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

Friday, July 21, 2017

Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare country over here in Warwick, and it's absolutely lovely and charming!! We arrived yesterday around noon and met up with our Stratford expert (among many other expertise that she has) Jasia, pronounced ya-zah. She's a cute English-polish tour guide with a throng of talents and a wealth of knowledge. She took us to Shakespeare's birthplace. With an excellently done video montage of how Shakespeare still affects people today, the exhibit was wonderful! They have one of the home's original Windows that has been graffitied over the centuries. That's right, folks--graffiti has always been around! I also learned where the phrase "sleep tight" comes from: until age 5, children slept in the parents' room on the trundle bed that slid out from under their own, and every night, they had to tighten the ropes that supported the child. Cool, huh?

We then ventured farther out to Anne Hathaway's cottage (Shakespeare's wife), which 13 generations of Hathaways lived in until 1911. We saw the three original rooms, but the best part was the lavender maze. I got very excited when I saw this sign because I love lavender! But when we found it, the gardeners were tearing it up. When they saw how disappointed we were, the head gardener told us that we could each pick a bushel, so I now have a nice lavender bouquet resting on my desk. This is the best smelling hotel room I've been in :) After a tea in the cafe, we had to drop Jasia off at the train station so she could jet off to France for a family vacation. Merci beaucoup, Jasia! The rest of the day was relaxing; I walked around by myself exploring the shops and the town before meeting Ivor for dinner. And afterward, I went down to the Dirty Duck, a pub known For the actors that frequent it, to do some people watching and writing! I'm trying to get in as many literary cliches as I can into this trip, if you couldn't already tell :)

Today was equally as fantastic! We drove out a bit further to Mary Arden's Tudor farm (Shakespeare's mother). Apart from the awe of being in the place where Shakespeare began, this was my favorite Shakespeare exhibit. William would've never visited the farm that his mother grew up on since his grandparents died before he was born, but it was marvelous! They have fantastic actors who have so much knowledge about the time period! We saw a goose herding (back then they would've herded the geese all the way to Nottingham on foot for 4-5 days), a falconry show with a barn owl (also called a ghost owl or in Wesley's case, a boomerang owl because every time he tried to launch her into the air, she just came back to his arm for food), a unique house tour, and then a table board lunch demonstration-how the people of the Tudor time actually would have composed themselves at the dining table. So much fun!

This afternoon, we walked to Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare is buried. On his headstone, he has engraved, "Blessed be the man that spared these stones, and cursed be he that moved my bones" because apparently it was a common practice to dig up bones and throw them out so the church could resell the land. I guess The Bard freaked everybody out enough with his curse because his and his family's bones are still there, as far as we know... It's also a gorgeous church, and worth a walk along the Avon River. We took a canal-river cruise to follow this up and wrap up our afternoon-nice and calming-lots of swans and duckies to look at.

Note to future travelers-do your Stratford shopping during the day. Most shops close by 5:30 at the latest, even on a Friday night. So what do people do, you might ask. They go to pubs and performances of course! I convinced Ivor to go back to the Dirty Duck, and we had a fantastic meal there on top of the classic pub atmosphere.

I can't believe tomorrow is my last day with Vorscot Tours! It's amazing how quickly time flies. I'm convinced time moves faster on this side of the Atlantic.

See you in Windsor,
         HER

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Finally, England

My first experience experience of England-the Lake District! Wow, what a lovely view that is!

Our morning began in Dove Cottage (Grassmere), the home of William Wordworth...for 8 years. BUT these eight years were when he produced his most famous poetry, such as "The Daffodil." Our tour guide (who's from California) told us how one night, Samuel Taylor Coleridge decided he wanted to visit his dear friend so he walked 16 miles to Dove Cottage, arriving at 1 am and stayed up talking with the Wordsworth's all night. Why does no one do that anymore? They have a beautiful garden filled with wild flowers hat they dug up during their walks in the country. They actually have a notebook for people to leave notes in, and in the home of one of the most popular English poet laureates, someone wrote "Roll Tide." :/ come on, America...

But it's a beautiful little village with old stone cottages and pretty gardens. I sat up on the hill for awhile before venturing into the museum and writing with a quill and ink.

Next, we just went a bit up the road to Hill Top, the partial home and forever inspiration of Beatrix Potter. Our gorgeous Bed and breakfast was right next door to get home, so I got to spend plenty of time to explore her gardens, orchards and home. They had her differ character books placed throughout locations in the house that inspired them. It's also a beautiful home with lovely views from each window. Then I went a bit up the road under the direction of "follow the trail to Mocs Eccles Tam, more inspiration." Well, here's the trouble. The map said nothing about the trail diverging. So I took the path that called to me. Apparently, it called to me wrong because, while it was a beautiful, mossy forest path, it was not I was supposed to be... A logger may or may not have yelled at me to get out. But no worries! I found the right path, had a nice silent, peaceful stare down with a cow, and finally found Mocs Eccles, which is a beautiful large pond beneath a series of big rocks to sit on and observe. A few people were swimming because it was absolutely beautiful weather.  We had dinner across Windermere lake in Bowness at a delicious Indian restaurant.

