community, pop culture

Whatever Happened to Feng Shui?

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Do you ever wonder what happened to certain things that were popular years ago, but you suddenly realize, “Hey, we never hear about ______ anymore?”

The other day, for some reason, I thought this about Feng Shui. For those of you who aren’t familiar, it’s an Asian architectural and inner decor method that became popular elsewhere in the late 20th century. Basically, the idea is to arrange your house in the optimal way for garnering good luck and blessings from the universe. The concept hit it big here, probably due to the idea of coercing cosmic good fortune to rain down upon individuals. People started businesses where official Feng Shui consultants would come to your house or company and tell you what to rearrange and how (and most likely charge you a great deal of money for this information).

True Feng Shui is far more complex than I ever felt confident of tackling. (Plus, I’m not sure that having my bathroom perfectly aligned with my chakras will actually ensure getting the job of my dreams). I read a few books on the subject, and the major thing I got out of it was that: A) this is too heavy, dude, and B) materialism isn’t necessarily good for us.

Now I’m not a minimalist; there are certain things I like having plenty of. (Books, for example.) Though I can definitely agree that being focused on acquiring objects is a predominantly Western fixation that may not bring us health and prosperity.

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Part of me really likes the notion of creating your immediate environment to be ultimately soothing and beneficial, not simply functional. This really appeals to my autistic nature, which craves stability, routine, being able to find things quickly, and know what’s going to come at you. And I won’t deny that I love to be organized.

Even if my organization system doesn’t make sense to anybody else. For example, I don’t have a physical to-do list, scribbled on a scrap piece of paper; I have a stack of letters or forms to be filled out, on the top is the one that I need to do first based on its date, and then everything underneath it is also arranged by this same order of importance.

My bookshelves may look like they aren’t arranged in any particular way; but I know that they are, and where to find a title or author. And since they’re my books, and no one besides me will ever need to find something, does it really matter if I can’t explain my reasoning more tangibly than that?

What would Feng Shui have to say about my cavalier attitude towards the placement of objects?

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Maybe in some ways I’m just too practical to really delve into Feng Shui and give it a wholehearted chance. There are many aspects of my life that would make this endeavor an extremely difficult one. My guess is these practices from ancient China weren’t really designed with modern American cul-de-sac residences in mind. Nor is it necessarily possible for me to make sure of things like the “fire” and “water” parts of my house not being too close together; I can’t change where the gas lines and pipes run to.

However, I can absolutely agree that consumerism can get out of control, and that keeping possessions well organized is paramount to maintaining a healthy environment.

This can be a hard practice to keep up in our society.

You tell your kids to get rid of the toys they’re done playing with (and you know they’re done because they haven’t touched said items in over a calendar year). But, but, but, they’ll insist, those objects have such sentimental value, and don’t we always encourage them to form meaningful memories? So you relent…and then wish you hadn’t when Christmas shopping season comes around again — because you’ll realize there are all these new things the kids want…and that will need somewhere to be stored when they tire of them.

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There are always charities and secondhand shops that will happily take these items when you’re finished with them. The system of passing on stuff that no longer works for your family but will for someone else is an excellent one. And we live in the land of garage sales and flea markets, carrying the unofficial motto, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

If…if you can ever get your family to part with said “trash.”

So, does Feng Shui actually serve a purpose in our culture? Can it be adapted to make our homes and businesses channel more effective and positive energy throughout our lives? Should we even be worrying about it?

And I have to wonder — for a society that was so enamored with this concept just a couple of decades ago, and now it doesn’t really seem to be “a thing”… Does this mean that following trends are more important to us than holding on to something innovate and establishing long-lasting change?

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geekery, pop culture

The Generation Gap

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I’ve started thinking about this a lot. Maybe it’s part of getting older myself, and realizing that so much of the stuff I grew up with simply won’t exist, or will be quite different, for my own children, and wondering where the time has gone (and denying that I’m now “a grown-up”). Maybe it’s an unavoidable fact, since the culture that had been constant for several decades by the time I came of age is now in continual flux, as aspects that had stopped working years back are now in the process of reform; and that so many new things have become an integral part of everyday life in such a short span of time.

