kind of solo was he playing? I'd never heard him practice at home. Did he even know his part? 

The music started. One violin playing, and another, and another. Violas and cellos joining in. It was one of the most beautiful songs I'd ever heard. And it kept going, a round of the same tune, over and over. It ended as it began, one child after another playing their part and stopping, until it was just one. 

A viola. 

By then the music had risen to a crescendo and had fallen away and that one strand, by that one child, had me choking back tears. 

I don't know how I knew it, but I realized it was my child, playing, alone, up there in the balcony, in his khakis, surrounded, as my daughter and I were, by strangers. 

Does it seem silly to say that a three minute song could break a person down and fill her back up? 

For three minutes time stopped and there were no khakis or broken sinks or raccoons in the attic. No money worries or parental guilt or loneliness. 

When my son played the final note, there was another moment silence.

Stillness. 

Peace. 



(Note: This video is the Jones Middle School Orchestra in Upper Arlington Ohio playing Dona Nobis Pacem in 2010. Daughter is the violist.) 



Monday, December 15, 2014

Lang May Yer Lum Reek (Amy K. Nichols)

Photo courtesy of Steve Collis, Melbourne, Australia 
Once upon many years ago now, my husband and I celebrated Hogmanay (New Years) in Edinburgh, Scotland, with a couple of friends. Being on Princes Street is Scotland's equivalent of Times Square. This was before it became a ticketed event, and the streets were teeming with revelers. It was incredible. People from all over the world had gathered below Edinburgh Castle to celebrate the new year. I’ll never forget how the fireworks looked as they exploded in the hazy winter-night sky or the sound of 300,000 people singing “Auld Lang Syne”. Shortly after midnight, the four of us linked arms and headed off into the crowd in search of the shuttle back to our hotel.

We only got as far as The Mound when the crowds grew too thick to move. Before we realized what was happening, we found ourselves in a crushing mass of people with no way out. Have you ever been on your tippy toes in the ocean, tossed by the waves and trying to keep your head above water? Imagine that, but with people. Bodies crushed against me so tight I couldn’t expand my ribs to breathe. I lifted my face up into the sky, trying to find fresh air as more and more people packed in. I remember staring at the chimney tops and praying. At one point I thought, This is it. I’m going to die in a crowd on New Year’s Eve in Scotland.

It was one of the scariest moments of my life. One minute we were singing “Auld Lang Syne” and being kissed by drunken merrymakers. The next we weren’t sure we would be around to see the sun rise on the new year.

We did make it out, though, thank God. Something shifted and the crowd began to move like a swift current, carrying us along with it to our right. It spit us out right in front of a police barricade, where a number of injured people sat behind scaffolding. With room to move, the crowds dispersed. My husband and I hugged each other and cried, happy to be alive.

I found out later that that year's Hogmanay holds the Guinness World Record for being the world's largest New Year party, with 400,000 people in attendance. (I also found out 600 people were injured. Yikes.)

That night marked a turning point in my lifeIn high school, my best friend and I had made lists of things to do before we die. After Hogmanay, I found that list and started completing the things on it, because there’s nothing like facing mortality to make you realize life is short and there's no guarantee of tomorrow.

One of the things on that list? Write books.

My Christmas gift
this year
On Tuesday, my debut novel, Now That You're Here, was published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, and I've spent the last six days promoting it both online and with author appearances. It's been a dream come true. It's like Christmas came early this year. I'm grateful for all those who took time to come out to the events and support me. And I'm grateful for that scary and amazing night all those years ago in Scotland. If it weren't for getting squished at Hogmanay, I wonder if I'd be where I am now. I wonder if I'd have continued letting that list gather dust. I wonder if I'd have forgotten about it altogether.

My wish for you this holiday season is that you would dust off your own list--or make a new one, if necessary--and use the start of a new year to begin crossing off your own To Do's. You don't need a deadly hug from thousands of drunken merrymakers to help you understand that life is short. Just go for it. What have you got to lose?

Happy Hogmanay to you and yours! Lang may yer lum reek. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Holiday Toast (Nancy Ohlin)


This holiday season, I want to send waves of gratitude and love to an underappreciated demographic in my life:  my fellow writers.

Writing truly is a solitary profession.  That’s one of the things that drew me to being a full-time writer:  no bosses, no office politics, no annoying colleagues. 

But over the years, it got to be a little too solitary for me.   The writers I knew rarely came out of their caves, myself included.  We hardly ever talked shop or traded war stories.  Some subjects were totally hush-hush, like advances, royalties, and how we got our agents; it was like we were engaged in our own version of the Hunger Games, quietly battling each other for a tiny, tiny pool of book contracts and readership dollars.