TODAY I visited the highly anticipated Brontë Parsonage. If I haven't said it before, Jane Eyre is my favorite classic novel, and getting to see the precise table where she wrote it was absolutely wonderful! This year is Branwell Brontë's bicentennial, so they have an expansive exhibit on his...wild life. But the home is filled with antiques, as well as costumes from the recent PBS special, To Walk Invisible. I had a lovely chat with the volunteer about the Brontës as well as my literary tour and even my book! Then, I moved into the unique graveyard with slabs upon slabs of headstones, nearly touching. I then took another path less travelled by in my determined attempts to find the moors and feel like Jane Eyre. And I did find a moor. Just not one that people are normally allowed on...it's fine. My legs are just a tad scratched up haha. But then we found the actual moors on Penistone hill, and they were fantastic! It was easy to imagine walking there, being whipped around by the bitter winds and harsh storms. I could've walked forever.

This afternoon ends in Yorkshire's Thirsk, the home of James Alred Wight, aka James Herriot, author of All Creatures Great and Small, among so many others. They have a charming museum in his home  with tons of props to make it look as it would when he lived there as a veterinarian with his wife and two kids. There was a fun fact: so his writing popularity didn't take off until his books reached America, and he came on a giant signing tour there. One signing line was so long that he temporarily lost use of his hand! That's the goal, folks.

Thirsk is a quaint, sweet little town, mostly outdoor adventures. We're staying a bit out at the White stone Cliffe Inns, which is a series of bungalows right beside a private farm. So naturally, I've made friends with the chunky sheep that likes to lay against our side of the fence. I think I'll name him Welington. Now, we're just sitting in a pub so the stupid American can access wifi and talk to the rest of the world. It's time to people watch.

See you in Stratford-upon-Avon,
          HER

Monday, July 17, 2017

Encapsulating Scotland

Ha! That's impossible! I've driven through a lot of it now but not enough to call myself an expert at all--not anything like my amazing tour guide Ivor.
My first day, after being retrieved from the airport, Ivor and I picked up his new trainee and my new friend Aga (who is charming and amazing!), we drove to St. Margaret's Parish, where Ivor and his wife were married 50 years ago in Edinburgh. But it was also the place of many formative people in Scotland/Edinburgh/knight's Templar history. Also, the legends behind it are amazing! I have them all written down if you want to know more.
Then we went on to Pentland Cemetery, which is on the most powerful Ley line in the world (also a Knight's Templar location, which are marked with the skull and crossbones. Pirates stole this symbol from them. And from there, we journeyed to Roslyn Chapel and castle, owned by the Sinclair family, of Scottish royalty and a formative family in the country's history. I can't even begin to describe to you exactly how mind blowing this chapel is. Not because of its overwhelming beauty, though it is astounding, but because of the amount of THOUGHT and detail that went into it. Every image and item has a purpose and reason though we don't know them all. The amount of symbolism in that church is just overwhelming! And the castle-you can just imagine the army clattering around on their horses, guarding the bridge.
We had coffee at Rhymer's Cafe (home of Thomas Rhymer) and drove up to Scott's view, Sir Walter Scott's favorite view of Scotland.
Yesterday, we went to the most magical place on earth-the aisle of Skye, home to the McLeod and McDonald clans but more importantly...land of the faeries! It was quite a drive but so worth it! We drove through Loch Lomond National park; in the highlands, we drove through Glen Coe, passed the location of Hagrid's hut from HP movies, then we arrived in Mallaig where we caught the ferry to Skye. Guys, this is the most spectacular landscape ever. Rolling hills, flat mountains, dangerous moors, curving streams, blue ocean, low clouds, green everywhere, fields of Heather, strong ferns...just amazing! We did a Skye whiskey tasting, Toured Dunvegan castle, frolicked by the Fairy Bridge, and climbed the hills in the fairy glen with the goats to give offerings to the fairies. The glen is honestly indescribable. For the first time in the longest time, I felt irrevocably happy, completely carefree, like a little girl. I ran and laughed and climbed even though it was cold and drizzling. I didn't stop smiling, and I never wanted to leave. Alas...we did :(
But today was wonderful as well! I had the perfect weather to explore Sir Walter Scott's home of Abbotsford. I loved his library but I loved walking down by the River Tweed even more. I could've sat there for hours, but then it was time for my Harry Potter scavenger hunt in Edinburgh. I had Scottish coffee and wrote in The Elephant Housd, where Rowling wrote most of the Harry Potter books. They claim "the birth place of Harry Potter." And that was a dream and took some nerve.but despite all the clamor of people, I could still feel the magic of the place. Or maybe it was just the splash of whiskey...
I moved onto Greyfriar's Graveyard, home to Greyfriar's Bobby (the dog that sat on his owner's grave for years) and several names that inspired HP characters. Like you might recognize a Thomas Riddle...? Then up to Grassmarket, which highly inspired Harry Potter, where you can see the castle, which looks like Hogwartz, and then Maggie Dickinsons Pub, owned by a woman who survived being hung for witchcraft and inspired Nearly Headless Nick. Then up Victoria Street, which was the basis for Diagon Alley. I finished on the Royal Mile, aka tourist circus. It was crazy! I walked around for awhile, seriously considering buying a kilt, listening to bagpipes, watching live statues, before returning to the Elephant House where Ivor and Betty retrieved me. It wasn't enough time to see all of Edinburgh, but definitely a city I need to return to.
And that brings the Scottish portion of this adventure. I ate Haggis, tasted whiskey, danced with fairies, saw a bunch of sheep, and learned how to call people who are horible driver "chucters!" Tomorrow, we head into the Lake District! England here  come! (Please forgive my typos-working off my iPad).

Cheers,
  HER

Monday, July 10, 2017

Going Across the Pond

Hello my friends!!