Is this is a new phenomenon? The generation gap. Or has it always been this way? In ancient civilizations, when people decided it was necessary to do away with the style of clothing/social manners/cooking/trade/education that their grandparents had supposedly thrived on, did the elders shake their heads and say, “Kids today”?

Whether we’ll ever know that or not, it is a fact in 2018 that the world has changed monumentally in the past decade and a half. When White Fang was a baby, a lot of people didn’t have wi-fi, Smartphones, Kindles, or Netflix in their homes, none of these words had become their own nouns and verbs, and kids were still expected to do the majority of their schoolwork with pencil and paper.

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And one of the most interesting things about all this change is that it isn’t only being embraced by the younger generation. Everybody uses it. Millenials, teenagers, elementary students, 30-somethings, middle-aged; even retirees have blogs and Snapchat and YouTube accounts.

But there is still, most definitely, a generational gap of knowledge and familiarity on certain topics. Have you ever tried explaining to a senior citizen what a meme is? (That’s an experience that’ll make you want to run away to Albania and herd goats, let me tell you.) Or when you think you know all the emojis, but then a brand new set is released by some company you’ve never heard of, and a 6th-grader learns them all in the time it took you to put the wet laundry in the dryer. A couple weeks ago, White Fang and I watched a movie with Arnold Schwartzeneger’s son in the male lead role — and I was suddenly, acutely aware of just how long it’s been since the Terminator first announced, “I’ll be back.”

For the first time in my life, slang that I can’t easily figure out is tossed around in my presence. There are websites people use all the time that I’ve never visited. I have actually caught myself starting sentences with, “When I was your age…”

And I wouldn’t call myself technophobic by any means. Or “out of touch,” or “an old foagie” — especially considering that I’m aware most kids these days don’t even use phrases like that anymore to describe stodgy, stuck-in-their-ways adults. And yet (due to financial constraints in the last several years), the secondhand vehicle my family recently acquired is the first one I’ve ever driven with keyless entry, power windows and locks, a digital clock and thermometer on the dashboard.

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On the other side of the coin, though, my mind can’t help but be boggled at the intensely sluggish pace it’s taking some parts of society to progress. For example: Why the hell isn’t bullying officially listed as a hate crime already? Why have I been needing to explain autism to people for the past 10 years straight? Why did it take until this fall for our school district to get laptops for all the students? How are there still people in the world who haven’t read Harry Potter? Why are people who take an interest in science fiction, graphic novels, comics, and “alt” rock still referred to as “geeks” and “nerds” and sneered at?

Why can’t we get there quicker than the next model of Apple anything?

While I may not be “up” on the all the “new” things (I’m sure some 10-year-old will happily tell me that’s not what people say anymore), I’m open to a lot. And I won’t automatically dismiss something “traditional” or “customary” as “offensive” or “ineffectual.” Too many of the pop culture moments happening right now won’t even be remembered by anybody in another 10 years. Just because something’s “old” doesn’t concretely mean it’s “bad” or “needs to go.”

But, I will still be quite happy when I don’t have to explain what memes, emojis, or apps are.

Or, for that matter, defend autism, Harry Potter, or wanting to own a TARDIS.

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blogging, writing

Turning Over A New Leaf

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See what I did there? Yes, it was intentional. (Sorry.)

Every once in a while, you find yourself at a crossroads that you know just can’t be avoided or detoured away from. It might be a change you actually hoped for, or something you knew was coming, so you’ve prepared yourself. But when it’s something that you really could’ve done without, or weren’t expecting, then it can put a lot of things into a different perspective.

Recently, I was very upset when I didn’t receive a job offer I was certain I would. In my head, I’d made plans for the changes to my schedule this position would require, and got excited about the prospects of going back to a field I love. When it didn’t happen, I was pretty devastated.