We definitely did not talk about how terrified we were most of the time.

Something seems to have changed, though, or maybe I’m the one who’s changed.  Now, if I’m having a bad day because of writer’s block, a rejection letter, marketing fatigue, creative fatigue, no self-esteem, no money, or all of the above, I know that I can pick up the phone, send an email, or post on Facebook, and you are all right there with support, hugs, advice, and virtual chocolate. 

I have no idea how I made it this far without you guys.

I raise my glass to all of you.  Happy Holidays!




Saturday, December 13, 2014

Finding the Spirit of the Season or "I'm not Scrooge, I swear!" (Stephanie Kuehnert)

I had a hard time thinking of what to write about this month... until I thought about why I had a hard time thinking about what to write...

I'll admit it, for most of my life I've been rather ambivalent about the holiday season. Like honestly, I'd be okay skipping straight from Halloween (easily my favorite holiday!) to the New Year (fresh starts, resolutions, I LOVE that stuff). Why?


  • The big gathering stuff. I have a large extended family and I've married into an even larger extended family. All of these people are fabulous and I love them, but being around everyone all at once, running around from one house to the next, as an introvert and one who has struggled with depression and anxiety for much of her life, I find it insanely OVERWHELMING. I even did as a kid--like I'd be excited about seeing everyone, especially my cousins, and of course I'd be thrilled about presents, but there was always this unsettled feeling that I carried deep in my gut and I couldn't put a finger on it until last year when we moved to Seattle and didn't have to do all of the holiday running around. I missed the people, but I was soooooo relieved. That made me feel like an asshole, but then I was like, wait, this is just my personality. It doesn't mean I don't love these folks just because I'd rather see them in smaller groups.
    • The food at the center of the big gathering stuff. Before I even went vegetarian at the thirteen, I didn't like turkey (the Thanksgiving staple) and I didn't like ham (the Christmas staple). My immediate family would often have pasta for Christmas Eve (and it was just the four of us and occasionally a couple of visitors--a much more manageable size for me), which I did love and that tradition, which was always followed by a game of Clue, is what I miss the most. But the other food situations just made gatherings more stressful. Then once I went vegan, I had to bring my own food everywhere, which was nice in some ways (no more picking at sides and rushing home to eat a PB&J), but annoying in others (I'd cook at home, then have to reheat and there were always timing issues and it was never quite as good and I always found myself wishing I could just eat it at my own house, like when it was ready). Now my husband and I pick out exactly what we want, we plan the meal for when we want to eat it, we cook, and voila! Well, except we screwed up the mashed potatoes this year because we got so sucked into watching Firefly that we didn't monitor closely enough. Fortunately there were extra potatoes.
  •  The pressure to be happy and "on." This kind of goes along with my issues above. It's hard work for me to make small talk for hours, and especially during my teen years, it was hard work to smile. People say all the time, "Oh the holidays can be hard. They make people sad," but A. I always thought that was only supposed to apply to people who had harder lives or more dysfunctional families than mine and B. People say that, but there still seems to be that expectation to smile and be jovial despite the fact that even if you have a really awesome family, aren't an introvert with depression, the holidays are really freaking stressful because...
  • The time crunch thing. It seems like we should all have plenty of time for the celebrating and the present buying because the holiday season is like a month long or something, but let's be real, it's also the end of the year. If you're a kid this means you have school projects or finals, if you're an adult you have work projects to wrap up, and... if you're a writer, you are probably on deadline. I am this year. I spent the days surrounding Thanksgiving working for twelve hours so I could have Thanksgiving day off. My book is due right after the new year, so now I'm racing the clock to see if I can get my book done before Christmas when my family arrives to visit. Like I said, freaking stressful. I had basically one day to do all the gift shopping, and I know plenty of people who aren't on deadline who are in the same boat, so this stress is pretty universal.
  • The weather. Maybe in this case I am an asshole, but I don't like, want, or understand the appeal of the "white Christmas." Yeah, okay, it's pretty. But when you are rushing around to buy presents or trying to travel to see family, the inconvenience factor really outweighs that in my book. I'm also a St. Louis-born, Chicago-raised person who ABHORS snow and cold. I had one blizzard/snowpocalypse/Chiberia winter too many. Actually I had like five. That's what brought me to Seattle. Where the snow is pretty. Because it is generally on the mountains where I think it belongs and when it does fall in the city, everyone panics and everything shuts down and it's there just long enough to play in and it melts before it becomes a gross, blackened ice blob. Anyway, so I've mostly eliminated this particular holiday season problem for myself, but it has now been replaced with sort of feeling like a jerk when people ask if I'm going back to Chicago for the holidays and I respond with HAHAHAHA, NO, NOT EVER.