In just a few short days, I will be making the long trek across the pond to the UK for 23 days!!! So basically a month. In case you couldn't tell from my excessive use of exclamation marks, I'm very supremely excited about this trip. I've been blessed to do a lot of traveling in Europe and North America, but I've never made it to England/Scotland, which have always been top of my list. Now it's finally happening!

I'll be starting on a personal literary-inspired tour with VorScot tours. My tour guide Ivor and I will begin in Scotland (Edinburgh, Abbotsford, Rosslyn, and Isle of Sky) then work our way up into the Lake District, Haworth (I'm going to walk on the Moors like Jane Eyre), Thirsk, York, and ending in Stratford Upon Avon. I'm going to be walking in the footsteps of the Greats, writing when I can, and taking in all the inspiration.

The next leg of my journey, I'll be spending a week in London, staying with my cousin, and literally just walking around seeing all that I can. I don't have a set plan yet; I just want to see where my feet and map take me.

THEN I'm taking the train down to Oxford where I'll be taking a week long course entitled Oxford and Fantasy, studying all the great authors who attended the university and made their marks there. I have an Air BnB right in the middle of the city, and I'm so excited--also because Oxford is one of my choices for Grad school, so this will be a nice test for me to see how I'd like it. (Newsflash, I'll love it!)

I'll be posting updates on here, of course, doing my best to keep track of my journey. Does anyone have any suggestions of where I should go?

From the tales of the American Wanderer,
      HER 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

June Book Round Up

It's that time of month again, even though it's already the beginning of a new month. Oh well.

The One Memory of Flora Banks 
By Emily Barr

"I do not know what I do not know. I only know that I want to know everything." 

This charming, unique novel was so good and heartbreaking and funny!! I received it as an ARC from Yallfest, and it's been staring at me from my shelf for months.
At the age of 10, Flora Banks is diagnosed with a tumor that damages her memory receptors. She has memories from the past but cannot hold onto anything for more than a few hours now. But then she remembers kissing her best friend's boyfriend on the beach the night before he leaves town and is convinced that he's the solution to her memory problem, the start to a normal life.
At first, I thought I'd get annoyed with the repetition of the story because, well there has to be repetition since the narrator doesn't remember things for more than a few hours. But everything just flowed and worked really well for me. I loved the characters and the adventure of it. Plus, TALK ABOUT ALL THE PLOT TWISTS!
You definitely need to read it.

The Forgetting 
by Sharon Cameron

So every twelve years, a comet passes over Canaan that makes everyone forget who they are, or so they believe. The only way they remember anything is by recording truth in the books that they carry with them everywhere. Except Nadia remembers everything. She watched the horror of The Forgetting and now must live knowing the real truth. She's closed off, keeping to herself, until Gray, the potter's son, takes an interest in her and breaks down her wall. Then, the truth slowly starts seeping out.
Initially, I had a hard time getting into this book. I wasn't very grounded in the location or what exactly was happening, but it definitely became clearer. Apparently, I had a memory motif happening this month. I'd recommend it for the new spin on dystopia.

Worlds of Ink and Shadow 
by Lena Coakley

Basically anything that involves the Bronte family, I'll read. With Jane Eyre being my favorite classic, I love learning more and more about their family. I've read a fictionalized version of Emily and Charlotte's life - Always Emily by Michaela Maccoll, but this book was fantastical and wonderful!
In this world, the oldest Bronte siblings, Charlotte and Branwell, have the ability to jump into their stories, what they call crossing over. The younger siblings, Emily and Anne, are jealous and a little bit bitter that their siblings no longer take them along on their wonderful journeys. However, they are unaware of the price that their brother and sister have paid to be able to do such a magic. And now the time to collect has come.
My favorite part of this book was the little nods that Coakley gave to the later creations of the Bronte family. Especially Charlotte - there were hints to lines like "because I am poor, obscure, plain and little" and running into a dog named Pilot. Ugh, it made my heart happy!

I am currently SO EXCITED to be reading Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo which will be coming out in August. It took me a minute to separate the movie from the book, but now that I'm in, I'm all in. Plus, y'all know how much I love Bardugo.

Happy Reading,
HER 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Short Story v. Novel

For all of you future collegiate minds who will choose creative writing as a major, know that for a majority of your education, you will learn to write short stories. 99% of the classes are short fiction based, which is great!

I've always written short fiction. I mean, that's what I started with when I was a kid. That's what most of us start with, if we're honest. I wrote them through high school and have continued them in college, though I must say, I'm not as prolific as I used to be. It's different when you have a class grading you on turning in at least a portion of a story every week. But having to get myself inspired to write something other than Ascension is somewhat difficult.

So why am I rambling about this? Well, A) I'm working on beefing up my writing samples for my master's programs applications. B) I actually wrote a story that I'm pretty proud of recently.

So what are the differences between writing short fiction and a novel?

First off, short fiction is...you guessed it...shorter! Which can be good and bad. Bad in that maybe you can't say all that you want to say. Good in that you don't have to answer all the questions that you would in a novel.

Short stories should also be faster paced. Some may contend this. For instance, some of the earlier short fictions published have a very leisurely pace and often ramble on about things that don't necessarily contribute to the forward movement of the story. However, some would argue (me, I would argue) that those are tales. This is not to say that novels aren't fast paced. Ascension is very fast paced. But it doesn't have to be. One of my favorite, most inspiring novels is The Night Circus which has a much slower pace but also allows you to delve further into the very intricate world.

