Friday, January 31, 2014

The Problem With Audiobooks

For weeks now, I've been reading The Dream Thieves by Maggie Steifvater. Well, that's not quite true. I have been listening to it on audio, and I just decided to return it without finishing. I know, blasphemy! So many of my friends adored it, and I just...haven't. And I've wondered why.

First of all, this is the season where I don't enjoy much. The end of January is not the happiest place for me, and I'm trying to accept that, and realize that now might not be the best indicator of actual Melanie-enjoyment.

But part of the problem is also the audio. When you listen to something, every word is given equal weight. When you read something, you can go back and relish some words and skip over other less savory ones. There are a lot of both kinds of words in The Dream Thieves, and its pacing really suffers when read. I'll probably finish it at some point, but frankly, I'm surprised I loved The Raven Boys so much when everyone I've talked to seems to love The Dream Thieves even more, and I can barely stand it.

It makes me leery of trying anything else on audio, and this is coming from ME--the woman whose son had huge chunks of Harry Potter memorized before he was six years old--the woman whose daughter used to scream "NO! Not Harry Potter again!" whenever the BBC came on--the woman who wore out the Book on Tape of Bloomability by Sharon Creech because we listened to it with such astonishing regularity.

I used to be a huge audio fan, but when I look back at the books we liked, they were mainly middle grade books. On a trip to Florida one year, we listened to all the Prydain novels. When I listened to Scott Westerfield's Leviathan series, I remember finding excuses to sweep and mop my floor every day to give myself more time in the kitchen (maybe I should check those out again!) I think it was at exactly the same time that I fell in love with The Magic Thief on audio. (Karen!)

But adult novels? Or even most young adult novels? No thanks. I'd rather hold the book in my hand. I love the ability to flip back a few pages to check out my facts, to read certain parts more quickly, whether because I am excited or because I am bored, to go back and savor incredibly well written sentences like this: "Theoretically, Blue Sargent was probably going to kill one of these boys." (The Dream Thieves) When I heard that, I loved it so much I just wanted to read it again and again.

It makes me sad to not enjoy audio books. I don't have time to read nearly as much as I used to, but I spend a lot of my free time in the car. A good audio book would be a treasure.

Signs I might like an audio book:

1. It is read by Jim Dale. Maybe. I couldn't finish The Emerald Atlas. But I enjoyed The Night Circus even though I probably wouldn't have liked it as a book.

2. The readers do voices and accents. The reader of The Dream Thieves did a pretty good job. His Adam Parrish voice and his Calla voice made me laugh my head off though.

3. A straightforward plot. Not a lot of subplots and extra POV to confuse me. Exception: Harry Potter. But then I read those before I listened to them.

4. A relatively short read. Dream Thieves was 453 pages, with a nice normal font size. It was 11 CDs, which is probably the outer edge of a good size book for me unless it is read by Jim Dale. J

5. Humor. Pathos. Poetical language--although then I may long for a hard copy so I can reread it.

6. Very little bad language. I'm relatively adept at letting my eyes skim right past bad words in a book. There is no doing that on audio, as Ronan has taught me far too well.

Can you think of an audiobook I might enjoy?

Monday, January 27, 2014

In Defense of Pretty

When I was about five, a sweet old man from my church came up to my mother and I and said, "She is just the prettiest little thing, I just want to take her home with me."

 The feminist and the mom inside me bristles at that now. He didn't speak directly to me like you would a person. He called me "little." And a "thing." And we won't even mention how the mom in me feels about that last sentence.

 But twenty five years later, I still remember that moment fondly, and clearly. So much so, that I can still remember the blue and white dress I was wearing, and the color of Brother Harris' tie. It was brown with a subtle green stripe.

 It's the first time I remember being called pretty.

I grew up in a home where pretty wasn't important. I was told that I was smart, funny, and powerful. We were taught often that looks don't matter, and what really matters is serving others, contributing to the world, and being kind. And it was an awesome way to grow up. Inside the walls of my home.

Outside it, however, I learned that pretty does matter. Often,what a girl or women looks like seems like the only thing that matters. I hate that so much. I hate the focus on what clothes a powerful woman wears, or what they weigh, or their hotness factor. I just hate how some people only see women that way.

It's a hard balance living in that world, while raising a little girl of my own.

I tell my daughter that she's beautiful every day. In fact, it was the very first thing I ever said to her.

When they handed her to me that first time, she was red, and slimy, with fat rolls and wet blinking eyes, screaming in frustration that we had ripped her from someplace warm.