  • The religious thing. My mom was raised Catholic. My dad was raised Lutheran, but when I was born, he was an atheist, and thereby I was raised... nothing. We celebrated Christmas and I knew the whole baby Jesus story, but in my house Christmas was Santa and presents and the lights and the tree, and you know after a certain point, there wasn't Santa anymore either, so... I kind of didn't get it. I mean, I liked presents, don't get me wrong, but the religious side was so confusing to me. It didn't help that occasionally we did go to church on Christmas and for a period we even had an advent calendar, but at that point I was ten  and since I hadn't been raised in it, whenever I was thrust into a religious situation, I always felt like the kid who was several grades behind her peers. My mantra was always, just get through this baby Jesus play thing we are watching at my cousin's church and then we will drive around looking at the pretty lights. It was only in my twenties when I chose to go to the Christmas Eve services every year at the Lutheran school/church that my niece (my childhood best friend's daughter) attended to see her sing when I finally started to get comfortable with it all. Sort of. At the end of the day, I'm still the daughter of a man who has now remarried, converted to Judaism yet still celebrates Christmas because "I like the tree." I think that sums up why Christmas has always been confusing/awkward for me.   
So at this point, you are probably thinking, Wow, Stephanie, you have a serious hate on for the holidays. You ARE a Scrooge. But I swear, I'm not. I honestly just think it's important to talk about why the holidays are uncomfortable (defying that whole pressure to jovial thing) AND I've been doing some serious soul-searching about why I feel the way I do and where I do see and experience the "spirit of the season":
  • I really like giving gifts. (See! Not Scrooge! I told you!) The joy of finding something that you know is going to really put a smile on someone's face and/or show them how much you love them and how well you know them is unbeatable. Even though I only had like a day to shop this year, I'm really excited about the stuff I got my nieces, my mom, my cousin, and especially my brother. That present is gonna make him so nostalgic (and if you are reading this, Dan, there's another "clue.") Gift giving has improved for me when I took away the pressure of buying stuff for everyone for the sake of like... that's what you are supposed to do or worrying about getting things to people exactly on time.
  • The stories. I love A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker. I love the opportunity to get together with people (in smaller groups) and hear the story of their year. As a writer, I love that the season is one of magic and stories.
  • Self/family-created traditions. The one thing I miss about Christmas in Chicago is playing Clue with my mom and brother on Christmas Eve. That was the best. Also, even though most of my friends and I just buy each other presents for birthdays or randomly, I have a pair of BFFs that I met trading clothes and music, etc online. The website had a secret Santa gift exchange and these girls and I still always exchange holiday presents. I love that because it reminds me of how our friendship formed. I also love my new just-the-two-of-us vegan Thanksgiving with my husband.
  • Gratitude. That's what is at the center of all of this, right? Or at least that was my answer when I asked myself, "Okay, the gatherings, the religion, the food, all of that can be hard for you, but what is the real spirit of this thing?" 
  • I try to spend as much time as I can thinking about (and in some cases expressing through gifts) what I’m grateful for. From the little things like the security guard that I saw feeding peanuts to a squirrel this morning to the big things like a husband who cleaned the house and did most of the cooking during the Thanksgiving weekend while I worked to meet my writing goals (and who will entertain my family if I don’t finish my revisions before they arrive). Like my niece who has grown from the little girl I used to brave my church uncomfortableness for to see sing in her pretty dresses into a high school senior  who I have long conversations with on Skype during the holidays that always end with me teary-eyed and proud. Like a new baby “niece” born to my very best friend this year. Like living in this gorgeous city that is such a perfect fit for me and is filled with evergreens because like my father, I also enjoy those trees a lot. I don’t tend to put one up in my house, but they are perfect when outlined by a rainbow (quite common in Seattle winter):


Or backed by a snow-covered mountain:



That list might be slightly shorter, but it's way more meaningful, so I hope you don’t think I’m too much of a Scrooge!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Being Productive During the Holidays -- Yvonne Ventresca

Some of the most important things in life are intangible: health, love, time. I can’t help much with health and love. But I do have some productivity tips to share, because people generally don’t walk around during the holiday season thinking, "I have plenty of time!"


Here are some ideas that might help you make the most of your time:

When planning your day, do the hard stuff first. Although it seems like human nature to put off a difficult phone call or a hard-to-write email, getting it done early in the day creates a sense of accomplishment. (I also like to group multiple hard tasks together. If I'm going to be in a bad mood, I might as well make the most of it.) When you're finished, the tough stuff is no longer hanging over you, draining your energy. Freedom!