Then after a few days, I dusted myself off, and vowed to begin again. I refocused my energy on getting the boys ready for school; then I went back to the drawing board, checking local job listings, and learning more about opportunities for regional artists.

And I refused to be too hard on myself. No, I don’t have a contract with a literary agency, nor a confirmed salary, or a bibliography that more than a few hundred people have heard of. It doesn’t matter. No, it really doesn’t. Because I am on Goodreads, on Barnes & Noble, my books are being read and enjoyed by people, and 2 years ago, none of this was happening. So, I have plenty to be proud of.

Am I continuing to rethink some aspects of my life as it presently is, though? Oh, yes.

For one thing, I’m staying firm in my resolve not to participate in NaNo this year. The extra pressure isn’t what I really need right now. Plus, considering that you don’t actually get anything for free, except bragging rights, if you win, does not make me (who is on the strictest of budgets) want to set aside the time and brainpower. It doesn’t feel worth it.

For another, I’ve decided not to set any concrete release dates for 2019. There are several projects I hope to publish next year, but I cannot at this moment make any promises — so I’m not going to. When I have a better idea on when specific things are about to occur, I’ll let everyone know. In the meantime, everybody’ll have to be patient.

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I’m also not going to worry about how much I read, or what I read. The other day, I was going over my Goodreads account, and realizing that there are a lot of low ratings on my reviews, and it made me sad. So I tried to determine why — and I found that probably 80% of the books I’ve read in the last 2 years have been because of hype, and for no other reason. And this is generally why a lot of them fell below my standards. I’m a pretty picky reader, and I admit it. So, in the interest of creating more positive headspace, and being able to post more happy reviews, I am officially no longer going to add titles to my TBR based solely on others’ recommendations.

I know that might sound kind of odd — especially for a writer — but this will be for the best. And it doesn’t mean — not at all — that I won’t keep reading others’ reviews and staying aware of what’s new in the moment and hyped right now. But I won’t immediately run to my TBR and add dozens of books I will realistically end up not reading, or not liking if I do.

The reduced social media presence will most likely continue, too. While I’m aware that’s not necessarily the greatest move for my “brand,” I know I need to spend more time and energy on other endeavors now — partly so that I’ll have updates to eventually post on social media! Due to a number of factors making this summer difficult, I haven’t had the chance to make nearly as much headway on my WIPs as I’d like — and it gets tiresome for all of you when the only news I have is, “I remain behind — please don’t leave me.” Again, in the interest of emphasizing the positive, let’s come up with cool stuff worthy of sharing.

So, there are my resolutions for fall. What are yours in this new season?

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Autism, books

The Ongoing Need for Proper Autism Representation in Fiction

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I started thinking about this topic (again) recently. Whenever I search for “autism representation in fiction,” a title that always comes up is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Now, I hate this book. I read it about 6 or 7 years ago, after hearing that it featured an autistic/Asperger’s narrator. And it does. But I really, really wish it didn’t.

What’s so wrong with Curious Incident? Well, in short, it’s offensive as hell. The premise is that a neurodivergent boy (apparently a savant, who has intense skills in some academic subjects but little to no comprehension of human behavior and the world around him) discovers his neighbor’s evidently murdered dog (lovely) and he sets out to uncover whodunit. There are about a million things wrong with this premise.

  • It’s highly unlikely that someone with such impaired functioning would be capable of the level of deduction required to solve this sort of puzzle
  • Not very probable that he would care so much, since it wasn’t even his dog (and it is not that he doesn’t have emotions; he’d feel sad about the dog, but genuinely not see how this affected him in any way)
  • Considering the narrator is presented as having intense anxiety, the very notion of him going into crowded, noisy, busy downtown London by himself  — which does happen in the plot — to resolve the mystery is downright laughable

Along the way, the narrator continually talks down about and to neurotypical people, gets mistreated by the police, the neighbors, his family, pretty much the whole human race, and acts as if he’s somehow superior to the general public because he’s different. None of this is helpful towards teaching the NT population about autism — because it’s blatantly wrong.

