Friday, September 15, 2017

Adventures of a Part Time Bookselling Author

Since I have begun my new part time job at one of my favorite places on the planet, Star Line Books, I decided I'll start a new monthly post about my adventures in bookselling, which I love but has also showed me how not well read I am! There are so many books in the world...and this is a small bookstore!

Today, I had the tremendous pleasure of selling books for YA author Jeff Zentner (The Serpent King and Goodbye Days) at Heritage High School in Ringgold, Georgia. First off, that's a beautiful school! Very impressed. And secondly, Rhonda, one of their media specialists aka librarians, is one of the most charming people I've ever met! Her passion for her creative writing club and book club was so inspiring! I always wished I'd had a creative writing community in high school, which is partially what led me to starting Chattanooga Writer's Society in college. But Rhonda is just so encouraging of her students' passions and did a fantastic job of organizing Jeff's event.

In the morning, the creative writing and book clubs met in Media Center (library) for a dialogue workshop with Jeff, who mesmerized all the students in a matter of maybe two minutes flat. He gave some great tips on writing dialogue, which I took thorough notes on.
       I once thought I was a good dialogue writer. My lovely editor, in the kindest way possible, told                        me that was not the case :) 
  • Keep your dialogue lines short
  • Don't get fancy with dialogue tags (none of this "he said languorously") 
  • Keep your author mind out of their conversation 
  • Don't try to exactly copy human conversations. They're too messy. 
After 15 minutes to write, Jeff read some of the students' dialogue with them! Such fun! Then the selling and signing frenzy began! I was surprised how many students bought books to get signed, but of course, that's not the only thing they asked Jeff to sign. Because, in case you didn't know, authors are rockstars to readers, nowadays. T-shirts were signed, a cast, backpacks, pieces of paper, but what really topped the cake was the signing of a forehead. That's right. I guess the boy just wanted to soak up Jeff's creative genius with his signature. And I thought my crowning moment was signing a shirt! 

Before the larger presentation in front of more classes in the auditorium, the club students presented Jeff with a "staff" and a club t-shirt signed by all of them! I mean, how freaking cool! Of course, his talk was great. The students asked some wonderful questions than they just got into the silliness of "what's your favorite color, dogs or cats, hogwartz house (which is an important question)." And all that jazz. I'm so very honored that I got to be apart of that event today. I've never been to a school author event that was so absolutely wonderful! Super duper high five to Ms. Rhonda and Heritage High! 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Ascension's New Orleans Tour

In honor of Ascension's first birthday, I've put together this little Ascension scavenger hunt--seeing New Orleans through Cheyenne's eyes. I had so much fun revisiting all the places that I've written about for years now. I swear, that city has some sort of calling on my heart. I can't put my finger on it...

1. Mother's 
Of course, our first stop was at Mother's on the corner of Poydras and Tchoupitoulas St. for the one the only Ferdi Special, fully dressed. Oh yeah. It was heavenly. And after wolfing down that sandwich, I leaned back in my chair and took it all in--the waitresses having a ball, everyone else enjoying their food, people trying to go out the wrong door. It was great!

2. Ms. Rose's House
I don't think I ever gave a super concrete description of Ms. Rose's house, but when I passed this one on Iberville St., I just knew that this was her house. She and Mason wouldn't live anywhere else.

3. Garden District - Kara's Home 
We ventured into the garden district (partly because we'd been told about this pretty great bakery Sucré which I'm unofficially adding to the tour) to wander around the beautiful houses, and I ended up finding the perfect Kara house. So you can just see all the crap that went on in that house...well, here it is!

4. Street Cars
Of course we had to ride on the streetcars. It's completely apart of the New Orleans experience, though not necessarily the speediest way to get around town. This one is my favorite because it's just so pretty and goes straight to the French Quarter from the River Walk.

5. The Cemetery 
Alright, so here's the scoop on St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Apparently, a bunch of delinquents decided to vandalize Marie Laveau's (the Voodoo Queen) cemetery, so the city has now decided to charge $27 dollars in order to keep these delinquents out while also pocketing major bucks. As much as I love this cemetery, there was no way I was about to shell out $27 for that. So we did a loop around the outskirts, looking at the tops of the tombs (even the gates have plexiglass on them so you can't get good pictures) then went to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the garden district. This one is free and beautiful, surrounded by lovely homes and old magnolia trees. You basically get the gist of the above ground cemetery here, and who knows, maybe it'll make an appearance in the third book.