On a similar note, if you can control the order of your tasks, do the important things first. (These are sometimes also the hard things.) Author Stephen Covey demonstrated this by filling a jar with big rocks, then pebbles, then sand. At first, people thought it was a lesson about how much you could cram into the jar. But his point was actually that if the big rocks didn't go in first, they would never fit. Take care of the "rocks" first.

Rocks = important things.

The article “The Best Way to Change Your Habits? Control Your Environment” by Gregory Ciotti discusses an interesting way to set up habits. For example, he uses different devices depending on what he's doing -- a laptop is for emails but more meaningful writing is done at a desktop computer. The electronics help signal his brain what he’ll be working on. You can use this for other writing tasks, too. For instance, I always proofread in a different room from my regular writing and editing.

Other productivity tips include the power of getting started, working with scheduled breaks, and dividing tasks into manageable pieces. "The Science of Productivity" is a fun three minute video from The Sparring Mind that explains these concepts and a few more.



If you have other time-saving or productivity tips for this busy time of year, please share them below. I hope you find time for all the important things in 2015!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Merry Jenny Christmas - Jenny O'Connell

I love, love, love the holiday season. My favorite day of the year is Christmas Eve because it's all about anticipation and warmth and you can track Santa on NORAD and get all excited as midnight approaches. I start listening to Christmas carols as soon as I can find the radio station that's playing them (this year it was the day after Halloween). We don't have many holiday traditions in our house, except to decorate the day after Thanksgiving and put the trees up, but this year we started a new one because, as you can tell, I just got married in September. So this weekend my husband and our kids sat down at the table with carols playing, the trees lit (we have four trees in our house) and we each decorated an ornament (just wooden ornaments like a penguin, a snowman, a mitten, a present and a Christmas ball). Then we hung them on one of the trees and decided it's something we will do every year from now on (my kids are 17 and 15 so getting them to sit with us for an hour was a treat). I can't wait to look back years from now at the absolutely horrific snowman my 15 year old son decorated (he has not an ounce of artistic skill) and the rainbow mitten my stepson colored. It will remind me of our first Christmas as a family, just like the ornaments on the biggest tree in our house reminds me of growing up (there are ornaments on that tree that my mother gave me when I was just a little girl).

In my house Christmas really is about a spirit instead of a day.  And while I'd like to think it's a spirit I could carry with me all year long, there's just something so wonderful and warm about the month of December, even if right now it's 20 degrees in Boston. It's a time to look back and remember, and just feel good about where we are today. And if it gives me permission to sing carols at the top of my lungs for one month a year, all the better.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday filled with joy and memories. See you next year!!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Jack Black, Christmas Movies, and Me

I didn't set out to love Christmas movies any more than I set out to memorize the lyrics to nine million Christmas songs. But it happened anyway, the way things do. I was a Jewish kid who didn't celebrate Christmas--although I was part of big extended family and some of them did and certainly many of my friends did. And then I married into a really big, extended and diverse family and became part of whole bunch of people who mostly did celebrate Christmas--in a variety of different forms-- and so it was always there for the tasting, so to speak.

This is not, by the way, going to be a particularly serious post, but since we have been having some very serious and needed conversations about diversity lately, let me add that unless you shut off media consumption entirely for most of your life, Christmas essentially bombards you whether you want it to or not. This is not a bad thing, but it is a thing. And if you're the smoked salmon swimming upstream, you are, let's face it, the kid who isn't going to sit on Santa's lap or write him a letter and are in fact the kid who doesn't know what to tell your friends who do believe that a man comes down their chimney (even if they don't have one) and brings them gifts. For weeks, well-meaning adults bend over you and ask you what you want for Christmas, or if you're ready for Christmas (that was easy one. Yes, I am ready! It's easy to get ready if you have nothing to do!), and I certainly did like making and giving gifts to people I loved. But who doesn't like that at any season? I still love that! And I also love my own holidays, so honestly it's all cool. It's just that it's so, you know, pervasive.

 You make ornaments in art for the tree you don't have, and sing songs about Jesus in choir (they are beautiful songs and you love them for their musicality but still), and every once in a while someone tosses about the dreidel song or says the word latke and your ears perk up like a dog hearing kibble drop in a bowl. One year I convinced my mother to let me decorate our rubber tree with ornaments. Another year I did go sit on Santa's lap and told him what I wanted for Christmas. It was not dissimilar to voting in the Republican primary because you want to cast a vote for some local candidates you like. But the whole time it feels stealthy and weird, like at some sudden moment, the octogenarian with the home perm checking you in will holler, "Democrat!" and you'll be undone.