This portrayal of neurodivergence makes autists look like androids, unable to process emotion or give a damn about other people, always focused on our own wants and the rest of the world can take a hike; that we’re hateful of everything we don’t understand; prone to condemnation and violence; just plain irritating to our families; and worthy of pity. That’s why I hate, hate, hate this book.

And it really rankles me when professionals in education, social services, and medicine see it as an excellent demonstration of how someone from “the other side” operates. They think this because they don’t truly know what we feel and how we take in information, how our daily environment affects us, or that we’re NOT robots playing at being human — we ARE humans who simply process this world differently than they do. And why don’t they know this? Simple: They don’t take the time to ask us.

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I’ve almost gotten into shouting matches with people who insist that autism is a “disease” or an “affliction,” and refuse to listen to another’s point of view — even of someone who has the condition.

But this is exactly why it’s so important that I march to my soapbox and raise my megaphone — because this is what too many people think autism to be. A disease, a problem that requires fixing. We need to get out there and yell from the rooftops the truth.

Now, while we’re on the subject, do I feel that the character of Christopher Boone himself in Curious Incident is completely unsympathetic? No, actually, I don’t. There were some things about this fictional autistic narrator that did ring true — his anxiety, his struggle to read faces, his greater attachment to animals than to people, his preference for math and puzzles — logical, tangible things rather than inconcrete emotions or shifting opinions that can’t be scientifically quantified. Most of these traits can be found in many spectrum folks. (Not me, because math and I do not get along.) But this is where the responsibility for writing such a novel correctly falls back on the author, Mark Haddon. Haddon has admitted he really doesn’t know much about autism, and this would be why Christopher’s symptoms read like a medical text.

And I’m not the only Actually Autistic who concurs this story displays negative, harmful stereotypes, and should not be referred to as a great example of ASD in fiction. (Scathing reviews can be found on Goodreads.)

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Since so many of us are lacking a good rep of ourselves in books and movies, what should be done about it?

Well, I stand by my crusade for a flood of Own Voices novels or nonfiction memoirs written by Actually Autistics to enter the market. I also think that most of these should be self-published or small press, to reduce the chances of a big name company jumping on the “it’s cool to be autism aware” bandwagon. (How do we think Curious Incident soared to the top of the bestseller list to begin with?) Maintaining the integrity of our mission needs to stay paramount in the eyes of editors and agents — not dollar signs. (See, we understand “normal” people just fine.)

I also think that too much editing would hinder the goal; trying to “water down” our autism and make our experiences and perceptions “more relatable” to the general public would defeat the point. They already don’t relate to us — the idea is to increase their knowledge, not cater to their misconceptions.

And we need more variety — a spectrum means a range of conditions based on a similar foundation. There’s a saying that “if you’ve met one autistic person, then you’ve met one autistic person.”

In my own fantasy series, I made both the characters with autism female (neurodivergent females are already very underused in fiction, and there are bunches of us in the real world). Madison Collins is in a lot of ways me as an adolescent; Avery McKinnon is, for many intents and purposes, me as an adult. They have some commonalities, but remain separate individuals, who have different ambitions and goals, and view their autism differently, too. Since I released my debut novel last year, I’ve received rave reviews for these characters — from those who have relatives or close friends on the spectrum, as well as from those who don’t.

We also need to increase the number of fictional families who don’t consider their ASD children “broken” or “damaged goods.” Since this mindset is (horrifingly) so prevalent in our society, this could take time to change. But if we don’t start, will we ever get there?

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We struggle our entire lives to be accepted as ourselves. Facing further obstacles due to autism now being a buzzword in the media only complicates things. Expanded autism awareness has not resulted in greater autism understanding or inclusion.

The notion of us being a curiosity of behavior needs to be dropped. We are the modern equivalent of the circus freak — stared at, snickered about, even feared. I don’t want us becoming a joke, or a cliche. I really want people to realize that we are not the punchline — that we’re just as valuable as everybody without autism.