6. The Club 
I had a definite purpose while walking around the French Quarter--to find The Club. And I think I found the perfect doorway that opens up to that room of horrors!

7. Jackson Square 
In the center of the French Quarter, here's where one of the first scenes in the city is placed, when Cheyenne and new friends Anne, Mason, and begrudgingly Eli watch a performance of Romeo and Juliet!

8. National World War II Museum 
You all know what happens here--swing dancing/a bunch of other drama! This is the area that they clear out for the dancing. But we also went through most of the museum, and boy, it's pretty fantastic!  Definitely put it on your to - do list. Then just around the corner from the museum is the alley where Cheyenne and Eli had their first kiss. It's just the right amount of secluded and creepy all at the same time.




And that's all folks! More will be added in book 2, and there are obviously places that I missed. But give me some credit. I was only there for two days; Cheyenne had months to cover all that ground.

Thank you to every single person who has supported Ascension, me, and Cheyenne throughout this long, lovely journey! We couldn't have gotten to our first birthday without you!!

Celebrating,
     HER 










Sunday, August 6, 2017

Bittersweet Ending

This post has come on way too soon--the last post from England, specifically Oxford. I can't even begin to describe how much of an absolutely amazing journey this has been for me. I've tried to convey it in my posts, but there's just something I can't describe. It's not just all of the absolutely mind-blowing places that I've visited, walking in the footsteps of some of the most amazing authors. It's not just the great food, the lovely accents, the good beer, the amazing sights, the intense history, it's that I came over here and did this. I've never truly travelled on my own before. And yes, I've almost always had people around me during this trip, but I was doing a lot on my own--navigating London and Oxford, staying on my own, getting the most out of this experience as humanly possible.

I haven't written much this week because I was trying to focus on my course and experiencing Oxford. I've met some pretty incredible people while here, not just in my course but in the city too. I even made a new friend that I've gotten to know pretty well. But the people in my course are some amazing students who come from all backgrounds and offered the most unique of experiences to the idea of Oxford and Fantasy. I can't recommend enough the OUSSA program through the continuing education department. They offer week long courses throughout the month of July and into August. There were some people who had taken several weeklong courses over the summer. The administration is very helpful, and if you find the program soon enough, you can actually stay at the college (I was a little late to the game, but my Air BnB was still great and centrally located). My tutor, Maria...her knowledge literally blows my mind. She knows so much and has so much to say, and there's never enough time to get it all out. She posed some great questions in class that led to interesting discussions. Plus, it's pretty fun to listen to an Oxford educated tutor with a Phd talk about how much of a geek for Lord of the Rings she is. We finally got her talking about what she doesn't like about the Lord of the Rings movies in the last class session.

And the other wonderful part about being in this course--you're surrounded by people with the same interests as you. Your conversations are meaningful, and you can totally geek out because everyone is as geeky as you. Now, I was the only real hardcore vampire fan, but that's okay. I think I inspired some people to get back into the vamp genre haha.

All I've seen in Oxford while not being academic:
The Perch (beautiful pub outside the city that has you walk through Port Meadow)
Merton College (where Tolkien taught)
Christ Church College (where scenes from the first Harry Potter were filmed and where Lewis Carroll taught while write Alice in Wonderland)
The Ashmoleon Art Museum
The Natural History Museum (which has a bunch of creepy shrunken heads)
The Turf pub (where Bill Clinton did NOT inhale pot... where the prime minister of Australia set a drinking record, and where a lot of the HP cast would hang out during filming) #
The Bear (the first pub in Oxford that basically existed before Oxford was actually a city)

And now I'm going to go out and enjoy my last day in England, which is surprisingly nice weather (don't get me started on how much I've talked about the weather while I've been here. It's a real thing. I get it now).