(For the uninitiated, Chanukah is not a major Jewish holiday. Passover is, however, and thus my personal excitement and curiosity about Christian Bale playing Moses in the new Exodus movie. Christian Bale! As Moses! Will he be as good as old Chuck Heston? Why does everyone in the film seem to have British accents? But I digress…)

But Christmas movies! Oh how I love Christmas movies! I really, really do. (So much so that I think it leaked into my brain and my 2013 book, THE SWEET DEAD LIFE, ended up set at Christmas in Houston. Cause what better setting for a book about what happens when your stoner brother comes back from a fatal car accident as your guardian angel? And you can't tell anyone because even if you did, who would believe you? Certainly not your next door neighbors with all their lawn angels…)

Anyway, Christmas movies. I adore them.  And not just Christmas movies set at Christmas. But non-Christmas movies that are set at Christmas, too, so the holiday has to sort of subliminally leak in. And since this post is getting long and I have a book to finish writing so my editor doesn't think I'm a slacker, I shall get to it now.

Let me finally add that this is not the entire list. In fact, I'm sure I'm skipping some of my favorites. But the ones that come to mind immediately include, in no particular order:

1. Love Actually (multiple stories! A goofy song! Every actor you love! Happy, happy endings!)

2. The Holiday (Jack Black ends up with Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz ends up with Jude Law plus Christmas in both rural England and LA and a lovely minor role by the late great Eli Wallach. Plus a Chanukah party! Jack Black and Eli Wallach and Kate Winslet celebrating Chanukah while the Santa Ana winds blow outside this gorgeous house!)

3. Serendipity ( John Cusak cute meets Kate Beckinsale at Christmas and wacky love story ensues. Plus the restaurant of the same name. And ice skating in Central Park.)

4. It's a Wonderful Life (Do I even have to explain this one? Zuzus petals. Enough said.)

5. Every Hallmark Christmas movie, including but not limited to The Christmas List (a perfume counter saleslady puts her Christmas wish list in Santa's mailbox at the store and much wacky Christmas frolic ensues) and the more recent Snow Bride (girl who works at a gossip mag goes to spy on wealthy political family, car gets stuck, she's somehow wearing her bf's wedding dress and then she falls in love. At Christmas. In a celluloid perfect town near Big Bear in CA.). Also a very old one I haven't seen in a long time called The House Without a Christmas Tree.

6. Home Alone 1 and 2. (again, do I even have to explain? Kevinnnnnnnnn!!! And fyi, the whole McCauley Culkin's dead thing was an internet hoax)

7. Die Hard (did you remember it took place at Christmas? Well it does!)

8. A Christmas Story (You'll put your eye out, kid!)

9. Miracle on 34th Street (the 30s version with Natalie Wood and Maureen O'Hara… it's Thanksgiving AND Christmas! Plus a miracle!)

10. When Harry Met Sally (some of it takes place at the holidays, especially the end!!)

11. And of course, A Charlie Brown Christmas and the original cartoon version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. (did you know the voice was Boris Karloff??)

And a million more, including Edward Scissorhands, which yes, takes place in part at Christmas!

Merry Christmas/Happy Chanukah/Cheery Winter Solstice, etc.





Saturday, December 6, 2014

That Time I Became Santa Claus -- Jen Doktorski


Every Christmas when I was little, my parents would host a neighborhood party with the highlight being Santa’s arrival. Somewhere between dinner and dessert, we’d hear jingle bells ringing, heavy footsteps on the stairs, and then he’d burst into the family room carrying a big bag overflowing with gifts for every kid at the party. We never wondered how he had time take a break from his busy toy-making schedule to stop by and distribute toys on a Saturday in early December. Nor did we wonder why Santa’s beard didn’t fit quite right or our gifts all came with different wrapping paper. (Parents supplied gifts for their own children in advance.) By the time he arrived, we were all too high on Christmas cookies, adrenaline, and the power of belief to notice such minor inconsistencies.
As the years went by, it slowly dawned on me that Santa looked and sounded an awful lot like my dad and that revelation came with mixed emotions. I’d figured out something my younger sister and the rest of the little kids hadn’t yet pieced together, but I also felt a sense of sadness my nine-year-old self couldn’t articulate at the time—I’d lost the magic. I’d lost a friend.