Will it happen in my lifetime? Perhaps? But I’m also releasing 2 spectrum children into the world one day — and I sincerely hope they won’t have to struggle the same way I did.

So, it starts with us. It starts now.

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books, community

A Question of Ethics?

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I’m having a bit of a crisis here. In the last few months, I’ve heard numerous reports about and the corporate bully it’s become. Workers in several states and even foreign countries have gone on strike to protest unsafe conditions in the processing centers. Staff have been seriously injured on the job, and Amazon’s response was to basically pretend it didn’t happen.

Indie authors are struggling with Amazon, too. Recently, the website’s review policy changed, and many reviews were taken down without warning or consent of the people who posted them. Others (trad pub authors as well) have had their Kindle version ebooks hacked, and Amazon didn’t seem to care or be ready to do anything about it.

Customer service for many — writers, readers, and purveyors of other sorts of goods — has either been nonexistent, or so unhelpful it may as well not have occurred. More and more frequently when you turn on the news, there’s another interview with a former employee, a report on another business sector the conglomorate giant is trying to acquire, or statistics of how often we use this company.

And it concerns me. Because here we are in a supposedly civilized, advanced society, that has ethics and laws, and apparently we’re ready to forget all of this with a click of the mouse. Because of the savings. The great bargain. The quick shipping. Heaven’s sake, ordered something from Amazon last month myself.

But, if when we place our order, an employee — a hardworking person with a family to support — is then thrown into a system of tumult and chaos, just to ensure our item is located, packed, and ready to mail in the time it takes a cheetah to chase down its dinner, is it really worth it?

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Plus, aren’t we in a free market? With fair trade regulations? Shouldn’t we relish the fact that we live in countries (appealing to all Westerners, and even non-Westerners, here) where we do have choices? And order from some of these other businesses?

Every time you comparison shop for a book, a DVD, a video game, pet food, running shoes, school supplies, a set of tires, Amazon automatically comes up in the search engine. It’s taken a bit of extra time and energy, but I’ve started deliberately finding alternatives. Barnes & Noble sells books, movies, and CDs. Target and Walmart, CVS and Walgreens sell plenty of household wares and school stuff. You can go to Old and find clothing for your whole family at reasonable prices. for that new duvet or shower curtain. Zappos for those Nikes.

And a lot of these companies have reputations as good employers.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any means, but as I see Amazon attempting to build their corporate empire more and more, I can’t help but think: “And one ring to rule them all.”

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Although as a freelance author, I’m an independent contractor, I feel more comfortable having my publications associated with Barnes & Noble. I’m very pleased with Nook Press, they’ve been efficient and helpful, and my books look lovely, and they’re a company I’m proud to be connected to.

I could’ve gone with Amazon for self-publishing. So many folks do. But there was just something about the idea that made me nervous. Very unsettled. And I’ve learned over the years to trust my instincts.

Do I fault my fellow indie authors who chose Amazon? No. It’s a big name, it’s well-known, it’s easily accessible. I heard the siren song myself.

For me, though, self-publishing is the culmination of a life-long dream. To have my books in my hand, and be able to show them to other people and say, “I wrote this!” Throughout my youth, I’d walk into bookstores like Barnes & Noble and imagine finding a cover with my name on it.

In an actual, brick-and-mortar bookstore.

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Probably this is one of the things about Amazon that bugs me the most. It’s encouraging a trend towards doing everything online, less and less in person. Going into a B&N, or a Waterstones, picking up the book, sniffing the ink, rubbing the pages… No, it’s not a weird book geek thing. It’s amazing. A part of life no one should be without.

And as a writer, who deeply appreciates the craft and art of creative writing, I honestly feel that this experience is something that should always be available to authors as well.

So, what to do now? I don’t approve of flatout boycotts. I don’t want to call for one, because of all the indie authors I know or know of who use Amazon. Or the staff who like their jobs.