 She was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

She didn't look like the babies in the magazines, or the movies. She didn't look like the doll I had played with, or the idea in my head of what she would be, but I loved her, and saw her for the beautiful powerful tiny soul that she was.

She's six now. When I tell her she's pretty, she still says, "I know." I also tell her she's smart, and good at math, and capable, and powerful. But I try to tell her she's beautiful so much that she never has to think about it again. I try to point it out while she's looking up at me from her crayons. There in her mismatched clothes, with her hair slightly pulled from her ponytail, and lunch still perched on the side of her lip. In that moment she is beautiful, even though no one is using her to sell anything. I tell it to her when she's sleeping, or singing a song she's making up for herself, or when she's building, or when she's playing with her dolls.

I want her to know that there is something intrinsically beautiful about who she is, and I hope one day it'll rub off on me. I want to know that beauty is more than one picture we keep being sold. Beauty is not just a woman in high heels and pearls going off to a high rise building and a high status job, although there is something so beautiful about that. It's not just about a Senator in bright orange sneakers arguing for all women, although I admire and recognize the beauty in that. It's not just a woman whose life looks like a pintrest board, with perfect home, body, children, although there is something so beautiful about that too. I want to learn that beautiful can also be a woman who maybe hasn't showered yet, sitting in front of a computer trying to reach out to people and be heard.

That maybe there's beauty in that too.

There is beauty in being yourself.

 This year for Christmas, we gave my daughter building toys, art stuff, books, and dolls. I have to say, that when we wrapped them, I really hoped she would love the toys I bought because I'm a feminist.

But it's been a few weeks, and I have to tell myself that I have no problem whatsoever that the toy she most often chooses are the Barbies. She has all the dress up stuff in the world, and then some, but she doesn't usually choose to dress up as the knight in shining armor, or the doctor, or the fireman, she usually chooses a princess or a fairy, and that's okay.
In fact, I love my pink loving, barbie doll playing artist.

She says she wants to be a fashion designer when she grows up.  Right now she's drawing a picture while wearing gray and purple leopard print leggings, a long blue and green plaid skirt and an orange shirt. She chooses her own clothes already, and I don't know if even Tim Gunn could make that work.

But I smile at her, and then ask what she's drawing.

 It's a picture of me. She's drawn it with long eyelashes and pink lips, even though I'm not wearing make up. She's drawn me in a fancy dress, although I only ever dress up to go to church anymore, and I've never worn a tiara.

 That's just what my daughter sees as beautiful.

In that picture, I see the lesson I'm trying to teach her.

My daughter thinks I'm beautiful. I hang it up on the fridge. Maybe if I say it enough, I won't have to think about it anymore.


P.S. This post was inspired by the brilliant post MaryAnn wrote last Wednesday,  In Defense of the Pink Aisle. It's awesome, so check it out.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

An interview with author Melanie Crouse on the release of her new book HIDDEN MAGIC

Beautiful cover!
In honor of friend, author, and Prosers blogger Melanie Crouse's new book release this week, I interviewed her for my contribution to the blog. Melanie's book HIDDEN MAGIC came out Friday, and is available for purchase via all the usual channels. You can check out her website for more information.

Congrats to Melanie! Here's an edited version of our interview. Enjoy! And go buy her book!

1. Tell me about your new release of HIDDEN MAGIC. What is this book about?

At its heart, Hidden Magic is a love story about Arram and Jenny. In spite of her family's overprotectiveness, Jenny has always been reckless and drawn to mischief. That's why her mom decided not to pay for Jenny's education. The moment Jenny finally makes it to the University, she meets Arram, a mage-in-training who captures her interest and then vanishes. While he is gone, Jenny turns to Arram's former best friend, Jack.  But Arram and Jack's rivalry is much darker than Jenny suspects, and so are Jack's intentions.

When Jenny finds herself in need of magical help, both Arram and Jack want to help. Arram wants her to do the safe thing, and Jack wants her to show her the easy way out. Whichever option she chooses, her life will never be the same again.

2. When did you start writing?

Six years ago. I was homeschooling my daughter and we decided to try Nanowrimo together. Since then, I have never stopped.

3. What inspired you to write this book?

I think the first inkling of the idea came while I was standing in a little kiddy pool, soaking up the sunshine while my kids took lessons in the big pool. I had a whole scene planned out in my head. This book is everything leading up to that scene. The scene is still in my head, but I don't think it actually fits the storyline anymore. So sad.