After that, I became a Thursday kind of girl. I liked Thursday’s better than Fridays. Thanksgiving better than Christmas, the first half of a book better than the ending, and the second to last day of school better than the first day of summer vacation. It wasn’t that I made a conscious decision to like the idea of something better than the reality, it just happened. For years, I remained a Thursday girl and then one of the most wonderful, life-changing things happened to me. I found out I was going to be a mom. Suddenly, the anticipation was not better than the reality. Nine months was too long! I needed this little person to arrive and when she did, my whole world was turned upside down—in a good way. A great way! The reality of her—the perfect combo platter of me and my husband—was certainly way better than the idea of her.
Motherhood has brought about lots of surprises, mostly good but some not so much. (There’s no way to put a good spin on diaper changing.) Giving your heart away is scary, but it’s also the greatest gift. The same year I became a mom I also became an aunt and as the first Christmas with babies in our family approached my dad called one day to say he’d ordered a new suit. At first I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. The fact that he wouldn’t be wearing the same blue suit he’d owned since my college graduation was hardly news. But then he clarified. “A Santa suit.” Ohhh. An inexplicable happiness came over me. I might have even heard sleigh bells. My old friend was back! And not only that, I was Santa Claus. Okay sure, my dad would don the suit and pass out gifts on Christmas Eve, but the responsibility of creating that magic on Christmas morning was up to me! My mind made quick connections. I was also the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and who knows what else, The Great Pumpkin maybe? I felt like throwing a holiday party.


There are many, many wonderful gifts associated with being a parent, but getting to relive the magic—to see it through my daughter’s eyes—is among the best. To hear her say “I see it, I see it! It’s Rudolph!” when I pointed to a blinking red light in the sky on Christmas Eve; to answer her notes to Santa in fancy script and her letters to the Tooth Fairy in very, very tiny handwriting; to see her face the first time she met Cinderella in Disney World and couldn’t believe her favorite princess gave her a hug. I’m getting teary just typing this.


But this week, that bittersweet feeling came back. “The kids at school say there’s no Santa Claus,” she told me. “Do you believe in Santa Claus? Is he real? Because I really want him to be real?” Me too. I haven’t answered her questions yet. It was right before bedtime and I had a feeling both of us were going to cry. But I thought blogging about it might help me come up with an answer.

I remember my second grade teacher saying, when we pestered her with those same questions that she believed in the spirit of Santa Claus. Even to my second-grade ears it sounded lame, but I’ve since come around on the idea. I do believe in the spirit of Santa Claus. I see it in the way we’re transformed this time of year. We put others’ wishes above our own. We appreciate all we have a little more and share with those who may not have as much. We embrace the power of believing in things we cannot see and find joy in the smiling faces of others. Our faith is restored by the light of this season and we remember that magic exists.
So, how will I answer my daughter’s questions?

Do I believe in Santa Claus? Yes. His story, the idea of him, is too powerful to not believe that a real person once walked the earth with a mission to show us all that real joy in life comes from selfless giving.

Do I believe the jolly old elf still loves among us at the North Pole? Sadly, no. But here’s the good news. At some point, if we’re lucky, we become Santa Claus. I have saved every letter my daughter has ever written to him. They are still sealed and tucked away at the bottom of my drawer. I’ll let her see them one day if she wants, but they are my special gift and I’d like to keep them forever if she’ll let me. Wearing the red suit has been a great honor and I’m not ready to say goodbye to my old friend just yet.
 
 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Behold: The Laundr-tree!! (Laurie Boyle Crompton)

For those under deadline this season I present to you my patented four step guide to building your very own traditional Laundr-tree. Preparation for the holidays just got a whole lot simpler. Get ready to bask in the glow...

Step One: Begin with a sizable pile of laundry. For those of you stalled on this step - go choke on some eggnog. For those of you who glanced at a corner and replied, "Okay, got it," you are my people. Proceed to step two.
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Step Two: Put that ugly Christmas sweater to some good use and camouflage that pile. You may either stop at this step, or else skip it entirely. This project doesn't have hard and fast rules, and if you haven't realized it yet - I'm no Suzy Homemaker. In fact, I should've probably opened with the disclaimer that I'm completely unqualified to give crafty homemaking advice. I'm the worst. 
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Step Three: (Optional) Steal the lights off the neighbor's bushes and spread them ever so gently over the pile. For those looking to give that little bit extra - add an angel to the top of the pile. Or perhaps a spritz of pine scented air freshener if your laundry happens to be extra-funky. 
photo (48)

Step Four: Throw on some holiday tunes and relax! I present to you... The Laundr-tree!! Look how festive it looks at night.
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Happy Holidays to all!
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Laurie Boyle Crompton is the author of Adrenaline Crush (FSG 2014) Blaze, and The Real Prom Queens of Westfield High (Sourcebooks 2013, 2014). She lives in Queens, NY, but often escapes to New Paltz where she and her family can be found climbing over rocks or tromping through the forest. Visit her at lboylecrompton.com or friend her on Facebook. She likes friends.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

All I want for Christmas... is what I had in October - Delilah S. Dawson

A funny and horrible thing happened on my birthday, which was October 21.