See you back on the other side of the pond,
      HER

Sunday, July 30, 2017

I'm an Oxford Woman

Not really, just for the next week. But maybe by this time next year...? Who knows! But y'all...Oxford is amazing! My tutor (aka professor) describes Oxford as "the city that time forgot." And it's so true. I'm staying in the town where some of the greatest fantasy stories have been dreamt up--Monmouth writing down the first tales of the Arthurian legends, Lewis Carroll finding the rabbit hole to wonderland, Tolkien imagining our beloved middle earth, and Lewis opening the wardrobe to Narnia. I swear, this is all a dream!
I got here Friday, and after wandering around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to find my air bnb for 30 minutes, lugging big Bertha behind me, I finally found it. And drug big Bertha up 3 flights of narrow stairs. I'll be honest, there were some precarious moments, but I made it.
After settling in, I wound my way up to the Rewley house, where my course is them wandered into Blackwell's bookshop. I was starting to feel a bit homesick, but when I walked into that room of books and down to the basement that runs underground...man, I felt at home! I also found the oratory where Tolkien worshipped for years. It's a very modest yet beautiful church, with simple creaking wooden floors and pews. And the wonderful part? There was no one there! It's the first church I've ever been to while on tour that isn't filled with tourists. What an amazing thing!
Day 2, I went on a "free" donation based walking tour of Oxford. There wasn't too much walking but we saw a lot: Museum of History and Science, Weston Library (aka New Bodleian Library), Wadham College, the Claredon Building which used to be the printing press that printed the first Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Martin School (The Indian Institute, which trained many officers of the East India Trading Co.), the 2nd replica of the Bridge of Sighs, Old Bodleian Library (one of the most haunted places in Oxford), Christ Church College (one of the oldest buildings in Oxford, where Lewis Carroll taught), saw the college that inspired the two towers from Lord of the rings, the lamppost and door that inspired Narnia, and so on!
I went back to New College Inn road to find the college where they filmed the HP scene in which Mad Eye Moody turns Malfoy into a ferret. It was kind of surreal to be standing there. But I actual,y slipped in with an adorable British family who had been on my tour and had made a day trip of Oxfd. The mom pulled me in and we started talking as we searched for this courtyard, and to make a long story short, I was basically adopted by the Russell family. We want punting on the river, which is where the punter stands on the back of this relatively flat boat and guides it through the river with a long pole. Well, Mr. Russell decided to be the punter, despite not knowing note to swim, and immediately cramped up and proceeded to kneel on the back of the boat. I have not laughed that much in a long time! We got a picture together to commemorate the day! What fun!
Then it was time to start my course, we had a short orientation before jumping into the thick of it with our tutors. My Oxford and Fantasy course has ten students, all of different ages, locations, and backgrounds, which should mean good conversations! My tutor is great; she has so much to say so she talks quite fast. But I think I'm keeping up.
Today, we had one lecture, and I had my tutorial in the afternoon. The tutorial is a one on one session with the tutor to talk about the essays we turned in this summer and also to discuss the essays we have due on Wednesday. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that she really enjoyed my essay about author biographies playing into the criticism of their works. I don't think it does. And I guess she liked my argument!
They've been providing some lovely meals for us! And it's fun to get to talk with the other people in my course and get to know them. Again, I reiterate...I am in dream land. This is not real. Somebody pinch me.

Now time to get to work,
     HER

Thursday, July 27, 2017

I'm doing it!

I can't believe I'm actually navigating London on my own, for the most part. Gracie gets me started, but then I just go!
So the last blogpost, I wrote from a hotel lobby because apparently it's a thing here that people will come to work in hotel lobbies, treating them like coffee shops (if they have wifi). This hotel definitely didn't look like a hotel, super chic and modern...posh, as I'm learning to say. But they have good coffee! From there, I got myself to King's Cross Station. Yes the very one! I didn't know where exactly the Harry Potter store and Platform 9 3/4 was, so I just kept winding my way around until I found the huge line of people. But I found it! And while I did not stand in line and lay to get my picture taken in front of the platform, I did get a good picture, and of course explored the shop (which also had a line to get in).
Right next to King's Cross station is St. Pancras, which is the international railway and also the most aesthetically pleasing of all the train stations, their words, not mine, though it is very castle-like. Right next to that is my nirvana, aka The British Library. In the center of the library, encased in walls of glass, temperature controlled, is King George III's library. Patrons are actually allowed to request books out of the collection for research. In Sir John Ritbiat's Gallery are the treasures of the British Library. The have EVERYTHING 
>Ancient religious texts from all religions
>Gutenberg Bible
>Magna Carta
>Original writings of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Dylan Thomas, Oscar Wilde, etc.
>Handwritten compositions from all of the most prominent composers
>A lyric that John Lennon wrote on a napkin

