Sunday, December 10, 2017

New Mailing List, New Gig, and a Hint About a Christmas Present

Like the post title says, I have three things to discuss with you today!  And they're such important things, I'm doing the same post on both of my blogs because I don't want any of my blogging friends to miss out.

First of all, I have finally started an official mailing list.  I haven't actually sent out any messages with it yet, but I will send out the first in a couple days!  My plan is to send out one or two emails a month, so you don't have to worry about me flooding your inbox or anything.

What will those emails contain?  Advance notice of new projects -- you'll read about them in my emails before I mention them on my blogs.  Behind-the-scenes info about my books and stories.  Info about the articles I write for Femnista and Prairie Times (more about that in a minute).  And (best of all, I think) Free Sneak Peeks at upcoming projects.  Like what?  Like the first chapter of my next book before it's even up for pre-order.  Maybe even some "deleted scenes" kinds of bonus content.

And the behind-the-scenes info and "deleted scenes" content won't be available anywhere else.  Totally exclusive to this list.

Want to sign up?  You can do it right here:

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Email Format

You can also sign up via my website, and with the widget in the sidebars of my blogs.

Okay, that was thing one.

Thing two I need to tell you about?  I've been hired to write a column for the Prairie Times, a Colorado-based magazine!  They print twelve issues a year, which are also available on their website.  I'll be writing about different historical people and events from the American West.  For someone who minored in both English and History, this is basically a dream come true!!!

And thing three... is a surprise.  A Christmas present to all of you from me.  But it's not quiiiiiiite ready for you to unwrap yet, so just know that it's coming, okay?  I'm shooting for December 15, but I might have it done before then. 

Okay, that's it!  Time for me to go put up some more Christmas decorations and for you to... return to your regularly scheduled programming?  Something like this, yes :-)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

"Christmas: The Coloring Book of Cards and Envelopes" by Rebecca Jones

This is one of the coolest coloring-book concepts ever!  I have been having so much fun with this book!  It's exactly what it says:  a collection of Christmas cards with matching envelopes that you can color yourself to send to others.

I broke down and bought a pack of 24 gel pens to share with my kids for coloring these because I thought the vibrant colors would be especially awesome.  The paper in this book is really thick and takes the color beautifully!  

Here's the front of the first card I colored:

And here's the interior:

You can see they do two cards to a page, fronts and backs on one side of the sheet and interiors on the other.  You have to cut them apart when you're done with them, so I'm happy I have a nice paper-cutter to make the cuts straight.  But a scissors would work too.

Here's another one I colored. I did mostly gel pens for these, but some colored pencils too.  Does that make this "mixed media art" perhaps?

There are so many cute designs in here!  Lots with birds or animals.  I'm working on this one next: 

And then there are the envelopes.  They're in the back of the book, one for each card.  You color them first, and then cut them out and fold along scored lines to make an envelope.  The instructions for how to do this are on the inside cover of the book.  Here's the envelope that goes with the first card I colored:

Here's the one that goes with the second card:

They have dizzying patterns for the inside of the envelopes too, but... I didn't color them.  I mean, I don't have unlimited time, and I'd actually like to send off a few of these in time to reach my friends by Christmas.

So here's the first card inside its envelope:

The book comes with stickers to use to close the envelopes because they aren't adhesive in any way.  That works pretty well, though if you were sending them through the mail, I think you'd want to tape up the flaps a bit too.  I know I will.

This is the front of the envelope:

These cards and envelopes are really big -- the cards are 5"x5" and the envelopes are slightly bigger.  So if you send them through the mail, you will need extra postage.  The book makes 24 cards in all, and I'm going to let my kids color some of them to send to grandparents and so on.  But I'm coloring my favorites myself to give to a few particular friends!

Another LOTR Read-Along: At the Sign of the Prancing Pony (FOTR 1, 9)

Hooray! Back to the parts of the book that I love. And I do love this part -- doesn't Bree sound like a fun place to visit? Especially the Prancing Pony. With Strider lurking in a dark corner. I love him when he's mysterious and shadowy, with his "travel-stained cloak of heavy dark-green cloth" and his "high boots of supple leather that fitted him well, but had seen much wear and were now caked with mud" (p. 153). I wish he would just stay all Ranger-y and cryptic, and we could go about having adventures with him. If I had the time, I'd totally read good fanfic about Strider on his pre-LOTR journeys.