Short stories can have a lot of detail, but they also don't have to. Sometimes leaving the readers with questions is a good thing. It means they are involved in the world. They want to know more. Just don't leave too much up to the imagination. Whereas with a novel, I've learned exactly how many things I have to think about that probably will never actually make it onto the page. For instance, I have short stories that are just memories of Cheyenne's and Lilith's and Eli's. Just to get inside their heads more. It's also fun to write.

Then there's this idea that writing a novel takes a significant more amount of dedication than it does to write a short story. That's true. It does take more dedication and time. However, that being said, that doesn't mean that writing a short story does not take dedication. It does. I honestly wish I had more determination to make my short stories better and revise them more than I do. Sometimes, I just settle. But I think some of the best stories are written several times over.

So whatever you choose to write and/or read, be proud of it and do all that you can to hone your craft!

Gonna Go Write Now,
      HER 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Father's Day

My father's day post is delayed. BUT. I haven't technically celebrated Father's Day yet seeing as how my dear dad was returning home from a ten day business trip to China. Let's just say he was not in the celebrating mood after that entirely too long flight and eating nothing but rice and candy bars for ten days because that's all he could recognize.

I actually really love celebrating my parents A) because they always treat me so well on my birthday and the other 364 days out of the year and B) because they don't really celebrate themselves. My mom has dedicated her life to our family and her own work and volunteer work. My dad works his big brain to exhaustion providing for us and kind of making a difference in the world of biofuels (please don't ask me any further questions, I don't fully understand it). So really, they deserve to be celebrated.

I've been trying to think of some of the great literary fathers to compare my dad too, but I realize that there aren't any because Tim Rials is his own kind of dad--hilarious in his weird, witty way; serious when it comes to work; protective when it comes to me and mom; maybe a little overly caring when it comes to our dog Buddy. He taught me how to blast music in the car and not open the door until the song is over. He stopped me from falling in the lake when I caught a rainbow trout that was nearly as big as I was at age 5. He let me ride up in the front seat to get those narrow little bottles of mini M&Ms from the gas station.

Now, he encourages me, sells my book to scientists who otherwise probably wouldn't pick up Ascension, teaches me how to work hard (sometimes a little too hard). From him, I know that alone time is important for personal sanity. Dogs are also key to personal sanity.

Without trying, he gains respect from the people around him. Apparently while in China, he was served Duck Blood soup. I told this to a friend, and he came back with, "Well, they don't serve duck blood soup to just anyone." Maybe it's the grey hair that makes him so distinguished, but I don't think that's it. I think it's his calm, professional manner, his easy smile, his quick jokes and sharp wit, and the humility to never acknowledge any of this.

So happy belated father's day to all the daddio's out there! I can't wait to celebrate with mine this Sunday!

Until the next holiday,
    HER 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

May Book Round Up

Yes, I'm a few days late, but I'm just going to use Book Expo as an excuse...

1. Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray (The Diviners Book 2)

"For dreams too, are ghosts, desires chased in sleep, gone by morning." 

    I don't believe I was doing Book Round ups when I read the first in the newest Libba Bray series, The Diviners. Based in 1920s New York following nearly 8 young characters, all with various magical abilities. I don't want to give too much away for this second one in case you haven't read the first one, but I highly recommend this series. It can get a bit muddled following all the different character lines, but it's exciting to see how all of them intersect.
    However, I think the real star of this series is the setting. I mean...I've imagined 1920s New York. Who hasn't? It seems like an exciting place and time to be alive. Libba Bray amazingly pulls readers directly into the heart of this time period. Everything from the clothing, the language, the description of the city, the historical events that Bray works into the story line...it's absolutely spectacular. It's my favorite part of the series. Apart from Theta and Henry. Read it, and you'll figure out who they are.

2. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

     I'm trying to diversify my reading, but that's not the main reason that I picked up this classic novel. When I travel to England this summer, I'll be visiting James Herriot's home in Thirsk. Herriot's collection of books are basically retellings of his experience as a vet in the English countryside. Yes, most of the stories are about the animals he treats, but he's also an impeccable observer of people, especially the unique people of his small town.
     This does not read like a autobiography at all. Herriot recreates his young life in an entertaining way, with his witty humor and crazy stories about birthing calves and foals. Plus, my favorite part was when Herriot comforts a dying woman with the notion that her beloved dogs will follow her into Heaven. That's always been a point of contention, but now I know Mr. Herriot has my back.

3. Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

   A debut novel by a promising writer. Based in 1800s London, this story follows Audrey Rose, an unusual girl for her time who's trying to keep her broken family together after her mother's tragic death while also sneaking around to be her uncle's assistant as a medical examiner. However, when a serial killer begins viciously murdering low-class women and harvesting their organs, life becomes even more complicated for Audrey Rose and her messed up family.
     This was not my favorite book. I enjoyed the interesting story line and the strong female character of Audrey Rose. However, much of the novel was a bit melodramatic and the romantic interest seemed just a bit forced.

I'm currently reading The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr while also listening to The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.

Until Next Time,
   HER 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Most Surreal Moment of My Life

I promised a blog post about about my surreal experience with Stephen Chbosky (author, screenwriter, and director of Perks of Being a Wallflower) and RJ Palacio (author of Wonder), so here we go. Strap in.