I was wearing my new boots and my favorite Batman sweatshirt, heading to the barn for a trail ride on my horse. And then something went wrong while I was mounting, and for the first time in my life, I fell off a horse. And I landed on my back. Hard.

They say that when you fall off, you should get back in the saddle, but that's assuming that you can move. The first thing I did was lie on the ground and shout, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!"-- sarcastically, of course. The second thing I did was wiggle my fingers and toes and make sure that beyond the pain, I wasn't paralyzed. The third thing I did was demand that my husband avoid potholes while driving me to the hospital.

The X-ray showed that I had broken my back, and I had to put on an ugly, uncomfortable, rigid brace to hold my spine in the correct alignment during waking hours. It hit my gag reflex and belly at the same time, all while destroying my wardrobe.

For the last six weeks, I've been broken, in pain, and wearing cyborg armor. I couldn't shave my legs, couldn't hug my dog or bend over to pick up that Q-tip I dropped two weeks ago. And I kept telling myself that I should be grateful-- it could've been A LOT worse.

But what they don't tell you about trauma is that... it's traumatic. After they took the X-ray, I was trying to put on my bra, and... I couldn't. I started shaking and crying uncontrollably. I did some Googling to see what was wrong with me, and it turns out that it's totally normal to tremble after an injury or scare, as the adrenaline ebbs. I learned that the chemical makeup of tears actually helps move stress out of the body. And I learned that even people who think they're strong have moments when they feel weak and hopeless.

I bought my horse, Polly, two years ago. She was my Christmas present, and she represented every Christmas of my childhood, when I'd dreamed of having a pony of my own. For a while, during my recovery, I assumed that I would have to sell her. That she was just too dangerous. That I needed a shorter or more placid horse, or that I would never ride again.

And then, a funny thing happened. I realized that I was letting fear steer me. I'd been thinking about the accident as something that happened to me instead of something that happened... because of me. Because I hadn't put in the time working with an anxious horse with a bad history. Once I took control of the situation, I realized that it was in my power to take back my relationship with my horse. This week, Polly and I started working with a trainer to help us become better partners, and the response I've seen in just a few days of ground work is amazing.

My holiday wish was twofold: I wanted to get out of that stupid back brace, and I wanted to regain my relationship with Polly. This week, I got both things, plus a third: the knowledge that when you stop letting fear hold the reins, you get to decide how things are going to be. There's a natural cycle of healing, physical and emotional, and if you keep thinking positive and reaching out for help when you feel weak or scared, you're going to come out the other side. You can regain what you lost before your accident-- and sometimes even exceed it.

Next up: Getting back in the saddle!

When my physical therapist says it's okay, of course.


Me and Polly before the fall.
Always wear your helmet, kids!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

THE GREATEST GIFT (HOLLY SCHINDLER)

I recently saw a few posts in my Twitter feed about unfollowing people with differing political views...and it really bothered me. 

I mean, I get it if you're seeing things you find offensive.  Okay.  Unfollow, turn them off, that's fine.  But I worry that we're getting to a point where we only want to hear messages we agree with.  I worry about not liking a book because the reader doesn't like the protagonist as a person or agree with all the choices that character makes.  I worry that we only want to read books or see art or have friends who are just like us, who reflect the exact same values or ideas we have. 

I don't want a world that looks like me.  I want friends and books and art and music and movies to push me out of my comfort zone.  I want what I think to be challenged.  I want to be shown new ways of looking at the world.  In many ways, I'm not the same Holly Schindler in 2014 that I was in 2000.  Nor would I want to be.  Nor would I want to still be the same me I am now in 2024.  I'm not sure that you grow if you don't get pushed.

For my money, the prettiest tree on the planet is the Christmas tree--because it's full of so many different ornaments and lights and accessories.  Every tree is a total hodgepodge, and no two trees are ever exactly the same.  That's the way people should be--it's the way literature should be.  Each writer is a product of a lifetime spent reading all sorts of different authors from different backgrounds in different genres.  So should each person be a product of being exposed to a multitude of different walks of life, different opinions, different attitudes.

To me, being exposed to new visions and viewpoints, being forced to see the world from a different angle, is the greatest gift any creative person could ever receive...


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ellen Jensen Abbott interviews Amy K. Nichols

This month I had the pleasure of talking to Amy K. Nichols, author of Now That You’re Here, available on December 9 from Knopf Books for Young Readers—just 9 days away! Whoot! Whoot!  