And yet…

And yet, we do have other options.

And some of those other options seem to come without heavy ethical debate.

Do I have concrete answers? Not all the way around.

Do I want people to start thinking about this stuff? Yes. Absolutely yes.

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Fantasy fiction, Young Adult fiction

My Love for the Undersung Stiefvater

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In the last 10 years, I’ve only discovered a handful of new authors who really excite me. Maggie Stiefvater is one of them. I adore her flowing, lyrical prose, her in-depth characters, her willingness to try new takes on common mythos or story forms. I have read almost everything she’s published, and been severely impressed by nearly all of it.

Which is why it’s a source of ongoing irony and bittersweet realization for me that I cannot stand The Raven Cycle. When people ask if I’ve read it, with a heavy heart, I roll my eyes and answer, “Yes…and I wish I liked it.”

Why didn’t I like The Raven Cycle? Well, several reasons. One: It relied too heavily on archetypes — the special snowflake (Blue), the tragic star-crossed lovers (Blue and Gansey), the apparently fruitless quest for a lost king. And I thought that wasn’t really a Stiefvater trait. Two: It had wayyyy too many throwaway secondary characters and subplots — again, that felt out of character (for me) for this author. Three: The pacing felt totally off. I honestly thought she could’ve written one novel detailing, start to finish, Blue and Gansey’s particular journey, and then spent the other 3 in the series focusing on all the subplots, like all the psychics and the lost Welsh king and the Raven Academy and dream thieves. Everything seemed to go on tooooo long.

So, in short, her bestselling series is not for me, and it kind of made me sad.

But, the biggest disappointment — in my opinion — was the fact that I was constantly comparing The Raven Cycle to her other books…and found it continually lacking.

The first Stiefvater book I ever read was The Scorpio Races, and from then on, I was hooked. Her style, her characters, the way she slowly unwound a story, so that one could simply enjoy the path she took the reader down, was so glorious and mesmerizing. Since making the transition from juvenile to adult fiction, I’d found myself more and more let down; genres were leaving a strong impression of cliches and worn-out devices; I prayed there had to be more to it than this. When I picked up The Scorpio Races in the library, I didn’t even notice, or care, that it was marked as YA. I was just sucked into the world of man-killing horses off a remote British island, and didn’t want it to end.

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More than re-igniting my love for reading, Stiefvater prose and concepts hinted to me there may be different (better) ways of writing.

While The Scorpio Races is far from a forgotten novel, many fans of The Raven Cycle either aren’t aware Stiefvater wrote other titles, or they haven’t been read. Whenever I see Scorpio getting love on social media, I do a little happy dance.

Ms. Stiefvater has amassed a good bibliography for her age. While her most recent release, All the Crooked Saints, has been getting a bunch of attention, and Raven fandom is definitely going strong, I’ve seen my other favorite of hers, The Wolves of Mercy Falls, sadly sliding into the background.

A few months ago, I introduced White Fang to the catalogue of Stiefvater, and it was such a brilliant experience — for both of us. He fell in love (a bit literally in terms of Isabel Culpepper) with Shiver, then raced through the rest of the series. He was awed by the ending of All the Crooked Saints, and ate up The Scorpio Races. And he wholeheartedly agrees with me about The Raven Boys.

So, what makes this author’s earlier works truly stand apart? Considering that, at any given time across the last year, all 4 books of The Raven Cycle are somewhere on the bestsellers list, why is it that this quartet falls hopelessly short for these bookdragons?

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The Wolves of Mercy Falls is written so compactly; no, it isn’t an action-packed, quick-paced page-turner. It focuses on a character-driven plot, and if you’re after lots of explosions, you’ll need to try something else. But there is such beauty in this slow and relaxed unfolding of the tale of Sam and Grace, Isabel and Cole. And there isn’t a single secondary character or subplot that doesn’t seem to fit or becomes an unnecessary tangent. Stiefvater remembers all these little references and mentions from earlier, and keeps going back to them. She knows just who’s important to each main character, and why they need to pop up again at this point, and why it will matter later to the individual arc. By the last page of Forever, I didn’t think there were any loose threads (apart from one minor niggle, which she then addressed in Sinner).