But there were a million little things that led to my writing this book. Reading Twilight made me think "I could do that too!" and by 'that' I mean writing a clean romance that set people's hearts racing. I spent a lot of time analyzing the relationships of people in Pride and Prejudice, and though my book is nothing like that, more than one person has mentioned that it has that flavor. Those are some of my favorite compliments. 

4. What was hard about writing this book?

I didn't know how to write AT ALL. I've read thousands of books in my life, but the only thing I seemed to pick up from them was a larger than average vocabulary. If it hadn't been for Nanowrimo and Orson Scott Card's How To Write Science Fiction andFantasy, I don't think I ever would have finished the first page. 

When I look back at that first manuscript I am thrilled to say I don't think I could write anything that horrible now, even if I tried. Still, I loved the story enough to keep learning and polishing. I had so many amazing writers help me, and I'm so grateful none of them said, "That's good enough" until it was.  This novel went through the crucible and came out shiny and pretty.

5. What is your favorite color?

Ever since Peeta told Katniss the orange of a sunset was his favorite color, orange has been my favorite too. Until I read those words, this question always flummoxed me. I would always say blue, but it wasn't blue, not really. It was the color of orange juxtaposed on a light blue sky. Thank you, Suzanne Collins, for explaining this to me.

6. Malcolm Reynolds or Christopher Pine as reboot Captain Kirk?

Who? :) [Editor's Note: You're dead to me. In case you were curious, the correct answer here is Mal, and/or both.]

7. You're down to the last wish from a genie. You can't wish for more wishes. What do you wish for? (Assume you've already taken care of your basic needs of money with your other wishes…)

The ability to freeze time so I can get as much writing done in a day as I think I ought to, and still have time to live.

8. Who are some of your favorite authors?

I love JK Rowling, Dianne, Wynne-Jones, Megan Whalen-Turner, Jane Austen, Orson Scott Card, Shannon Hale, and Janette Rallison. Of course I’m super-impressed with my writing partners from Alchemy, Sabrina West and Sheena Bookweg.

9. What did you think about writing when you were younger? How has that changed as you've gotten older?

In my heart, I think I've always been a writer. However, I didn't write. I don't know why--whether I was scared of it, or whether I was too lazy. I wish I could go back in time and see what was going on in my head. If only I'd started when I was younger, think how much further along in the process I could be by now!

10. Did you use anything or anyone you know from your real life in writing this book? Spill! Which ex-flame got skewered in chapter 12? ;)

Hmmm...In this book? I don't think so. However, in the sequel, there are a few scenes that were inspired by reality. However, I'm never telling anyone which ones. Ever. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Happy Book Birthday, Melanie!

Purchase on Amazon

When Jenny has the opportunity to spend the summer with her sister, a small slice of freedom is all she's really hoping for when she has the opportunity to spend the summer with her sister. Instead she finds something else altogether: electricity.

That's what Jenny feels when she looks at Arram. She knows he’s drawn to her too, but the mage-in-training does his best to hide it. Stung, Jenny turns to Arram's former best friend, Jack. But Arram and Jack's rivalry is much darker than Jenny suspects, and so are Jack's intentions. Soon she's caught in a mystery of old murder, ancient prophecies, and magic hidden where no one has thought to look. When Jenny uncovers a secret magic, she is offered two choices. Arram wants her to do the safe thing. Jack wants to show her the easy way out. Whatever Jenny decides, her life will irrevocably change. Either way, freedom may be the one thing Jenny can never have.


Jack put his finger to his lips and motioned toward an empty bedroom across the hall. Not knowing what else to do, she went in, her heart thudding against her ribs. “Jack,” she whispered. “What are you doing here? How did you get in?” “What? No welcome home kiss?” His voice was mocking. Trying to keep her voice steady, she said, “So Arram was right. You do want to kidnap me after all.” “Kidnap you?” Jack looked horrified. Underneath the horror though, Jenny could see that his eyes were sparkling with mischief. “I should have known Arram would fill your head with something stupid like that. No, you wonderful, impossible girl, I’m here to rescue you.”  

About Melanie Crouse

Melanie Crouse is the author of Hidden Magic, coauthor of the book Alchemy and the CEO of the craziest household in the Western Hemisphere. Lately, both of those full-time jobs have collided, creating chaos on a colossal scale. Which is just the way she likes it. In her spare time, Melanie likes to play the piano, swim, hike and teach preschool. Whether she has spare time or not, she manages to read prolifically, which probably explains more than it doesn't. She loves her family dearly, and wishes with all her heart that her teenage children weren't so embarrassed that their mom writes "kissing scenes."

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