Now That You’re Here is science fiction and will be followed by Amy’s next book, While You Were Gone (Knopf, 2015), which follows the same characters as Now That You’re Here, but in a parallel universe! So cool!

Here’s our conversation:

EJA: What draws you into science fiction? Why science fiction?
AKN: I didn’t actually set out to write science fiction, or ever imagine myself becoming a science fiction author. It kind of makes sense, though, as I’ve loved time travel and parallel universe stories since I was a kid. I like the possibilities science fiction presents. There’s a lot of room for imagination in science fiction. Science fiction stories also lend themselves easily to being held up as mirrors of our world. You can comment on our society by writing about other societies, (hopefully) without being preachy or too obvious. As far as genre goes, there’s a lot of freedom and flexibility in science fiction. Not to mention the nerd-out factor!

EJA: Which sci fi authors do you read? Which have had the most influence on you?
AKN: There’s such a huge world of sci fi out there, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface in my reading. I tend to like the classics. Sturgeon. Bradbury. Bradbury had a big impact on me when I was growing up. As far as more recent authors go, MT Anderson’s Feed stands out, as does The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. 

EJA: What are you most looking forward to about having your first book out? How are you going to celebrate your book’s birthday?
AKN: Yesterday I received an email from a teenager saying she said she loved it and can’t wait to read the second book. Reading that email was unreal. I can’t even put it into words. I’m looking forward to more of that. (Fingers crossed there’s more to come!) I’ll be celebrating my book’s birthday with a launch party at Changing Hands Phoenix, a very cool indie bookstore in downtown Phoenix that has a bar in the middle of the store. It’s such a neat place. I’m really looking forward to celebrating the book launch there.

EJA: Were you a science geek in high school? How did you know?
AKN: I was so not a science geek in high school. In fact, I’d lost interest in science after junior high. I don’t know if it’s that my teachers in high school weren’t very inspiring, or if I’d somehow decided science wasn’t cool or maybe even that it wasn’t for girls, but I really lost interest. I was much more into books and music. Later in life, I became interested in science again. After two semesters of anatomy and physiology in college, complete with cadavers, I considered going into medicine, but really it wasn’t until around 2007, when there was a lot of talk about the Large Hadron Collider creating a black hole that would swallow the earth, that I started reading and investigating science again. Despite not being a science geek in high school, I remained a science fiction enthusiast. I was really into Star Trek Next Generation during those years.

EJA: What are you working on now?
AKN: I recently finished While You Were Gone, the second book in the Duplexity series. Now I’m jumping into revising one manuscript, and writing a couple more ideas, trying to get them ready to show my agent and pitch to my editor. Most of the ideas are science fiction, but there are some surprises in there, too. Stay tuned.

EJA: I noticed a picture from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on your Facebook page. What’s Narnia’s role in your writing?
AKN: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was one of the earliest portal-to-another-world stories I ever read. It had a huge impact on me as a kid. I loved the idea of opening a door and stepping into another world. I loved the characters, especially Lucy, with her sense of adventure and her sense of justice. I loved Aslan, of course, and was fascinated by the witch. I wanted to try Turkish Delight. Here’s a funny story. On our first trip to London, my husband and I noticed Turkish Delight was sold in the candy vending machines in the Tube stations. Whenever we tried to buy some, though, it was out. Knowing what we knew about Edmund and Turkish Delight in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, we figured it must be super popular and difficult to find. Finally we popped into a Tesco and bought some. We unwrapped it, excited to finally taste this amazing candy that would tempt Edmund to sell his soul… It was… weird. Kind of gooey. Chocolate-covered jelly? We were so confused. So disillusioned.

EJA: Any thoughts on Benedict Cumberbatch? Is there are part for Benedict Cumberbatch in Now That You’re Here, the movie?
I have so many thoughts on Benedict Cumberbatch. Unfortunately I don’t really see a role for him in Now That You’re Here, but there’s a character in another manuscript I’m working on that’s written with him in mind. Having a book turned into a movie with him playing a lead role would be a dream come true. 

I met him, by the way, in Los Angeles over the 2012 Emmys weekend. My friends and I met him and Martin as they left a party at a hotel. They both were so polite and gracious. Benedict said he liked my handbag (which has a huge Union Jack on it). Here’s a photo. I’m to Martin’s left. They’re both so popular now, I doubt this experience would happen again, but you never know. Maybe if I get that book made into a movie…


Displaying Image.jpgWell, Happy Book Birthday, Amy! It's been great chatting. Can't wait to get my hands on Now That You're Here!