(SPOILERS in the next THREE paragraphs)

If you've read this before, or seen the movie, you know who Strider turns out to be: Aragorn, heir to the throne of all Middle-earth. One more instance of Tolkien taking expectations and turning them on their head. Just a dirty, unkempt, dangerous wanderer? Nope, the rightful king. Like Jesus, in a way -- just a poor baby born in a stable? Just a carpenter from Nazareth? Nope. (And yes, Aragorn can be read as Christ-like character, though once again, we need to be careful not to see symbolism where there are only parallels.) Of course, the hobbits don't know this yet.

And here's something fun: do you know what the terms "pantser" and "plotter" mean? A "pantser" is a writer who writes "by the seat of their pants." Only the vaguest of plans for their story, just writing wherever things take them. "Plotters" are writers who plot everything out before they write, do outlines for each story (or each chapter), and know ahead of time where their story is going.

Well, Tolkien was a pantser. Reportedly, when he wrote the first draft, he found this dangerous, mysterious stranger sitting in the corner of the Prancing Pony and tossed him in the story, not realizing he was going to turn out to be Aragorn. I find this hilarious and awesome. And mind-boggling at how much re-writing he must have had to do to have everything weave together so beautifully through a thousand pages, if he pantsed the first draft.


Here we get some longer poetry, too. I like this poem, though, because it's amusing to me to think that the Mother Goose rhyme about the cow jumping over the moon comes from Middle-earth. (Obviously, the Mother Goose rhyme existed long before Tolkien wrote LOTR, but it's fun to pretend.)

Favorite Lines:

"If you want anything, ring the hand-bell, and Nob will come. If he don't come, ring and shout!" (p. 150)

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you think the ring meant to slip onto Frodo's finger, or was it an accident?

2. If you're a writer, are you more of a pantser or a plotter?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Another LOTR Read-Along: Fog on the Barrow-downs (FOTR 1, 8)

This is my least-favorite chapter in the whole trilogy. I find it really creepy. Doesn't make me fall asleep, at least! But all that stuff about the fog and the echoing voices, and then the crawling hand of the barrow wight -- yuck! Good for reading around Halloween, I suppose, but I'm glad the majority of the book is not like this.

But if you like it, that's okay ;-) Could be we'll hit chapters I love that you don't!

One good thing about this chapter is that it gives Frodo a chance to discover that he can be heroic. Which is important, I think -- that "seed of courage" Tolkien talks about on page 137 is awakened here, and he's going to need that so much in the pages ahead.

Favorite Lines:

The mist was flowing past him now in shreds and tatters (p. 136).

The night was railing against the morning of which it was bereaved, and the cold was cursing the warmth for which it hungered (p. 137).

"Few now remember them," Tom murmured, "yet still some go wandering, sons of forgotten kings walking in loneliness, guarding from evil things folk that are heedless" (p. 142).

Discussion Questions:

Why didn't Tom Bombadil escort the hobbits to the road in the first place? They clearly got into trouble out in the forest on their own before.

Friday, December 1, 2017

"A Sidekick's Tale" by Elisabeth Grace Foley

I've been reading Elisabeth Grace Foley's westerns for several years now.  I always enjoy them, especially her western fairy tale retellings (yeah, I'm totally not the only person who writes those).  But none of them has come even close to the excellence of her latest book, A Sidekick's Tale.  

From the quirky and outrageous characters to the hints of romance, this book kept me thoroughly entertained.  You probably know that I dearly love to laugh, and this book made me laugh aloud time and again.  It reminded me so much of a screwball comedy from the 1930s and '40s -- you know, the kind with an impossible situation that just keeps getting worse and worse until everyone gives up all hope of ever extricating themselves, and then somehow, everything turns out okay in the end.

Meredith Fayett is a pretty young woman who inherits a ranch, but it's deeply mortgaged, and she soon learns she's going to lose her land if she can't pay down the loan.  She could use money her parents left her to pay off most of the mortgage, but she can't touch that until she turns 21... or gets married.  So, she sets about getting married to one of the men who works on her ranch, Chance Stevens.  Strictly as a business proposition, of course -- the most physical contact they ever exchange is the handshake they give each other instead of a kiss at the end of the wedding.  Happily for Meredith, Chance is an honorable gent, and he promises that as soon as she's got her money, he'll cooperate in getting their "marriage" annulled.  

But I'm leaving out the sidekick, and also the narrator, one Marty Regan.  He loans the couple an heirloom ring to get married with, only it turns out that his large and idiosyncratic family has been feuding amicably for years over who that ring actually belongs to.  And that's where most of the comedy comes in, as Marty and Chance go through a great deal of rigmarole to try to get that ring back and figure out who it really ought to go to.