The characters are not trope-y. Grace is an ordinary teenager, who is thrust into extraordinary circumstances; she isn’t a special snowflake, she doesn’t have a quest, the fate of the world doesn’t rest on her overburdened shoulders. As much as I love Harry Potter, we need to move beyond The Chosen One. It was sooooo refreshing to read about normal adolescents concerned with normal things: their parents, their significant other, friends, teachers, college, if they remembered to charge their phone. It’s real, it’s relatable.

Yet while most of the characters are teenagers, the focus isn’t on high school drama, another huge plus. Grace and Isabel know there are more important things in life, and they want to concentrate on them, rather than get swept up in hystrionics that won’t matter worth a speck in 6 months. Even as an adult, these girls were highly sympathetic.

Successfully writing deep first person POV is tough — and Stiefvater pulls it off. Switching voices and getting the reader to believe you’ve changed narrators is even tougher. She manages this, too. Usually switching narrators trips me up when reading, but not with Wolves. I know Grace, and Sam, Isabel, and Cole, and how they understand each other. I get a look at the relationships from both sides. It’s such a well-rounded portrayal.

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I just didn’t develop the heart for the Raven characters that I do for Wolves and Scorpio. And while Crooked Saints didn’t frustrate me, I simply wasn’t as impressed as I hoped to be. While I’ll happily look forward to what Ms. Stiefvater produces next, I’m rapidly coming to peace with the fact that, for me, her works are in two camps.

Literature is completely in the eye of the beholder. Readers shouldn’t be made to feel bad about that. I believe this is a perfect example of “it just wasn’t my cup of tea.”

And I have honestly tried all of her novels that I’ve read with an open mind. My favorites will remain my favorites; my reasons will stay the same. But this doesn’t discount me from wanting to dive into whatever is printed in the future with her name on the cover. Regardless of the premise, tale, or potential tropes inside.

That’s probably the highest compliment we can give an author.

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This Transition Can Bite Me

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The last couple of weeks of summer have been, for me, packed with impending changes. Despite being on the autism spectrum, I do not hate change as a rule; it depends on what the change is, whether I have notice of its intentions to enter my life, and if I feel it’s necessary. In these circumstances, I knew it was coming, and I expected it, and to a point, I’m ready for it.

I’m ready for the boys to go back to school (they may agree, or have other ideas). But I’m not ready, literally, in terms of acquiring all the supplies they may need throughout the coming 10 months, or emotionally, in that I feel unprepared to have a 10th grader in my family.

For months now, I’ve been asking White Fang if he was ready to turn over his layout to Muffin. “The layout” is a combination of Thomas the Tank Engine tracks and accessories and trains, arranged in a minature version of the Island of Sodor, on which has also dwelled (since about 2015) Lego Minecraft servers and important Lego City vehicles or buildings. (The Arctic Ice Breaker and Weather Station is especially impressive.)

Anyway, Muffin has, off and on, eyed the layout with something approaching coveting, as he is now old enough to play with almost all of it (apart from some of the Lego sets where the box states ages 8 plus). A few times, a power struggle has almost resulted. The old guard and the new; the teenager harboring fond memories, and the preschooler wanting to take advantage of all these toys he hasn’t played with yet, right in his midst.

Then, this past week, I made one more proposition to White Fang: I will dismantle and rebuild the layout, appropriate for Muffin, packing away the Lego sets. Honestly, I was stunned when he said yes.

And so, I undertook this mammoth task (White Fang collected Legos from 2009-2016, and nearly all of them lived on his layout since Muffin was born). Across two days, I attacked that corner of the basement with at first enthusiasm and passion; then, a twinge of sadness; then, eventually, a feeling of relief (and a fair number of impolite phrases).