After a wonderful, long last day of Book Expo, my friend Dave Connis (Temptation of Adam drops in November), my mom, and I were sitting in the Starbucks area, just relaxing when Dave looks up and says, "Hannah, that's Stephen Chbosky and RJ Palacio." I look to my right, and there they are. Two of the most amazing middle and YA authors of our time. But Stephen isn't just an author. He's also a screenwriter and director. Maybe you've heard of a little movie called Beauty and the Beast? Yeah, he directed that.
Both of us are sitting there, obviously fangirling and obsessing over whether we should go talk to them. Stephen was on a phone call that did not sound pleasant, and we didn't want to be associated with a negative phone call. So we waited until he walked away and went up to RJ, who is much less intimidating but amazingly kind! We start throwing praises on her because as you all know (and if you don't, you should) how wonderfully amazing Wonder is. We start talking to her about our books just as Stephen comes back up and joins the conversation.
The rest is kind of a blur... Stephen offered us his four point advice to young writers, which I both wrote down and recorded. He signed my napkin with the advice and wrote "You are infinite!" Perks fans will get the reference.
BUT THEN he asked Dave and I to sign our business cards, and since my book is published, asked me to bring him a signed copy the next day. He asked me...for my book... Just let that sink in. It still hasn't sunk in for me...
All four of us took a picture together, then Stephen asked Dave and me if we were friends and handed us money. "Here, drinks are on me." Me, being the weird person that I am and knowing that some people don't like hugs, asked, "Can I give you a hug?" as my chest continued to get redder and redder.  Then RJ and Stephen went to a publishing dinner.
Dave and I just sat down, looked at each other, then at my mom, and said, "What just happened?" BEA was wonderful, but that was by far the highlight of my entire summer thus far. I mean...WHAT?
**PS I got my book to Stephen. Both he and RJ remembered me. It was amazing. I got another hug.**

All this has a moral to it. Both days of BEA, Dave let me follow him around and meet some amazing people because David Arnold did that for him. Stephen listened to us because he cares about aspiring young authors and wants us to succeed. They're paying it forward. And one day, when I'm in their positions, I plan on paying it forward to a young, emerging author--introducing them to the amazing people I plan on befriending and buying them dinner in New York City, or wherever I come across them.
A message to all the writers out there--these authors that you hold on pedestals, they were you once. They want you to write and succeed. So keep writing, keep pushing, and one day, pay it forward.

Mind Blown,
      HER

Saturday, May 6, 2017

April Book Round Up

Oops, it's already May! Sorry!! Though to be honest, these past two days have been colder in East TN than they were in November!

So, as you saw in my previous post, the month of April has been rather INSANE! No exaggeration. This means that a lot of personal reading did not happen. In fact, zero personal reading got done. But that never means I didn't read. Did I have you worried there? Ha, I thought so.

Let's talk about short stories!!

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
I was assigned Russell's newest short story collection as my final project in my Traditions in Short Fiction course. Well, really, I picked it based off of the title. I wanted to read Sherman Alexei, but I'm SO glad that I got stuck with Karen Russell instead. (Funny anecdote: when I raised my hand for this, my professor said, "I knew you'd pick that one." They know me so well at UTC!)
I love this story collection. I've never read something like this before, both in format and the stories themselves. I would love to be a neuron inside Karen Russell's brain because MAN the stuff she comes up with is INSANE! And I LOVE IT! She combines horror and humor in a fantastic, artful way. I wrote down every single time I laughed out loud as I was reading her stories. I promise that you've never read anything like her stories.
I obviously enjoyed the actual story "Vampires in the Lemon Grove" about these vampire lovers who have settled in a lemon grove and learned that puncturing the thick skin of a lemon is nearly as satisfying as drinking human blood. But obviously, it's going to take a dark twist. I'm just not going to tell you. I also really enjoyed and was terrified by "The Doll of Eric Mutis." I'm not really going to tell you what it's about because that would ruin the surprise horror element of it. But she also has some not as terrifying stories, such as one about random former US presidents being turned into horses and not knowing where they are or how they got there or what they did to deserve being turned into a horse. They also don't know what will happen if they jump over the fence because the others have just disappeared!
So there's a small taste of Russell's work. She's also the author of the novel Swamplandia and the short story collection St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.

40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology 
This was technically my textbook for this Traditions in Short Fiction class, along with a few stories not featured and articles on the art of the short story. No, I'm not recommending a textbook to you, just some of the stories that really stood out to me. If you haven't read these short stories, you should. (Also, if you don't read short stories in general, I highly suggest starting because there's some amazing work being done with them.)
1. "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin
2. "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner (and I'm not a huge Faulkner fan)
3. "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor
4. "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates (FREAKYYYY)
5. "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker (just so good)
6. "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien (you should really read the whole collection <3)
7. "Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri
8. "The Breeze" by Joshua Ferris (Warning: you are meant to be disoriented in this story)
9. "Birdsong" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

And there we go! That's basically what I read this past month (on top of all my papers and editing). Right now, I'm almost finished with Libba Bray's second installment in the Diviner's series, Lair of Dreams. SO GOOD--talk about doing research to perfectly delineate 1920s New York. Anyway, that's for next month's post.

Happy Reading (of short stories :D),
     HER 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Teacher Appreciation Week

If you didn't know that it's teacher appreciation week already, then you've been living under a rock. And if you haven't thanked your teachers yet, well, that's just rude. Time to pony up and give a big thank you...like I'm doing right now.

School was not my favorite place on earth, ever really. But it also was never the worst place. School meant friends and the classes that I liked, and band. However, it also meant the classes I didn't like, the people I tolerated, and gym. Y'all I hated gym, and I'm pretty sure gym hated me in return.