Oh, I forgot to mention that this is charmingly illustrated by Annie Grubb of The Western Desk.  I've bought some things from her shop over the past couple years -- I really like her work!

Particularly Good Bits:

There's lots of fellows whose names don't get into the history books, but if they hadn't been there at the other fellow's elbow at the right moment, the world would have -- well, either have missed out on something sensational or been spared a lot grief, I don't know which (p. 1).

I don't know if you've ever noticed it, but while the behavior of your family seems perfectly normal to you, it comes across as pretty half-baked to an outsider (p. 54).

She had her hands on her hips as we came up toward her, and the look in her eye as it fixed on me was like the one she wore when she was picking out a turkey for Thanksgiving.  I tried to look meek and unappetizing (p. 57).

Even a sweet, pretty girl like Meredith Fayett, when she thinks she's been ill-used, can make ordinary sentences bite until you feel like you're holding a double handful of ice cubes and can't find anywhere to put them down (p. 121).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG.  Clean, family-friendly, and fun!

This is my 12th and final entry for the Adventure of Reading Challenge 2017!  What a fun year it has been :-)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Another LOTR Read-Along: In the House of Tom Bombadil (FOTR 1, 7)

For many years, I was not a huge fan of this section of the book. I knew a lot of people loved it, and so every time I read it, I felt like I was missing something. I kept getting hung up on the religious imagery I saw, but couldn't figure out how it all tied together with the rest of the story.

For instance, at the end of the previous chapter, Tom hops away singing, "Tom's going on ahead candles for to kindle" and "Fear neither root nor bough! Tom goes on before you" (p. 118). To me. that sounds so much like when Christ told his followers, "I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2b). And when the hobbits ask Goldberry who Tom Bombadil is, she simply says, "He is" (p. 122), which sounds an awful lot like God telling Moses that his name is I Am (Exodus 3:14). And then, when the hobbits leave, Tom teaches them something to say if they get in trouble that sounds awfully prayer-like, ending with "Come, Tom Bombadil, for our need is near us!" (p. 131).

So I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who Tom Bombadil was supposed to represent, what this section was supposed to mean, and so on. I knew Tolkien had said this wasn't an allegory, but Tom Bombadil just didn't make sense in my head. Some people said he was based on a figure from Norse mythology, basically a guardian of the woods. And I think probably Tolkien wove that into this story, as he was fascinated with Norse mythology.

But the book Finding God in the Lord of the Rings by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware suggests that he's also in some ways a personification of hope. "Hope" is a huge theme in this book. It delves a lot into what it means to hope, how one deals with losing hope, what someone does if their hope seems pointless, and how people behave if there seems to be no reason to hope anymore. And I do like the idea of Tom Bombadil being hope personified, because I think it shows that hope can be separate from what's going on in the world, even if it's also subject to the effects of events.

So anyway, we have a peaceful interlude here, which is nice. Also, reading about all that yummy food makes me hungry :-)

Favorite Lines:

The sound of her footsteps was like a stream falling gently away downhill over cool stones in the quiet of the night (p. 123).

As far as he could remember, Sam slept through the night in deep content, if logs are contented (p. 126).

Discussion Questions:

Any thoughts on Tom Bombadil, or Goldberry? Did they strike you as being more meaningful than just random cool people they run into?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Winter is Coming

This week's prompt from The Broke and the Bookish is "Top Ten Books on Your Winter TBR List."  So here are the ten books I want to read next.

For once in my life, I am NOT listing these in any particular order.  It's possible I've had too much coffee already this morning.  Somebody stop me -- I'm being spontaneous!

1. The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien (technically, I'm already reading this, but who's counting?)

2. The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien (which I obviously would begin right after TTT.)

3. The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay (will be starting it SOON -- possibly today?)

4. Skipping Christmas by John Grisham (my pick for this year's Literary Christmas Challenge.)

5. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood (I've read the first chapter aloud to my kids already, and it is So Much Fun!)

6. The Brass Compass by Ellen Butler (I got to hear the author speak this fall!)

7. How the West was Worn: Bustles and Buckskins on the Wild Frontier by Chris Enss (looks like it will be incredibly valuable for research purposes, but also fun.)

8. Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles by Elizabeth Ward and Alain Silver (cuz you know I love all things Raymond Chandler.)

9. If I'm Found by Terri Blackstock (because I loved the first book, If I Run, and really need to read the sequel before book 3 comes out!)

10. Death by the Book by Julianna Deering (I really dig the Drew Farthering series!  I've read books 1 and 4 and am now filling in the gaps.)

(Via Pinterest)

What's on your winter TBR list?