As I worked, I couldn’t help but flash back to the first time White Fang built each of these sets, the joy and pride on his face when he finished, and the care with which he brought the new addition to the basement and chose a place for it.

The lighthearted way he said to me a few days ago, “I can always rebuild them,” threw words like mature and growing up into my brain, and tightened my throat.

I’m not crying, you’re crying.

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Although Muffin was at first reluctant (yes, after all that) to play with the new layout, he did, and enjoyed himself. Trains are not a huge passion for him, but he likes them, and the bridges and tunnels and pretending the engines are on a quest. So, while at this present moment the layout is resting, I know it will continue to be used in the future.

All my effort was worth it. As I anticipated it would be. I just didn’t expect…well, I didn’t expect to feel anything beyond sweaty and victorious.

Then there was the whole job interview/car shopping situation. These particular issues I haven’t mentioned here, partly because so much was up in the air, and trying to write about the in-progress stuff was turning me into a flailing, wailing, melting mess on the carpet. So, now that certain things have processed and concluded, here we go:

Since early 2016, I have been without a vehicle. I was driving an older sedan that was on its 8th life. Then, before I had Muffin, one bitterly cold winter day, I was on a country road, hit a patch of ice, and then a ditch. (And, yes, I was carrying Muffin in utero at the time. It was terrible.) After that, even with the (expensive) repairs, the car never ran quite right. And in January 2016, it reached a point of needing far more work done than we could handle; so we sent it to the scrap yard.

Hence, I have been walking everywhere, or somebody else’s passenger, for the last two and a half years. At first, it was all right; for probably the first 12 months, I didn’t complain. We couldn’t take on a car payment, and I was more concerned about my children having food and clothing. But bit by bit, this endless loop I’ve run to the post office and library and drugstore and back to my house has ground down my soul.

Last year, the pain of the endometriosis made pushing Muffin’s stroller up the hill practically unbearable. And I was really, really done with this walking setup. However, we weren’t in a financial position to get a second vehicle.

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Fast forward to now, and the fact that the song-and-dance of looking at cars, getting a price estimate, and continuing to look had begun — and then suddenly escalated. There was a vehicle quite near home that was affordable. And it was in good condition. And available immediately. So the purchasing bit happened pretty fast.

A lot of this had to do with the job interview I also had this summer. My first one in a while, because many of the positions I’ve applied for since Muffin was about a year old have never gone beyond me submitting my resume and getting a flat-out no (it’s already filled, or I’m not what they’re looking for, or whatever). This situation felt different, promising.

However, nothing more positive happened. And I was gutted. This always happens anymore; there’s just something about me that either makes people wary, or that doesn’t sit totally comfortably with them. Even if I don’t tell them I have autism, I’m nowhere near as good at masking as I used to be; I honestly don’t have the energy for it I did 10 years ago. So, even for the people that can tell there’s something “quirky” about me and don’t mind, it frequently means they end up hiring somebody else.

I am so tired of feeling like I can’t get ahead. At least I will have access to a car for errands now. That’s little comfort, though, since I was planning out a commute to a part-time income.

To everything, there is a season. I won’t regret saying goodbye to the season of walking everywhere. But I was anticipating replacing it with an entirely different sort of season, and I will miss that.

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So, because I need to focus on the good and remember what I have accomplished this year, I am running a sale for the remaining first editions of Masters and Beginners: Volume 1. Only $8 — yes, that includes shipping — per copy. If you’ve been meaning to start reading my YA fantasy series, this is a great time to go for it! All first editions feature precious Toby on the cover, and I’ll have signed it. I have Paypal, and I swear on my grandmother’s grave (she is in Heaven, don’t worry) not to share your address with anybody except the post office. And you can brag that you’ve chatted with the author and follow her blog. A heck of a deal, really.

My goal was to enter the finale of this summer with grace and new skills. Well, I did learn how to eat fried rice with chopsticks.

But otherwise, this transition can bite me.

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