However, I was lucky to live in a district with a pretty excellent school system. It's not perfect--no school is--but I got an excellent education. My teachers cared that I was learning, and most of them didn't just teach to the test. In fact, they hated the dreaded tests. Nevertheless, they prepared me to succeed and be a well rounded person. I don't know if you realize it, but teachers shape a big part of us. Think about it, we're with them a majority of our waking hours, having them shape and mold our minds. It's bound to take some sort of effect after awhile.

I'd like to thank my amazing, caring, beautiful-hearted elementary school teachers at Fort Craig, Mrs. Owens, Mrs. Hurst, and Mrs. Dotson (P.S. Fort Craig rules forever!). Thank you to my 7th grade english teacher Mrs. Schafer, the first person outside my family I let read Ascension, which was at that time still Macy the Teenage Vampire. She still has the original binder. I obviously had to like her.

Thank you, Mr. Daugherty, for making Shakespeare cool. Thank you, Mr. Mendence, for teaching me everything I need to know about grammar and always pushing my analyses to be stronger because you knew I could. Thank you to Mrs. Russell, who I loved despite hating math and who helped me through it all. Thank you to Mrs. Wilson, who is the BEST history teacher ever! She's a queen among mortals. Thank you to Mr. Kessler who helped me catch up in statistics after my concussion. Thank you to Mrs. Romines, Mr. Hayden, Mr. Burke, Mr. Delozier, and Mr. Wilkinson for making me into a musician. Thank you Mr. Schuetz for making me a cool musician. And Jeanie Parker, even though I never took your class--you're the best there is!

I know that's not all of them, but those are the ones who have left their marks on me! And there are so many other teachers in my life that I've never had a class with but have still shaped me into who I am today! So thank you to all the educators out there for doing what you do! Keep on going, even when the going gets rough! Kids, thank your teachers.

Adieu,
   HER

Monday, April 24, 2017

What Have I Been Doing?

Wow, I just realized how long it has been since I've written on here. Maybe you didn't miss me, but I missed being on here! Let me tell you, April has maybe been the craziest month of my life this far! I'll just give a quick recap.

WEEKEND NO. 1
I had the pleasure of going to Nashville to attend Maggie Stiefvater and Courtney Steven's 7 Sentences Seminar, which was amazing! I swear, I learned so much in eight hours. I was amazed. We walked out of there with a story concept, character, setting, and plot. And I'm actually pretty excited by the premise! Plus, it was such an honor to get to listen to these two amazing authors that I respect and admire so much. They're also fantastic speakers!

WEEKEND NO. 2
Family Wedding in Cali! I hadn't been to California since I don't know I was ten maybe? A long time ago, and I had definitely never been to La Jolla (which is basically a super wealthy suburb of San Diego). But getting there was no piece of cake. It was actually the flight experience from Hell. There's no other way to put it. Long story short: after horrendous weather the previous day, we stood in line for six hours, from 11:30 pm to 5:30 am, to get our flight rescheduled. We even would've flown into LAX and driven to San Diego. We just wanted to get there for the wedding. But it turned out not being the worst experience. I met Chris Gallagher, a disney animator and a super awesome YA book nerd, a man who was an extra in The Office episode "Casino Night," two missionaries, and two women from New Zealand. And we did eventually make it to San Diego...just without our luggage. And our luggage did not make it back into our hands for seven more days. Thank you, Delta. FYI if you're luggage doesn't arrive, you're allowed to go shop for necessities and Delta will reimburse you. They didn't tell us that tiny detail until after we'd missed the rehearsal dinner. Again, thank you, Delta. But the wedding on the beach was absolutely beautiful, the reception was a great party; and it was so wonderful to spend time with family that I don't get to see often enough! Even if it was a blitz trip.
Also that weekend, my publisher accepted the Gold Award in New Voice: YA from the Independent Book Publisher's Association's Ben Franklin Book Award for Ascension. LIKE WHAT? You guys, this is huge. I don't think I even fully understand how huge this is. But it's huge. And it's the first trophy I've ever gotten that isn't for participation. I'm actually good at something, guys!

WEEKEND NO. 3
Well, that was Easter weekend. Nothing too much insanely awesome happened here. I spent my entire Friday applying for part time work this summer. I'm still unemployed so...yep! It's okay though. The right job will come along. PLUS I got my sunflower seeds planted, and they are already sprouting. Hopefully, my mom won't kill them this year by accidentally thinking they're weeds.

WEEKEND NO. 4
Let's just say I did a lot of driving this past weekend, folks. I made the very worthwhile drive to Nashville to see one of my favorite humans and go see Jon McLaughlin with her at The City Winery. Very good wine, even better music. Seriously, if you haven't heard his music, listen to it. Not only is he a great song writer, he's an amazing pianist. His hands were a complete blur. It was also a neat concert because it was just him, and it was celebrating the 10th anniversary of his first album's release. So he just played that album, and I'd never heard that music before.
Next day, drive to Maryville to kick of Maryville College's celebration of Katherine Paterson, the magnificent author of Bridge to Terabithia among many others! We thought she'd be at the kick off of course...but that's just a lesson to all you out there. Don't just assume based off of a flyer. Get all the facts or else you'll be disappointed when she doesn't show up.
Well, Sunday she showed up, and she was more magnificent than I ever could have imagined--cute, witty, funny, sweet, and absolutely heart breaking. I think I almost started crying four times during her talk. FOUR! If you ever get the opportunity to hear her speak, GO! I mean, people drove all the way from Nashville.
Shout out to author Brooks Benjamin for having me get a Halls cough drop wrapper signed by her. Made her laugh and probably made me stand out ;)

So that's what's been going on with me.