See, I'm not kidding. I spent a good couple hours in there before heading on my way to Primrose Hill in Regent's Park. I have to say-Citymapper is a really great travel app, however, it takes you down some really wonky routes. But I got there! Primrose Hill offers  gorgeous (free) skyline view of the city, and I was lucky that it was a beautiful day.
After an American dinner at  Meatliquor (which actually does American food better than some American places, we walked through Soho, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, and Covent Garden to find this lovely Speakeasy! They gave us "newspapers" aka menus then took us down and down into what they had precisely decorated as an old train car and railway. It was quite hot, nut everything was so detailed and well done, it didn't matter. My drink, Keep Marm and Carry On, came in a teacup with a cookie and was delicious. Gracie's, Turning Over a new Leaf, tasted like a garden. The music was a great mix of old-fashioned jives with retro modern. Just so cool! And I finally took a double decker bus home.

Yesterday was a bit more relaxed, slept a bit more then spent the morning into early afternoon exploring Soho again for some shopping, going back in stores that I'd noticed the night before. I found a really cute, unique souvenir shop called We Built This City. 
I made my way to Trafalgar Square, home of the National Gallery, the new, positive giant thumbs up statue, Sir Nelson's Column (an admiral in the Battle of Trafalgar), and the beautiful mews. They also have The Mud Soldier sculpture to commemorate the Battle of Passchendale, which saw the loss of 500,000 soldiers, who either died in battle or because of the horrendous rains that turned the trenches into oceans of mud, drowning horses and soldiers. 
I spent the afternoon in Spitalfield Market, which has a bunch of great booths, restaurants, and other shops. That day, Covent Tea Society was hosting a dance, so a bunch of older couples were waltzing and tango-ing to a full band, having such a lovely time. I took some videos. Then we went to the Hummingbird Cafe, Gracie's favorite for a Blackbottom Cupcake...literal heaven. So good!
Then we walked back to Fleet Street so I could get some yummy tea from the Twinings store before we went to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub, one of the oldest in the city and also where Charles Dickens frequented. My bangers and mash were amazing, or maybe I was just really hungry. Or maybe it was a combination. Then we walked around because the pub is deceptively big, mainly downstairs. Also just old and classic. You can practically envision Oliver Twist being written there. 
We topped off the night at City London Distillery so I could become an official Londoner and try my first Gin and Tonic! All the gin is made in house, and if you pay to do a tasting,they actually give you the recipe, and you can make your own gin. It was fun to people watch! 
Over the past two days, I have walked 55,000 steps, equaling 22 miles.
Can't believe it's my last day in this wonderful city!
Cheers,
   HER

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

London Calling

Woah baby!! I made it. I caught the train, successfully switched trains, and made it to Paddington Station all by my lonesome. My lovely cousin Graci was there to pick me up and help me navigate the tube with my steadily growing suitcase. And after dropping Big Bertha off, we just started walking.
Journeying through Bank (where all the banks are), we arrived St. Paul's Cathdral, which is pretty spectacular! We walked past the Australian House, which we think was meant to be the Australian embassy, but the cool part is that it was the inspiration for Gringotts Bank in Harry Potter. And this is right around the corner from the Royal Courts of Justice, our equivalent of the Supreme Court. Let's just say it made me feel pretty small. This path led up to the original Twinings Tea Co. store, which I will be going back to because there are so many different brews! After a quick sit for coffee at Grind, we popped into the British Museum. I literally mean we popped in, saw the Rosetta Stone and the Enlightenment Room, and popped back out because SO MANY PEOPLE. 
Travel across the Holburn Viaduct with me,the first bridge built in London, to Christ Church Greyfriar's Garden, which is a cute little hidden gem with the garden organized as the pews were. Next on the list is the the Towers of London, which houses the Crown Jewels and the Queen's guard (they live inside with their families). 
For dinner, we went to Brick Lane-just a strip of middle eastern food with men standing outside trying to beckon you into their restaurant with deals. But the food was amazing! Fun fact, chicken tikka Marsala (not an actual Indian dish) is the national dish. We walked through Shoreditch, the super hipster-gentrified-graffitied-funky funk area to Brewdog, which was some really yummy craft beers. 
Yesterday...I may have originally taken the wrong tube line to Westminster, but it's fine. I self corrected and got there to take in the magnificence of Westminster Abbey, the only attraction that I paid for yesterday. Totally worth the 20 pounds. The best way to tritely describe it--they're collecting famous dead people-Kings, queens, soldiers, poets, authors, scientists. It was breathtaking. But again...so many people. Then I admired Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, walked through Whitehall garden, across the Jubilee bridges into Southbank, which is where the London Eye is. I looked at it, looked at the line, took a picture and kept walking. Going back across Westminster Bridge, I crossed through Horse Guard Rd. and past the Churchhill War Rooms, through St. James Park (a beautiful little reprieve from the city), and right to the gates of Buckingham Palace! I was slightly disappointed that the bobbies don't stand outside the gates anymore and that there weren't any corgis running around on the lawn. But I'm still in awe of how amazing it was...from the outside... Then I snuck into the gift shop (go up along the left side of the palace gates and you'll see it), and it's basically a shrine to corgis and it's wonderful. But seriously, if you don't want to pay to go into the castle, just go to the gift shop because they have stuff that no one else has. 
For dinner, we went to Poppie's Fish and chips which was YUM! It's a cute little diner style restaurant. Then we went on an awesome Jack the Ripper tour. Turns out Gracie lives across the street from where Jack the Ripper killed his last victim (also the worst mutilation). So yeah...no ch ace this street is haunted at all...
We kept up with the Ripper theme by going for a nightcap at Ten Bells Pub, where a couple of his victims used to partake. It actually used to be named Jack the Ripper until some reasonable soul pointed out that we should not be glorifying a serial killer.
So in two days, I've walked a total of 50,000 steps. I don't feel bad about my fish and chips at all.
Time to go explore,
       HER

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Last Tour Day

Note I said tour, not end of trip. Tomorrow continues into London, though I'm sad to see this part of my journey coming to an end! I've had some amazing adventures with Ivor from Vorscot tours, so I highly suggest his company for your future travel needs.

Today was a whirlwind! We journeyed into Great Missenden, which is no easy place to find, to the home of the fizzpopping, gobstopping home of the larger than life Roald Dahl. His wife has created the most marvelous of museums dedicated to preserving his work. Though are writing systems and styles are a bit different, Mr. Dahl and I agree on one thing-the perfect writing space. He had a writing but built in his garden, filled with mementos and knickknacks he'd collected over the years. I actually sat in his writing chair, soaking in the inspiration before I went to have a "Miss Honey's scone" in the cafe. I highly recommend this inspiring, interactive museum honoring one of the greatest creative minds of the 20th century.

We took a quick trip down to Henley-on-Thames to go through The Wind in the Willows exhibit (book by Kenneth Grahame). It was an absolutely beautiful 3-D exhibit with intricate settings from the book that you watch while listening to the story. If you or your child hasn't read this book you should. If it's good enough to be one of A.A. Milne's favorite, it's good enough for your library.

The day ends in Windsor on a dreary, stereotypical English rainy day. Unfortunately, we pulled in a little too late for admittance to the castle, but I walked the Long Path, that has an excellent view of the castle. Then I walked down High St., through a wave of tourists, curtsied to the statue of the queen before working my way down to the riverside to feed the ferociously beautiful swans. I journeyed across the bridge to Eton and Eton college, where the princess went to school-beautiful campus! And in my search for food, I walked the length of the city again! Thankfully the rain had stopped :)

Cheerio lads and ladies,
           HER