What's going on with you?
     HER

Friday, March 31, 2017

March Book Round Up

1. History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

        "He broke me in a way everyone should be lucky to be cracked open at least once." 

    I can't explain to you how beautiful this book was--told alternative from the past to the present, the story of a boy who's in love, has his heart broken and spins into chaos after his first love dies. After Griffin's ex-boyfriend Theo moves to California for college and finds himself a new boyfriend, nearly a reflection of Griffin, he spirals into chaos. Not only has he left his boyfriend, but also his best friend. When Theo drowns in the ocean, the chaos that has been Griffin's life turns into a black hole, especially when Theo's boyfriend comes to the funeral and stays with Theo's family, basically replacing Griffin in every aspect of Theo life. Now as he searches through the past, he has to piece together his future and who he is.
     This is Adam Silvera's most recent release and the first of his that I've read, and it was absolutely beautiful. I devoured it. With some of the authors I've read, like Leigh Bardugo, I met Adam before I read his books. He spoke at Yallfest and was so inspirational and interesting to listen to. He's definitely one to keep on your list.

2. Reign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan

    I was really excited about this book, and the world she created is pretty interesting. However, the plot was really predictable. I was very intrigued by the main character Luna. In a world of darkness, this girl, the hidden princess living in a tower, is blind. How do you survive in that kind of world without sight? But she does, and it's impressive. But the rest of her character falls flat. She's a little bit self righteous and a little bit predictable. Fowler is a lovable, slightly more complex character but again is predictable. Less so than everything else. 
    Jordan threw a huge plot twist in at the very end, which I must admit left me reeling, however I don't think I'll continue on to the second book. 

3. Vampires in the Lemon Grove & Other Short Stories by Karen Russell

"There is a loneliness that must be particular to monsters--
the feeling that each is the only child of a species." 

     So I read short stories all the time. Obviously, I'm an english major, and it's what we do as creative writing majors. However, I've never actually read a full short story collection. Technically, this is assigned reading for my final project in Traditions in Short Fiction. When I raised my hand to coincidentally take this collection, my professor said, "I knew you'd choose this one." Ha-ha! And I'm really loving it! Russell is ironic, weird, unique, and awesome!! She makes all of the unusual stuff she writes about sound completely normal while also keeping the weirdness of it. Then she throws these sentences in that are just...woah!

Up next, Saturday by Ian McEwan!

Happy Book Week!
      HER

Monday, March 27, 2017

Breaking Down Barriers: Middle Grade Fiction Panel

This past Saturday, my all-majors creative writing club Chattanooga Writer's Society, organized middle grade fiction panel with the amazing authors Brooks Benjamin and Andrew Maraniss. These two men have written fantastic books both dealing with social stigmas and barriers, though they are quite different styles.

My Seventh Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin is a fun fiction story about Dillon, a football playing, wanna-be dancer with some sick ninja moves. Where some characters in M7GLiT are confident in who they are, Dillon is always questioning, always wondering what other people thing, and always judging himself. I'm not going to tell you the rest. Go read it :)
Strong Inside by Andrew Maraniss is a biography of Perry Wallace, the first African American basketball player in the South Eastern Conference. This biography explores all of the racism and hate that Perry experienced as he made this life-changing decision. Maraniss condensed is biography down to a 40,000 word young reader edition so that children can be inspired by this amazing man's courage, faith, and dedication.

Unfortunately, our turnout for this awesome event was minimal, and I just can't understand this. We have an amazing jewel at Star Line books. She brings in authors at least once a week for discussions and signings. She has a wide variety of book selections, yet people still don't come. I cannot stress enough how beneficial it is to go to literary events in your town. If you are a writer, this is called literary citizenship--supporting people in your community. If your a reader, coming out and supporting these authors keeps them going, keeps them writing books for you!

Plus, this is an amazing opportunity for all of us. If we go to conferences or book festivals, one on one time with authors is highly unlikely. Stand in line, sign a book, and move on. But signings at bookstores gives you time to ask questions, talk to the authors about your passions and aspirations, and just being around people that you admire. This is also a great way to discover new authors to read. If I hadn't decided to go to Brooks's book visit to Star Line last fall, I never would've met this awesome teacher/author who I wish I'd had as a teacher and he wouldn't have come back to do this panel for my organization.

You might show up expecting to get your book signed and walk out with a new friend. Authors are normal people. For the most part, we really like other people. That's who we write about (yes, I do pay attention to what you say to me *insert evil grin here*). PLUS, you're supporting your local bookstore. I know not all towns have local bookstores, but most have some within driving distance. Let me tell you, bookstore owners love their patrons. And I love bookstores. What kind of world would it be if we didn't have indie bookstores? Not a world I want to be in.

So go out, support your favorite authors, meet new ones, and keep our indie bookstores going! Thanks to Brooks, Andrew, Chattanooga Writer's Society, and Star Line Books for another amazing, fun panel! Can't wait for next semester's.

Until I tell you about the books I read this month,
       HER 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

It Takes a Village

I'm not talking about raising a child, though that is true, yes. What I'm saying is--it takes a village to publish a book. A lot people give full credit to the author, and while I smile and say, "Thank you!" I always think about how I wouldn't be here today without my amazing publishing village!

As many of you might have seen, Ascension has been shortlisted for the Independent Book Publisher Association's Ben Franklin Book Award in New Voice: YA. This is maybe the most spectacular thing to ever happen. A Ben Franklin is the top book award in the independent publishing world. I mean, this is huge, guys. I never in a million years would have dreamed that I'd actually be able to say that or get to put an award sticker on my book. But I can, and I will!

Everyone is congratulating me, and I'm so very appreciative of all the support. Now it's my turn to say thank you to my village!

To my publisher, the most amazing, independent, brilliant, surprising, talented woman I have ever had the pleasure of knowing--thank you for seeing something in me and my book and moving us forward.

To my editor, who thinks so very differently from me yet seems to completely get my writing, my characters, and story--thank you for pushing me to think differently, work hard, and never settle.

To the Head Elf, the most kick-butt, do-all, hilarious woman--thank you for being the biggest cheerleader, flying all the way out to little Maryville for the book launch, and pushing this book down everyone's throats :)

To my graphic designer, who I converted to be a vampire fan after just 10 pages -- thank you for wanting to read more than 10 pages and for designing a perfect, beautiful cover and layout for my story.

To my copy editor, who went above and beyond, who read for more than just comma errors--thank you for those 17 pages of notes to fix. I resented it then. I treasure it now.

To my first reader, who may be more attached to this book who I am, who knew Ascension when it was Macy the Teenage Vampire -- there aren't enough thank you's in the world for helping me to shape Ascension in your basement for those 6 years.

To my parents, the ones who always support me, encourage me, cry with me when Ascension gets an award, sell books out of the trunks of their cars or at business meetings...simply, thank you.

And thanks to all of you for reading Ascension, bringing it to life, supporting it and me and this team. Where would I be without all of you?

Look for the official results of the IBPA Ben Franklin Award April 7th!!

Keeping you posted,
    HER 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Spring Break in Boston!

Woohoo!! Travel time again! It feels like forever since I’ve been to a new place when really it’s been less than a year. But I guess that’s a long time for me haha. So Friday afternoon, I flew to Boston to visit my cousin and my sister from another mister.
I don’t really want to talk about Friday. You know how it’s possible for everything to go wrong when it comes to flying? Well, that was yesterday, except, thank the Lord, they didn’t lose my bag. Though I think it would’ve taken an effort to lose my bag since I was sitting in the Newark airport for three hours waiting on a flight that was supposed to load right after I got there. Anyway, let’s just say that I didn’t touch ground until 2 in the morning.
I saw so much this weekend (JUST 2 DAYS), I’ll bullet point this trip for you lovely readers J
·      Central Square:
o   Breakfast at Veggie Galaxy
o   H-Mart – huge Asian market with restaurants within
o   Graffiti Alley – found a wall to match my jacket
·      Beacon Hill
o   Saw the original bar where Cheers was set. If you haven’t watched it, you should. It’s great.
o   Made the mistake of walking along the Charles River where we were almost blown in by the viciously cold winds.
o   Walked past Boston Common and the Public Gardens
·      Newberry
o   This is where all the primo shopping is at. We went to a really cool shop called the Fairy Store, which was misleadingly a completely Harry Potter shop.
o   Amorino – THE BEST ICE CREAM/GELATO EVER! They shape it like a rose and have gelato macarons that are melt in your mouth amazing.
o   Trident Bookstore – also a café, old feel, creaky floors, wide variety, lots of cool side items, looked like fantastic food!
·      Theatre District:
o   Dinner at Sip which had great sushi. Man, I haven’t had sushi in so long. Missed it!
·      Financial District:
o   The Black Rose: If you’re looking for a traditional Boston bar, this is the place to go. Great, fun atmosphere!
·      Allston:
o   Allston Diner for breakfast – great hometown restaurant with cute kitchen accessories. They whistle from the kitchen when the food’s ready.
·      Brookline:
o   Coolidge Corner
§  Brookline Book Smith: Fantastic YA section, open floor plan, TONS of side items. They also told me that they love indie authors. So, they get an A+ in my book. They’re also pet friendly
·      Copley Square:
o   Boston Public Library founded in 1630, absolutely spectacular. Has a Harry Potter-esque in some areas. It’s very modern in others. I had to take a panorama picture to get the full image with their motto.
o   Trinity Church – built in the 1700s. Have absolutely gorgeous stained glass. Individual and guided tours. Students had a $5 self guided tour. They had beautiful pipe organs and handmade kneeling images.
o   Max Brenner – restaurant + chocolatier. OH MY GOS. We had a churro fondue platter and Italian cream hot chocolate with dark chocolate in what they call “hug mugs”
·      The Prudential Center:
o   Mario Batali’s Eataly – a monster store of fresh Italian ingredients split into sections. So overwhelming and fantastic. You can even get fresh pasta, and they have meals in the building too.
o   Copley Shopping Center - the designer stores that I shouldn’t even be allowed to touch haha
·      We walked through Back Bay and Tremont
·      China Town – small, just a coupe blocks, huge welcome arch.
·      One of the oldest carousels, funded by Tiffany & Co.
·      Kennedy Greenway has art exhibits right now. A neat wall graphic, giraffe statue, light display, a little free library. Plus, I got hugged by a golden retriever. Fantastic.
·      The North End -  aka the Italian district
o   Dinner at La Famiglia – family sized meals. So leftovers for days. I ate my leftovers on the train for lunch.
o   Bova’s Baker – get the Florentine Cannoli. Oh, my good gracious. Yum.
What I learned about Boston
            *It was not planned well, but the public transit is pretty comprehensive and laid out.
            *You’re not a true Bostonian unless you drink Iced Dunkin Donuts Coffee in the dead of winter.
            * The farther out of the city you live, the cheaper the cost of living.


I CANNOT wait to go back!